American Horror Story: Freak Show Review

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The fourth season of ‘American Horror Story’ ‘Freak Show’ started well for me. The titles were creepy as usual, and the whole fairground theme seemed to crank up the creep factor. The killer clown was TERRIFYING and a great hook–but then they ended that early on… Having a clown, something most people will agree is creepy as f*** (except misguided people who are clowns I guess…), should really have been the big bad throughout.

However, the series wasn’t really working for us even before that happened. My other half lost interest in episode two, and the episodes began to pile up on our digi box because I wasn’t sure about it either…

Like season 3, the show lacked actual scares. Series 1 and 2 were often frightening viewing, a masterclass in discomfort, and while Freak Show had plenty of gore and shock moments it just didn’t get the pulse going. I think most of the series have an anthology feel to them, with ideas for horror along the lines of ‘wouldn’t it be scary or horrifying if…’ Moments that don’t really connect with the main plot, but this season felt the most disjointed.

The Mordekai scenes–the only supernatural aspect of the series–was a great idea and the two-faced man well realised, but it didn’t go anywhere and felt like a plot device to burn through the backgrounds of a few of the freaks. The father turning his ‘wayward’ daughter into a freak didn’t really offer us a ‘character’ but just a horror idea. Dandy becoming ‘untouchable’ through his wealth and standing felt like that could’ve been pushed further too. Also, the ventriloquist character and story felt tagged on. He should really have been a wannabe freak hanger-on throughout to make more of the misplaced hope that he could’ve changed the freaks lives for the better. Through all these dead end or filler plots, the characters suffered for it.

I know we were informed of a lot of the characters backgrounds and many had their moment in the spotlight, but no one truly shone or gained my interest but Dandy. And he’s not a protagonist you can root for! Most of the characters were either unlikeable or didn’t have a plot to follow. Jimmy should’ve been the character to get behind, and while I did have sympathy for him he was mainly wallowing in his misery for most of the run, when I wanted him to pick himself up and do something that could give the freaks–and me, some hope.

Elsa Mars. Yes, horrible background, but she wasn’t even ‘nice’ before her big break into snuff films. She was despicable all the way through–yet she goes to her own personal ‘heaven’? Really? Why? My only hope is that as the titles cut in before she could sing, it’s actually hell, where she has the build up to her moment in the spotlight but it never comes.

The highlight of the show was Finn Wittrock’s Dandy–he was terrifying and beautiful. I would like to thank the writers for making Dandy semi and fully naked at various points. Very nice. In my mind his attractiveness makes him more unsettling. He looks perfect, his skin is smooth, his body defined, and speaks with precision, yet he is utterly disturbed and frightening. I started writing this review before the show finished and I was wanging on about how the freaks are considered frightening and ugly on the outside, while Dandy is frightening and ugly on the inside–but they pretty much drove that home with a chisel in the final episode. American Horror Story doesn’t do subtle allegory’s. Not that that’s a criticism. I actually like the show for its balls out approach to plotting and ideas. It’s not frightened to play about our riff on ideas–Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ imitated and referenced.

The other ‘highlight’ of the show was episode 10, Pepper’s episode. Hard to use the weird ‘highlight’ for a miserable f***ing hour of TV that reduced me to a crying mess. That just came out of nowhere and was the best thing this series gave me. I didn’t want it. But I’m glad I went through it. Especially as it touched on my favourite American Horror Story series. If you’re a fan of season 2 but gave up because of fantasy tonal shift of series 3 then just watch this episode. It will break you. And if it doesn’t you’re dead inside. Dead I tell you.

Oh, and the effects were amazing. There was the usual stomach churning gore, but the conjoined twins were so good, really convincing.

Ultimately this series was a difficult watch for me. And not for the gore horror which I’m not very good with, but because of the disconnection. The show covered a lot of ground but it was all quite shallow and not enough to engage me. That said, one of the strengths of this series is that if you don’t like the current run, the next could be more to your tastes and I’m looking forward to seeing where season 5 is going to take us, with my fingers crossed for more supernatural scares.

What were you’re thoughts on this run? Any hopes for what will be in season 5? I would like to see a paranoid Satanic cult story in a claustrophobic setting, maybe a hotel, with lots of possession mixed in. If not, maybe I’ll have to write that…

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