Posts Tagged ‘American Horror Story’

Season 9 of American Horror Story decided to get on the 1980s nostalgia train and create its own love letter to the decade which produced my favorite music, particularly to the slasher films that came out during that decade. And the very first episode made sure to saturate us with bright colors, crazy hair, a fun playlist, a murder story told around a campfire that turns out to be true. It was both a homage and a satire that I enjoyed. And I was interested to see what the rest of the season would be like.

Turns out, AHS: 1984 decided to spend the next couple episodes playing up the slasher tropes, and then turn EVERYTHING on its head for the rest.

And that’s one of this season’s strengths. For the most part, the show knew how to give us everything we expected in the first couple of episodes, especially when it came to 80’s culture, and then found ways to make our jaws drop. Characters whom we thought were good people turned out to be bad and vice versa, the cause of all the horrors is first one person, and then another, and now we don’t know what to think.

Oh, and I love all the references to famous slasher films, especially the references to the original Friday the 13th film in episode 8.

I also really liked the characters, especially the three lead females. Brooke, played by Emma Roberts, turned out to be a surprisingly strong protagonist who developed very well over the course of the season. Leslie Grossman’s Margaret was a blast to watch once you found her hidden depths. And oh God, did I love Billie Lourd as Montana. I swear, Lourd can change characters and personalities and be totally unrecognizable in each incarnation, and that’s especially true with Montana.

Of course, our serial killers were great as well. John Carroll Lynch’s Benjamin Richter, aka serial killer Mr. Jingles, went from a rather one-dimensional slasher killer to a very sympathetic character. Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez was petrifying! I would not want to meet him in a dark alley! And oh, it was nice to see Dylan McDermott on the show again!

That being said, there were some issues with this season. 1984‘s final episode opted for flashbacks to tell the ending events of the main conflict of the season, and while that worked well in season 2 for the most part, it kinda fell flat like it did in season 5. When we already have an idea of how it’s going to shake out and is over-reliant on flashbacks, it can take some of the tension out of the story. Not to mention that I felt the show didn’t give Brooke the ending she deserved. And don’t get me started on the plot hole the last episode opened up with Richard Ramirez! All I’m saying is, they better fix that in a future season, or this is going to be a never-ending gripe among fans of the series.

I want Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez back, and not just because he’s freaking terrifying!

Oh, one more thing: the make-up used to make Donna and Brooke look older did not work at all! We could all tell they were waking make-up!

But all in all, this was a solid enough season, and it delivered on the promise to make the season a standout on the 80’s nostalgia that is so rife in our pop culture these days. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: 1984 a 4.2 out of 5. A bloody, tension-filled season with twists to make your mouth drop and characters to draw you in and keep you watching. Get your shoulder pads and leg warmers and get ready to dive right in.

You’ll enjoy it more than the Friday the 13th remake. And no, I’m NEVER letting that go! Not until we get a better movie anyway.

Anyway, looking forward to season 10, whatever that is. I’m still hoping for an academy or orphanage setting. Maybe some references to J-Horror or K-Horror or some Lovecraftian elements too. And a fixed plothole from 1984 might be nice. Hey, a guy can hope, right?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Advertisements

Once again, I am releasing my review of the first episode of AHS a day late because that show is on after ten, and I try to be in bed or getting ready for bed by that time because I get up early for work. My apologies if you were waiting with baited breath for my review or you think I’m too late to give my opinion. One day, God willing, I’ll be able to write full-time, and then I can stay up late and give my opinions on this show right after the episode airs.

AHS: 1984 takes place in California in–you guessed it–the summer of 1984. Several good-looking twenty-somethings, including the shy and sweet Brooke, played by Emma Roberts, take on jobs at a small summer camp to avoid the 1984 Summer Olympics. However, they don’t realize until they get there that the camp was the site of a horrific massacre by Mr. Jingles, a Vietnam vet who went mad and killed nine campers and counselors. Oh, and the one survivor is now the camp director. And the camp just happens to be opening the day after Mr. Jingles escapes from the hospital he’s been staying at since his trial.

