American Horror Story Chapter Six

So yeah, the twist is indeed in, as well as the shift in focus of the show. Everything has been shifted about. In the interests of openness I have to admit it o a hatred of most of reality TV. I’ll watch travel and eatery shows, or shows about wilderness survival, with experts in them, and  I’ve even seen a couple of episodes of Naked and Afraid, but that got boring pretty fast. I am however really liking this season of AHS, mostly because it’s not focused so much  on the inane dramas between the characters, but on the actual horror of the situation they’re all in.

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The idea that we, and the cast, would be revisiting the Roanoke Nightmare House isn’t the twist though. Sydney, played by my precious cinnamon roll, Cheyenne Jackson, is the creator of the show we just watched in the first five episodes, and his proposal to his television backers is that he should gather together the entire cast, go back to the house, and film the results during the Blood Moon. It turns out that what we were watching for five episodes was a huge hit for Sydney and he wants  to cash in on that, despite what has happened to the cast since then. So ,in chapter six, the show goes completely, full-on meta, and I don’t think what we saw tonight is the last of this season’s surprises.

Now, the show has a tendency to go off focus during the season, as the writers get carried away with their storytelling ideas, and start throwing everything into the plot, just to see if it will stick,or just because they like it. This season, with the exception of a few scenes thrown in just to have some action, or a jump scare, has been kept pretty tightly reined in, so I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than previous ones. Tonight’s episode was kept ion point, as well, making it easy to understand, despite how complicated the plot has actually become.

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Since their time at Roanoke, Matt and Shelby have divorced. Matt didn’t care for the fame that came to him because of what happened there, that Shelby called the police on his sister, and accused her of killing her husband, Mason. Yes indeed. That was a dick move on Shelby’s part. Yeah, I don’t like Shelby either. The final straw was when Shelby had an affair with the man who played her husband in the reenactments. His name is Dominic. The actress who played Shelby on the show is actually British, and we get to hear Paulson’s accent, as Audrey, which sounds a bit dodgy. She got married to the actor who played Mott in the last episode, and his name is Monohan. And since he’s so much younger than her ,she’s really super-sensitive about that. I thought it was a scam, on his part, but he seems to genuinely be in love with her.

The actress who played Lee became an alcoholic,  just like the original Lee because she was having trouble dealing with being the public face of the real Lee, who has been accused of killing her husband for the insurance money, and custody of her daughter.  (Angela Bassett’s character is named Monet.) Fans of the show started a petition to have Lee charged with murder, her mother in law is suing for custody of Flora, and everyone treats her with nothing but contempt, including Monet.

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But the worst result of the show is Kathy Bates character, Agnes, who played Thomasina The Butcher, in the reenactments. That actress had a complete mental breakdown and started believed herself  to actually be The Butcher, running through  he streets of downtown Hollywood with an ax, before she was captured and hospitalized. Sydney serves her with a restraining order after a ring of animal organs are found on the new set of the show. He is hoping she will show up on set anyway becasue that will make for great drama. My precious baby is a complete asshole in this role.

When one of the crew gets killed on set with a chainsaw, Sydney’s assistant quits and drives off in an angry huff. She encounters what appears to be a The Butcher by the side of  the road, but is attacked by someone in her car, too, and she crashes. The notecard for her states that she was missing for six months before they found her car, and her body was never found.

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The sixth episode is mostly about the setup, as Sydney lies, cajoles, and coerces all the actual people, and the actors who played ,them into staying at the Roanoke house for several weeks, while they film the entire thing with hidden cameras. And you know it’s going to be explosive because while all the characters have their reason for joining the new cast, they all hate each other.

Matt wants nothing to do with Shelby, who thinks that they might be able to reconcile, during the show. He would love nothing more than to beat the snot out ofDominic, because he slept with his wife. The Shelby actress,Audrey,  is deeply insecure about her marriage, and has nothing but contempt for the real Shelby, as being weak and pathetic. The real Lee  hates the real Shelby. The actress who played Lee, Monet,  hates the actual Lee, and the all actors  have contempt for the actual people they portrayed on the show, laughing and joking about them, whenever they leave the room. Also none of the actors believe in any of the stuff that they say happened to them.

