SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains details about tonight’s season 6 premiere episode of American Horror Story:
Well, we finally know.
Well, now what the heck does that mean?
“Roanoke” refers to Roanoke Island in North Carolina, site of the famous “Lost Colony” of 117 English settlers who disappeared sometime between 1585 and 1587, leaving behind only the message “Croatoan” (the name of a nearby Native American tribe with whom the colonists had established relations) carved into a tree. The disappearance happened during the chaotic Anglo-Spanish war (during which the 1588 attack by the Spanish Armada occurred), preventing regular contact with overseas settlements. As a result, the final fate of the colony has never been firmly established, though current prevailing opinion holds that they may have integrated with, or have been attacked and conquered by their neighbors. In any event, the Lost Colony remains one of early America’s most enduring mysteries.
Word that the Lost Colony would supply the backstory for this season broke in early August when TMZ revealed photos from the Santa Clarita, CA-based AHS set that included a photo of a tree with the word ‘Croatoan’ inscribed on it. So it is that most of tonight’s episode takes place on Roanoke Island in an old, refurbished farmhouse.
Then again, Murphy and Falchuk could have called this season ‘horror movie mash-up’ as there’s an homage to a number of cult classics, just like those 24 trailers promised us throughout the summer. At TCA, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said that only one of those trailers is accurate. Judging from tonight’s episode of genre pic callbacks, most of those teasers were accurate, and indeed, given the motif that Murphy and Falchuk have established, let’s assume we’ll see more.
M.I.A. tonight was Lady Gaga, who announced her return last spring on New York City’s Z100 and was seen with a centipede crawling on her face in the teaser. She wasn’t alone, as a slew of other announced AHS thespians also have yet to appear, i.e. Denis O’Hare, Finn Whittrock, Cheyenne Jackson, Even Peters, Matt Bomer and Jacob Artist.
Season 6 is a little bit The Hills Have Eyes, half Shining, a quarter Wicker Man, a dose of Italian supernatural horror (those raining teeth that disappear? A 2012 Italian movie The Haunting of Helena) and a dash of Saw (that pig guy hanging out in the woods). Many believed that Murphy and Falchuk were going to riff off of Stephen King’s The Mist, but so far, the N.C. weather forecast isn’t calling for fog with monsters loitering outside this house. No, it’s just freaky Colonial folks out in those spooky woods.
At PaleyFest last March, Ryan Murphy was rather vague on the season six theme, saying “we’ve been working on two ideas at once, which we’ve never done” while further indicating that “opera” and “children” could be prominent motifs. Well, so far it’s not those, though a quick image of a crying baby and a couple trying to have one might indicate that we’ll have some It’s Alive folded in soon. If anything in its structure, the format of AHS Season 6 is a true crime documentary.
With the warning label flashed up at the beginning “The following story is based on true events”, AHS rep player Lily Rabe and Andre Holland respectively portray Shelby and Matt. They met in a yoga class in Los Angeles, fall in love and are expecting a baby. However, out on a date, Matt is assaulted by a gang, knocked unconscious and has his orbital socket broken. And Shelby loses the baby. So, it’s off to the North Carolina woods for a calmer life, despite a bunch of The Hills Have Eyes hicks lurking around. The couple buy a 1792 farmhouse. While Matt and Shelby recount their story by looking directly into the camera, in flashbacks they’re played by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. (a casting we learned about four days ago).
Matt is a pharmaceutical salesman and has to go away on business to Raleigh which is two hours away. But as Shelby begins having Shining ghost hallucinations (Nurse Miranda and Nurse Bridget played by Maya Berko and Kristen Rakes) and is nearly drowned in a hot tub (not exactly Halloween II, but almost), Matt calls on his ex-cop sister Lee (True Blood‘s Adina Porter in first person camera, Angela Bassett in flashbacks) to move in and watch over Shelby. Lee is trying to stay sober and kick a prescription pill addition, but she still packs a gun despite the fact that she’s lost her badge (“I got hurt on the job”). Matt thinks it’s “the white trash gang” causing all this riffraff around the house. He doesn’t bother to tell Shelby about the dead animal left on his doorstep, which he decides to bury. Lee looks down on Shelby, and believes she’s making stuff up so she can get Matt to move them back to L.A.
But then the house begins to play games on Lee: rolling empty wine bottles at her, leaving TV sets on with Pig man outside in the woods, plus there’s a number of wooden stick figures (ala the Blair Witch-like compound symbols) hanging around the house’s spiral staircase. “Why would someone break into my house to play a home movie?” asks Rabe’s Shelby, while Holland’s Matt exclaims about those stick figures, “this wasn’t an act of vandalism, it was an act of terrorism”.
Also seen in tonight’s episode: Kathy Bates dressed in some colonial dress. She gets hit by a car that Paulson’s Shelby is driving. Shelby chases her into the woods and finds those hanging stick men on the trees. Shelby falls to the ground, looks up and sees the earth and the trees wobbling. She runs back and is circled by folks with torches. Then we see a glimpse of AHS alum Wes Bentley also clad in colonial get-up who appears to be the leader of this crazy, fire-bearing people in the forest. They also scalp folks, as we see a bearded guy, screaming and running away.
So to date on AHS the themes have been Murder, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show and Hotel. What’s clear is that each has a different pace, style and timing, with last last year’s Hotel being largely inspired by Gaga and the freakish gothic aura she exudes in her music videos. Part of the fun this season will be guessing which horror faves Murphy and Falchuk are giving a nod to.