So if it’s not obvious, American Horror Story is getting on the 80’s nostalgia bandwagon this season. But unlike everyone else taking up this trend, AHS is doing it not just by paying homage to the 1980s–particularly to slasher films like the Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp franchises, as well as the Halloween films–but satirizing it in a loving way that only AHS can deliver. One of the very first scenes takes place in a sexy aerobics class, which is then followed by discussion of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, and then…well, I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say an equal mix of camp and horror, though without being as annoying as it was in Coven.

I will say though, it looks like this season is set up to be a camp slasher film told over ten episodes, during which the show will both follow and upset the normal tropes of this sort of film (looking at you, gas station attendant warning of doom trope). And so far, it’s good. The humor and horror worked well together, and you love all the 80’s music and callbacks to the culture of that decade. It’s like the show’s filmmakers are saying, “Yeah, we know 80’s is saturating everything, so we’re going to shove it in your face and have fun with it too.”

The acting isn’t too bad, either. I completely forgot Cody Fern was Michael Langdon, aka the Antichrist, last season, and totally believed he was Xavier, an aerobics teacher/aspiring actor. But really, the true stars are the female leads. Emma Roberts as Brooke is a nice change of pace from her previous roles in the series, usually bitchy characters or half-repentant con artists, and she embodies the quiet girl most likely to survive very well. Still, I’m betting there’s hidden depths to this character, possibly even bloody ones, and I look forward to seeing them. Billie Lourd and Leslie Grossman as Montana and Margaret, respectively, are also great. Lourd’s Montana is supposed to represent the party girl trope, while Grossman’s Margaret is a holier-than-thou uber-Christian type, but I can already tell, there’s more to these characters than meets the eye. Montana’s already proven that in the first half of the episode.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the season premiere of AHS: 1984 a 4.5. There’s nothing that’s uber-scary or unsettling yet, but the premise and set up is strong and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. And I think you will too.

And at the very least, you’ll probably like this more than the Friday the 13th remake. Because as we all know, that was a crock of shit film out of Michael Bay’s ass and accented with the desperation of men who need to write boobs into a film in order to see them IRL. That’s right, I found another opportunity to make fun of that piece of crap film, and I won’t stop until we get a new Friday the 13th film that does the franchise justice! You’re welcome, Internet!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. As per usual, you can expect me to review the season as a whole after the final episode airs. Until then, and until my next post, I would like to wish you a good night and pleasant nightmares.

At the beginning of American Horror Story‘s ambitious eighth season, Apocalypse, I said that the first episode was a dark and violent good start to the series, and I was looking forward to the next nine episodes. Well, last night was the season finale, and I just finished the episode a little while ago. So what did I think of Apocalypse as a whole?

I have a feeling that this season is going to be very divisive among a lot of fans, but overall most people, including myself, will walk away satisfied by it.

While the first two episodes follow a group of survivors when they come into contact with Antichrist Michael Langdon, the rest of the season switches to a new focus, one-half biopic of Michael’s life and how he became the instigator of a nuclear holocaust, the other half about the efforts by his enemies, most notably the witches of Coven, to stop him from ending the world. And while structurally this form of storytelling can be a little jarring, it’s very effective here. It’s hard to look away as you watch Langdon realize his destiny and as you watch the witches try to grapple with the monumental task of saving humanity. The best way to describe it may be hypnotic, which I’m sure both Langdon and the witches would be glad to hear, as well as cinematic.

As for the scares, most center around Michael and what he sets into motion once we get into the biopic section of the season. While I would’ve enjoyed seeing scares from more quarters, what I saw was absolutely beautiful. Seeing Michael being so evil is chilling. And speaking of Michael, his actor, Cody Fern, was phenomenal, at times menacing and then at others very emotional and vulnerable. I hope he comes back for Season 9 (more on that below). I also liked the character of Mallory and her actress Billie Lourd. You could see the toll of all the events on the character, and the love she felt for the people she cared about.

