What I’m Watching: The Fall of the House of Usher

A fairly nice homage to Poe’s work, 8 episodes which for once seems somewhat justified. None of the episodes are strongly based on a specific story or poem, but they do work most of them in. Occasionally people burst out in poetry like Cop Rock.

Carla Gugino is great as “Verna” the psychopomp, Raven, spectre of death that hangs over the doomed Usher family. The rest of the cast are fine, some of the older/younger alternate actors are better (Bruce Greenwood/Zach Gilford as older/younger Roderick Usher) than others (Mary McDonnell/Willa Fitzgerald incoherently playing older/younger Madeline Usher). Mark Hamill plays Arthur Gordon Pym (of Nantucket!), hero of a round-the-world exploration (I bet!), now lawyer/assassin for the Ushers; I love that Luke Skywalker just grew up to be the best villains.

We know from the start that the pharmaceuticals business empire Roderick Usher has built has a body count, and then all his six children (by a variety of mothers) start dying in thematically appropriate ways. Roderick recounts this to Auguste Dupin, here an insurance investigator/prosecutor, in a decaying ruin of a house. I tended to get bored by the exposition in the house, the set doesn’t feel like a terrible storm is raging until it’s needed for plot. But the vignettes of each episode are better.

The Masque of the Red Death is just dumb scene kids, but builds to a good level of horror, and a doom for one that should be avoidable… Murder in the Rue Morgue is an ambitious surgeon, some angry chimps, a trick and speech by Verna.

The Black Cat takes an idiot stoner vtuber and some guilt, but I don’t think built up his crime enough, I mostly laughed at his suffering all ep. The Tell-Tale Heart gives us the unintended murder and the guilt that was deserved in the last ep. Goldbug is the weak point, mostly exposition and an idiot getting themself killed. The Pit and the Pendulum finally delivers punishment to the most insipid bastard of the Usher kids, the one nobody will ever miss; as Verna says, she doesn’t usually intervene, but he’s a special case.

The Raven finally wraps it up, the Ushers’ exact deal with Verna revealed. I somewhat resent the misuse of Lenore here, she should be a tragic romance following the poem, but instead is just a sacrifice, very weak writing choice. Roderick’s scene changes in the end of this don’t make a lot of sense. Animal House-ish “where are they now” bit of exposition. Fin.

The music occasionally is heavy-handed and ’80s, and I love that. “We Built This City” is being used, I think to troll the Kids Today™, but I love the song and Jefferson/Starship/Airplane, it was the first or second concert I ever went to, so that makes The Black Cat even funnier. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during an operatic-level screaming argument, just like the vampire opera it’s from.

They only rarely got any kind of moody, gothic feeling, even when shooting in dark places, they don’t understand building up someone’s crimes and then hurting them for it, the series is more shoving it in your face. But reading poetry at all is nice. If you’re a big fan of little Edgar Allan Poe, if you find thatsbelievable funny, you ought to watch this.

★★★★☆

ZX Spectrum Next

Backed this in Sep 2020. After 3.5 years of of antici…




… pation, I finally have my SpecNext release 2!

I don’t have it set up in its final location in the living room yet, so it’s replaced my side terminal on my desk. Ideally I’d like to have a classic computer hutch desk, medium LCD instead of CRT, and a slightly janky ’80s-style plush office chair to recreate the 1984 experience.

The box has a universal power brick with 4 national connectors that lock in, very nice. It doesn’t have an HDMI cable, and I had some shenanigans with a bad cable in the wrong storage, but finally found a good one.

Played some baSnake and tried the demos, then down to some BASIC, starting with 10 Print Had to find the charset in the manual, and I always forget ZX BASIC doesn’t really need args or parens.

10 PRINT CHR$ (134+INT(RND+0.5)*3);
20 GO TO 10

Playing more stuff from the browser, IT RUNS Z5 FILES NATIVELY!!! Just shove your Infocoms etc. in there and hit Enter. I got a new standard text adventure player!

The keyboard’s fine for me, but some people will immediately hook up a PS2 keyboard. The key travel’s short but very crisp. The layout’s mostly OK, nice big spacebar, but it really should’ve moved the ;",. keys over to the right, so you have something besides ENTER under your pinky on home keys. I’m perpetually typing off by one column because of this.

In BASIC, there’s no shortcut commands like ? or P. for PRINT, which means I’m very very tired of typing PRINT … PRINT … PRINT. But at least it’s not like the classic ZX81 keyboard, with keywords on every key. My left pinky is getting a bit worn out from symbol-B for *, symbol-L for =, etc.

Videogame controls are weird:

  • Consoles: normal Joystick/D-Pad/Analog sticks, ^ O X [] buttons.
  • Most 8-bit computers: normal Arrows or HJKL, sometimes IJKL
  • All recent computers: normal WASD
  • Spectrum: unusable QA or 2W up/down, OP or 90 left/right, M to fire. Needless to say, I did NOT beat NextIPEDE with this control scheme.

So I got a knockoff Genesis (“MegaDrive” to some) controller, which has worked perfectly. See Joystick FAQ

Looking into NextBASIC, the manual is fantastic. 318 pages, spacey cover art, super technical. Hundreds of pages on graphics, sound, using the ZXOS. There’s a section on IN/OUT ports, registers, a hardware diagram if you want to replace the RasPi module or something. I still need to read more Z80 ASM from another book, but everything short of that is in here.

I’ve got the real-time clock and wifi working (note: only AP names without spaces!), but haven’t figured out how to uplaod/download from it yet. Uh, that’s important. I can pop the SD card and get files when I back up, but I’d like to use the wifi.

I have from a couple years ago, quite a bit of a text dungeon game developed on emulator, but I’ll rewrite some of the code now with new features (optional LET command! Better loops, locals, and “static”/private vars!), and the graphics now to use tiles at least, or first-person if I’m feeling ambitious.

Haven’t even looked at the CP/M core, which I think will be very exciting, having a good CP/M machine in the modern age. I see Gary Kildall on Computer Chronicles every so often and I miss what could’ve been.

I’m calling it now: Best computer of 2024 is a 28MHz Z80 with 2MiB RAM.