American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare Chapter 7 – Last Legs (Review)

Sarah Paulson as Shelby Miller

Having been a fan of American Horror Story from its first appearance on FX in 2011, it was disappointing to see the series on its last legs this season. “My Roanoke Nightmare: Chapter 7” left its ghostly premise and devolved directly into slasher territory.

Add a touch of Blair Witch camera angles and the whole thing took a left turn into “it’s been done before.” There were some moments that managed to drag this episode out of the grave of its own making. Kathy Bates was quite good as the “mad as box of frogs” performer who did a bit too much “method,” to get into her part.

The only problem is the story arc let Bates down. The audience knew that her character would appear and become a major pain in the bum to all concerned.  It was what Sidney wanted and the restraining order guaranteed it. So it was no surprise when she turned up and started slicing and dicing her way through the folks on set.

Even the death of Agnes, Bates’ character, by the hand of the real Butcher, despite being exactly what we expected,  was let down by the fact that we saw it coming.

There was at least one thing was surprising. The death of Matt by his ex Shelby, via crowbar, was shocking. Although, is there really anyone out there who does not have an ex that they would cheerfully beat to a pulp? Shelby’s homicidal turn really came from left field and appear to be motivated by Matt’s confession that he loved the animal skin wearing sprite of the woods.

On a sidenote, the highlight of the episode was Audrey’s line after finding the dead bodies of Sidney and his two assistants. She screams herself hoarse and is rebuked for her reaction. Her response is the best bit out of the entire episode:

“Oh, leave me alone! I’m not American! I’m not used to all this carnage!”

Speaking of brilliant lines, Agnes’ apology to the real Butcher came a very close second to Audrey’s response. When the real deal comes up to the “off in left field” actor, the pretender to the meat cleaver is reduced to being Mike Wazowski for one split second before having the kitchen implement buried in her head:

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to be on TV.”

There were more things wrong with this episode than right. Agnes pulling a slug out of her chest for instance. Going full Rambo,  Agnes uses a pair of needle nose pliers to dig out the bullet.

However the whole thing was undone by the caliber of bullet she wrenched out. Screaming with pain she pulls out a bullet that looks like a .50 caliber cannonball and clearly did not come out of the pistol that Lee was packing. (The gun Lee was shooting the baddies with looked more like a .38.)

After the three women leave the dead bodies by the production trailer they bump into those cannibal inbred hillbillies. (Cue Deliverance music and “squeal like a pig.”)

The presence of these backwoods cretins detracts from the proceedings  as it has been done so many times before. Granted the Polk’s have been in the show from episode one but regardless of this fact, the deadly hicks syndrome has been, excuse the pun, done to death.

American Horror Story has, till now, managed to go where few, if any, have gone before.  It seems that with this season, both Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have gone to the AHS well once too often.

While not overly enamored with season seven, there were things that  felt original, but not many.  The idea of having a “confessional booth” a’la Big Brother, for example, was an idea that felt both old and new. It could have been, and may still be, an important part of the plot.

The season has three episodes left.  We already know that one person survives at the end of the story.  Putting on our soothsayer’s hat and gazing into the crystal ball, we predict the last man standing will be Dominic Banks.

We will also see Shelby bleeding to death, or that wound going septic and killing her. Lee, Audrey and Monet will all be eaten and the last three episodes will be yet another twist.

American Horror Story has, in its seventh season, dropped the ball a little. Perhaps all the screaming and drooping viscera is in anticipation of Halloween. Could Murphy and company be ready to present something more “AHS” and less “kill, kill, kill, ah, ah, ah.”

For those who like recaps. Here you go:

After discovering Rory is gone, but found later by his true love, the group fall apart even more. Lee aggressively films everything and everyone.  Matt is rude to Shelby and Dominic. Agnes kills Sid and his two helpers at the production trailer.

Agnes attacks Shelby who decides to film her murderer.  Dominick comes in and thwarts the attack.  Matt is found making out with the woman of the woods and Shelby bashes his head in.

Lee, Monet and Audrey find the murdered Sidney and rush off into the woods to find help. Instead they stumble across the Deliverance family and Lee ends up on the menu.

Agnes pours petrol around the house and staying in character spouts a load of gibberish about this being her land.  The real Butcher shows up with her Roanoke brethren. Agnes is overawed and apologizes for trying to take the ghost’s place.