Cody Fern as Antichrist Michael Langdon was excellent. I hope he returns for the next season.

And by the way, seeing so many actors and characters from previous seasons, especially the guest appearances, was such a treat. Every familiar face was like seeing an old friend. An old friend you never want to hang out with because they might be the cause of your death, but still an old friend.

That said, there were problems with the season. For one, the disjointed storytelling won’t work for everyone.. There’s also the fact that for a lot of people, Apocalypse usually means big battles, big power plays, big deaths. Just everything is world-sized, but at times the events of the story aren’t as big as one would expect. That’s understandable, as this is a cable TV show and not a Marvel movie, but for some fans, it might be a disappointment that things don’t measure up to the name Apocalypse.

I don’t feel that way, I thought they told a great story. But for some fans, this might be the thing they take issue with for this season.

But the thing I did dislike was that Michael Langdon wasn’t the greatest Antichrist I’ve ever come across (and I’ve come across a few in my time. Not all of them fictional). Yeah, he’s bloodthirsty and dangerous, but he’s very indecisive. He needs someone to hold his hand and point the way most of the time, and for an Antichrist, I expect a bit more independence. I don’t know, maybe that’s just my quirk, but I’m sure other people will gripe about that as well.

And as for the season finale, I’ve heard a lot of diverse opinions on it. Personally, I liked how it ended. Sure, the final episode wasn’t what I expected, but I felt like they gave a decent resolution to the story, and the ending did set up not only possible future storylines, but reminded us of something very important: that the horror lives on, even after the story ends. For me, that’s enough to satisfy me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 4.3 out of 5. It’s not the best season or my favorite season of the series (my vote on both counts still goes to Hotel), but it is an engaging season with memorable characters and character appearances that will satisfy most fans. On most counts, I’d say the ambitions of the writers and showrunners were met. Take a look, and hope you’re lucky enough to survive.

So what can we expect for Season Nine? Well, a lot of fans have been asking for Urban Legends, or Cruise, or a continuation of Apocalypse (which could happen). I’m all for those ideas, as well as maybe Orphanage or Academy. I’d also like to write for those ideas, as well as for the return of Lady Gaga to the show. And maybe something from the Cthulhu Mythos? They haven’t mined that goldmine yet.

Better cross my fingers and pay attention to the news as the season continues on, shouldn’t I?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares my Followers of Fear!

Funny story: yesterday at work I told a coworker what the film was about, as she hadn’t heard of it before. When she heard the plot, she said, “That sounds creepy!” I told her that it was based on a true story. She looked at me in all seriousness and said, “Really?” I told her no, and we both laughed that for a hot second, she believed it. She was the only person I did that bit on yesterday who fell for it, but it was worth it.

Hell Fest follows Natalie, a college student who goes with her friends and a potential boyfriend to HellF est, a traveling horror-themed amusement park complete with scary mazes, rides, actors in scary costumes, and grotesque toys. Basically a traveling Disneyland for horror fans, and I so wish that was a real thing so I could go to it! Unfortunately, there’s a masked serial killer in the park, and he sets his sights on Natalie, stalking her around the park. But when everything is meant to scare you, where is the line between what’s for fun and what’s all too real.

So, the story is pretty straightforward for a slasher film of this type. You got a bunch of one-trait characters who are out for a night of fun, there’s a killer out there stalking them. Surprisingly, the level of blood and gore is pretty tame for this sort of movie, and the characters don’t do as much dumb stuff as they might have done if this movie had been made in the 80s or 90s. My favorite character had to have been Taylor, played by the incomparable Bex Taylor-Klaus of the Scream TV series (if there’s a horror movie with her in it, there’s a good chance I will see it). Taylor was pretty much an exaggerated, female version of me: horror-obsessed, very funny, plenty of social awkwardness to go around. I honestly would love to hang out with this character.

