October is a exciting time of year for any television buff, as the networks steadily begin rolling out their new fall schedules and old shows return to the airwaves. It's even more exciting time of year if you are a horror fan and happen to be blessed (as we are now), with networks trying their hands at multiple genre productions.
It's been a spotty run for horror on the small screen. For every success story like The X-Files, Tales From the Crypt, LOST, True Blood or The Twilight Zone we get a handful of shows that are too strange or challenging or fail to make a connection with audiences for one reason or another, and are cancelled before their time as was the case with Twin Peaks, Carnivale, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and many others. There are the unlucky lot, once so promising, that never even see broadcast as was sadly the case with David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. and the recent Locke & Key. Some, produced in other countries, never really catch the average American's attention such as The League of Gentlemen and Ultraviolet while others languish in distribution hell and never see our shores (in any official capacity) as with Psychoville or Garth Merenghi's Darkplace. Then there is the dreck of course, that both succeeds (Charmed, Ghost Whisperer, The Secret Circle) and thankfully, fades (Freakylinks, Night Visions, Wolf Lake). However as of last, horror on the small screen appears to be on a roll and we couldn't be happier about it. So it was great pleasure and a resounding applause that we at The October Country would like to part the curtain and usher in the best genre television this Halloween season has to offer.
Fringe - FOX's critically acclaimed yet ratings starved sci-fi / horror masterpiece has finally returned for it's ambitious fourth season, and you bet your ass we're wearing our tinfoil party hats every Friday to celebrate. There are not many shows on the air that consistently has the balls to take as many creative risks as this one (a strategy that is rewarding for it's faithful audience, wowed as we are by it's insane twists and turns but ultimately shoots itself in the foot when it comes to picking up new viewers who are likely to be hopelessly lost for awhile if they tune into the middle). For instance, most shows don't write their leading man out of the storyline, as they recently did with Joshua Jackson's Peter Bishop, and then state that he "never existed" and then follow through on that declaration (Jackson is still under contract and will return eventually, until then his voice is haunting Walter's lab). Most shows don't bring the two opposing universes that have been warring for 3 seasons, smashing together in manner that means they exist on the same plane at the same time leading to every lead on the show playing opposite their doppelganger. Most shows don't ask of their lead actress (the assuredly subtle and nuanced Anna Torv), to play no less than 5 different characters in one season (our Olivia, Olivia from the alternate universe, Alt-Olivia impersonating our Olivia, our Olivia impersonating Alt-Olivia and lastly our our Olivia inhabited by the consciousness of William Bell, phew). But it is because of these big risks that it's writers take that Fringe is able to tell smaller stories within a "anything goes" framework that resonate for weeks after they air, as surely will be the case with Season 4's second episode A Night in October. A surreal, strange, creepy, tense, heady and ultimately moving story about a man who is a serial killer in one universe and a serial killer profiler in the other (and the small yet significant events in their lives that led them down diverting paths). It was to this critics mind, one of the finest hours of genre storytelling ever, a real class act production all around and indicative of the "out there" grounds the show constantly treads. So, for those craving to have their imaginative and smarty pants muscles flexed on a weekly basis, it's not to late to catch up on one of the finest, smartest dark fantasies to ever see broadcast. In this universe, or the next.
The Walking Dead - Fans of Robert Kirkman's epic tale of survival and the preservation of one's own humanity in a world swallowed up by millions of lumbering, undead corpses have been split right down the middle as far as how good it's adaptation from comic book to cable television has been. While many can't stop singing it' praises and some have gone so far to (ridiculously) call it the "best show on TV", we here at The October Country found it to be an huge disappointment on many fronts (with the exception of a truly awesome Pilot). However, as long as there is the (unquestionably superior) comic exists to draw from, The Walking Dead as TV show, still holds much promise for improvement. Returning this October 16th on AMC for it's second (and longer) season, I have high hopes that the writers have realized the mistakes they made in the first season and are seeing fit to rectify them now. Certainly someone at AMC noticed that there were issues with the show seeing as how captain of the entire production, Frank Darabont quit (or was fired, depending on who you ask) and the scripting duties are now being opened up to submissions (which I do not approve of, there's this thing called continuity that springs from a singular or cohesive vision poeple). We trust that the cast will remain a remarkable bunch, even if their characterizations lean towards muddled archetypes in search of a definitive identity (hey writers, hows about you consult the...I dunno, comic books). Hopefully they'll divert less from the existing storyline and refrain from bestowing upon on needless subplots that they pulled out of their asses to make things "different". We don't have a problem with them tinkering with the established story, if they are gonna make it better or worth our while. Sadly, so far the diversions of been nothing but a series of silly blind allys and contrived dead ends (hey writers, hows about you consult the...I dunno, comic books). So it's safe to say that we're partially excited and more than heavily skeptical that they'll get things on the right track this year. If all else fails, there is always Greg Nicotero's jaw dropping zombie effects to look forward to (last season alone saw the creation of three of the coolest zombie designs I have seen in many a moon) but even at that, one can only tune into a show so many times for the cool creature gags and eventually not be able to tolerate bad storytelling anymore (see MTV's increasingly redundant Death Valley). Fingers crossed this Sunday that this program rises from it's rest as the snarling, uncompromising, unique beast that it should have been (and the comic always was).
