I was incredibly excited – nay, GIDDY – to learn last night that my favourite television show has announced the premise of its next season. I’m referring to “American Horror Story” season 3. If you’ve never seen this series, first of all punish yourself, and then find seasons 1 & 2 online and don’t leave the house until you have watched them from start to finish. However, if your kind of thing is fairies & daisies & unicorns & rainbows, I’d avoid this programme.
AHS appeared in October 2011 when season 1 debuted. The premise of the season was your typical modern-day family moving into a haunted house. Nothing, however, about the content of the show was typical. Everything from the characters, to the house itself, to the supernatural things that inhabited it, to the backstory of the plot, to the events that actually happened were not only scary, but expertly written, directed, acted and produced. Moreover, each episode was rife with twists, shocks, disquiet, appropriate amounts of black comedy and total unpredictability. I’d go as far to say the show was ground-breaking and I hate myself for not dreaming up the concept myself years ago.
Each season of AHS is a self-contained miniseries. Season 1 wrapped up its story in its twelfth and final episode “Afterbirth”. Season 2 started with a new concept. The show was titled “American Horror Story: Asylum” and was set in a mental hospital in 1964. The writers amped things up further in this season – it was even more controversial with its sadistic god-fearing nuns, its homophobic/oedipal psychopaths, its nymphomaniac father Christmas-impersonator patients and its deranged experimental surgeons. The cast of both seasons overlapped – the actors appearing in the “Murder House” turned up again in “Asylum”, but as different characters. The likes of Frances Conroy’s season 1 glass-eyed housemaid re-appears in season 2 as the Angel of Death, who struts onto the scene in someone’s dying moments, kisses them on the lips and sprouts raven-like wings. It’s just insanely brilliant.
By chance last night – I was Facebook stalking someone who is ignoring me – I discovered that season 3 will be called “American Horror Story: Coven”. Hello!!!!!!!!!!! That means one thing: WITCHES!
The new season begins production this summer, will air around Halloween this year and will surely be exceptional. Kathy Bates is joining the cast in a role described by series creator Ryan Murphy as “five times worse than her character in “Misery”” (in which she of course played an ankle-breaking, mentally unhinged stalker). Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates are Hollywood royalty – this speaks for itself, surely, that such women are attracted to this series.
I feel like we are in a heyday of American televisual horror. The nineties, I think, was the zenith of American sitcom. I used to spend my Friday nights watching channel 4 from 9:00 to 10:30, when “Friends”, “Cybill”, “Will & Grace”, “Ellen” & “Frasier” were aired back-to-back. I was in my early teens so this isn’t as tragic as it sounds (most of my peers were loitering around outside the Windsor branch of MacDonald’s comparing mopeds, dipping their toes into the world of nicotine as a method of establishing social acceptability and allowing their Adidas tracksuit bottoms to slip down further towards their Kicker trainers. I, on the other hand, was at home in my matching pyjama shirt and bottoms and an over-sized, Central Perk-style mug of tea, deducing that one day I would have my own eponymous sitcom). The naughties were all about reality TV – I’m not sure it warrants being classed as a heyday, but let’s face it, from 2000 onwards Big Brother-style programming was the “in” thing.
I feel like we are now in a decade in which horror/thriller is at the helm. After the cinematic shift in slasher movies (from the tamer “Scream”-type horrors to the torture porn direction that films like “Hostel” & “Saw” took us) I think that the world was primed for more gruesome and hard-hitting TV. Today, we have shows for the extremists, such as AHS, but we also have an influx in tamer tension TV. Below are a few choice examples of both:
- “The Walking Dead” is something I’ve dipped in and out of, but it’s on my “list” to properly get into. Frank Darabont brought zombies out of 70s and 80s and into our living rooms now! This is as effective a series as AHS, with its gritty realism and intelligent script. If you take a premise such as ghosts or witches, for example, it’s almost easier to let yourself be absorbed by the story. After all, witches play a part in our history, and in a way, so do ghosts. Zombies are rather preposterous really – yet “The Walking Dead” make them less so.
- My sister lent me her copy of season 1 of “Dexter” back in January. I am now about to start season 6 – I have powered through it religiously. I cannot bang on about this programme enough. It’s incredibly well produced, so clever, so dramatic, so well-acted… The fact that you are rooting for a protagonist serial killer says it all really. I cannot believe I discovered it so late! It’s not “horror” so much as it is “thriller” but it’s a prime example of the kind of TV that is being produced in this genre right now.
- Kevin Williamson is my hero – creator of the “Scream” & “I Know What You Did Last Summer” franchises, he is a master of the genre. His is a kind of sweetened horror, though. His stories are all pretty messed up, but there’s a Hollywood glint to them. He of course was the father of “Dawson’s Creek”, which was great and all that, but he has stuck to grit of late, with his TV series “The Vampire Diaries”, “The Secret Circle” & “The Following”. It took me a while to get into “The Vampire Diaries” because I was convinced it was Twilight-esque. No, no, no! It’s as dark as something produced for teenage girls is going to get – and that’s surprisingly dark. “The Secret Circle” had a lot of promise but was cancelled after one season. A shame, I think. It was about teenage witches but there was nothing “Sabrina” about it. The show involved plots about demonic drug-addiction and witch-drowning. “The Following” is Williamson’s latest, with Kevin Bacon taking the lead. The title refers to a cult of people around America who share serial killing as a common interest and help each other act out their murderous fantasies via the internet. The plot allegedly comes from Williamson’s original idea for “Scream 3” – that the character of Stu, one of the two killers in the films, survived having a TV thrown onto his face and was somehow controlling a fan-base of wannabe ghostfaces from his jail cell, who would continue to kill the people around Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). This was nixed in favour of a script based around the Hollywood set of “Stab 3” (I’m aware that if you’re not a “Scream” fan, I have probably lost you).
- Things are just, in general, a lot grittier now. Shows such as “Breaking Bad”, “True Blood” & “The Wire” deal with issues such as drug abuse, disease, vampirism and political sociology in an incredibly real way. Yes, they’re very exaggerated and I’m sure often ridiculous but through drama, TV is showing us the darker side of life today (well, perhaps not so much with the vampirism).
- The cherry on the cake – “American Horror Story”. I read a while ago that the producers were planning to set AHS season 3 out in the countryside “where real horror is found”. I’m not sure if that’s what they’re doing with this witchy theme, but I know it won’t disappoint. The way this show has portrayed a dysfunctional family living in a ghost-ridden Victorian house, and the inhabitants of a morally corrupt nut-house, I have absolutely no doubt that the theme of witches will be done justice. I can feel pyres, stones tied to feet and public humiliation in the wind. My fantasy for season 4 would be an inbred family in the sticks, Texas Chainsaw Massacre stylee.
Ryan Murphy: I’m available to write the pitch.
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