The best thing with this movie is definitely the costumes. Not just the killer’s mask, which is effective in a minimalist way, but the costumes of Hell Fest’s “actors:” the people hired to wear creepy costumes and go around scaring people. You could see how much work they put into each individual outfit to make them scary, or barf out slime, or whatever floats your fancy. They must have had costumers who worked in actual haunted attractions work for this movie, they’re that good.

Sadly, Hell Fest does have a few problems. For one thing, while the sets are creative and do look like they belong to an actual horror Disneyland called Hell Fest, they don’t seem to take it far enough. When you hear Hell Fest, you think something like the Nine Circles of Hell out of Dante’s Inferno, mixed with every Gothic story ever and every season of American Horror Story ramped up to eleven. The sets should make fear leap off the screen, and there’s none of this. Most of the mazes do look rather creepy, but others just have too much neon and not enough scary stuff. The Hell-themed maze in particular was disappointing, as it’s supposed to be “the scariest maze in the park.” And in-between the mazes, you might as well just be in a state fairground or at a national park trail done up for October.

I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that it’s on a screen and I’m not there in person that’s the problem, but it’s not what I’d expect of a movie called Hell Fest.

Another issue is that for the first third of the film, it’s just not that scary. Even once you get to Hell Fest, it’s more colorful than terrifying. After the first maze or so, a horror movie atmosphere does crop up, complete with tense sequences and a few decent jump scares, but it’s not as strong as it could be. And in a film about a horror theme park, that’s just not good enough.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Hell Fest a 3 out of 5. It’s a movie that works on paper, and it has colorful costumes and a few good sets, but leaves much to be desired.

Still, I’d take Hell Fest over the Friday the 13th remake any day. At least it remembered to be a horror film, rather than a raunchy comedy that Jason happened to stumble into. That’s right, I found a way to trash that shit film out of Michael Bay’s ass again! And I won’t stop until I either get a better or a worse Friday the 13th film.

A couple of years ago, I binge-watched the first (and at the time, the only) season of a Canadian horror TV show called Slasher. The show billed itself as an anthology horror series geared more towards slasher fans, so basically American Horror Story with a lot more blood and gore. I reviewed it after I finished it (which you can read here). If you don’t have the time to read it though, let me summarize my thoughts: I thought the first season was intriguing with a great mystery and practical effects, but was horribly hampered by a seriously derivative story and a wooden lead. Also, the killer’s outfit was the definition of impractical.

Based on that, I figured that if the show was to get a second season, the people behind it would have to do a loooot of work to make sure the show didn’t get slashed off the schedule. And with no news of a second season a year later, I guessed the show was done for.

That is, until I saw an ad for it on my Netflix. Yeah, apparently Netflix picked up the show as one of their Originals, and decided to give it a second season (love it when they do that for shows that deserve another season. #LuciferOnNetflix). I decided to give it a watch, and see if they fixed the problems from season one.

Holy shit, did they improve!

Subtitled Guilty Party, season 2 follows five former camp counselors–Peter, Andi, Dawn, Noah and Susan–who accidentally murder a fellow counselor after confronting her for being a total psychopath and then bury the body. Five years later in the midst of winter, they return to the camp grounds, which have since become a small New Age commune, to destroy the counselor’s body when they hear a new resort will be built nearby, possibly leading to the body being discovered. Unfortunately once they get there, they inevitably get stranded there, and a killer starts picking them one by one. But who is this killer? With everyone there having secrets, they’ll have to be careful who to trust, or everyone may end up dead.

So as I said, this show did improve with the second season. For one thing, while the story does take influence and even has callbacks to previous famous horror and slasher stories, especially the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s nowhere near as derivative as the first season was. It works with an extremely tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat for the whole eight episodes. You never know where the next twist or death will come from, and when they do hand one to you, it just makes you ask the same questions over and over again. And even when you think you know, there’s still a twist ahead to get you. It is a thrill ride, to say the least.

