The Four de Sades
by ALEX CARNEVALE
American Horror Story
creator Ryan Murphy
It was sometime during the second orgy of the American Horror Story premiere, where Lady Gaga was humping an Asian woman she had met at an outdoor screening of a lesser Bela Lugosi movie. Despite being a spirited performer onstage, Ms. Germanotta is not much of an actress and you can see that she seems a bit confused about how exactly to play Ryan Murphy’s amusing bon mots. She got this look on her face like, even I have no idea what’s happening here.
Murphy hired Kathy Bates to be the proprieter of a sadistic hotel this season, and the show never really delves into suspense too much. It is mostly just gore and sex. You can’t say Murphy’s heart isn’t into it: the first thirty minutes of Amercan Horror Story features several rapes, cannabilism, necrophilia and a man with his penis superglued inside of a woman. Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) instructs his colleagues to cut the man loose.
Chloe Sevigny tries desperately to anchor this ludicrous situation as a mother of a missing child married to Bentley. Watching Gaga slit the throats of Swedish tourists or snort cocaine feels pretty familiar, but Chloe Sevigny as a modest housewife trying to do right by her family is far more transgressive than anal rape. Sevigny was made for camp.
It is possible that Murphy uses Wes Bentley in the lead role here simply for the number of humorous references to American Beauty he can make. Bentley is by nature a joke: a goofy, blue eyed manikin who talks in a whispered hush at all times. He is absolutely perfect for this role, and Murphy’s costumes for him are laugh-out-loud funny.
It does not seem Murphy is really having fun until he descends into amusing flashbacks of a mortified Kathy Bates searching for her drug addicted son. He is great at perching on the edge of something outlandish without going all the way there, which is why Lady Gaga talking about her days in New York and leading a little boy into a decadent room filled with unlimited candy and weird video game displays is kind of a drag.
Usually the problem with camp is that every once in awhile, usually by accident, it hits on something that is both sincere and original. Either one is fine on its own, but Murphy excels at never shying away from where his fantasies take him.
The best scene in American Horror Story is Wes Bentley and his daughter eating raw fish at a restaurant, a pastime every bit as disturbing as any sexual dysfunction, or the scene where Gaga slits the throat of a Swedish tourist with her fingernail.
Murphy is just as good as subtle repulsion as the bigger fish. In a film there is no time to explore the genuine expressions of emotion that exude naturally from the satire and parody inherent in camp, but Murphy can pretty much do whatever he wants in the loose format of American Horror Story. There is nothing else around with his whimsy, and that is why Nip/Tuck was much more amusing the more seriously it took itself.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“Two From The Vault” – David Bazan (mp3)