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Sunday, July 31, 2016

6 Promos Release for American Horror Story Season 6

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Edited by Robert Beach

It’s that time of year again: the time where we all get to speculate on what this year’s American Horror Story theme is going to be.  If you’re new to this blog, my relationship with American Horror Story is…complicated at best.  I might best be described as an anti-fan of the show, not necessarily a hater but someone who actively dislikes the individual episodes while still being thoroughly fascinated by the drip of trailers and posters as well as the sprawling internal mythology the series has slowly cultivated. 

I'm more fascinated by American Horror Story’s style and sizzle than I am the actual plot or characters of any given season.  If you’re a diehard fan of every episode good for you, but I I’m mainly here for the weird exploration of the horror pantheon and the history of American atrocities in particular and boy are we in for a twist with season 6. 

If you’re new to American Horror Story congratulations on your bold willingness to dive in at season 6, that shows a lot of courage friend, but also the set-up for the show is that each season features a new subtitle, theme, and cast of characters while the actors remain mostly the same. 

Some supporting actors like Zachary Quinto only last for one season and recently the show lost its leading lady Jessica Lange, with Lady Gaga taking over her spot in the show, who I honestly prefer and has shown herself a shockingly capable actor. 

As I mentioned, the show exists in a sprawling, interconnected universe where each show is just a look at a different unique part of that great whole.  That’s a little weird as a concept, especially given that previous seasons have featured ghosts, magic, vampires, and aliens but it’s that kind of gonzo, go for broke, an enthusiasm that I like about the series’ production cycle. 

As to the actual themes, that’s a little harder to define.  With apologies to those engrossed by the actual plots, American Horror Story is a show that puts style above substance, and that especially shines through in the execution and conception of the theme through the seasons.

Each new season’s theme exists as a kind of give and takes between tropes and style of the horror genre and real world horrors and atrocities of history.  The first season, Murder House, was obviously drawing from the horror genre’s haunted house fixation with its use of ghosts and nightmares, as well as a very 2000s inspired grungy visual palette, but the actual horror of the season revolved around the atrocities of suburbia such as school shootings and family abuse.  

The second season was a hodgepodge of sci-fi horror tropes from mad doctors to psychotic mutants to actual aliens, but it all acted as a sort of cover for the real horror being the mistreatment of the mentally ill and the US’ friendly relationship with Nazi scientists post-WW2. 

Season 3 was outwardly about witchcraft and voodoo while looking for similarities in the dehumanization of women through the Salem witch trials and the dehumanization of black people through the slave trade.  

Season 4, Freak Show, was a lot more blended in its commentary, grounding its visual iconography and horror much more in the realm of real life freak shows rather than their more fantastical on-screen equivalents, similar to the work of Todd Browning’s landmark film Freaks. 

Season 5 went in the opposite direction, dropping the central connection between the horror iconography and real world atrocities to create a stark divide season.  Hotel ended up split down the middle between real world serial killings such as the real life murder hotel of H.H. Holmes and horror iconography drawn from vampire lore. 

Now there’s the mysterious season 6, scheduled to premiere on September 14th of this year. While we still don’t know the season’s subtitle, we do know a lot about it from the series of teaser promos FX released over the weekend.  This season looks to be a lot more in line with Freak Show’s sensibilities in that it’s actively seeking out horror mythology and iconography that’s tied to real world killers and atrocities. 

That might seem a little unclear to the non-horror fans in the audience so let’s start from the top.  The most obvious allusion comes from the promo what’s cooking, which features a lone creepy house in a vast cornfield, with billowing smoke and the sound of a revving chainsaw.  Everything about this trailer is drawn from horror allusions, most specifically to Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre; both of which are inspired by the real world killings of serial killer Ed Gein. 

Gein is one of the most prominently known American serial murderers and, in a bizarre coincidence, is also one of the few killers not featured in Hotel’s ‘Devil’s Night’ episode in which the ghosts of several notorious serial killers celebrate Halloween together.  Aside from Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Gein also inspired such horror films as House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and Silence of the Lambs, though none of those seem overtly referenced in the collection of other promos. 

Aside from ‘What’s Cooking,’ the promos ‘Lulllaby’ and ‘Descent’ serve as other direct references to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which would fit with the more extreme and in your face nature of American Horror Story’s palette.  Where things start to get strange is in the other three promos, entitled ‘Milli Crossing,’ ‘Post Op,’ and ‘Sunset Stroll’ respectively.  

‘Post Op’ could be tied to the Ed Gein mythos as he was known for making a person suit (that’s where that horror concept comes from) or the surgical aspect could be a reference back to Asylum in some way.  I have no idea what ‘Milli Crossing’ might be setting up, though I’d say it was easily the most unnerving of all six promos.  

I’m loath assume that anything we see here is meant as a direct reference to things in the show or an allusion to prior elements but, if push came to shove, I could see this season reviving the aliens from Asylum given its setting in the American heartland. 

The promo that intrigued me, though, has to be ‘Sunset Stroll.’  It’s visually the most removed from American Horror Story’s classical style and the horror iconography of the other promos.  Its playbook is grounded much more in rural horror stylings, with the creepy landscape and even freakier old time family.  

The visual design of the family reminds me of Children of the Corn or possibly Motel Hell, while the eyes are clearly a reference to Village of the Damned.  Though, the radio static, old time music, glowing eyes, and sunset palette put me most in mind of The Hills Have Eyes. 

That particular parallel, again coupled with the setting seemingly being in either the South West (IE Texas) or the plains states implies to me that this season might also take on the horrors of atomic testing and radiation.  

That’s fertile ground for a show like American Horror Story, and it would fit in well with the show’s favorite setting of the 1950s, which is also when the Gein murders were taking place.  The presence of creepy US experiments, testing radiation on vagrants and setting up fake towns to atom bomb would fit well with the ‘Post Op’ promo and could even tie to the Nazi experiments from Asylum.

As to the season’s subtitle, I’d suspect it was something linked to the geographical setting.  The entire thrust of this subgenre of horror, films like Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hills Have Eyes, etc. is that the horror that’s afflicting you is happening in a place that outwardly should be idyllic and comforting.  

It’s the creepy cultural dissonance of being chased by unspeakable horrors through beautiful, pastoral surroundings that look something out of the works of Norman Rockwell.  Considering that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this season was titled "Heartland" or something along those particular lines. 

American Horror Story Season 6 is scheduled to premiere on September 14th, 2016

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