With the seventh season of American Horror Story coming to JB Hi-Fi stores in time for Halloween, STACK takes a look back at this wonderfully twisted anthology series.
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who gave us Glee and Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story has continued to push the boundaries in television terror since its debut season in 2011, as well as providing juicy roles for the likes of Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare and yes, even Lady Gaga.
Casting its regular ensemble in different roles and changing themes with each season,this multiple Emmy-winner is both an actors’ showcase and a unique, lurid and always outrageous romp through the genre’s familiar tropes.
S1: MURDER HOUSE
After moving from Boston to LA, the Harmon family (Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and Taissa Farmiga) discovers their new home has a horrible history, and is one of the stops on a local ‘murder house’ tour. A psychosexual shocker featuring a boogeyman in a latex fetish suit, AHS gets off to a promising and visceral start, setting the tone with black humour, high camp, and graphic violence. Jessica Lange adds some extra class, as a nosy neighbour who gets all the best lines.
Set in 1964, Briarcliff is a creepy sanatorium for the criminally insane, where all sorts of horrors transpire – from alien abduction and exorcism, to serial killers and unauthorised medical experiments. Jessica Lange plays asylum head Sister Jude, who makes Nurse Ratched look like Mother Theresa; James Cromwell is the facility’s depraved doctor; and Zachary Quinto the resident psychiatrist. The insane tone established in the first series is upped a notch here – graphic horror, kinky sex, grim atmosphere – making Asylum even more outrageous and over the top than its predecessor. Beware of Bloody Face!
Neither as nasty nor outré as the first two seasons, Coven dilutes the horror and ups the humour as a New Orleans academy for young witches confronts the impending replacement of its Supreme Leader (Jessica Lange, chewing the scenery once again). Kathy Bates makes her AHS debut as a sadistic plantation owner who has been buried alive for 200 years (by voodoo queen Angela Bassett) and released into a world where racism is now taboo. And there’s lots of Stevie Nicks, too, in the form of hit songs and a special guest appearance.
S4: FREAK SHOW
If you suffer from coulrophobia (a fear of clowns) you’d best avoid this season. The series returns to its nasty best, relocating to a carnival freak show in Florida, circa 1952. The regular cast all get their freak on, with Kathy Bates sporting a beard, Evan Peters with lobster claws for hands, and Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins (a truly disturbing CGI illusion). But it’s Jessica Lange who once again steals the season, as the Marlene Dietrich-like dame who runs the freak show and performs anachronistic Bowie covers.
Lady Gaga joined the cast and won a Golden Globe for her performance as a seductive, vampire countess. While this might sound as crazy as the events that transpire on AHS, the pop queen is actually pretty good as the mother monster lurking at the heart of a gothic LA hotel filled with the damned souls of those who checked in, but never checked out. All the regular cast are back, sans Jessica Lange, with Denis O’Hare dominating this season’s performances as the hotel’s transgender bartender, Liz Taylor. This uncut, R-rated version restores the first episode’s now notorious sex scene.
AHS returns to its roots with another haunted house tale. The difference here is that it’s presented as a documentary – ‘My Roanoke Nightmare’ – using re-enactments (with actors playing the ‘real’ characters) and interviews to reconstruct what really happened to an LA couple that moved into a malevolent farmhouse in North Carolina. Roanoke refers to a 16th century English colony that mysteriously vanished without a trace; how it ties in here makes for an equally compelling mystery in the most meta AHS season to date.