Now people who know me will remember that I am not the biggest fan of horror, gore and all that scary stuff. Maybe I have a better capacity for it on screen these days, in comparison to being completely terrified by a fake jigsaw, while waiting for the Saw ride at Thorpe Park. I think its safe to say that I won’t be doing that on a daily basis, something I can’t be sure of with watching horror films. So, I decided to face my ‘fears’ and in the spirit of this year’s Halloween, I watched the pilot of the television anthology series American Horror Story. And, to add to my achievement, I had just watched Halloween beforehand as a part of the festivities, so I was pretty much on a roll. Well, I was definitely not scared, slightly unsettled and spooked maybe, but I managed to watch all 3 series within the month of November, on my own, so I must have liked it. (You must think I had nothing better to do, I did, but I ignored that little detail, in favour of an awesome show.)
The show definitely possessed that hook, like when you are reading a book and after each chapter comes to an end, you literally cannot put it down. Well, as I was watching on Netflix, I could not stop my finger from pressing the ‘next episode’ button, and by this time I’m sure it was 2am and I had a lecture the next day. But, hey, I do study Film & TV, so its practically homework. Now, all I do is urge my friends and family to watch because they are missing out on a show with such a flavour for the unspoken issues in society. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk triumph in their visualization of the forgotten ‘underdogs’, the ones with whom we may not identify, as opposed to their critical and commercially approachable Glee, but do acknowledge their unstable emotions and mental battles. Both Murphy and Falchuk have a passion for horror and wanted to create a dark production, where the main goal is for “people to be a little bit off balance afterwards,”, as they discussed in an 2011 interview with AfterElton.
My favourite by far is season two, Asylum. Its stories and characterisation interweaved taboos and social stigmas of 1964 Massachusetts, with the viewers’ 21st century minds of free will and individualised determination for a better life. Disclosing all the twists and turns and crazed repercussions of being housed as criminally insane, the season travels within dimensions of religious upheaval, a gendered reconfiguration of Oedipal complexities and extraterrestrial unknown territories. Therefore, rightly so, the show fuels many questions, both fictionally visualised as well as in our reality, beginning as enigmatic and continue to remain so. So, the purpose of the season is to not culminate in a happy ending of ‘taken care of’ ideologies, but to represent passive, unchanged traditional ideals of 1960s America on a path of righteous protest.
Sarah Paulson, who plays Lana Winters and Zachary Quinto’s, who plays Dr. Thredson, storyline was by far the most unsettling of them all, but of course commendable on the writers’ parts. Watching and understanding the maternal afflictions he is trapped within, her desperation for freedom in respects of her lesbianism and problematic gender constraints, and thus how they merge to form a storyline affecting the very sanctity of traditional familial constructs. The conclusion of their trials builds another perception of Lana Winters, delving deep into the psychological anxieties caused unto her by her culprit, her unaccepted role as the mother to a serial killer’s son forces a sense of villainy onto the person who at first was the victim. Murphy and Falchuk consequently play with our ideas of such relationships and burden them with stigmas, ones that families, or even people, living inside a bubble of untarnished happiness and togetherness, will be in disbelief of.
Murder House and Coven project, in their own right, unsettling, chilling images and voices of untouched territory. However, their premises seem to be coded with ‘been there done that’ criticisms – a ghost or spirit infested home of murderous history and a community of witches in a fight for survival against humans and even some of their own. Having said that, seasons approach these stories with an immensity of power and attack – the performances of Jessica Lange in both were commendable, and no wonder she continued to be acknowledged at the Emmys. Her acting seems small and quiet, but in a good way, it’s as if she doesn’t need to do much at all to be seen and heard by her fellow actors and her bosses. From her disturbing, yet weirdly awaited, random neighbourly ‘popping in’ duties, in Murder House, to even how she walks, and much more as the dominating, ruthless supreme in Coven. (of course not forgetting her memorable stint as Sister Jude, in Asylum, a topic of discussion in need of an entirely separate blog post if I’m being honest) She creates a spot for herself and demands your attention in whatever role she takes on, hence why she has been cast in every season to air, including the newest Freak Show, one of the shows actors who has not been bumped down to small episode arcs, or even taken out completely, along with Evan Peters. (An understated actor in my opinion, who shines in each of his roles; a tormented teen spirit, a wrongly accused patient with an unknown alien affiliation and a frat boy turned modern Frankenstinian monster.)
There is still so much to say about American Horror Story, but I am sure I have gone on long enough for it to resemble an essay or a novel, so ultimately go and watch this incredible anthology series. A new and different story in each 13 episodes season will keep you hooked until they themselves run out of ideas.