The ‘American Horror Story’ (AHS) is a horror anthology that was launched in 2011 to shatter the modern limits of what is acceptable. ‘Depraved’, as they claim, AHS brought along the classical horror themes (mental disorders, physical deformity, extreme violence) in the quantities that, according to reviewers, have ‘completely destroyed any remaining limitations that television censorship has placed on the horror genre’ (Hale 2015, para. 1-6; Hoppenstand 2012, p. 1; Joyrich 2014).
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So far, the anthology consists of five seasons, and it has no intent of stopping. The episodes of every season are united by a theme, a plot, and a number of characters (played by a cast that tends to migrate from one season to another).In the season one, for example, all the stories are connected to the Murder House that is owned by the Harmon family.
The Briarcliff Sanitarium, an asylum for criminally insane, is the scenery for the second season; the third, the ‘Coven,’ develops the topic of witchcraft. The fourth, ‘Freak Show,’ exploits the imagery of physical deformity, and a mysterious Hotel appears in the fifth season (Sevenich 2013).
Apart from that, the genre of anthology offers a marvellous opportunity to expand the range of the terrifying topics. For example, you will learn that in AHS, the past affects the present and repeats itself, leaving no chance for the characters to avoid their grim fate.
The second episode of the ‘Murder House’ could serve as an illustration for this topic: when a group of murder fans attempts to repeat a crime that took place in the House several decades ago, the resident spirit demonstrates them, that the House does not need accomplices but is always interested in expanding its collection of lost souls…
It is difficult not to notice that many of the series’ themes are classical and recognisable. AHS interprets real stories (like that of Black Dahlia) and refers to the works of fantasy that true horror fans will undoubtedly recognise (Carman 2012; Vink 2014; Farrimond 2013).
‘The Shining’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ have definitely been the inspiration for the first season, along with ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, even though AHS has significantly revised the idea of a diabolical child.
Similarly, in the ‘Coven,’ Delphine LaLaurie learns what ‘The Premature Burial’ feels like, but she survives for decades due to her (bad) luck and the curse of immortality. When citing familiar themes, the anthology does not hesitate to change or, rather, twist them to create something that is definitely in tune with AHS.
It is also obvious that AHS develops the traditions of the Gothic canon with its regression, insanity, violence, and, of course, scary twins as the symbol of the dualities and controversies that constitute the world of horror (Keetley, 2013).
Morbid humour and sexual themes add some spice to the plot while the relationship topics straight from a soap opera moisten it with an unexpected touch of drama (Hoppenstand 2012; Carman 2012). As you will see, it is these elements that allow AHS to ‘humanise’ its monstrous characters, suddenly forcing the viewer to sympathise with an abusive mother or a hideous racist.
The cast of the series is also worth mentioning: most of the actors are so good, that the director wants to see them in every season; however, everyone’s favourite, Jessica Lange has, unfortunately, left the show. From season to season she was the “malevolent den mother”, but now the role is given to Lady Gaga, and the fans are not amused (Hale 2015, para. 6).
Hopefully, though, the quality of the series will not decrease. Classically gothic and present-day eclectic, unexpectedly dramatic and morbidly hilarious, the AHS episodes are the new face of the contemporary horror show. They push the boundaries of acceptable, but it seems that this is exactly what fans have been craving: a violent, explicit, morbid, and depraved true American horror story.
Carman, C. (2012) ‘Weird Wonders on Cable TV,’ The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 19 (4), pp. 50-51.
Farrimond, K. (2013) ‘Postfeminist Noir: Brutality and Retro Aesthetics in the Black Dahlia,’ Film and History 43 (2), pp. 34-49.
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Hale, M. (2015) Review: ‘American Horror Story: Hotel,’ as Depraved as Ever. The New York Times. Web.
Hoppenstand, G. (2012) ‘Editorial: The Horror of It All,’ Journal of Popular Culture 45 (1), pp. 1-2.
Joyrich, L. (2014) ‘Queer Television Studies: Currents, Flows, and (Main)streams,’ Cinema Journal 53 (2), pp. 133-139.
Keetley, D. (2013) ‘Stillborn: The Entropic Gothic of American Horror Story,’ Gothic Studies 15 (2), pp. 89-107.
Sevenich, R. (2013) ‘Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are’ Queering American Horror Story. Gender Forum. Web.
Vink, O. (2014) ‘American Horror Story: Coven’, The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies 13, pp. 146-149.