american horror story

American Horror Story and Universe Building

We’ve been talking about the boundaries of Murphy’s metaverse in relation to AHS. What we know exists: aliens, ghosts, Satan/demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, psychics [a la Cricket, who I have to tell you I adore], there’s hints that Cricket practices hoodoo what with the saint work, or a type of voodoo, the afterlife in a variety of forms, angels, vampires of a type, zombies both voodoo and Romero style, and apparently curses of a type.

What we haven’t really seen: cryptids, Big Foot, the fae, the Wild Hunt [which has been established in American horror-lore and folklore at this point], shapeshifters, Poltergeist-style cemetery desecration and after effects, Egyptology a la old school Universal mummy stuff, Baba Yaga [though he has established at least the loa which opens up the suggestion of deities and/or cultural spirits].

I wonder where his line for ‘this is too much, everything but that’ is.

Personally I would love to see him get his claws into the Wild Hunt and I think that the way that it’s been used by modern American horror writers makes it a really solid option for this season. I don’t think it’s going to happen [I have my own theories about this season including unreliable narrators and other such themes], but I would love to see it.

There’s also a whole range of subgenres that he seems to be ignoring, either deliberately or just due to stylistic oversight or blindness-now that we’re multiple weeks in I feel safe to say that I was actually really hoping he was going with a good Southern psych/gothic horror and wouldn’t be centering so much on supernatural methods. I love supernatural horror, but I would love to see what he could do with just people messing with other people.

I feel that Murphy is also going with a lot of old school horror tropes this season, which has me torn. On one hand I can’t necessarily get upset with him for using traditional horror structures when, you know, the point of the series, but I’m a little…disappointed? when I can tell you with some certainty who’s going to die first, have them actually die, and hope to hell that the reasoning isn’t what I fear it is. However while Murphy does tend to come in like a sledge hammer he does tend to have slightly more subtlety than that-and before anyone goes too flailing on me, he really is. I’ve written over the past few seasons about his work with the mother and the oddities (the beautiful, beautiful, necessary oddities) of his women. There’s generally more going on in AHS than a lot of people seem to be willing to give him credit for-I am not going to go so far as to say that his work is feminist [it’s not. Period.] or not flawed [in a lot of ways it is. Deeply] but he honestly lets his characters have a much deeper range of expression than a lot of series would otherwise allow them. Seriously, the sheer presence of fully developed female villains who aren’t necessarily being driven by being scorned by love interests or coming out at the end as just being ‘misunderstood’ is actually a positive development in on-screen gender expression. You mean women have the same range of motives as men do?

While I’m hoping that this season holds up to the same pattern and he’s actually going somewhere with these tropes, at the same time, he’s actually sort of due a surface level season that plays the tropes straight-this is after all a series created to do just that.

The Shining in 2015

Each year brings about changes. It’s a truism, almost. It’s cliched, but it’s also true-and interaction with media slowly starts changing, when experience forces new perspective.

The only thing, after a year fighting with the shadow [the Jungian shadow, for those of you playing along at home and who may have just tuned in], what has become apparent in my yearly reading of The Shining is how much of that book is propelled by grief. This is a set of people who are all grieving (including Danny, and maybe Danny most of all)-mainly the loss of relationships. Some of these relationships never even had the chance to get off the ground.

It’s weird, because I’m noticing the deep, deep sadness that runs through this book for the first time. This is a tragedy, in the Greek sense. At least, that’s where it falls closest. It’s not a tragedy in the way that we normally use the term now-it’s a tragedy in the “I just woke up and realized my wife is my mother” type sense. When reality starts falling apart in a way that makes you realize that all of it was a lie, or the very least, a very very limited paraphrase of actual reality.

The book is actually scarier this year. Maybe because I know what’s coming? There is a sense of dread that follows the characters around, especially when they all start coming to terms with their own death, and their own shadows. I think that’s one of the thing that King did best in this era-The Shining is going on a picnic into the shadow, where we don’t really want to go but know we have to go. At the risk of sounding like woo-woo new age, we all know that there’s a part of our lives where the hedges start moving and the past really wants us to go back-so it can kill us. If that part of our lives hasn’t come yet, we know, as we get older, that there’s always the potential that it will be coming because all that’s happened is that we’ve gotten lucky and we’re on borrowed time.

