I’ve finally seen both episodes of American Horror Story to have aired, and I’m not quite sure what to make of the new FX series. The show has the form of a horror movie but the soul of a John Waters movie. It is less horror than a grotesque, a mishmash of themes and ideas borrowed from older horror movies coated with a sticky layer of psychosexual anguish.
In my Knowing Fear I took great pains to refute the common theory in the academy that the horror genre is an outgrowth of Freudian sexual fears. But here is an example of a piece of putative horror that is little more than a psychosexual drama wearing the clothes of horror.
So far we have seen a creepy old house, homicidal teens, mentally unbalanced people of all stripes, ghosts, murders galore, and mostly weird sexual hang ups and tortures. This would be the place to describe symbolism and subtext if there were any, but so far there only seems to be one level, the surface. The message seems to be that unhappy sex is a form of death. Unoriginal, yes, but possibly effective if the (more) realistic sections of the program set within the house itself could be freed from the campy carnival of grotesque characters parading around outside, apparently on loan from a bad dark comedy.
Two episodes in, it seems that American Horror Story is horror made by people who have only seen parodies of horror movies and tried to work backward to reconstruct the original.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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