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Monday, September 12, 2016

Static Thoughts - Top 15 American Horror Story Season Six Teasers

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Edited by Robert Beach

At the time of writing, the American Horror Story season 6 premiere is just two days away and. So far, the theme has remained thoroughly under wraps. Though there have been a handful of rumors, they’ve ranged from "The Mist" to "Orphans," so it’s still pretty much anybody’s guess what the latest season of the popular anthology horror series will be about. However, I’m not here to speculate, rather I'm praising the 24 teaser trailers FX released for this new season; each teaser has its own unique aesthetic and thematic creation. 

It was an amazing run of creativity to keep the fans guessing on what would come next for the show and has left us with a plethora of great 10-second horror films exploring the history and styles of the genre.  Now, because 24 is a huge number of videos to talk about, I’m widdling that down to the top 15 for this list. With that said, let’s dive in.

Of all the teasers, this one is the most classically American Horror Story in its aesthetics and conception. The series has always been about mood and style over plot, but that particular style has also always remained grounded in a handful of visual touchstones, and body horror is a big one. It’s all about tapping into the broadest cultural touchstones for what we all consider to be scary, and this teaser is a great example of that, especially in terms of the “mouth for a face” scare at the very end. 

This one has become a big favorite with fans, and it’s easy to why. Dolls are creepy. Honestly, at this point in our collective cultural relationship with horror iconography, you have to wonder how new dolls or ventriloquist dummies actually get made given they’ve reached a point of supreme creepiness. And yet, I do think the body horror angle this teaser sports is a great addition to the basic set-up of the creepy doll. It’s a clever way to get around the unimpressive way most dolls shatter into their component parts and lose their spookiness. 

This is one of the many teasers we got for this season that focused on themes of rural Americana, especially borrowed from the iconography of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The creepy wind chimes made of human teeth framed against the deadened wheat field is about as core to horror imagery as you can get.  Fun fact about this one: if you look closely at the wind chimes, you’ll notice they feature these creepy straw people who actually show up in a later teaser (we’ll be getting to that one later.)

Though another example of rural horror, this one has much less of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre point of influence and is more on harmony with Motel Hell and most especially The Crazies (2011).  The pitchfork is a weird weapon in the horror pantheon in that it’s inherently tied to the spooky world of terror through its association with Satan. As far as movies and TV go, it’s a rarity. Even then, you seldom see Satan throwing around a pitchfork in flicks like Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen. You far more see the pitchfork as the tool of creepy farmer folk. 

This teaser is so far out of left field from the rest of the pack. I kind of love it. Nearly all the other trailers seem to be part of some larger theme that’s shared with a few others like the theme of insects and body horror, rural Americana, or aliens. Not this one, it’s weird. American Horror Story has had a major fixation on the 1950s as a time period, featuring it as the setting of two seasons. And yet, they’ve never jumped into the well of cheesy schlock weirdness that is drive-in horror like we’re seeing in this teaser. I doubt it’ll be the theme of season six, but here’s hoping they get to it somewhere down the line. 

Speaking of shared themes, "Lullaby" is a major lynchpin trailer for the set with ties to a bunch of others. The design of the creepy house and freaky homemade mobile speak to the same Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspiration as "Wind Chimes" or "What’s Cooking" while the creepy evil baby is much more in line with the classical body horror of "Bathing Beauty" or "Baby Face." It’s a great trailer either way that has a freaky, rustic, isolated feel to it. That jump scare of the hand grabbing at the knives in the mobile always gets me. 

Speaking of "What’s Cooking," the premiere teaser for this entire bizarre experiment stands tall as one of their best entries simply on the merit of how minimal it is. Despite just being a near static image of smoke billowing out of a house, the construction of the image and incredible sound design speak volumes about the scene. I especially like the inclusion of the chainsaw sound; that’s a damn creepy edition and served as a solid announcement of the thematic ties to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though the design of this creepy old house is very reminiscent of Psycho.