American Horror Story - Much has already been written in just a scant two weeks about Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk's (of Glee, now into it's trite third season and horrific spectacle all it's own) American Horror Story. People, comprised of both critic and casual viewer alike, don't seem to know what to make of it. Which confuses me honestly. I mean, it's not that unconventional of a show. In fact, two episodes in, it's beginning to appear that Horror Story's bread and bloodied butter hinges on being as conventional as humanly (or inhumanly) possible. And as it turns out, that's not such a bad thing. Not when the results are this deliciously creepy or this delightfully twisted.
American Horror Story follows the Harmon family, psychiatrist Ben (Dylan McDermott, The Messengers, Where Sleeping Dogs Lie, Hardware), Vivien (Connie Britton, The Last Winter, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Violet (Taissa Farmiga, Higher Ground), who move from Boston to Los Angeles after Vivien has a miscarriage and Ben has an affair with one of his students. The family moves to a restored mansion, unaware that the home is haunted by a variety of vicious apparitions. While Ben and Vivien try to rekindle their relationship and the house tries to tear them apart, Violet suffers from a depression that leads her to self harm and making doe eyes at her father's disturbed, sociopathic patient Tate (Evan Peters, An American Crime). Then we meet the next door neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange, Cape Fear, Hush, King Kong) and it becomes clear that the old mansion and it's attendant spooks aren't the only monsters creeping around the edges of the Harmon's family life.
What can I say? I absolutely loved the pilot episode of this show. So much so that I watched it a second time later the same day. From it's trippy visuals, kinky and adult sexuality, to it's frenetic pacing (it's one thing to premiere with a bang, it's quite another to make the first episode of your ongoing serial seem like the race to the finish, climatic third act of a horror movie) genuine chills and and an homage to just about every major trope of the genre, it definitely comes out swinging. The curiosity of its presentation (and ultimately what seems to be throwing so many people off) is the question of whether or not American Horror Story is it's own entity or nothing more than every classic horror movie moment (and real life horror, as was the case with episode 2's ripped from the headlines / Ted Bundy character) thrown into a blender. I'm going with both. While there is nothing here we haven't seen before in film after film for decades, certainly we've never seen such sights on the small screen and assuredly we've never seen them sit so snugly next to one another from scene to scene; Quick! Multiple homages to Stanly Kubrick's The Shining (right down to a camera zoom on Ben and the shape-shifting housekeeper that recalls the surreal, bear suited ghost blowjob in that film's last act). Think fast! Jessica Lange bewitchingly chews the scenery as a cunning Grande Dame of horror as if displaced in time or ripped from anything starring an ax-wielding Bette Davis in the 60's. Don't blink and you'll miss it! A potentially supernatural rape that is sure to result in the second coming of Rosemary's Baby. These nods go on and on, and frankly, can leave the seasoned horror fan breathless trying to keep track of them all. Even the show's score is a hodge-podge of other film's music (I've noted cues from Alan Silvestri's What Lies Beneath, Joseph Bishara's Insidious and more Bernard Herrmann than I remember, most notably the appearance of his screeching strings from Psycho).
So are Murphy and Falchuk out to simply rip-off every worthwhile horror movie in existence? Or are they ultimately working towards something more wondrous? Perhaps a statement, or grand sweeping comment on the genre as uniquely seen by Americans, if you will (the "nods" never come across as self-conscious either, the results seemingly more sincere and loving)? The series' title suggests the latter. While my cynicism (really, both men are capable of incredibly shoddy, lazy and uninspired writing elsewhere in TV land, *cough* Glee *cough*) fears the former. Time will tell. But for now I'm too busy being swept up in American Horror Story's off it's rocker lunacy and balls to the wall pacing.
There is something to be said for subtlety of course (no one appreciates a good ghostly slow burn than I) but when one episode alone presents evil little twins being devoured by "something" in the basement, jars full of pickled fetuses, a ghost in a gimp suit having its way with the leading lady, the resident teen heartthrob daydreaming of pulling a Columbine on his classmates while done up in Rick Genest's skeleton tattoos, a badly scarred man ( Denis O'Hare, of True Blood fame) recounting the night he set his entire family ablaze in a house fire, an alluring yet eerie maid masturbating for the family's father, the aforementioned father masturbating in kind (finally, DILF Mr. McDermott sheds his clothes in something, see below), the same father that is slowly coming unglued Amityville-style....I could go on but I suppose I should leave some surprises in store in case you are one of the few who haven't seen it yet. It might be kitsch. It may in the end just be over the top ridiculous or unbelievably brilliant. It's too early to call and ultimately know what Murphy and Falchuk's endgame is but damn it, it's fun for now. So, with all that in mind what is a horror nut to do but sit back and enjoy every twisted, ghastly moment on display? I'm powerless to resist and you dear readers, will likely feel the same way.
