Now that Miss Robichaux’s Academy is closed for business after a season which played out like the bastard offspring of Dennis Wheatley and Jacqueline Susann, American Horror Story fanatics are already filled with a giddy sense of anticipation at what demented devilry the show’s creators will serve up when the fourth season rolls around in the fall.
The kind of creative risks and innovative storytelling displayed in American Horror Story might well have proven the kiss of death for a show in less capable hands. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk cunningly side-stepped this by utilizing an anything-goes format and taking a familiar core concept (i.e. haunted house, institution, witches coven) in a refreshingly bold direction where nothing is outside the realm of possibility (and in many instances: of plausibility) and absolutely nothing is sacred.
So it begs the question: where will they go next? We know that the fourth season will take place in the 1950s and could have a Cold War storyline that might take place in a circus. Will it channel the paranoid vibe of Jack Finney and explore ideas of infiltration, subjugation, and dual identities via trapeze artistry and clowning? Or will it have absolutely none of this?
I’ve compiled a list of five potential horrors for next season, complete with fake (and awfully derivative) synopses. What are your theories?
One of the most appealing aspects of the show is its unrepentant plundering of the shadowy spots in American history. This is always done in style and with a spectacular degree of bad taste. An interesting focal point with endless possibilities for horror would be a storyline revolving around a cult, perhaps with a plot heavily informed by The Jonestown Massacre and positing a “what if?” alternate history, looking at the formation of a self-sustaining cult. It could be a controlled environment without outside interference and would be built on misinformation, fear and an insidious indoctrination that begins in childhood. You know what would be even scarier: if the show’s protagonist was a 13-year-old girl whose hometown was a Lynchian retro-suburban nightmare of a society who has submitted to the will of an ancient god for generations. And if American Horror Story channelled the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft it might look a bit like this....
Anderton, USA population: 1476 – a picturesque and wholesome place of bake sales, glamorous suburban moms, star football players, picket fences, bloodletting and tentacled gods. 13-year-old Myra is about to find out that lurking beneath the retro-suburban gloss of Anderton is an ancient entity that feeds off purity. With the once-a-decade Festival of Nuclear Disbarment approaching, the child must put her life in the hands of The Intermediary, a Nyarlathotep-like figure who’ll take Myra on the most dangerous journey of her life: submission to The Sonar.
Drifter and con-artist Louise Penny arrives in town, celebrated upon her arrival as a “folk saint” by the odd townsfolk and delighted with the opportunity to fleece this flock for all it’s worth, unaware that in small-town Americana, horror hides and Louise has bitten off more than she can chew...
Potential episode titles: Indoctrinate. Ola, It's Time to Talk of Anderton. The Bombs will Fall...
AHS: VAMPYR (or NIGHT)
A while back, there was talk of a vampire-themed companion piece to the show and if anybody can make vampirism primal and frightening again, it’s American Horror Story. After Coven’s uniquely feminine perspective and grotesque camp, it would be fantastic to explore concepts (and pertinent issues right now) of home, masculinity, power and social stigma from a male point-of-view. 1980s New York during “The Birth of AIDS” would make an ideal setting, where the misconception that the HIV virus was directly linked to homosexuality was widespread. It would be a reflective horror that takes a look at the political landscape for LGBTQ folks right now. A scene-stealing Frances Conroy would be the perfect casting choice as a gender-swapped Nosferatu. A Michele Soavi-style interpretation of Anne Rice?
When 19-year-old runaway Andy, a teenager trying to escape the influence of a dangerously evangelical father, lands in Coney Island, New York during “The Birth of AIDS,” he believes he may have left that suffocating life behind him. After a violent encounter leaves him shaken, a “kind” stranger leads him to the infamous club City of Night and its owner Harvey (Zachary Quinto), and a whole new world opens up before him..
Potential episode titles: City of Night, No Place like Home, Night of the Hunters
Let’s be honest: Murder House, Asylum and Coven were all guilty of veering off course with bizarre plot tangents and abandoning logic when the creators wanted to tack on a gruesome set-piece. With a real-time technique spanning a total of 13 hours, the show could maintain a momentum and viewers might be spared the mid-season "muddle" area, trimming away those entertaining but extraneous episodes. Revisiting a minor (but intriguing) character from Murder House and placing her in an apocalyptic fairytale in a museum of the occult with a ticking clock counting down...
After her cultural memoir “Death and the Spectral Perils of Real-Estate” is universally panned, occult specialist Billie Dean Howard's (Sarah Paulson) takes a job as psychic correspondent of occult TV station Spirit A’s (think a televised pay-per-view Weekly World News, only with less credibility). Her first assignment is an investigative piece on V.A. Museum of the Occult in Tennessee, allegedly home to some of the most dangerous supernatural artifacts in existence. But the station has an ulterior motive for sending Billie Dean in. And Billie Dean, a woman who has spent a lifetime staring into the abyss is about to learn that the end is nigh.
Potential episode titles: Billie Dean’s Gloomy Sunday, Sick Fairy, The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep.
What about entertainment terrorism: lowbrow popular culture tied directly to the American justice system in a Clockwork Orange-style alternate present. What could be scarier than a trial by the blood-crazed couch potato? Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits” had a similar high-concept premise: in a near-future reality TV show, contestants sang their hearts out to escape a life of hard labor. What if America’s criminal underclass had only two options: the death penalty or their consciousness transferred into a blank slate, a perfectly symmetrical synthetic human with altered intelligence and talents. Imagine if, in a parallel world, Jeffrey Dahmer had been given this opportunity and his mind was housed in a Justin Bieber-type pop star! The horror! But would the idea provide enough material for the writers to stretch over a season arc? If nothing else it could be an allegory for people under intense public scrutiny and the development of dangerous entitlement complexes. Scratch that; that is no allegory!
The Blank Slate Program is entering its first year and launches a new reality show that is corporate-funded by Synthesis. ICON will work as both a “fight complacency hour” for the audience, and a way of re-establishing that important connection with your moral compass while entertaining the entire family. In ICON contestants will battle it out to purge themselves of their guilt in front of the viewing public with the lucky winner relieved of their memories – because guilt and fear are the ultimate burdens - and entering The Blank Slate Program. On the judging panel for our inaugural year are: Jessica Lange, Madonna and Brian Molko.
Potential episode titles: The Scare Factor, Audience Participation, Blank Slate Tutorial...
The show has always displaced time and space while shifting character viewpoints and storylines effortlessly. So what about a meta, multi-world approach to revisionist horror, a collection of Tales from the Crypt/Twilight Zone style anthology episodes featuring time-travel, doppelgangers with archetypal monsters, and other assorted ghouls? A storytelling device which would enable the creators to step into an homage of any era of horror film history, with each episode part of a larger season arc. Dicey or doable?
In 1950s Los Angeles, avid horror-film fan, aspiring magazine editor and “Monster Kid” Evan Beaumont is offered a "behind-the-scenes" first look at the filming of a new horror-themed soap opera called American Horror Stories, a show that will hopefully re-launch the career of actress Abigail Roth and save the failing studio that is backing the production. Before Evan can say “Lights, camera, action,” he finds himself stranded in different parts of horror film history with torch-bearing villagers, fiends and monsters in pursuit and only a strange, lonely monster as his tour guide...
Potential episode titles: Showtime, Monster Kid, Development Hell...