I favoured the darker material on TV when I was growing up. Under double figures it was Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Demon Headmaster, Goosebumps and The Twilight Zone. When I tripped over into my teens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer became my weekly ritual. Dawson’s Creek and all that gooey, sunlit shit could fuck off. I wanted death. I wanted demons. I wanted blood and bone and fur. I wanted other worlds to collide with ours and cause apocalyptic damage. I wanted the sun to die and the cold moon to lord over the skies. Sure maybe Buffy wasn’t as steeped in darkness as I would have liked, but you live with what you have when there’s only four channels on the TV.
Horror has always featured heavily in my life. We had an old, battered dress up chest that was shaped like a peasant’s coffin. I used to climb inside, close the lid, like down and cross my arms over my chest. Sometimes I’d fall asleep like that. I had my first copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was seven and my first Dracula book when I was eight. I saw my first ghost when I was under double figures, and always had a book of ghost stories on my person. When I was twelve I was introduced to the world of Anne Rice through Interview with the Vampire. This was an especially important milestone in my development. I had been picking up the video tape for years, yearning to discover the story and its characters. My auntie had all the books, and I would sneak peeks at them when I was using her room to sleep in. One day my auntie whose tape it was said I could choose anything I wanted to watch. I chose Interview with the Vampire and my world was never the same.
I’m especially selective when it comes to the TV shows that I’ll watch. I think watching TV for the sake of watching TV is a waste of life. I actually rarely sit in front of the box and don’t have a TV of my own. Nine times out of ten I’ll look for what I want to watch online. Anyway, for me to sacrifice my time for a TV programme it has to prove itself. It has to be really, really fucking excellent, otherwise I just read instead.
The TV shows I want to highlight in this post are two of the most spectacularly horrific, magnificently dark and sordid shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. I came across American Horror Story entirely by accident. I was scrolling through the contents of Project Free TV after coming to the end of 666 Park Avenue (a rather decent US supernatural drama) and The Returned (an extraordinary French supernatural drama) and thought I may as well give it a go. Thank fuck I did.
There are three series of American Horror Story, and each series has a differing storyline. The main characters in each series are generally played by the same actors. I thought this wouldn’t work, but I was proved wrong. Very wrong. I can’t recall experiencing any shifty acting whatsoever either, which ticked another box for me. The first series Murder House is about a family who find that their new home is haunted by every person who has ever died there. The second series is titled Asylum and takes place in a mental institution in 1964. The third series Coven is, without a doubt, my favourite of the three. The story focuses on the descendents of the survivors of the Salem witch trials.
The plot-lines and characterisation are flawless. The special effects are utterly mesmerizing. Even the fashion, especially in the fourth series, snatches my attention. The introductions to the show are some of the best I’ve ever witnessed. (You thought the Game of Thrones intro was decent? You haven’t seen anything yet.) I found each episode a rich, indulgent treat.
Every American Horror Series smashes through boundaries which other shows have shied away from for fear, perhaps, of creating controversy. Every series makes for utterly compelling, compulsive viewing. I was delighted when they revealed that there would be a fourth series, Freak Show, though I have to admit that I’ve found myself becoming somewhat panicky when thinking that they might run out of ideas one day. I just want this show to run on and on and on until the end of time.
The other show is one I’ve just come across in the past few days, after a friend mentioned it. It’s called Penny Dreadful. The intro is a glorious montage of awesomely dark, archaic, sinister imagery. I especially like the last shot, of bats flooding out into the morning sky. The music accompanying the intro, and the music within the show itself transports the viewer and is creepy as fuck.
Penny Dreadful is set in Victorian London and features some of literatures most terrifying characters, including Dr Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and figures from Dracula. It’s so deliciously grandiose one minute, dark and filthy the next.
It’s strange when these things come about, and believe me, they don’t come about often. Make the most of both American Horror Story and Penny Dreadful. It’s fantastic to know that there are creative film makers out there with minds just as dark and as twisted as yours and mine.