The Floating Coffins

Cataleptic Terror and Prismatic Vision in Watson and Webber's The Fall of the House of Usher

  • Stephen Broomer University of Toronto
Keywords: experimental film, gothic literature, horror cinema, silent cinema


The scholarship surrounding Watson and Webber tends to acknowledge an ideological conflict between the filmmakers and modernism itself, a strange tension as their films seem at once to aspire to the folklore and fables that underpinned Gothic literature and to the geometric violence of modern art. This tension drives their work here, where splintering imagery establishes the film’s emotional tenor. Kaleidoscopes, prisms, countless stairs, and phantasmal anagrams are not political aesthetics for Watson and Webber; they serve instead as the emotional substance of the film, rendering the impossible house itself absolute in its dynamic mise-en-scène. In this video essay, Stephen Broomer explores the filmmakers’ debts to Vorticism, Dadaism, and the Gothic tradition.