CUSHIONS at the ready - American Horror Story is back, and the fifth series promises to be creepier than ever. Gemma Dunn explores the phenomenally popular TV fright-fest
If there’s one show that really didn’t need to up the stakes, it’s American Horror Story, which has racked up quite a following since the creepy series started back in 2011. And yet its latest dose of depraved, peek-a-boo horror is tipped to be its most disturbing to date.
Having already explored murderous houses, asylums, covens and freak shows in previous seasons, the show’s creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, now expect viewers to check-in to the ‘Hotel’; an art-deco abode run by Countess Elizabeth, who’s brought to life by the suitably avant-garde and costume-loving Lady Gaga.
However, if the menacing opening credits alone - for which the FX drama is notorious - are enough to have you rocking in your chair, you might want to sit this one out.
PULLING THE STRINGS
Although created by Murphy and Falchuk, the men behind musical comedy-drama Glee, don’t expect any glossy song and dance routines in American Horror Story. Murphy, who admits he is somewhat terrified of hotels in real life, wanted the challenge of working on something dark, while Falchuk dreamed of putting a different angle on the horror genre, with the aim to “really scare” viewers.
Taking inspiration from ABC soap opera Dark Shadows, AMC zombie series The Walking Dead and people’s general obsession with crime and murder, the duo created a scare-fest that went on to garner the best ratings FX has ever seen for a pilot.
Focusing on themes of infidelity, sanity, oppression and discrimination, each season is a self-contained miniseries, offering up a new location, plot and revamped cast, but with familiar faces, including Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates (of Misery fame), Angela Bassett, Finn Wittrock and Lily Rabe.
The show’s dark twists and tactics ensure spectators are hooked time and time again, in order to see the series’ story to its conclusion. But boasting fearsome characters - with names such as Rubber Man, Bloody Face, Axe Man and Twisty The Clown - it’s not for the faint-hearted.
THE STORY SO FAR
In the first season, entitled Murder House, a troubled family relocated to a house that’s haunted by its former inhabitants. This was followed by Asylum, which was set in a fictional mental institution in 1964. Through a series of flashbacks, viewers followed the stories of the staff and inmates, including a psychiatrist and his alter ego, Bloody Face.
The third instalment, Coven, saw Delphine LaLaurie (played by Bates), a socialite in New Orleans, torture a house servant and then get punished for her mistakes.
As for the fourth series - Freak Show - the title says it all... Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) is a spoilt only child who wants to be in a freak show. But when Jimmy (Evan Peters), a boy with webbed ‘lobster’ hands, is too drunk to perform at a party, Dandy decides to show up and murder a group of women.
A ROARING SUCCESS
Earning widespread critical acclaim for its dark premise and attention-gripping execution, American Horror Story has racked up a legion of loyal fans - not to mention accolades - during its five-year run. Nominated for no fewer than 19 Emmy Awards this year, and a total of 70 since it first aired, it has been celebrated for everything, from how it’s directed to its creative art and music composition, as well as note-worthy performances by the cast.
The show pushes boundaries with some of its content, and while the audience and cast thrive on that aspect, so do a flock of celebrity admirers. Pledging their support for the franchise, as previously mentioned, the latest ensemble features super-fan Lady Gaga, plus the uber-cool Chloe Sevigny. There’s also a guest-starring role from supermodel Naomi Campbell, while a few other familiar faces crop up too.
A CHILLING CHECK-IN
Hotel Cortez is the setting for the fifth instalment. The establishment is owned by the prestigious and glamorous Countess Elizabeth, who lives on a diet of sex and blood.
Although it harkens back to the claustrophobic elements of series one, it’s being sold as scarier and sexier than that inaugural series. There’s also a focus on addiction, with residents warned to lock their rooms to prevent a visit from The Addiction Demon, a creature whose murderous methods rival that of previous series.
“There are things that go on behind closed doors that you don’t allow the world to see, or that you only go to hotels at night to act upon: desires, fetishes and dreams,” teases Angela Bassett who plays Ramona Royale, an ex-lover of the Countess.
At this hotel, guests including a male model, LAPD detective, editor and fashion designer, might be checking in. But they won’t all be checking out...
• American Horror Story: Hotel begins on Fox on Tuesday, October 20