The Horror, the Horror
The first season of the ‘American Horror Story’—way back in 2011— stunned TV audiences with its campy blend of gore, depravity, outré sexuality and post-modernish film gags. Centred around a family that moves to California for a fresh start in what turns out to be a haunted mansion, it was consciously derivative. But creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk played off the clichés of the horror genre to create something as stylistically fresh as the first films of Quentin Tarantino. Both loved and hated, the show never really held together as a story. But that wasn’t what Murphy and Falchuk were after, they confirmed over subsequent seasons about a decrepit Massachusetts mental asylum, a New Orleans’ coven of witches, a carnival ‘freak show’ in the backwaters of Florida, and similarly familiar scenarios. Rather, the anthology show is TV-series-as-cultural-criticism: Using the conventions of various film genres and their own outrageous characters to comment on American phenomena ranging from our weird attraction-repulsion with serial killers to reality TV and our obsessions with youth, beauty and fame.
As with anything that relies on its shock value, every gross-out and never-seen-on-TV-before moment raises the bar, however. So after peaking with ‘Coven’ (Season 2), it’s been hit or miss, reaching a low point in the Reality TV-focused ‘Roanoke’ (Season 6) before last year’s vicious comment on the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, titled ‘Cult’.
Now streaming on Hotstar, Season 8 is another thought-provoking failure. Titled ‘Apocalypse’, it’s a bizarre morality tale loosely focused on the idea of equality. After a nuclear holocaust destroys the world, a mysterious group called The Collective selects a handful of the super rich and genetically superior to survive in a surreal underground bunker run by sadistic spinsters (Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates). The story is meandering and irrelevant. But the commentary on the epidemic of narcissism and self-righteousness is vicious and occasionally hilarious, and, as always, the pointedly derivative style is remarkable: a sort of mashup of Mel Brooks, Robert Maplethorpe, and Ingmar Bergman.