Tag Archives: horror story

Future Seasons of American Horror Story

I wrote a post very similar to this one after the end of Season Two and, while I kept that post updated, it’s beginning to fall a bit out of date, and so I wanted to revisit the post with some new ideas and sexier photoshop work.

So, a bit of a recap, shall we? American Horror Story is a show defined by iconic marketing imagery, a frantic-yet-elegant cinematic style, an ensemble cast that’s always excellent, pitch perfect thematic studies, and interwoven anthology plots.

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In season one, we visited the Murder House. The setting was a haunted house in California, and it allowed the writers and directors to study such American Horrors that the supernatural horrors are only caught up within: the real horrors — the way people react to and perpetuate social issues. Adultery. Abortion. Gay rights. The 21st Century family. School shootings. Depression. Teenage romance. Bullying. The themes that circle the home.

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With second season, we had a big switch, moving into the Asylum. Though first season was dark, it was so in a sexy, elegant, nature. The scares crawled around inside your head a bit. But with season two, Murphy and Co. turned it up to eleven. The sexiness was out the window. The show was a period piece for the 60’s, a time that’s beginning to seem almost pre-historic to us. The setting and time period allowed the writers to explore the big issues of the time (many that are unfortunately still very prevalent), and what made the season brilliant by the final episodes was the way the writers spring-boarded from social issues to philosophical issues. Women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, the role of the Church in the world and within institutions, the treatment of the mentally ill, the ways science can twist and corrupt, and the ways science can redeem. We got some supernatural scares, but not so much of the ghostly, super-powered variety. We saw aliens as a brilliant stand-in for God, we saw possession unrecognized in a place of god, and of course we saw our seasonal historical murderer.

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And then season three happened. Drawing mixed reviews from critics, season three moved us down south, with Coven. Coven aimed to iron out some of the kinks with Asylum: to give the audience a breath of fresh air from the deep darkness of the Asylum, to shave off some of the abundant themes and plotlines that slowed the second season in the middle of its run. They went after feminism and racism in the south, tracking the split of two witch clans and the battle between them as it was reignited. The first episode was a powerhouse, but the show stumbled along after that, missing the opportunities to sneak in genuine frights, and, sadly, instead of deconstructing many of these themes, wound up reinforcing them by season’s end.

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And now, in the late summer of 2014, we move into the fourth season, where we’ll step right up to the Freak Show. I’m utterly pumped for this season (and utterly disappointed in myself that I never thought of the carnival/freakshow idea in my earlier blog post: thanks commenters!) Where Murphy first confessed he was going for a lighter tone and a funny feel the way of Coven, he realized as he got into the plot that this season was, in fact, darker than Asylum. And, I hope, more on track with its thematic study of the nitty gritty. The promos are already exceptional. The clown is going to be scary as shit. And for the first time in more than half a century, we’re really going to get a piece of film/television that digs around in a very much overlooked piece of American history: the sideshow carnival. Looks for more civil rights type issues, post-WWII racial scares, and another season where the monsters are never the monsters.

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(And of course, the alternate title card used with the actual-footage teasers)

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So where do we go from here?

Ryan Murphy has on multiple occasions mentioned that the season following Freak Show was going to be followed by something very much out of left field. While I’ve got a few good ideas, I don’t think any of them are quite as out-of-left-field worthy for the fifth season as Empty Space. Space has a myriad of setting-style titles, so it could be tough for fans to guess this subtitle. But space is a rich American horror soil, and very much do-able for Murphy and Co. I have regular debates with my good buddy CJ about the possibilities of such a season. He argues that aliens shouldn’t make an appearance to throw viewers, whereas I think they can. Granted, AHS has already done aliens in Season Two, but they were brief and very much an image-centric stand-in. They could easily do some creatures heretofore unseen. But with the potential for deep space survival, fear of unknown planets, rebellious robots, rebellious other ships, and with a wealth of horror-movies to nod to and reference, I think we can count on seeing Empty Space in the near future for AHS, hopefully as near as Season Five.

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Almost equally as obvious and overdue as space in the AHS franchise as my vote for Season Six? I’ve subtitled it the Woodlands. (Part of me fought with debate over calling it “Sticks” — a play on the folk phrase for the backwoods mixed with the River Styx from Greek mythology, a thematic allusion very much up Murphy’s alley). The Woodlands locale is rich for AHS. It’s the setting of many in the classic staple of American Horror: the Slasher film. We set this at a cabin or lakeside retreat, and let havoc play out. We’d get the classic slasher killer (likely somebody historical), but there’s room here to play with more modern manifestations from the woods, like Slenderman or cryptid beasties. Murphy has spoken in recent interviews about the nature of death on television, and how it’s different than in movies. Because of the way a 13-episode television run connects you with characters for six times longer than the average movie, you become far more attached, and so those deaths are more meaningful. While in many ways this can be a deterrent for a slasher season, I think it’s territory to play with those losses as the horror that they are.