I also have to give props to the actors, they did a very good job. I sympathized with a lot of them, even as I learned just how deep some of their sins (there’s this one character who I felt was a lot like me. I was really disturbed by how deep his darkness went). And even those I didn’t sympathize with, I could not distinguish between the characters and the actors. That’s how good they were.

And ooh boy, was this thing scary! I mentioned how tense it was, but some of what happens to the characters who get caught by the killer* or who finds themselves in a similar jam. They do not skimp on the physical or psychological torment, and it will affect anyone watching it (I still flinch when I think of one particular scene).

All that said, the season did have one problem: there were a couple of characters who showed up for just a single episode, and very out of the blue, too. I feel like if you’d written those characters out of those episodes, there would still be ways to tell this story without sacrificing tension, pacing or anything else.

But all in all, Slasher season two is a monumental improvement over the first season. Intense, twisty and full of memorable characters. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the second season a 4.8. I cannot wait for the upcoming third season (yes, that’s happening. I wonder what they’ll do for it). Pack some winter clothes, give it a try, and see for yourself.

Who knows? You may even survive the encounter.

*Who I’m pleased to say is appropriately dressed for the work and the weather. No impractical costumes this time! Though if they did wear a hockey mask, this would be a much better Friday the 13th film than Michael Bay’s shit remake. That’s right, I found another way to diss that trash movie! Your film sucks, Bay! It sucks!

You know me, I HAVE to review the season premiere and the season as a whole, every season, for American Horror Story. And with Apocalype being the series’ most ambitious season yet, I was interested to see if they could pull it off. I mean, not only is this an apocalypse-themed season (can’t get bigger than that), but it’s a crossover between the original season, Murder House, and Coven, the season that divides many fans (personally, I like what they were trying to do, but found it all too campy and maybe a little too expansive). So can show runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk really pull it off?

If the first episode is any indication, yes they can.

The first episode of Apocalypse, appropriately titled “The End,” depicts what you would expect: the end of life on Earth as we know it. Nuclear missiles are launched at every corner of the Earth, sending the planet into a nuclear winter. Everything seems to be gone…or is it? A group called the Cooperative has brought people together–some for their money, others for their genetic makeup–to an underground bunker to become the survivors of humanity. Watched over by Madam Venable (Sarah Paulson), life in bunker is strict and the punishments for disobedience are harsh. As the months go on, the survivors start to go stir crazy and worry how much longer they can tolerate conditions. That is, until a mysterious figure enters from outside the compound. Does he bring hope…or hell?

The first episode is definitely off to a good start, depicting the chaos and fear that would all but surely arise if Armageddon began in the first ten-fifteen minutes: riots, people committing suicide, everyone going insane trying to find shelter. But then a very different tone arises after we’re introduced to the Cooperative and its agents: things become very claustrophobic. Lots of sharp angles that are meant to make you feel closed in, plenty of shadows. It makes you feel as uncomfortable as the characters, and makes the punishments for disobedience all the more awful.

Plus, those hazmat costumes are freaky! If I didn’t already know what I was going as for Halloween, I might try to get one of them and wear it!

As far as acting, Sarah Paulson’s Madame Venable is clearly the best. She’s an icy woman, almost psychopathic in the way she interacts with these characters. It’s quite a change, as Paulson’s never played this sort of character on the show before. I’m looking forward to seeing where she could go from here.

I can’t point to anything that didn’t gel with me. It was a really good episode and a great start to what will hopefully be a memorable season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 5. I have high hopes for the rest of the season. If you haven’t yet and are curious, check out the first episode. And prepare for the end.

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a big Stephen King fan (cue everyone who knows me saying in a torrent of sarcasm, “Gee, really? We had no effing idea!”). So when I heard some time last year that Hulu, JJ Abrams and His Royal Scariness Himself were collaborating to create a TV series set in his famous fictional town Castle Rock, you know I was interested. Fast forward to July 25th, and the first three episodes of Castle Rock premiered on Hulu. I didn’t write a review for them (I think that I was busy with a hundred other things that week), but I thought that the series had a strong start, and I was looking forward to seeing where the story went.