I will say that it’s an interesting experience re-reading this novel while AHS Hotel is still airing, because it peaks its head up every so often. How can it now? I’m not sure that it would even be possible to do hotel-horror without at least passing glances to The Shining even when it’s not deliberate. There are a lot of similar themes that run through both, especially with the nature of addiction and desire (and the way that both become so ingrained that no one really actually -wants- to give them up, which is why it’s so hard to let both die). The main difference between the two is that the Cortez seems to have no interest in a slow burn run up to getting its machinery moving, while the Outlook likes to play with its dinner a little first.  Admittedly there’s also side eyes to A Tale of Two Sisters/Rose Flower, Red Lotus in Hotel that I wish wasn’t used because it’s a touch overdone….

2015 Fall Viewing (So Far)

Via Pixabay

Via Pixabay

American Horror Story: Hotel

You knew you were going to get at least a passing review. I will respond to the violence criticisms with this: genre placement matters. Hello bonfires, children, the Red Wedding, what goes on north of the Wall…and pretty much the entirety of Sons of Anarchy. I am not defending the violence so much as wondering if part of the issue here is that it’s carrying the horror label. Because between Game of Thrones and SoA, I’m assuming that people who complain that this is the most violent season of television ever, they haven’t seen either. I’ve seen some comments that I’m not sure I can get behind regarding the ‘realism’ of it all; to me, SoA could actually happen. Gaga’s frolicking around, not so much.

Beyond that, I’m enjoying it. I like this season, it’s a solid season…but Coven still holds my heart as my favorite season. This is a very 1980s, slasher horror season. I’m loving the running mentions to hotel horror, and I love Evan Peters character (and how adult he is; my gods, he finally looks like a grown up this season). My love of Gaga has been confirmed-I was pretty much convinced I was going to like her going in, but I also wanted to make sure that she could carry it before making a decision.

It was disconcerting to realize that I recognized everyone featured in Devil’s Night. Because while I’m heavily interested in cultural history, I’m not interested in that aspect of cultural history. I think I probably have a post in me comparing the dark mother here versus the dark mother in Coven. And yes, I miss Lang. But honestly? It’s an enjoyable season, I will be the odd reviewer that was expecting -so much more violence- from the Internet land meltdowns, but I’m not head over heels with this one, though I certainly like it more than Freak Show.

Ash Vs. The Evil Dead

I’ve been pretty open about my dislike of traditional zombie fiction. But I’ve always liked the Evil Dead franchise. So this show was a given.

This is another one with a lot of throw backs visually to 1970s and 1980s horror (they’re trying to continue the franchise, it makes sense). The effects are goofy and over the top, in a way that actually works here.

I actually like the zombies in this one. They’re actually…creepy in a silly, this shouldn’t work but does way.

Mid calls shows like this beer and popcorn entertainment. You don’t watch it for its depth. But it’s fun.

“The second first thing I need to do…is cardio…”

The Dark Mother

the dark mother

A repost from last fall. I’m posting a little early this week because I have to go do wedding stuff and I know that if I wait until tomorrow I’m going to get sucked into the siren’s song of canning peaches.

This is a topic that’s been showing up repeatedly for me this week.

If you’ve been watching this season of American Horror Story, there are times when Fiona is an exceptionally hard character to like.

However, there’s a scene, don’t worry I’m not going to spoil it, last week’s episode that drove home for me the way that the dark mother is present in both folklore and popular culture. It’s a theme that’s been running through my life for the last few weeks as well, and with the coming of winter it’s time to address it.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that we love to talk about the mother, with her compassion, loving, and gentleness but not her counterpart-the dark mother and the crone.

Women don’t seem to like the crone. In the image of the aged woman, they see their future and they fear it. They see the loss of vitality, beauty, and growth. While it’s true that women phase out of one arena-the creation of children and mothering-the crone is rewarded with grace, wisdom, and a deeper sense of self. There is also a fair amount of power in a croning-though it is admittedly a power that stems from being a step closer to death.

In mythology, the crone is sometimes psychopomp and thus fulfills a role that is absolutely pivotal to the life cycle. The pyschopomp, the guide of the souls into the underworld, is the bridge between two realities-that which we already know and the one that is unknowable. The crone sits at the bridge between the two worlds. Hecate, who is a triple goddess-that is maiden, or untried woman, mother/warrior/healer, and the crone, is the only deity who is capable of facing down Hades and mentoring Persephone during winter. It is her wisdom and grace that allows Persephone to move into her role of queen and also comfort her mother Demeter.

