Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Real Horror of "American Horror Story"

I have to post about two of my favorite TV series right now.  American Horror Story and The Walking Dead.  If you haven't seen these, I apologize for what may not make sense.

With these choices, you might think I"m a horror junky, but not so. I only enjoy it when it's 'smart' horror, and used to portray or display some sort of deeper truths, some inner-psyche turmoil. Godzilla wasn't a monster, he was Japan's atom bomb.

Jessica Lange wouldn't star in no crap.
(At first glance, I didn't notice the burning man in the hallway.)

Let's start with American Horror Story. Wow.  It has not yet failed to keep me thrilled and has made me gasp more than once.  The relationship stress between the family, the neighbors, and of course the surrounding ghosts (and I'm thinking that many, if not all of the characters who frequent the house are ghosts) has been so well acted and written.  After the first episode, I was fearful that the relationship tension couldn't be sustained, and that the series would fall into a bunch of cliche, glock-filled cheap scares, but the opposite has been true. The more the characters invest in each other, and the more I invest in their well being, it just gets heightened. It does well not to become some cheesey soap opera plot (see Brothers and Sisters) while also having incredible dramatic turns every episode.

The real horror is the fragmented characters, and how all of them are in search for wholeness, connection, love, trust, and instead are isolated, fearful, hurt, and broken.  A husband who desperately wants to have his family, yet is unable to shake his past and fully shed himself of his scandalous behavior.  A wife who wants to trust her husband and put the trauma of her past miscarriage behind her.

And the cool thing is, the 'ghosts' or monsters in the story are just as fragmented as the real people.   Is the husband and wife relationship much different from the same-sex male characters who used to live in the house, but who can never trust each other and are therefore in a perpetual fight driven by anger, even into their afterlife? Is the wife not the same as the woman from years ago who have lost a child through the abortion in the basement?  The maid who is a ghost and appears to be stuck in the house is the same as the people who are stuck, unable to find true connections to others, so instead she watches as her mom goes off to heaven and she stays stuck, going about her daily mundane routine, living a life of quiet desperation, screaming on the inside.  The high school girl and the Downs syndrome neighbor are both looking for the same thing, love and acceptance, but their caretakers are too wrapped up in their own flaws and drama to give any.

The mistress is just as horrifying and fatal attraction-like needy while she's alive as when she gets killed but then appears again at the front door.  You can't just kill the past, you have to deal with it, otherwise, the ghosts in your basement remain, still there in your psychological dark spots, always ready to fragment your spirit, destroy your dreams, and yes hurt your children.

Like all great series, questions linger:

Did the wife, Viv, know that the man in the rubber suit wasn't her husband? I mean, if you have some years of sexual relations with someone,  you begin to know real quick exactly their shape and size.

Who's the father? and what are the origins of the man in the plastic suit?

And why did the ultrasound tech faint?

The teenage boy never seems to leave the house - Is he Jessica Lange's son, also a ghost trapped there?

And there are so many more.

On a less inspiring but still incredibly interesting series is The Walking Dead.  The series is about zombies, sure, but its' really about bravery, moral relativism, and what makes one human.  On one end is the zombies, and the other end of the spectrum is the potential nobility of humans, but most of the characters fall in between. The best episodes are those that portray moral ambiguity. Do you owe an obligation and risk your own life for a character who just tried to kill you? Do you let him die or do you simply throw him the keys, see if he can rescue himself?

Could you take the life of  a middle-aged man  if it could save the life of an innocent ten year old boy? What if the man is the one who (accidentally) shot the boy causing his predicament in the first place?

And, of course, would you sleep with your husbands best friend if you thought your husband dead? And where is the 12 year old girl, and what would you risk to save her? (Personally, I could never leave the forest until she was found.) I suspect she's safe or at least alive in some new community of survivors.

Poor Merl. But I hear he's coming back and boy is he angry.

With all the supernatural situations in both of these shows, I have some odd complaints.  I can handle zombies and ghosts, but... Why the heck would the sheriff in The Walking Dead still wear his sheriff's hat?  that, I can't handle.  And, the man with the burnt face, why does he have to always wear that black suit?  I mean, we get it, but man, that's stuff unbelievable. Keep coming back to life and keep the ghosts in the basement, but fix that stuff.

TV, in general, I believe, is in a sort of golden age. The series and drama and intelligence have gotten so much more detailed, characters and storylines have depth that (dare I say it) borders on Shakespearean. It seems to me that it started with HBO's Sopranos, and then excelled from there.  It's very non-artsy for me to compliment TV like this, so I'll have to go read some classics are some other culturally elitist uppity-thing pretty darn quick. 
Okay, that's all I got for now. American Horror Story is on tonight.  It's a show that everytime I watch, I think "why couldn't I write that?"

"Because you're just not that good," the ghosts from the basement answer.

 (For a follow up to this post, click here.))

Stray, the novel on Amazon
Stray addicts and stray dogs, wandering the streets looking for salvation.
The Jade Rabbit on Amazon
A Chinese adoptee and her miraculous marathon run.


Leah F said...

Great discussion. AHS is my new favorite!!

Leah F said...

Also, as a fellow fan of the all too rare "smart" horror film, I highly recommend the movie Stephen King's The Mist. The ending is different than the novella, but King has gone on record stating he likes the film's ending better than his own.

Mark Matthews said...

Thanks Leah. I did read the mist, and only remember snippets of the movie. I think a runner's version of The Long Walk would be incredible. In case you're not familiar, an endurance event where all are killed except the last kid walking. And you have three warnings if you fall behind pace and only a limited number of energy supplies (Gu).

We got some answers to some questions on American Horror Story last night.

Marty Shaw said...

I haven't seen American Horror Story but plan on giving it a try. I'm a huge fan of Walking Dead and think I might be able to help with the stress you're feeling on that show.

I have a friend that used to do the rodeo thing. The years have caught up so he doesn't do the circuit anymore but he still wears that banged up cowboy hat, even after all these years. Maybe Rick's sheriff hat isn't really a hat. Maybe it's an old friend, or a symbol that reminds him of a world and life that existed before things went to crap. Just my two cents :)

Kimberly said...

Two my favorite shows! I started watching The Walking Dead in August, so while it's on hiatus I'm getting caught up on American Horror Story. LOVE IT!

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