The Butcher plants her meat cleaver so far into Agnes’ head that the hand ends up next to the actress’s nose.

The season can still deliver something more along the lines of previous seasons. Ending with something that genuinely disturbs and falls outside the box.  Like Dandy Mott murdering a houseful of tupperware party guests, or that clown, in the same season, Twisty.

American Horror Story airs Wednesdays on FX. Tune in and see if Murphy and Falchuk can save this season.

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‘American Horror Story’ Roanoke: Chapter 6 – R is for Rory (Review)

AHS teaser logo

Chapter 6 of American Horror Story: Roanoke – “Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell” suddenly turns into a combination of (fill in name of found footage horror film here) and Big Brother with a huge dollop of UnREAL thrown in.  The show morphs into a fictional documentary of a real fictional haunting.

Directed by Angela Bassett, the first episode of the second half of season six starts off with a bang and Bassett kills it in the big chair.  Clearly the baseline here is Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” aka “Ten Little Indians,”  although it does feel like a melding of several different found footage films.

Sidney is a male version of Quinn King in the world of scary reality television. A cunning producer perfectly willing to throw anyone under the bus if it helps his show. Even the macabre decapitation of a worker on set does not faze him.

One can imagine that the horrible death of Diana Cross, the pig man appears in her car causing it to crash, never slowed him down at all.

A title appears across the screen telling us that all of the participants in the house died, bar one, over the three day period of filming. It also tells us that the show never aired.

We are told that the Paranormal Witness type  documentary was a ratings smash even beating AMC’s The Walking Dead in terms of viewers. Producer Sidney is introduced and the audience learns the identity of the players from the show within a show.

The Butcher is  stressed out actress; Agnes Mary Winstead,  who identifies too much with her character and gets a restraining order from the sequel’s producer. The performer goes off on the deep end which was Sid’s plan all along.

A bit of backstory is delivered and we learn that Shelby had a short fling with “re-creatio Matt” actor Dominic Banks. The wicked weekend resulted in  her divorce from Matt.

(In keeping with this year’s theme of some American cast members speaking with faux English accents, Audrey Tindall, aka Sarah Paulson is now an “English” actress. There seems to be some sort of competition between Kathy Bates and Paulson this season with accents.)

This half of American Horror Story : Roanoke  is all “reality” TV with a look at the producers creating fake scares to pull in the ratings.  It is meant to be train wreck television, with Dominic arriving at the house shortly before “R is for Rory” gets stabbed to death by the two dead nurses.

Matt makes the connection when he finds the word “murder” written on the wall in blood.

One look at the group, even  discounting the calmer Matt and Dominic, reveals quite a crew. Lee is an aggressive former junky.  Monet, the actress who portrayed Lee is an alcoholic.  Shelby is a neurotic mess after the events in the house and her new beau; Rory is a bit…slow.

Agnes (Bates) has indeed turned up at the house and already broken a window. She may well be the next “victim” although  as she is not “in” the house obviously so this may not count against the death toll.

The group has been split into two factions. The “real” participants who lived in the house and the skeptical actors who played them.  Rory mentions that at no time during filming did ghosts or “people jerky” appear and Matt answers that it was the wrong time of year.

Ironically Rory is the first to die a short time later.

After suppressing an inner groan at the idea of the rest of this season being “found footage” there was sigh of relief when the cameras did not ape Paranormal Activity, or The Blair Witch. This second half may just work after all.

American Horror Story: Roanoke airs Wednesdays on FX. Tune in and see who will follow Rory as the next Roanoke victim. Thus far the body count in this half of the season is three. The unknown decapitated set worker, Diana and “R” is for Rory.

CAST:

American Horror Story Roanoke: Chapter 5 – Anthology Within an Anthology? (Review)

Sarah Paulson as Shelby Miller

“Chapter Five” of American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare appears to be a finale of sorts to the Miller story. The rest of the season will presumably stick to the same location but feature a different set of players. Season six is apparently an anthology within in an anthology.

It was, all told, a great wrap-up of events. There were some nods and winks to other works of horror that were appreciated and worth mentioning.

Mama Polk’s “hobbling of Shelby” that was done on only one ankle was straight from Stephen King’s Misery. (The film version though as King’s book, cuts off Sheldon’s foot.)

