American Horror Story—Terrifying tales specific to the USA
by Martin Ek & Sarah Nilsson
“Three titties, proper girl-parts and a ding-a-ling. I'm a full blown hermaphrodite. Put that on your banner.” - Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett)
Yeah…if any of you are not watching this show, that sentence alone should be enough to at least spark your interest. To be honest, this is not a show for the faint of heart, or stomach. The name of the show is American Horror Story, it’s a scary show. However, it is also thrilling, occasionally funny and entirely brilliant. What’s so unique about the show (aside from the opportunity to watch Gabourey Sidibe attempt to seduce a minotaur), is the fact that it’s an anthology series with each season starring roughly the same cast but in a completely different time and place.
The first season, subtitled Murder House, follows the Harmon family as they move into an old L.A. house in an attempt at a fresh start following the husband's infidelity. There they discover that their new home has an agenda of its own as they encounter the ghostly individuals of former generations of tenants.
The second season, Asylum, transports us to 1960's Massachusetts and Briarcliff Manor, a penitentiary for the criminally insane. This season follows Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), affectionately referred to as ‘Lana Banana’, a reporter hellbent on uncovering the madhouse's dark secrets and thereby achieving success and recognition.
Coven is the subtitle of the third season, which brings us back to modern times and south to New Orleans. Lana Banana returns as Cordelia Foxx, the headmistress of Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, a school which in actuality is a coven of witches. Series veteran (and star) Jessica Lange also graces us with her role as Cordelia's mother Fiona, Supreme Witch of the coven.
All of this brings us to this year’s fourth season, Freakshow. The place is Jupiter, Florida and we are thrown back to the 1950’s, where we enter the colorful and frightful world of Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiousities. As the subtitle suggests, the so-called “cabinet” is a traveling freakshow on its last (three) legs; including a bearded lady (Kathy friggin Bates!), a strongman, the world’s smallest woman and a lobster-clawed boy.
The main horror element is provided by Twisty the Clown, a mysterious murderer who stalks the sleepy suburbs of Jupiter. However, the show also revolves around the question of what is considered normal and what is considered freakish, and explores the need to be loved and accepted. Our entrance into the Freakshow is through the eyes, all four of them, of the conjoined twins, Bette and Dot Tattler, both of whom are played by Lana Banana/Cordelia Foxx. As the show progresses, we get to see the characters fighting for their circus in the dying world of the American carny-scene, as well as for their own lives.
Another sign of the show's brilliance is its choice of time-period for the 4th season. 1950's America's picture-perfect suburban bliss, with its seedy underground of bored housewives and mind-numbing commercials, sets the perfect stage for this tale of fame, fraud and facades. Only six episodes in, Freakshow is already turning out to be a genuinely intriguing season. However you should keep in mind that this show is an anthology, and that any season can be viewed in any order, and that each incarnation has its strengths, weaknesses, and moments of pure what-the-effery.
So if you’re looking for a story about the ‘perfect’ family and something a bit more familiar, Murder House is the way to go with its classical horror movie edge about a family moving into a haunted house. It’s also through the classic use of the camera work, the music and the characters that we are terrorized by this season’s ghostly manifestations and murderous history.
For a purely psychological and terrifying endeavor, go for Asylum, arguably the most disturbing of the seasons. However be prepared to be completely fear-stricken as, unlike witches and ghosts, insanity and wrongful imprisonment are things that can and do happen.
The most fun season, full of catty one-liners and wonderfully bogus story-lines, would be Coven. This one is definitely the best if you're a bit of a scaredy-cat, but it also has a strong message about minorities; mainly as women, as African-Americans, and as powerful beings that can flip a bus with the flick of a wrist.
The latest season, Freakshow, is for the one’s that care to explore the nature of freaks and what it means to be accepted in society, along with hints of craziness and absurdism mixed in between. Freakshow is truly a more intimate story of people, and said people’s wants, needs, and goals than any season before it.
This show makes us cringe, it makes us laugh, it makes us think, and never fails to make us question why the hell we're stilling watching this show; but for exactly the right reasons. And we hope that this article will inspire you to watch the show as well, and if you still need extra convincing, remember: "three titties, proper girl-parts and a ding-a-ling".