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve just finished Season One. How did it hold up?

First, the story. Taking place in the Stephen King multiverse, particularly in one of his frequent settings, Castle Rock, Maine, Castle Rock‘s first season follows Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a lawyer who returns to his childhood town after receiving a call from nearby Shawshank Penitentiary after a prisoner (Bill Skarsgaard of IT fame) was found in its deepest depths, in a cage, with no name or other identity, only asking for him. Deaver, who left town after disappearing and then being found, only to be accused of murdering his adoptive father, tries to help this mysterious young man. But as he delves into this man’s case, as well as his own disappearance, he finds some strange connections between the two. And as violence starts building in the town, the race to figure out both mysteries takes on a whole new importance.

Okay first off, the cast is the best thing about this show! Every character utterly inhabits their character and make them feel like real people, some of whom you can imagine hanging out with (others, stay the hell away from). I especially liked Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, a realtor with psychic powers and a history with Henry Deaver, and Sissy Spacek (yes, the original Carrie came back for another Stephen King story) as Ruth Deaver, Henry Deaver’s dementia-addled but still feisty and witty adoptive mother. And Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn (maybe the only character who actually comes from a King story in this show) is a very sympathetic character, though he does come off at first as almost unlikable. Still, Holland as Deaver is the one who carries the story. We see things mainly through his eyes, and see how he struggles with all the baggage he carries as he tries to sift through all the confusion between events past and present.

I also liked the plot and how the story was told. It’s clearly geared towards people who are familiar with King’s works but still makes it accessible to those who haven’t seen the series. The writers also took the approach of a slow burn, taking their time to set up these characters and draw us in with the mystery while every now and then pumping things up to keep it interesting. And the writers weren’t afraid to take risks: two episodes are told entirely from the POV of a single character, and one of these episodes, through the eyes of Sissy Spacek’s character, is probably the best episode of the season.

Love Sissy Spacek in this show.

And finally, this does feel like a Stephen King story made for a television format. It’s not based on any particular story he’s written, but incorporates all of his stories, especially the ones set in Castle Rock, to give us a drama and a place that’s both familiar and new. Plus, you’ve got all the tropes you love (or in some cases, hate) from King: psychics, small towns full of secrets, religious fanatics gone crazy, sheriffs (or in this case, retired sheriffs), and of course, a whole bunch of weirdness that makes you go, “Say what? That works, but still, what the hell?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about Castle Rock? Well, a few things: one is that there’s a little too much weird. King’s been known to include a lot of odd concepts and sci-fi ideas into his work to varying degrees, and Castle Rock has a lot of that. The problem with that is, too much weird can lead to a lot of exposition and slow sequences where not much happens. Consequently, it also bites into moments where we could be totally terrified. And in my opinion, there weren’t enough of those moments, which is sad. Stephen King or Stephen-King inspired, his work is truly at its best when it features a shape-shifting clown hungry for children, or a Nazi war criminal burning cats alive in his oven,* things that make it hard for us to sleep. And that was lacking here.

On top of that, I didn’t like the season finale as much as I thought I would. It had its moments and explained a lot, but the climax could’ve been more epic, and I have mixed feelings on the final scene, both in what it featured and how it was told.

Still, all in all, it’s a great start to a series, and I’m looking forward to whatever they cook up for the upcoming season two (maybe something involving my man Leland Gaunt?). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Castle Rock a 4.3. Take a visit to the Rock, and hope that while you’re there, you come out with all your fingers attached.

That’s all for tonight, my Followers of Fear. Expect a review tomorrow for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse (I’d review it tonight, but it ends after I should be in bed!). Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*I’m reading Apt Pupil right now, and that part had me frozen in my seat!