We’re coming up on the fifth season of American Horror Story, this one subtitled Hotel. Even though I don’t really watch the show anymore, I am still really, really stoked because it means uber-creepy teaser trailers are coming. Honestly, I love the trailers far more than I ever loved the show itself.
The problem with American Horror Story is that it has a near impossible goal. It’s trying to stretch horror, a genre which works best when movies stick close to a 90-minute running time, over the course of a television season. I fully appreciate that this is difficult task, and that's all the more reason why I applauded so hard when they accomplished it. Murder House was great at creating episodes centered around other horror styles besides ghost stories, and Asylum wove aliens, demonic possession, body horror and a serial killer tale in and out to keep people guessing. Even Freak Show had some bright points, with a strong first half of the season culminating in the awesome Edward Mordrake saga and the utter genius of the standalone Pepper episode. That Naomi Grossman wasn’t nominated for an Emmy for that episode is ridiculous.
Still, there’s no arguing that American Horror Story usually starts strong and descends into a mess. Murder House stayed good right up until the last episode, which was very meh. Fond as I am of Asylum I am also willing to admit it left off making zero sense. Coven ended up being some sort of weird love letter to Stevie Nicks and literally threw all of its character development out of the window every couple of episodes. Freak Show? After Twisty the Clown died clearly no one had any idea what to do with the rest of the season. I do not really have any reason to hope Hotel will be better.
But these trailers, you guys! They are things of fleeting, awful beauty. So far I’ve seen six for this season and at least one of them is creepier than every episode of Coven combined. The “Sleepwalker” trailer featuring some terrified person sewn up into a mattress and glaring wide-eyed as another person snips him or her out with enormous scissors is mind-bending. I’m also really fond of the “Do Not Disturb” one, where an eyeless man fruitless pounds on room doors for an unknown reason. Does he need help? Is he dangerous? Don’t know, but it’s unnerving as hell.
Even the Lady Gaga-centered ones are magical. A diamond crusted hand with metallic nails ringing an old bell and then drumming impatiently with mechanical click on the desk as the owner waits for service. That same hand later strangles what looks like a clown that comes out from under a bed. Each one of these is usually less than 15 seconds long and they are murderously effective. I find myself wanting to watch the show again even though I’m relatively sure it’s not going to deliver.
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Freak Show had some wonderfully unnerving, though less narrative-driven ones, mostly focusing on the juxtaposition of beauty and deformity. Sadly the best trailer turned out to be fan made, but it’s telling that these teasers are so great they inspire imitation. Coven and Asylum did great too.
If American Horror Story wants to grow, I’m starting to think it might need to shrink. In short bursts the show can inspire real terror. Sometimes they even manage to do it over the course of four or five episodes, but I’d really love to see Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk embrace the idea of expanding little ideas like the ones they use in the teasers into something slightly larger than keep on trying to make a haunted hotel movie over 12 hours long.
There’s nothing wrong with short. Here’s a three-minute horror short that will scare the living heck out of you if you haven’t already seen it. Episodes don’t have to be an hour-long and ideas don’t have to last 13 episodes. Cut the fat away to the bone and make something that is only four episodes long and half-an-hour in length. Give us something we can binge watch in the dark from start to finish. I know you guys did Glee and all, but when you start having musical numbers to fill space then it’s time to shrink the space, don’t you think?