An American Horror Story Housecall
FX has been creating quite a buzz with its slew of promotional spots for the chilling upcoming series “American Horror Story.” You know the ones I’m talking about, with the pregnant woman in the path of a creepy looking thing in a latex suit, the presumably dead looking baby doll (or baby?) and the mysterious arms playing cello on people’s bellies. Intrigued word of mouth has definitely been circulating, and in just a few short weeks we’ll get a chance to engorge ourselves with what looks to be a veritable feast for the eyes.
“American Horror Story” follows a great tradition of normal, unsuspecting families being thrust into a full-fledged war with the supernatural. The show’s creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, best known for bringing smash-hit “Glee” to FOX and (in a darker and more disturbed vein) “Nip/Tuck” to FX, drew inspiration from standout films like Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now, but there is an entire sub-genre of haunting we can examine as we prepare for the release of “American Horror Story.”
Unfortunately for the characters in the tale, most haunting stories don’t turn out like Beetlejuice with Winona Ryder levitating in the living room singing “Jump in the Line” and everyone living happily ever after. More often that not it ends up with an empty swimming pool spewing rotting corpses and the house imploding (or something of that nature).
And that image of course leads us to a landmark haunted house film that managed to crowbar itself into the American psyche and ferment there. Unleashed by the super team of director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist has stood the test of time and become an iconic haunted house film. Carol Anne’s trademark line “They’re here” has become as infamous as the film itself.
Following the format of the perfectly normal family moving into a dream home (you know, you never seem to see a dysfunctional family living in a shithole being terrorized by specters), Poltergeist was a perfect example of how a spirit begins as a playful entity, only to quickly become malevolent, even deadly.
And speaking of iconic, one cannot begin the discussion without mentioning what may be the most incredible haunting in the history of film. Yes, technically The Exorcist is in the possession sub-genre of horror, but we cannot discount the similarities between that classic movie and other haunted house films.
Things seem harmless enough, even after Regan takes a squirt all over the living room rug while her mother hosts a dinner party. And even as she sits there, one hand raised in the air, talking about Captain Howdy and the Ouija Board she was playing with, things don’t seem too far out of hand. But, just as in Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror and so many others, things go south very, very quickly.
And haunted house stories have continued to thrive in recent years, taking new and exciting angles on the classic idea. Recently The Haunting in Connecticut put a very interesting twist on the normal haunted house tale. Sure, it had the usual creaks, jumps, scary apparitions and the like; but it initially introduced some doubt as to the actual haunting. In this case the family wasn’t moving into a dream home; instead it was moving into a house closer to the facility conducting an experimental cancer treatment on the family’s son. And this treatment may or may not have been causing the boy to have hallucinations. The twist of the drugs possibly causing the visions, thus the haunting, was an interesting addition to the film.
And we simply cannot forget to mention one of the highest grossing haunted house series of all time, Paranormal Activity. Although the original film just involves a couple, Micah and Katie, the second, and perhaps more creative of the two, brings an entire family into the equation. And although the story is similar to Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity and the sequel go away from special effects and instead score great films with a mastery of suspense building. Not since the night scenes in The Blair Witch Project has tension been built so effectively. The filmmakers manipulate the audience like a puppet master with perfectly placed incidents of irreverent spiritual behavior.
Finally, with possession and hauntings once again going hand-in-hand to make an amazing film, Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrance thrilled us at The Overlook when The Shining suggested that hauntings aren’t limited to houses. An incredibly creepy setting that became a character itself, the spirit of The Overlook Hotel and the surrounding grounds seeped into Jack Torrance and festered in his mind, creating one of the most memorable horror characters of all time. Here’s Johnny, indeed.
“American Horror Story” will step forward on FX on October 5th, 2011, for an initial 13-episode run and looks to add its own mark on the haunted house lexicon. Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton star as Ben and Vivien Harmon, a couple moving from Boston to Los Angeles, hoping to rebuild a marriage ravaged by infidelity and a miscarriage. Taissa Farmiga plays the couple’s daughter.
With the memorable remakes of Cape Fear (’91) and King Kong (’76) to her credit, Jessica Lange will play Constance, the couple’s mysterious neighbor and the mother of Becca (Christian Serratos, best known as Angela Weber from the Twilight saga), a girl who understands the mysteries of the Harmon home even while suffering from down syndrome.
The cast is rounded out by “Six Feet Under” vet Frances Conroy and two from “True Blood”, Alexandra Breckenridge (who played Katerina Pelham) and Denis O’Hare (the almighty former king Russell Edgington himself).
With a great cast like this and tons of haunted house and possession tales to draw inspiration from, “American Horror Story” will certainly hit the ground running this October 5th, and we may never get a full night’s sleep again.
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