What to watch: ‘House of Usher’ is a brilliant, unsettling take on Edgar Allan Poe

Two of the season’s most anticipated streaming series — Netflix’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Apple TV+’s “Lessons in Chemistry” — have literary origins. But does that page-to-screen transition work?

Oh, yes.

Here is our compilation.

“The Fall of the House of Usher”: Modernizing or repurposing classic literary works while attempting to create something unique and visionary is risky. Even Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón’s misguided “Great Expectations,” starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, fell flat.

With his eight-part ode to legendary horror writer Edgar Allan Poe, upscale horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan could write a textbook on how to do it right. This inspired “Usher” injects contemporary relevance into Poe’s tales of terror while remaining true to the source material.

Flanagan’s macabre retelling of Poe’s story of familial depravity and madness serves as a setting for a “And Then There Were None” plot in which the victims are soulless members of a privileged, uber-wealthy family that has built its wealth by addicting Americans to painkillers.

A vile twosome with a rotten childhood rule over this dynasty: brother Roderick (the underrated Bruce Greenwood) and his devious sister Madeline (the equally underrated Mary McDonnell).

Roderick is ostensibly the patriarch in charge, but he struggles to control his narcissistic adult children (heirs), all of whom have kinky dark sides that lead them down the bloody road to a Poe-inspired fate. All but one episode was written or co-written by Flanagan, and the writing is as razor-sharp and bloody clever as his signature works, Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” “Midnight Mass,” and the underappreciated standalone film “Doctor Sleep.”

The creepy production values are excellent, and the scares are not only terrifying but also disturbing. (“Usher”) is more gory and sexy than Flanagan’s previous series. The cast is consistently strong, with Mark Hamill going gruff as the overworked Usher lawyer Arthur Pym, who tries to clean up the family’s numerous messes. Another treat is seeing Flanagan regular Carla Gugino as a mysterious presence who appears throughout Roderick and Madeline’s lives. It all adds up to spooky fun that’s perfect for the upcoming Halloween season. But make no mistake: “The Fall of the House of Usher” isn’t just a binge-worthy streamer; it’s also one of the best series Netflix has ever produced. Details: 4 stars out of 4; all episodes will be released on October 13.

“Lessons in Chemistry”: Ask any book club member to name their favorite novel from 2022, and chances are Bonnie Garmus’ beguiling novel about a quirky brainiac with one of the best names ever — Elizabeth Zott — will be on the list. While it was my mistake not to read it before watching showrunner Lee Eisenberg’s moving eight-part adaptation for Apple TV+, I will definitely do so now.

I can see why “Lessons in Chemistry” is so popular on bookstore shelves. However, as fans are well aware, revealing too much about what happens to Elizabeth (played to the hilt by Oscar winner Brie Larson) would be a recipe for hate mail. To summarize, she plays a brilliant chemist whose career is marred by the patriarchy that ruled the science world in the 1950s. There is also great chemistry between Larsen and Lewis Pullman as hot-shot chemist Calvin Evans, who shares her passion and is just as socially awkward as she is. A series of events upends their careers, leading the tenacious Elizabeth to a subversive cooking show. “Lessons in Chemistry” could have been tighter (cut to six episodes), and a subplot about Harriet (Aja Naomi King), a Black neighbor fighting racial injustice, could have been developed more. Nonetheless, “Chemistry” eventually comes up with a winning formula. And one episode, Six Thirty (voice of B.J. Novak), told from the perspective of the family dog, tears you up — especially if you own a pet. Details: 3 stars; two episodes will be released on October 13, with a new episode being released every Friday until November 24.

“Foe”: What worked well on paper doesn’t work so well on screen in Garth Davis’ misguided but visually appealing adaptation of Iain Reid’s ambitious sci-fi-tinged psychological drama. Its central premise of a stranger (Aaron Pierre) making an extraordinary offer that calls into question the relationship of an isolated couple (Paul Mescal and Saoirse Ronan) in a farmhouse and separates them for an extended period of time is intriguing, but the screenplay’s unpredictable turns ring false and unravel into a pretentious, impenetrable mess. There are some big themes explored here, including AI, but the should-be unsettling material becomes far too cluttered and, at times, laughable, disconnecting us from the plight of these two, who seem to consume a lot of water during a drought that’s killing the planet. That is just one of the perplexing aspects of a production that, sadly, wastes Mescal and Ronan’s talents as well as its gorgeous production values. Simply read the book. Details: 122 stars; opens in San Francisco theaters on October 13 and in Oakland on October 20 at the Piedmont Theatre.

“Castlevania: Nocturne”: In eight briskly told animated episodes, showrunners Kevin Kolde and Clive Bradley set the popular vampire streaming series in the French Revolution, with vampire hunter Richter Belmont (voiced by Edward Bluemel) facing off against a nasty gang of aristocrats preying on the poor. The action is bloody, and there are several new and intriguing characters, including the gay Olrox (voice of Zahn McClarnon from “The Dark Winds” series), an Aztec bloodsucker responsible for Richter’s mother’s death. He, too, detects something significant and ominous in the works, and he dislikes it. My only criticism of this intricately plotted season is that the eighth episode lacks a true ending, leaving us gnashing our teeth for another season. Fortunately, Netflix has just announced that “Nocturne” has been renewed. Details: 3 stars; currently available on Netflix.

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