Another connection, or homage, was to either the ghost woman from  The Grudge or a nod to the Japanese survival horror video game Forbidden Siren aka Siren. Some reviewers have mentioned The Grudge but the figure that grabbed Flora looks an awful lot like a Shibito from the video game.

To-may-to, to-mah-to.

It was somewhat fitting that the cannibalistic family of backwood’s hicks were named Polk. (Anyone growing up in the south, or perhaps the countryside  full stop, will have eaten the leaves of this “weed” substitute for spinach.)

The show’s creators worked in the Mott family, explaining that the last heir died in Florida, “Freak Show” and Evan Peters played the Mott ancestor.  Mott’s story was proof that Dandy, the last of the line, came by his madness via his genes. Clearly madness ran in the family, or at least an inability to interact with other people.

Frances Convoy was splendidly cast as Mama Polk the head of the horrific hillbilly threat who worked hand in hand with The Butcher.  It was also a nice touch to have her appear in the “Mott” episode since she was Dandy’s mother in season four.

In terms of horror there were some excellent bits placed in this “mini” finale.  Cunningham’s face getting bashed in with the ball peen hammer was shocking in its simplicity. The camera only shows the crushed face for a split second but this makes  it more disturbing.

The shooting of the hillbilly driver with the shotgun was executed quite nicely as well. Thomasin and Ambrose first entering and then erupting from the fire was brilliant.

American Horror Story has, this season, deviated from its usual format.  Presumably the remainder of the Roanoke storyline will continue but with a different family and may possibly leave the “Paranormal Witness” template used thus far.

With seasons that only have 10 episodes it will be interesting to see what Murphy and co. fill the second half of season five with. Will it be a continuation of the “recreation” of horrors at the Roanoke house and is this the last we will see of Shelby and Matt?

Regardless of what comes next, the first five episodes were interesting and different while playing outside the usual AHS sandbox.

The series airs Wednesdays on FX. Tune in and see who enters the house next.

CAST:

American Horror Story: Roanoke – Chapter Four (Review)

Sarah Paulson as Shelby Miller

Chapter four of American Horror Story: Roanoke does several things. It shows that Flora is still alive and what Croatoan actually means. The word is used to banish the spirits that haunt the place so it is, in essence, a talisman of sorts.

The fourth installment also gives more background on The Butcher, aka Kathy Bates, and what happened to the settlers when they moved to their “final” destination.

There are at least two issues with this chapter however. These mainly have to do with the accents.  Bates’ cross of what appears to be an Irish and Northern English accent just feels wrong. In some instances it sounds too much like her bearded lady in season four.

Lady Gaga’s spirit of the wood also has an accent that makes no real sense.  Why is the sprite French? The intonations of all her lines make’s Gaga sound like she is imitating Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther films.

This may have some reasoning behind it but, once again, it makes no real sense for a wood demon to be of anything other than Native American descent.  After all, in that time period the main inhabitants of the “new world” were the indigenous tribes who lived there. The white settlers were very much in the minority and they mostly English, not French.

Dodgy accents aside, there was a good bit of horror in this episode.  The “pig man” appears a number of times and Denis O’Hare’s character dispatching the thing, not once but twice, was pretty impressive.  There is certainly something horrific about a man wearing a real pig’s head, complete with bristles, in just his filthy underpants.

Cricket dies. In some ways, for those who found him too much like the little rotund psychic in Poltergeist, it was a relief. Unlike Zelda Rubinstein‘s character in the other film about spirit abduction, Cricket’s motives have always been very circumspect at best.

He did, after all, ask Lee for $25 thousand to find Flora.

It was horrific to see how Cricket died. Being disemboweled is not pleasant and despite the annoyance factor of the character the punishment seems overly harsh.

Of course the southern psychic does “give” Matthew to the wood spirit as a shagging partner. He has worked out that the creature is long overdue for a little coital passion.

Dr. Elias Cunningham, the chap from the film found in the secret room, comes back to save the day, very briefly, only to die under an onslaught of arrows from the dead Roanoke denizens.

He does, however, give a bit of backstory about the place and shows what happens to previous owners of the property. From the Cheng family to the psychotic sisters who murdered their medical charges, he provides a little history for each doomed owner.

It is Cunningham who explains that once things get to this stage, the spirits, though very corporeal, are not able to be easily defeated. In fact they cannot really be hurt at all. The Butcher and her followers are too powerful.