Thematically we’ve got play by looking no further than Lars von Trier’s disturbing film, Antichrist. Von Trier, in interviews, pointed out that one of his main thematic goals with the film was to explore the dichotomy between the woods currently illustrated in Romantic tones, as a place of peace and finding one’s self, as a Walden, but whereas historically, the woods are a terrible, terrible place of darkness. That’s where you go to fight for your life, where the food chain spins endlessly, and human wit is tested against animal ability.

So I say, let’s do that. Let’s pit the humans against the wild. (And don’t even get me started on what a gorgeous season that would be to watch, cinematically).

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THE season I’ve been waiting to see from Murphy. This show had better not run dry by the time we make our detour into Lovecraft Country (perhaps a better subtitle, but it’s clunky). Innsmouth of course is the setting of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, about a small community of inbred and hybrid creatures living on the coastal shores of Massachusetts. Lovecraft has been one of the most defining characters in modern horror, introducing us to Cosmic Horror and a strange philosophical place of Nihilism and mysticism. This topic is hot right now after being constantly hinted at in HBO’s first season of True Detective, so I think it’s time for something more overt to hit the airwaves. Certainly themes are easy enough to play out. Let’s look at science and religion, cults and isolation, the power of nature, sprinkle in some Storm of the Century and tales of epic sea monsters for flashbacks, and we’ve got one of the tightest, darkest, rainiest, and creepiest American Horror Stories yet. Perhaps the topic will dry up by Season Seven, but I doubt it. Lovecraft never leaves us.

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Okay, fine, Maize isn’t a setting, but it was the best I had, and I loved the play on Maize meaning corn, as well as the wordplay of Maze. Look no farther than the Shining for the maze/minotaur trope in classic horror. Mash it up with Children of the Corn and we’ve got something special. Now, though Murphy says he has as many as 13 different settings in mind, I’m worried themes come less varied than settings, especially if he continues to pack them in the way he did in season 2. Eight seasons is already a bit long, but I think these are the quintessential settings that absolutely have to be covered, and the Maize season would be the quintessential finale, wrapping us up for season Nine. The Native American connection brings the end back to America’s beginning. Dig around in America’s roots, explore the monsters in the soil,  Native American legends, the horror stories from before the genocide, then toss in some Dark Romanticism and Sleepy Hollow, maybe pepper in some Celtic Halloween roots to stir the melting pot, and we’ve got an incredible finale to an incredible show.

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American Horror Story: Coven – “Boy Parts” Review

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Following the smash premiere of the third season of “American Horror Story” (the numbers registered at five and a half million viewers, more than doubling season two’s finale), episode two, “Boy Parts,” hits the ground running, as the season’s plots begin to take off (like a witch on a broomstick, perhaps?). But I’m already starting to wonder… what’s on the way? Check out the full review over at ParanormalPopCulture.com  http://www.paranormalpopculture.com/2013/10/american-horror-story-coven-recap-boy.html

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American Horror Story Season 4 and Season 5 Brainstorm!

News broke this last week that the new season of American Horror Story was going to be subtitled Coven. (For those of you folks who’ve been googling season 4, Coven is in fact the 3rd season of AHS and premieres in the fall of 2013). This follows on the heels of the news that was announced, at the end of last season, that the season would be taking place primarily in the deep south, much of it being filmed in New Orleans.

This has me excited, because I love to wonder about the themes, settings, and frights that this show will be supplying next.

It’s these things that makes the show brilliant: their handling of social and political and philosophical themes; their refreshing new storylines and sets each season; and the gritty horror that they bring to television.

So, following my blogs last season, in which I wondered at the themes and the developments in Asylum, I’m now broadening my scope. I’m thinking ahead to seasons 4 and 5 (which would air in the falls of 2014 and 2015. But of course, in the world of television, future seasons are never sure until they’re ordered. But I like to dream, and American Horror Story killed it with the ratings for its first two seasons, giving FX some steam to compete with other cable biggies a la Walking Dead).

In the first season, we covered the Murder House story. The marketing color was RED. American GOTHIC. The themes explored were drawing from decades of recent Americana. Murder. Abortion. Adultery. Divorce. Sex. School shootings. Drugs. And a healthy dose of ghosts to boot.