I don’t think this bodes well for non-believers because non-belief won’t save them from what’s happening at Roanoke House.  Like Stephen King’s 1408, what’s happening there isn’t dependent on whether you believe it or not. One of the reasons Shelby, Matt, and Lee survived is because they  simply believed what was happening to them.

Things get off to a rousing start when Lee attacks Shelby, calling her weak and pathetic, just as Audrey does later. Here’s where I have to admit to a certain amount of prejudice towards Shelby myself. As soon as I heard what she did for a living my first thought was that she was a  useless woman, and not someone you want to have in a crisis, but she proved to be okay in that regard. I still don’t like her though.

Later, Matt attacks Dominic and they have a knockdown, drag-out fight, as soon as Dominic steps through the front door. This certainly makes for exciting television for the viewers, but that’s not the point of this episode, because this  isn’t the twist.

It turns out we’re all looking at whatever footage was leftover from a show which never got a chance to air because ,with exception of only one person, the entire cast died.

So we’re really watching final days of everyone involved with the making of My Roanoke Nightmare. And they’re might even be additional twists as the season moves forward.

So yeah,I’m really getting into this. When that note-card appeared onscreen, I got chills. This is awesome!

AHS Season 6: Roanoke – Episode 2

I’m a little behind in my reviewing, probably because there were so many premieres this week. I should be back to my regular reviewing habits by mid-October, though. But here’s my review of last week’s episode with no bells or whistles though.

Lets pick up where we left off, when Shelby got lost in the forest after hitting an old woman on the road, when she fled from her new home. There’s a cult engaging in some kind of weird punishment, sacrifice, where they have put a pig’s severed head on some guy, and started to burn him alive, over a spit. We find out later that he is the previous owner of the house, and that Shelby is seeing images of the past.  Kathy Bates makes her season debut playing, yet another, villain.

So, the show really kicked it into high gear in this second episode, pulling out all of the various haunted house cliches, some of them effective, some less so. If you have ever watched the original Amityville Horror, the Paranormal movies, some of these tropes will be familiar to you. Im not saying some moments weren’t scary but a lot of them were predictable.

Shelby reports to the police that she saw a human sacrifice in the forest. The wooden structures are there, but she’s still not believed. Nevertheless, she has decided without any proof, to blame everything on her hillbilly neighbors, The Polks. I agree, I think they might actually have something to do with all these visions, just probably not the way Shelby thinks.

Lee’s daughter comes to visit. Take note that children only exist within most adult narratives to be put in danger. The only time you don’t see that trope is when the show, or movie, is specifically about kids. Flora meets a ghost  girl named Priscilla, who offers her a bonnet, in exchange for her help. Later, Lee finds an old style bonnet on the floor. Now that moment was actually kinda creepy.
That night, Matt and Shelby hear pig noises and find a burning construction of some kind in their backyard. Shelby pushes the police to go question Ishmael Polk and his sons. Shelby insists they offer police protection because she thinks the Polks will  retaliate for reporting them to the police. The couple get 24 hours of police protection.

Later that night, Matt has visions of two psychotic nurses torturing and shooting an old woman, while she lies helpless in bed. (Warning: this scene is pretty graphic for those of you who are sensitive to such imagery.) The story deepens, as Shelby and Matt find out their house was the scene of several murders, as the two young women ran an elder care facility,  where they killed their patients based on whether their first initials matched the letters of their favorite word: Murder. They would then paint the letters on the wall in what is now the main room of the house. The trope of the ominous reappearing bloodstain comes into play as the word refuses to stay painted over. Finally, the word is just  covered with ugly wallpaper.

The cops investigate Matt’s claim to have seen the two women under someone. My question is why no one ever turns on any lights in the house. Everybody just walks around  in the dark, with one flashlight. I know the house has electricity and that there are lamps so why everyone is running around in the dark, is the actual mystery here. Naturally, the cop finds nothing and Shelby and Matt are getting a reputation as kooks.