One of the more recent teasers to come out whereas also one of the most unique and affecting. I might have spoken too soon earlier as the look of the red, sandy beach in this teaser definitely reminds me of the chintzy set design of "Blind Date," though that’s about all they have in common. That’s a good point of entry for this one: similar to the other themes while making unique twists. For instance, that freaky black diamond forming across the guy’s leg is full-on body horror, but it’s a completely different style than any of the other stuff previously shown with insects, gore, or the like.  I hope this is the real teaser as I’d love to know more about that terrifying black rock transformation. 

This may be my favorite teaser of the whole bunch. It’s just so unique and eerie. There are elements of the other teasers here in stuff like the American southwest setting or the rural design of the freaky family. But it’s a much more archaic design of all of that.  It’s like some weird creepy blend of Children of the Corn and The Hills Have Eyes. Somehow, the teaser is older than either of those films. This freaky family has always existed and always will. It’s been rumored the new season will tie in some way to the lost colony of Roanoke, and I could believe that based on this trailer. I do wonder if the new season will follow up on the vampiric revelations of Hotel. Following Hotel, this creepy, sunset family could be vampires themselves.  

I don’t care what anybody says: I love crop circles. Yes, they’ve been completely disproven, and yes, they seem weirdly dated now after their popularity in the ‘90s. I don’t care. They’re still one of the coolest phenomena in the paranormal book. The big reason for that, for me anyway, is it's a contradiction. Even though crop circles are technically science fiction, they don’t FEEL like sci-fi. They’re more like urban legends. Maybe that’s to do with the setting; crop circles are so confined to the rural backwoods of America that they’ve more in common with killer hitchhikers than the big alien invasions that pepper sci-fi. 

As far as I’m concerned, this is the scariest teaser they’ve put out. A big part of that is obviously what I find creepy, but at the same time, some of it is about how much American Horror Story relies on certain horror imagery. For example, the show loves its creepy bugs and bones, but visuals like this covered face, especially with the freaky cloth and the blacked-out eyes. It's unique for them and is absolutely chilling. It reminds me a lot of Buttonface, the slasher killer from Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, which you should totally check out by the way if you’re a fan of American Horror Story.

Much like "Blind Date," this teaser feels like a real odd man out. Bound to "Blind Date," they both ape the aesthetic of old horror movies. However, "The Shadow" is drawing much more from the well of silent horror, most especially Nosferatu as opposed to the ‘50s B-movie fare that inspired "Blind Date." The design and movement of the creepy, long-nailed shadow on the wall is a direct Nosferatu allusion, and the visual design of the ‘?6’ is heavily inspired by the fonts of German silent horror. The Nosferatu reference is unique in that it directly harkens back to season five, which also featured heavy Nosferatu elements.

Firstly, this teaser is just the most terrifying thing. American Horror Story rarely stretches its monster muscles. When it does, it’s absolutely horrific, and this is a great example of that. This gets back to that thing I mentioned at the start with how AHS’s real strength is tapping into universal terrifying imagery and iconography, using the touchstones of horror’s long history to create a creepiness parade that you know is off and scary without needing any of the details. We don’t need to know anything about this monster to know it’s god damn terrifying even if it’s just shambling towards us because it wants a hug. 

Much like "The Visitors," my love for this teaser is very much colored by how much I love backwoods alien stories for their urban legend nature. Nevertheless, this brings me back to an earlier point that many of these teasers seem to be referencing the monsters or events of previous seasons. "The Shadow" referenced season five’s vampire stuff while "Camp Sight" and "Visitors" both reference the aliens we first saw in season two.  

Given that this run of teasers was punctuated with a video stating every season is connected, I do wonder if the theme of season six is the show itself. Season six may act as a crossover/team-up season bringing together the ghosts, aliens, vampires, witches, and mad science we’ve seen over the show’s five-season run. 


Speaking of the themes of old seasons, I have to assume the freaky little girl in this teaser has the witch powers of the folks from Coven because I refuse to believe those straw abominations just exist; that’s too terrible. Seriously though, this is probably the best blend of American Horror Story’s individual components into a strong whole.  

You’ve got the core elements like referencing a previous theme, drawing on familiar iconography like the creep little girl; they even fit the rural American theme in there, but somehow this one is so much worse. Obviously, the marching monsters is a creepy sight, though it boils down to the grainy film and the shot angles. It feels like an old timey film reel freshly discovered. This might’ve been something that really happened.   

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