Home Latest Review: American Horror Story: Freak Show – ‘Monsters Among Us’

Review: American Horror Story: Freak Show – ‘Monsters Among Us’



If you’re a horror fan, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that, as of right now, television is serving the genre far better than the big screen is. The Walking Dead, Hannibal, Salem and Penny Dreadful are just a selection of the smorgasbord of scares and consistent thrills currently on offer to satiate appetites for the grim and terrifying. At the forefront of this gang of skin-crawling wretchedness is Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk’s American Horror Story, which has just entered into its fourth season. This in itself is remarkable, given the show’s anthology concept and often distinctly dissonant method of story-telling – but here they are, with another dilapidated setting and myriad set of dysfunctional human creatures to plunge for our depraved entertainment. This time around, it’s a traveling freak show in the early 1950’s they’ve selected, with an ensemble of physically (and mentally) deformed characters on offer that, in all the teasers leading up to launch, have filled me with glee at what will hopefully make up for the 10404149_732111593527696_1422539641682483628_ndisappointing Coven. Thankfully, at first glance, it looks like it will do just that. Ladies and gentlemen, American Horror Story: Freak Show is open for business.

Playing itself as a middle-ground between previous two seasons Coven and Asylum, Freak Show opens with Sarah Paulson’s Bette-Dot Tattler joining the traveling but bankrupt carnival under the advice of German sounding show-runner Elsa Mars, played by Jessica Lange. Choosing these two AHS veterans for the opening number was a wise move, as their chemistry on-screen, as well as their above par acting chops make them utterly brilliant together. Channeling the dynamic from Coven once again, Lange is the compelling, commanding force whose so confident the camera almost struggles to keep up with her character, while Paulson remains the subdued, thoughtful perspective. What makes this a touch more interesting this time around, though, is the addition that Paulson is working with two heads. Not just for show either, she actively conversates between her double-cranium all while they split the screen in half to show two distinct perspectives whenever we’re seeing through her eyes. Genius, and its only been ten minutes.

As is typical of Horror Story‘s first episodes, the opening scene grips and excites, while the rest introduces the various strands and characters that will permeate the rest of the season. Like clockwork, show regulars, and strangely friendly faces such as Evan Peters and Fances Conroy make their appearances, the former a lobster handed member of the show, the latter a doting mother, joining a returning Kathy Bates as a scowling, bearded hench-woman of Elsa’s. Newcomers round out the ensemble, with Finn Wittrock being the doted son of Frances, and Jyoti Amge, Erika Ervin and Mat Fraser being the remainder of the ‘freaks’ we are introduced to. These all tie-in together in a rotating character-play, demonstrating some of the different relationships and dynamics that will be used and abused throughout. Which is all well and good, until Twist the Clown, played by John AMERICAN HORROR STORY MONSTERS AMONG US FREAK SHOW TWISTY CLOWN REVIEWCarroll Lynch, is seen beginning his rampage in the near vicinity and we’re reminded what it is we’re watching and to not, even for a moment, get comfortable.

Using an us-against-them tent-pole, the main plot is the simple paying of bills so the carnival can remain where it is, with the subplots being other horror standards that deviate in various directions. One of the major strengths of American Horror Story in the past has been the balancing of telling several different tales of terror at once, flailing wildly somewhere in the middle, before winding together in the end. Murder House was a test run, Asylum the corrected formula, Coven the failed variation, and now Freak Show is here to hopefully learn from the mistakes. Showing the titular freak show as a desolate encampment, the drab tones of dread and whetted despair permeate the time spent exploring the running of the show with that new car smell that comes with each season opener. By the time we’re almost done with seeing Lange rocket through her performance to an almost empty audience, its very clear this is the American Horror Story we’ve come to love, and I, for one, am so dam glad its back once again.

A welcome return and typically brilliant opener. 10/10