I scare easily. As a kid, I was terrified of everything, especially on TV—the magic mirror from Snow White, the creepy-crawly characters of The Nightmare Before Christmas and the sinister animated Grinch were especially fearsome. Even now, I tend to avoid the horror trend. Paranormal activity, blood-and-guts, things that go bump in the night? No, thanks.
Naturally, when the first installment of American Horror Story debuted in 2011, I was not interested at all. But after catching five minutes of the pilot episode, I couldn’t turn away (except to cover my eyes at some of the freakier sights—but even then I’ll admit I peeked). Despite my fearful nature, I found myself swept up in the American Horror Story craze, tuning in week after week for another scare.
Unlike other TV dramas, each season of American Horror Story is its own mini-series, spinning one “horror story” in a 13-episode arc. The first season, called “Murder House”, featured a family whose new home is haunted by the ghosts of its former inhabitants. Last year’s “Asylum” was set in the 1960s at a Massachusetts mental institution. The newest installment, “Coven”, tells the tale of a special school for modern-day witches.
So what makes American Horror Story different from other screamfests—and what keeps a self-confessed scaredy-cat tuning in?
First off, a quality show is nothing without a phenomenal cast. The ensemble features some of today’s best actors, many of whom have appeared in multiple seasons in different roles. Acting legend Jessica Lange has starred in all three seasons, showing off her chops as three distinct and dynamic women. James Cromwell, perhaps known best as the elderly pig farmer in Babe, recently scooped up an Emmy for his turn in “Asylum”. The program received an astounding 17 nominations at the Emmys this year, including nods for four of its remarkable cast members. The entire ensemble deserves honors for their work at creating scenes that aren’t just scary, but frighteningly real.
In fact, it’s the reality of American Horror Story’s scary scenarios that make the show so intriguing. Real-life ghost stories like the Black Dahlia are featured in “Murder House”. The titular setting of “Asylum” paints a fairly accurate picture of the horrific state of mental institutions of the day. “Coven” was inspired by real-life sorcery, from New Orleans voodoo to the witch hunts in Salem. If you’re intrigued by the plotlines, chances are you can find further information easily online. But be wary of this—I know from experience that the Internet is a creepy road to go down, and next thing you know it’s 1:30 AM and you’ve been looking at pictures of abandoned mental hospitals all night instead of being productive.
Most of all, American Horror Story charms its audience by providing a little something for everybody. There’s historical commentary and gripping questions of moral ambiguity which lends itself to interesting discussions after the episode ends. There’s romance and sexual tension—Adam Levine guest-starred last season, enough said. There’s even an online fan base, for those of us who enjoy putting silly captions on scary screenshots.
Though the title of the show may suggest some tropes and genre stereotypes, American Horror Story is a show with universal appeal, and you can bet this scaredy-cat will be tuning in for a third round when “Coven” premieres tonight.
American Horror Story: Coven premieres on FX (BC cable channel 28) on October 9 at 10 P.M.