Monday, 10 October 2011

American Horror Story

There is so much that cannot be shown on television. Sex, violence, profanity, blasphemy and racism are all staples of prime time entertainment for the ‘innocent’ masses. It is a malaise that is all pervasive and includes the all-pervasive reality genre. The Bad Girl’s Club instigates fist fights between skanks young women by subterfuge that includes race-baiting.
American debutantes

The decay is mainstream which begs the question is there a need for the horror genre on TV? Post 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the War on Terror, the banking crisis and the Tea Party can horror find its place in a TV schedule full of hate?

Horror has never played well inside the box. The Exorcist 1973 is the most successful horror feature made. It has grossed over $1 billion1 (inflation adjusted) at the worldwide box office. It is the template for the motion picture horror story: introduce the characters, introduce the evil then have the two sides collide.
Television is structured around commercials with a requisite cliffhanger. This is the antithesis of horror story telling. To circumvent the TV format producers smuggled horror into sci fi/mystery anthology shows; The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales of the Unexpected2. When there was no longer a need to smuggle the horror anthology show was created; Tales from the Crypt, Freddy’s Nightmares and Masters of Horror.

The paradox is the most artistically successful of these shows was the Nickelodeon show Are You afraid of the Dark? It lasted seven seasons and 91 episodes3.
The anthology is short story cinema/television and is hit or miss by numbers. It is never enough hence the TV series. Television is the bastion of cops, lawyers, doctors and nurses. The series format loves these occupations because it can weave a quasi-soap opera around characters who hop into bed with each other. A horror story has to have a point. The horror TV series fails because it too succumbs to soap opera – Buffy, True Blood, The Walking Dead.

It can be done. One series that worked was Ultraviolet; a British production that aired on Channel 4 for one season of six episodes. Fox acquired the rights to remake it for the US market but screwed up the pilot – by shifting the focus from the horror to soap opera. The pilot was not aired and the series not picked up.
Horror movies have a huge fan base so it is adroit TV producers will try to exploit that. They will try and try again. The latest opportunists are Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Their pedigree is Nip/Tuck and Glee. Two shows aimed at women and homosexuals. Welcome to camp horror.
Dylan McDermott is the lead which is puzzling as that slice of white bread couldn’t open an envelope. The biggest name on the title card is Jessica Lange. She used to be a somebody. In American Horror Story she’s a parody of her aged beauty. Her character is caricature. She plays the southern gothic snow white queen because Hollywood has an age restriction.

She also refers to her screen daughter as a ‘mongoloid’. Said daughter is a Down Syndrome actor played by one Jamie Brewer. Her inclusion in the cast is not bravery on the part of the producers nor is it affirmative action. It is freak show casting and reminiscent of reality TV shows such as Body Shock4. It’s exploitative. It’s outrageous.

American Horror Story is less offensive in its shock value. This is an artistic retarded rendition of Grand Guignol. The attempts at shock start with child murder and run through a gynaecological examination, self harm and a PVC sex scene. Note to the producers: a PVC sex scene in missionary position defeats its own purpose.

As to be expected from this type of twaddle there’s a magpie effect. The pilot has recurring twins à la The Shining 1980 and a covered mural swiped from Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 1973. They use the score from Vertigo 1958. The editing is spastic and makes no sense. There’s also the pathetic male (good casting) whining about his feelings. ‘Man up’, ‘grin and bear it’, ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘take it like a man’ et cetera.

Horror is subversive. It is dangerous. It is disturbing. What it is not is politically correct or female friendly or PG13. American Horror Story is typical and there’s so much that cannot be shown on television.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The Last House on theLeft
1 The Exorcist The Numbers
2 Tales of the Unexpected Youtube
3 Are You Afraid of the Dark Youtube
4 Body Shock Youtube
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