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In the second season, we covered the Asylum story. The marketing color was WHITE. The themes ranged from religion, to science. Gay rights. Women’s rights. The masculine and the feminine. Mother issues. Medicine. Mental illness. Abortion. Nature versus nurture. Inherent evil. Nazis. Human experimentation. Alien abduction.

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In the third season, we only know that it’s the Coven story. Which says to most of us: witches. And, shooting in the deep south, I can only guess at marketing colors: GREEN. (Update: Now that season three is in the wind, we see there was a tinge of green and a bit of hot pink, this being a season of feminism themes, amongst others) And I can only imagine themes and topics. Racism, I’d imagine? The mingling of “American” ideals with French and African? Magic. Producers have hinted at lots of sex and more comedy. Hoodoo? Voodoo? Vampires? Segregation?

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So now I’m looking past season three and into four and five. The uncharted, un-talked-about, not-even-rumored, here-be-dragons territory.

(I’m not even forecasting here. I’m just spit-balling).

So what’s left on the plate? The core of this show is explicitly American horror, in the sense of both location and theme. And so brainstorming future settings that hold quintessentially American horror roots is interesting. I’ve only come up with two, but my excitement to see the team’s handling of them is palpable.

I want to see season four hit the coast. I’m a sucker for coastal everything. Lighthouses. Water. Storms. Lovecraftian horror. The kind of sea-eroded history. The moodiness of such an atmosphere. Can you see it?

American-Horror-Story-Season-4-Promo-bannerPromos with only a fat phallic tentacle on a couple storm-beaten rocks? (Oh, you know it would be phallic too. Did you SEE the promo posters for Asylum?) An exploration of the mystery of the sea? A throwback historically to the old sailors, both in discovering America and also fishing. HEAVY draws on Lovecraft, if particularly the Shadow Over Innsmouth? Can you imagine? Cult-like worship of strange sea-creatures within the town? Half-man, half-animal hybrids? Perhaps some splicing/cloning scientific play with that?

Play on seclusion and religion and what makes up a homestead. Safety. Security. Especially in the times we live in. Themes perhaps of that question of security versus freedom.

And then into season five. I have a bias. I think every wonderful show on television only has five good seasons in it. It’s the best amount of time to complete a thorough arc before getting into redundant territory.

And what better way to wrap American Horror Story than a return to America’s roots? The midwest and the colonial east. Cornfields. Small towns. Colonial roots and revolution.

American-Horror-Story-Season-5-Promo-BannerAmericana at its heart. Late summer. Autumn. The harvest. Calling upon the classic horror themes we’ve seen season to season during the heart of Halloween. The imminent fears of the long winter. Questions of simple living, American values. Questions of population growth and food in the modern times but also in the past. Throw back to the land itself. Throw back to Native Americans and the disputes with them. Curses. Genocide. Animals and nature and scarecrows guarding the fields.

A sprinkling of Shyamalan with the Village. Some Hawthorne! Dark Romanticism. A bit of Young Goodman Brown. Some twisted Puritan values. Some Washington Irving, a bit of Ichabod Crane and headless horsemen.

The final iconic monster as something Native American. The revelation coming in that it’s not really a monster. Like all monsters, it’s misunderstood. And it’s usually only as monstrous as we make it.

What better way to wrap up the show than with a final look at the heart of America: where it all came from. How it was founded. The sins in the soil.

But I want to know what YOU guys think. Would that be a satisfying wrap to one of the smartest shows on television? Are there more choice selections of classic horrific Americana that I’m forgetting? What do you want to see in the upcoming seasons? Let me know in the comments section down below!

Update (Feb 6, 2014)

Murphy is still skating as to what in particular season 4 will be called, though I suspect we’ll be hearing about it in the next month or two. He’s already hinted that season four will be over many time periods, but mostly in the 50’s, it’ll be as comedic as season four (though five will be something very much out of left field, he says), and a bit gothic. Folks are having fun with the carnival/circus idea, but I quite like the Freakshow art that appeared in a quick google search. Freakshow is certainly a topic that would be VERY much American Horror Story’s alley, and would touch upon the gothic, but he’s already said fans haven’t nailed it yet, and that the circus idea was baseless.

In lieu of the updates, I wanted to update this post, since it still gets a lot of traffic (almost seventy comments? You guys are AWESOME. And some GREAT ideas that I’d completely overlooked).

I should point out that though there are at times a greenish tinge, AHS seems to have deviated from the color schemes I guessed about above. It seems the black, white, and red will always be their base, with a touch of extra color that might connect with the theme, the way green reflected the south and the witches. That obviously would influence my marketing brainstorms up above a bit.