Lee’s daughter plays hide and seek when her dad comes to pick her up. I was immediately exasperated by the trope of the missing kid, which is only setup for when she goes missing for real later on.That whole pretending to be missing is a habit I would’ve nipped in the bud years ago. Ain’t nobody got time to be constantly looking for their kid all the damn time. Lee, and her ex, find Flora in a closet. She claims she was talking to Priscilla who told her they were all gonna die.  Dad, understandably upset at this piece of information, takes Flora and leaves in a huff. Lee’s response is to get falling down drunk.

Shelby and Matt find Lee in the kitchen with knives stuck in the ceiling directly over her head. That was a genuinely scary moment because we didn’t see that happen and we know it wasn’t Lee. After getting her into bed, the two of them spy a little girl, outside, in old fashioned clothes, and discover a hidden door to an underground cellar, where she was standing.

Lee experiences haunting visions ,while Matt and Shelby investigate the outdoor cellar. They find a tape made by the last inhabitant of the house, who is paranoid that he’ll be killed by something in the house, and how he’s moved out to live in the cellar. Dr. Elias Cunningham was investigating the story of the two nurses, Miranda and Bridget, two sisters who liked to kill their elderly patients. His theory is that something got to them before they could finish their project. In other words, as evil as the nurses were, they met a bigger shark.

After all this, Matt and Shelby find they can’t sell the house.

Lee has the bright idea to  kidnap her daughter from Mason, and brings her back to the house, but soon loses her in the forest because kids only exist in such stories to be put in danger. Flora’s sweater is found about fifty feet or so, up in a tall dead tree. Cue ominous music.

So, I’m hoping this season will be a little more cohesive than past seasons, with a through storyline, and fewer dangling plotlines. Since each episode seems to end on a cliffhanger of sorts, it looks promising that the  writers will remain focused, although once again a lot of plot threads have been introduced. I’ve gotten pretty used to the setup, and kind of like it, although I’ve heard from elsewhere that a lot of people don’t like it. There are apparently going o be lots of twists and turns, according to the writers, and I’m looking forward to those. I kind of like it when stories move in unexpected directions.

American Horror Story Season 6

The writers of American Horror Story  have  managed somehow to keep the theme of this entire season under wraps, so I’m going into this review  cold, just like all of you. I got no idea what it’s about or what’s gonna happen. So here we go:

What we have is a documentary style  reality show  of live interviews, mixed with actor reenactments, sort of like the show Paranormal Witness.  This includes all the various tropes of the haunted house, with strange presences , weird videotapes, angry hillbilly locals, and a House on the Borderlands type monster.

It stars Cuba Gooding Jr.  as Matt, the husband of Sarah Paulson’s Shelby, and the brother of Angela Bassett, who plays Lee, as the actors in the reenactments. There are also the live interview actors whose names I didn’t get. So we have two sets of actors. The ones being interviewed about their ordeal, and the more well known cast of American Horror Story, acting out their story. The title of this particular show is called My Roanoke Nightmare.

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There’s a  tearjerking beginning as Matt is assaulted by some street hooligans while walking down the street with his wife, Shelby. And right away we have established race as an undercurrent to most of the action in the show, as the men who assault him yell racial slurs, and its mentioned later that what happened was a gang initiation, where strangers are assaulted for fun. Since the gang that assaults Matt and Shelby consist entirely of white men, the creators neatly sidestep race, while low key commenting on the racial component of urban myths about gangs. (In real life this type of initiation turned out to be an urban myth created  by the media.)

Its never  explicitly stated, but you find yourself wondering heavily about the racial implications behind certain activities, and character motivations, throughout the episode. There’s a current news component to this episode, as it involves questions of police competency, and racism. Since Matt and Shelby are an interracial couple, people’s reactions to them are sometimes alluded to, but not specifically stated, which sounds like a very subtle and ambitious project for the season.