The crone as the witch is sometimes underestimated as well. Baba Yaga is one of those crones and dark mothers who can’t be fit into a perfect role. It is easy and perhaps desirable to make her into a terrifying creature, what with her habit of decorating with skulls and eating both heroes and children, but it is from her house that the cycle of the days (the colored riders) come forth and heroes, if they are both respectful and courageous, gain great wisdom. She is full of features that are deplorable, and yet is her that gives Vasilisa fire and teaches her the value of community and aid.

The crone and the dark mother are both associated with destruction, but mythology is often careful to remind us that creation and destruction are linked in a cycle, not independent entities. Winter, for all of its death and darkness is what prepares the ground for the rebirth of spring. Many plants need the winter to mature seeds so they can be planted in the spring.  Cailleach Bheur, or Beira, is both the spirit of winter and the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scotland. She is paired with Brighde, who watches over the spring and summer. It is her dual nature, the destroyer as winter and mother of gods that marks the dual nature of the dark mother and crone.

Clowns and Period Inappropriate Music

things that go bump in the night

I have to admit, this season’s American Horror Story has the creepiest theme/entry of the bunch. I thought that the metallic grinding noises in last season’s entry were bad. I want to watch the opening over and over-it might be the creepiest thing that I’ve seen all fall.

This is the Clive Barker season, but last week’s (I haven’t seen last night’s yet) was totally Hitchcock-all that entry needed was a wig and a butcher’s knife. I can see why people might not like the tone, but there’s a lot of parallels to this season and Barker, circa The Hellbound Heart. A LOT of parallels, and it’s gorgeous to watch.

One of the concerns that was voiced to me prior to the start of the season was that it would end up ablist and I think I can see the concern. I’m not in any position to comment on the other side of the argument-since my issues run to the mental health spectrum and chronic pain, I can’t touch this representation in a way that I was comfortable to with the Paganism in Coven. Cliffnotes: I’m kind of glad that we finally got something to balance out Charmed, since, you know, the Dark Mother and balance and all. I will say that while there’s a lot of problematic issues (same as there always is, this is AHS we’re talking about here), the characters seem to be pretty self-aware of what’s going on around them. The way that Pepper ties back to Season 2 and her comments in that season about ‘freaks in normal society’ are telling as well. I’m not saying this is a perfect representation, but the characters seem to know where they stand in the rest of society.

I do hope that the assault in the first episode theme doesn’t end up a running thing with AHS. I don’t think it’s too radical a spoiler; it takes place within the first fifteen minutes of the first episode of the season. Even with some of the person issues in my past, I’m okay the plot necessary assault-it was in Coven, I’m not sure it was in Asylum and the plot of Monster House wouldn’t exist at all without it. I’m just not sure that Freashow is carrying that forward.

I’m greatly amused with some of the characterizations in this season-there’s a fan fiction type story in an anthology about the Hellbound Heart that has a woman ending up in Hell, very, very glad to see the Cenobites. A little too glad to see the Cenobites…better to rule in Hell? That’s what I kept thinking during last week’s episode. If you can’t beat them, join them?

This season doesn’t seem to be quite as meta as the last three, but it’s there, to a point. I wish they would back off of the Browning influence slightly, I swear I’m waiting for the troupe to start screaming ‘One of us! One of us!’ Also…what the hells is up with the completely inappropriate music? It’s actually pretty damn jarring. I’m not sure what’s going on there. Either drop that music or add in something else that blatantly anachronistic.

american horror story

what i wanted was another american gothic.

what i got was desperate housewives set in rose red.

i think the best way to describe my feelings on american gothic is torn. i want to like this show. it has genuine potential. right now it’s letting me down.

i understand that the backstory is supposed to make the family seem tragic and understandable. but right now it comes across that everything that could possibly go wrong, has. the drama seems forced and over the top. i think they were aiming for a natural progression of tragedies but it seems to be me that it’s a little much. NOTHING seems to go right for this family.

someone once said that you need a little comedy to ensure that you don’t loose your viewers and to make the horror more horrific.

that said, there’s a lot of parallels to rose red that works to the show’s favor. the set up of the house as a ghost machine is nothing new but at the same time it’s effective here. it doesn’t come across as trite or forced. i’m not sure if they’re going to the house as a living entity route but it makes sense.

the direction does help. there are some beautiful, creepy scenes especially when dealing with flashbacks. the fire scene in the pilot is especially effective.

i do have to agree with some of the criticisms that the sexual content is a little much. at the very least can we keep our pants on for more than five minutes of airtime at once? please? i’m not against the use of sex but it almost becomes a drinking game.

hopefully the show will settle down in future weeks.