One thing seems clear. Whomever has professed to being powerful enough to defeat Thomasin  has died. Both Cricket and Cunningham perished after claiming they alone could stop the villagers.

It looks like Priscilla may wind up being the savior that Flora and the Millers need. The child, who was a sacrifice when Thomasin and the rest were still alive, saved Flora from The Butcher’s knife.  Could the dead youngster be the way out for the family?

American Horror Story airs Wednesdays on FX. Stop by and see what happens to this “Paranormal Witness” family next.

CAST:

American Horror Story: Chapter Three – Croatoan (Review)

Sarah Paulson as Shelby Miller

Chapter three of American Horror Story: Roanoke cranks everything up  a bit.  In rapid succession there is the grizzly barbecue murder of Lee’s ex, the appearance of Cricket and Lee’s arrest for the aforementioned murder.  Matt is also caught shagging, Lady Gaga’s “woman of the wood” or whatever she is meant to be.

(It is interesting to note that in the backstory segment,  where Thomasin is saved in the woods, that the “sprite” turns out to be white. Surely at a time when white settlers were very much in the minority, would not the spirit of the forest been a Native American? Specifically a Croatoan?)

White manifest destiny issues aside, the third episode sees tensions between the Miller’s  and local police escalate. The family help the cops search the woods and Lee finds the first clue.

A dead baby pig is found wearing clothes. The creature has been decapitated and its arms, legs and tail have also been cut off.  The limbs and head are still there.

Shelby and Matt join Lee in the search for Flora and many other dead pigs and piglets are found. They follow the trail of pig bodies to a house of horrors. Later they stumble across an old  barn where they find two lads. The two youngsters are feeding from a sow  a’la Romulus and Remus.

Mason, Lee’s unpleasant ex husband shows up, makes some threats and then later accuses Lee of spiriting their daughter off and hiding her.  The angry ex pushes Lee to the floor and then storms out.

Later he will be found stretched out on a wooden structure burnt to a crisp.  Matt and Shelby discover that the CCTV cameras have captured Lee leaving after Mason departed and that she was gone for four hours.

Shelby wants to  tell the police but Matt dissuades her.

Cricket, a psychic, shows up and tells them he can find Flora.  He claims have connections with prior FBI cases and his bona fides check out.  He discovers the White backstory and the house’s connection to Roanoke.

Thomasin White was left in charge of the “missing colony.”

Because of a dispute she is banished and left to starve while the colony plan to make their move further inland.  White is visited by an attacking wild boar, aka pig and saved by the white spirit of the woods. Eating a still beating pig’s heart changes White into something else.

She returns to the village and kills two of the town’s planners sparing her son Ambrose.  Thomasin is now known as “The Butcher” and it is her spirit, along with her followers who haunt the land.

(Sidenote: Listening to both Wes Bentley and Kathy Bates speak in this episode their accents appear to be a type of northern English. Perhaps a Yorkshire background…)

Cricket, who is the Zelda Rubinstein in this Poltergeist homage, turns out to be helping the Millers, not out of the kindness of his heart, but for $25 thousand.  Matt is not amused and he orders the small psychic out of his house. 

Lee later pays him the money but Cricket still does not deliver. Instead he  tells the distraught mother that they must appease The Butcher and they broker a deal with the spirit in the woods.

Matt goes missing during the encounter and Shelby finds him having sweaty sex with the spirit of the woods. This act is being witnessed by two hillbilly types who are clapping their hands rhythmically.

Shelby returns home and Lee is arrested by the local police. Apparently Matt’s wife showed the CCTV footage to the cops and now Lee is suspected of Mason’s murder.

Chapter Three of American Horror Story had a number of dead pigs on offer. (So much so  it is surprising that Murphy and co have not put up the disclaimer: “No pigs were harmed in the making of this production…”)

There are a number of theories about how Murphy and Falchuk are tying in each episode of this season to prior seasons. Variety  have some interesting  theories and tie-ins about season six.

The one problem with this “tying in theory” is that the one thread that held all the seasons together, until five, was Jessica Lange.  Since she is not appearing in this season either, the theory may never be fully realized.

Meanwhile, back in Chapter Three of American Horror Story: Roanoke, Lee has been arrested, Shelby is very angry with Matt and he is confused about  everything.

American Horror Story airs Wednesdays on FX.

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Special Guest Star – Lady Gaga