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After the assault, Shelby, who had just found out she was pregnant, has a miscarriage, and the two of them decide to move out of the city. (Sarah Paulson really sells it here. I was near tears in this scene. She’s a phenomenal actress, who simply doesn’t get enough love.) They find an old house in the middle of the North Carolina woods (NC is another racial reference) and bid on the house against some neighborhood hillbillies who warn them that they don’t want it. Now the hillbillies do look suitably dangerous, but I’m not banking on that. They may yet turn out to be helpful allies. We don’t know, but are meant to assume, based solely on their looks, and socio-economic station, that they’re bad people. This is what Shelby and Matt ,who are firmly ensconced in the middle-class, manage to  do, even though Matt is  not unfamiliar with experiencing prejudice based on his looks.

But really Matt! A Black man in the middle of rural America? Is this really a good idea? There’s a reason Black people generally do not frequent the woodsy lifestyle.

At one point Matt does explicitly state that there’s a racial component to the local police’s attitude towards them.

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On their first night in their new home, they experience some great rumblings and crashing outside, and Matt goes outside to discover that the house, and yard, have been vandalized. The next day, while he’s in town, Shelby hallucinates that teeth, rather than hailstones, have fallen from the sky. So,  what we have so far, is a checklist of haunting activities, like Shelby nearly drowning in the hot tub, mysterious objects decorating the house, along with empty bottles that appear out of nowhere, strange noises, and the house being invaded by torch wielding phantoms, while mysterious videos play in the background.

Matt’s judgmental sister, Lee, comes to visit, so that Shelby won’t be alone. I know Matt loves his sister but why would you invite the one person who hates your wife? Oh that’s right! Lee used to be a cop. At first you think this relationship, and Lee, are  cut and dried, but it turns out that Lee has some demons of her own. She lost her job, her husband and custody of her child because of an addiction to painkillers. Lee also disdains Matt’s wife as a woman too soft, and hysterical, to be of any good. While the Shelby interviewee downplays her enmity about Lee, the Lee interviewee is pretty open about her feelings. The two women hate each other and I wonder how much of that hatred is because Lee doesn’t like  Matt being married to  a white woman.

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Again its not something explicitly stated, but the kinds of complaints Lee makes about Shelby are the same kind of complaints I’ve heard black women make about white women. That they are useless, and soft, prone to hysteria, and can’t cook. Shelby’s complaints are low key about race too, about how Lee couldn’t keep her husband, and is too aggressive.

On the first night of Lee’s visit, while the two women are having a seriously heavy fight, some masked, torch bearing people approach the house and the two women are terrorized into the basement, while Matt rushes back to see what’s going on. He asked Lee to stay because he doesn’t trust the local police to do anything. There’s a Blair Witch style decorating of the house, mysterious videos playing on the basement TV, and all the lights are out.

I was kind of saddened at the thought of the two women not getting along. The two of them have much to commiserate on, and if they weren’t so judgmental of one another, would make great allies. The things they believe about one another, simply aren’t true, and are mostly figments of their own prejudices,which again, aren’t exactly racial, but aren’t exactly not-racial either. Shelby is not the soft and helpless damsel that Lee thinks she is. She’s been thorough some difficulties. Lee isn’t the unemotional, hard-ass that Shelby thinks she is, as she is also deeply affected by her losses in life, and if the two of them could get past that, they might do each other a lot of good.

Shelby runs out of the house and  hits an old woman on the road, who subsequently gets back up, and wanders off into the woods.  Shelby runs into the forest after the her, at night, and promptly gets lost. City people just refuse to understand, if you don’t keep the road in your line of sight, you will get lost. It doesn’t matter which way you think you came, as city people do not have the best sense of direction, having never had to develop one. She walks into a clearing with lit torches and a bleeding, pleading man.

So, this episode was definitely intriguing, but not for the plot. For me it was all the thematic tones under the plot that I found more fascinating. I’m not really into any of the haunted house movies that are all the rage right now, having been through the whole Amityville Horror fad of the late seventies, so I saw most of the  haunting activities as a kind of checklist that must be met, for the dwelling to be considered haunted.

Extremely old house with an unknown past.

Angry locals, warning away the happy newbies.

Something making noise outside the house.

Hallucinations.

Near drowning in a shallow tub of water, with camera shots from below.

Hopefully, there will be a few more twists and turns in the plot this season. I found the unexpected characterizations to be much better. I also hope that Shelby and Lee will get out of each other’s way and become better allies, if they live through this.