I still love the ideas of a coastal, Lovecraftian AHS, as well as a midwestern corn-fields and autumnal feel, so I wanted to add some applicable titles and extra promo photo mockups, particularly since I’ve gotten a bit more deft at the photoshop in the year since I posted this bad boy. Enjoy, rock on, and hope to see you on the other side of season four!

(Seasons one through three courtesy and property of FX. Of course, the American Horror Story and FXs logos are copyright FX):

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As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and photographer. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. I’m also a conceptual and portrait photographer working out of Northern Colorado. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Where American Horror Story S2 Went Wrong and Why it Was BRILLIANT

American Horror Story. Season two. Four months later.

I’m happy to say my hopes for this season were for the most part absolutely executed.

What it had going for it again was a brilliant season of discussion about hard modern American issues, everything from religion to the handling of mental patients, to the way we look at people with mental disorders. To issues like abortion and women’s rights and the role of women in society.

The show handles these issues with extremity and the kind of “othering” perspective gained by the horror lens that allows examination of different sides of these issues. Without being too spoilery, take for example, the instance of rape by a derranged serial killer. Is that an okay situation for an abortion? Or on the other hand, as the show demonstrates, what if choosing to do the “right” thing, keeping the baby to avoid more death, winds up turing on its head. By putting emphasis on nature instead of nurture, by studying this idea of essential evil, the show suggests that maybe even in the instance of doing the “right thing”, not the right thing happens.

That’s the real depth of post-modern, horror storytelling: turning issues on their heads, considering things differently and extremely and forcing you to think.

The season played with beautiful dynamics between monsters (traditionally embodying the deeper “American” horrors of the series rather than the purely grotesque ones). Here we have represented: religion and whether there can be such a situation as purity of the human being, and equally the ideas of pure evil in a human being; science as a method of salvation and destruction, embodied in the Aliens, used toward the end (the white light) to contrast the work of religion (the shadows); the masculine, represented by the serial killer Bloody Face, the idea of paternity and motherhood, of power of women, sexuality, and what that means to society.

Studying the play of these ideas is absolutely what makes American Horror story one of the most brilliant shows on television. AHS is the bar I set when I walk into a horror movie.

Now, this season did have some flaws.  I actually stopped watching for a number of weeks because I wasn’t into it. The season felt early on as if it bit off more than it could chew. Throwing in mental patients with deranged killers, with monsters, with aliens, and possession. It was too much. Tack on the upping of the more extreme camera work, action too fast paced to milk the scares, the level of in-your-face gore and horror — it felt that the writers had lost their way from the thematic hearts of the show.

But I returned, watched the rest of the season in two sittings, and was blown away by the end. The threads were brought together, thematically and practically balancing each other out, to arrive at a cohesive whole.

And, upon reflection, the cons wound up supporting the real positive work of the show.

Though the link from the aliens to the demonic wasn’t particularly elaborated on in terms of practicality (a la that god-awfully executed but brilliantly realized Fourth Kind), it was there subtextually and thematically. Aliens as scientific advancement. Religion as archaic advancement. Nazis somewhere in between. The dialogue throughout between the three.

One of my early problems with the season was the real claustrophobic feel. Creators would likely say they were going for that. It’s the idea of an Asylum. You’re cut off from the world. You don’t have a lot of freedom. It should be claustrophobic. They might say then my reaction was a sign of successful execution, where I felt it had more of a feel of being fake.

But this idea of fakery brings up a fascinating angle on it. This idea of what is real and not real. Of Camp. In storytelling, Camp as a genre, or style, is where you can see the strings, where you can see behind the scenes, where you have “reality” immediately presented to you, and you know to some extent what is not real. This places emphasis on what is more important: what’s real: Emotions; Story; Theme.

So in this case, that element of Camp that was played up more this season than last season, worked. I’m more of a fan of uber realism, myself. But here, whether intended or not, it was successful. The whole season we wind up questioning these ideas of reality: what’s real, what’s not real. Right down to the set-work and camera work.

The constant Dutch angles were a little much for me, but they contributed to that over-the-top style of horror that American Horror Story doesn’t shy from. That idea of Camp storytelling and essentially this in-your-face horror, where we’re not afraid necessarily to show the monsters we’ve made. We’re almost proud of them. We like to put them in your face, we want to talk about these issues. The hard issues.

That’s America.

And that I think is crucial and essential American Horror. And it wraps up the real success, even in what I didn’t like about it, for season two of American Horror Story.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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