Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Satan Lives in the Cellar

Late to the party as always, I just got around to watching American Horror Story. I have nearly reached the end of the first season, but it gave me plenty to ponder.

1. Why is the female terror less obnoxious than in Black Mirror?
It's probably because the writers bother to give the women characters: some of the most horrific moments - the baby clawing from within the womb, the home invasion - are seen from the women's perspective. What it loses in the cool appraisal of an amoral protagonist, it gains in both terror and sensitivity.

2. Isn't it a bit derivative? 
There is nothing new in the horror stories - they share Black Mirror's post modern adaptation of source stories, but ramp it up a notch. The double-episode Halloween special was a compilation of expected tropes (yes, the dead walk the earth), but by using a nuclear family as the focus, all sorts of intriguing allegories are evoked. It's 2014, mind: originality is only available from liars and classical texts.

3. Who's the daddy?
The central character is a dad - a psychiatrist, no less. He might not be a deadbeat or absent father (where's the plot in someone not there?), but he runs the gamut of petty sins. I say petty - he breaks the Ten Commandments before getting out of bed with his student mistress. Sure, it's another 'masculinity in crisis' routine but, unlike Peep Show, Black Mirror and the rest, this man is the architect of his own undoing. He's not the victim of a society that is forcing feminine values on him. He takes advantage of his privilege to winch students, buy cheap real estate and slap up a patio over the corpses in the back garden. 

4. I haven't shat my pants yet.
When Alan Moore did something similar with Swamp Thing in the 1980s, he twisted various American horrors to comment on American social ills (guns, racism, misogyny). AHS isn't doing this in the episodes I have seen, at least not on the surface. It doesn't have the strangely blunt allegory that Moore delighted in using. Yet in the central trinity of a disintegrating family, it is more subtle. The horror is not so much an external threat, but lurks in the basement.

5. The High School Killer seems lovely.
At times: he was a bit of a stalker but it turns out he wasn't so much stalking as tied to the basement by unearthly powers. Here's a strength of the series: the characters develop. The current moral dilemma it is addressing is whether a high school killer could ever become redeemed through love, without forgetting that his romance is as creepy as twilight.

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