Toward the end of Hotel’s second episode, Iris (Kathy Bates) fills in John (Wes Bentley) about the history of the hotel’s creator, James Patrick March (Evan Peters), who built the Hotel Cortez as a “monument to excess and opulence, where he could satisfy his own peculiar appetites”. This is presumably and fittingly a comparison to series creator Ryan Murphy, and co-creator Brad Falchuk.
American Horror Story
American Horror Story: Freak Show has been making campy nods towards a variety of horror cliches throughout the season’s first three episodes, and “Edward Mordrake (Part Two)” points towards a new subset of the genre—torture porn. Even the most gruesome moments of the previous episodes carry a comic, winking touch to them that keeps them light (without allowing for a few chills). However, in “(Part Two),” the humor is replaced by a noticeably sadistic streak that’s neither as fun nor as scary as the previous tone.
Despite having a premise that would appear to push the high camp of this season even further, “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)” features some of the most touching and genuinely emotional moments seen in the season thus far. Though the elements of camp are certainly still present, “Mordrake” sees the season moving into more emotionally resonant territory.
It may be more true in horror than in any other genre that certain subgenres ebb and flow in popularity over time. Vampires were hot in the mid-’90s when you had Interview with the Vampire, From Dusk Till Dawn, Blade and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then, vampires sat out of popular discourse for the next ten years or so, until the double whammy of Twilight and True Blood hitting in 2008, causing a tidal wave of vampiric fiction from the arty (Only Lovers Left Alive, Byzantium) to the schlocky (Dracula Untold, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) that hasn’t slowed down since.
Despite the somewhat stately pace of the season premiere “Monsters Among Us,” the sheer inanity of the action happening onscreen created an off-the-wall vibe. Whether it was the special talents afforded by Jimmy’s syndactyly, Ethel’s beard and bizarre accent, or Elsa singing a song that wasn’t released until 20 years after the show’s setting, Murphy and Falchuk made it clear that, in true “freak show” fashion, spectacle would be given precedent over logic. In this week’s episode, “Massacres and Matinees,” the bonkers factor is raised a notch, as is the fun.
The fourth season of American Horror Story starts off with a stunning cold open amidst a quaint farmhouse. After stumbling upon a gruesome crime scene, a milkman makes an even more shocking discovery in a rural home. It’s difficult to remember an episode of AHS in which the camera work is so effective as it is here. “Monsters Among Us,” directed by show creator Ryan Murphy, prefers to keep things hidden off-screen, and rather than show the audience what it is, we instead get a series of gasps, startling sound effects and a series shots that are framed to hide the dark mystery. “Monsters Among Us” keeps viewers guessing until after the spectacular opening credits before it pulls the curtain up on conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler. Ever playful, Murphy’s visuals are also concealing, and yet telling.