Oh and just to reiterate, it's got this going on:
American Horror Story is currently airing on FX on Wednesdays at 10pm.
The Fades - The BBC has been on a roll of late as far as their genre output is concerned. First there was the criminally under seen Dead Set mini-series, surely one of the greatest zombie stories ever committed to film (and light years ahead of The Walking Dead by far). Then, League of Gentlemen alumni Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith returned with their comedy of ghastly horrors Psychoville and brought with them more Lynchian weirdness and a new character that rivals their own cult icon Papa Lazarou (from League) in terms of downright unnerving surreality, The Silent Singer (both played by Shearsmith). But the crowning jewel in this illustrious crowd just premiered four weeks ago on BBC3 and I'm here to tell you ladies and gentlemen, I've not seen such a miraculous piece of horror storytelling on the boob tube in eons. I'm referring of course to the UK's The Fades. A genre blending masterpiece every bit as inspired by the many facets of the horror film as the above American Horror Story but unlike the aforementioned Ryan Murphy vehicle manages to immediately and intimately acquaint its audience with it's own unique identity and voice. Like Horror Story, The Fades may draw from the well of established horror conventions, but unlike Horror Story, there is no doubt that The Fades is its own creature entirely. No questionable riffing here. Just pure, unadulterated genre bliss that is at once both recognizable and entirely fresh. But I get ahead of myself. Lets dig in deeper shall we?
A teenage boy named Paul (Iain De Caestecker, The Little Vampire) is haunted by apocalyptic dreams that nobody can explain. As if that weren't terrifying enough, he begins to see spirits of the dead, known as The Fades, all around him. The Fades can't be seen, smelt, heard or touched by other humans - they are what is left of humanity who've have died but not been accepted into Heaven. As such, the Fades left on Earth have become embittered and vengeful towards the human race. They remain unseen in the world except to those special few like Paul – 'Angelics' – who have the ability to perceive the Fades. When an embittered and vengeful Fade, Polus (Ian Hanmore, The Awakening), finds a way to be human again by devouring the flesh of the living, it's up to Paul to stop him - and all of the dead - from breaking back into the world and destroying the human race.
First off, this isn't just a horror story kiddies, this is so, so much more. It is a horror story, a doom laden tale of the apocalypse, a teenage comedy of angst, family drama, a sweetly realized portrait of young, budding love, a moving and enduring series about the power of friendship and the sacrifices one makes for those they love the most, a police procedural and...art. Yeah, I said art. But most importantly, it is a fully realized, singular vision (every episode is written by Jack Thorne) of remarkable boldness and innovation. It's is thee best genre serial to make it on the air since Fringe and before that, who knows.
At first I was tempted to roll my eyes at certain aspects of the production. At first. Their insistence of referring to the ghosts that populate the story as "Fades" for instance (much how the zombies from The Walking Dead are never referred to as such, instead taking on the moniker of "roamers", ugh). How annoying I initially thought. They're ghosts! Well, as it turns out, that's not completely so. It became clear very quickly that Thorne is creating here a his own unique mythology of creatures, something different enough to (at last) warrant them being set apart from the spooks of old. They're ghosts yes. But they carry with them the vibe of blood hungry vampires, while behaving like zombies with a conscious, malicious intent. They're different for sure. Then when a character first mentioned the term "Angelics" I let out a little snicker. Again I was wrong. As their abilities and gifts are slowly revealed episode by episode, well, I don't want to ruin it. You'll see. It's pretty cool stuff.
This is a well oiled show there is no denying that, with all it's many aspects working in perfect harmonious motion with one another; The concept, the creep factor, the direction, the acting, the dialogue (witty, charming and human) and most wow-worthy of all being the character development, which is stunningly realized (only three episodes in, I was already getting verklempt over one character's gesture to another on their forgotten birthday, not because I am a sap but because the scene was alive with genuine sincerity and well, touching...period). If the horror aspects alone (from which it never strays, however much it it dabbles in other genres, the horror is always there, sometimes big, sometimes small, but it's present in every scene) weren't enough to convince you to pick up on this amazing show and it's other noteworthy achievements haven't pricked up your ears, consider this: this is a incredibly nerdy horror show that wears it's incredibly nerdy horror heart right out there on it's sleeve. As much as it becomes clear that the creator is working within the tried and true framework of a comic book's super hero origin story (with references to the many super heroes that came before Paul numbered in the dozens), the two teenage leads of Paul and Mac (Daniel Kaluuya, Psychoville) are us. Meaning, nerds. For example, it's one thing to reference Heather Langenkamp in a conversation about bad dreams. It's quite another to go the extra mile and give Kim Meyers of Nightmare on Elm Street 2 lip service when trying to expound on the point you are trying to make. Which The Fades has one of its characters do (swoon). So yeah, extraordinary horror and written for the genre geek in all of us. The Fades has earned The October Country's highest seal of approval.