American Horror Story has been a reliable source of outrageous horror for over a decade. Creator Ryan Murphy struck gold in 2011 with season 1, retroactively titled Murder House, and blew the lid off anthology TV with its entirely different follow-up season, Asylum. This put the FX network on the map during a golden age of television that occurred at a time before the influx of eight thousand streaming apps oversaturated our screens and bank accounts. And while Murphy has had a slate of projects that were either overtly queer (Glee) or queer-coded (Popular, Nip/Tuck), AHS isn’t technically a “gay” series. Despite this, Murphy and his team have utilized the show’s platform to give the community a voice, whether by hiring out gay actors as significant players or by including queer characters and storylines on a show that isn’t necessarily about such. For something that was a big part of the cultural zeitgeist during its earlier years, it was pretty noteworthy to showcase members of the LGBTQ+ community and tell their stories in such a bold way. With June being Pride Month, we at Horror Press thought it a suitable time to pay tribute to what a very gay showcase American Horror Story has been all these years, so let’s go ahead and take a peek behind the rainbow curtain.
From its inception, AHS made strides in the industry by featuring multiple out actors like Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto, and Dennis O’Hare in prominent roles. We’re all aware of how fearful Hollywood is of out and proud actors because, after all, how could a gay person possibly play straight, or why would straight viewers care to watch people they have no chance at bedding? Murphy’s casting gave the one-finger salute to this ignorant train of thought. Over time, the show’s flamboyance and queer actor count progressed, incorporating the likes of Billy Porter, Matt Bomer, BD Wong, and Cody Fern into the fold. Of course, most of these actors had careers in their own right before the show, but including so many of them in a single series – and often playing queer characters – was simply unheard of. It should be acknowledged that there was an admittedly slow start regarding the casting of POC actors, with the introduction of Angela Bassett and Gabourey Sidibe to the series in season 3 being the only major POC actors until season 6. Still, I suppose we can never quite have it all…
Yet while the show’s cast was revelatory for the time, its fictional queerness had more humble beginnings. Later seasons could sometimes be so in your face with their excess and eleganza you’d think you were at a Pride parade, but the OG, Murder House, was much more subtle. Jessica Lange’s tour-de-force performance as insidiously nosy neighbor Constance Langdon fed the gays who worship at the altar of powerful women acting their asses off. While not explicitly gay, a presence like Lange’s, along with Connie Britton’s gorgeous mane and the framing of Dylan McDermott as an object of sexual desire (daddy, indeed), certainly supported the gay agenda.
This first season also includes a ghostly gay couple at the genesis of Rubber Man, a BDSM fetish suit that immediately became one of the series’ most iconic and recognizable frights. Depicting a realistically rocky relationship that met a violent and tragic end – as most things on AHS do – Chad and Patrick’s struggles were no different from those of the Harmon family at the center of the season’s drama. Rather than focusing on their relationship as “the other” to be juxtaposed with the show’s straight counterparts, Murphy and his writers integrated this gay couple seamlessly into the action, and sometimes that’s just as welcome as highlighting the differences in queer stories.
Asylum veered in the other direction by using the discovery of protagonist Lana Winters’ lesbian relationship as a MacGuffin to set her journey and the plot itself into motion. Set in the good ol’ days of 1964, Lana is forcefully admitted to the asylum under the guise of curing her “mental illness” of homosexuality. Unfortunately, horrific things like this did and still do occur in our world, and such a strong and fully realized queer character as Lana must be celebrated. Paulson’s performance sees her going head-to-head with the legendary Sister Jude. Their rivalry is one for the books, providing a feminine psychological intensity not seen since Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The series’ darkest season even imitates some of Baby Jane’s campiness, giving us a brief reprieve via the frantic and silly Name Game sequence.
It’s not all dark and full of terrors on AHS, though, and seasons Coven, Hotel, and Apocalypse bring a delightfully mean-spirited sense of frivolity to the series. As previously mentioned, the gays love a feminal force of nature, and Coven provides us with an entire class of them. A gay fantasy of the highest praise, season 3 finds us at Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies or Hogwarts for bad bitches and the queers who love them. A Real Housewives of Salem-style battle for the literal supremacy ensues, and to borrow a meme-worthy phrase from scandalous Housewife Erika Jayne; it’s going to give the gays everything they want. The library is open, and these women aren’t holding back.
Coven is stacked, blessing us with a pantheon of devilish witches to root for. We have Misty Day (Lily Rabe), the lovably naive white witch with a penchant for Stevie Nicks; an extended cameo and performances (yes, plural) by superstar Stevie herself; venomous celebrity Madison Montgomery, embodied frightfully well by Emma Roberts in a way she emulates twice more in Scream Queens and Scream 4; Frances Conroy as every gay’s favorite quirky aunt, Myrtle Snow; and Kathy-friggen-Bates as a resurrected slave owner hilariously tormented for her sins by Gabourey Sidibe’s Queenie. Coven’s true indulgence, however, is Angela Bassett as the queen mother of voodoo Marie Laveau and her centuries-long feud with the witches. This finds her at odds with reigning Supreme, Fiona Goode (once again, Miss Jessica Lange). Eventually, the adversaries form a truce to team up and dismantle the witch-hunting patriarchy. Add to all of this a witch whose power is death upon any man she sleeps with, and it’s no wonder the season’s first episode is titled “Bitchcraft”.
Coven is later succeeded by season 8’s Apocalypse, an Avengers: Endgame level crossover event that finds the witches of Miss Robichaux’s fighting the supernaturally aged antichrist Michael Langdon, who was birthed during the climax of Murder House. Newcomer Cody Fern brings big pansexual energy to the role, and while much of the season is fan service, Murphy – once again – gives the gays everything they want.
These witches paved the way for what would become the series’ signature sense of wicked fun, but it’s season 5’s Hotel that brought the stuff of gay legend to our screens in the form of LADY GAGA as The Countess. Like most gays, I’ll never forget where I was when I learned she would be starring in the season, and while there was some apprehension concerning her acting chops (this was before her Oscar nomination), I think I can speak for the community when I say we were gagged. Thus, Lady Gaga ushered in what I consider to be the queerest season of television that isn’t inherently about gay culture. With high fashion and old school elegance, gore galore, a frequently nude Matt Bomer and Lady Gaga, exquisite cinematography, and a plot not unlike a soap opera set in Hell, Hotel plays out like a nightmare version of a star-studded perfume ad. It doesn’t all make sense, but really, who cares?
Jessica Lange’s spirit is also not forgotten, and as it’s the first season without her on the cast, Gaga & Co. do their damnedest to bring the drama in her honor. With one icon gone, two must become one, and The Countess is joined by former flame Ramona Royale – hello again, Angela! Their romance is beautifully presented as an elevator tableau, tracking its ups and downs through the decades as they come and go from the hotel’s lift. It’s a bittersweet sequence that portrays the demise of a couple with nuance and serves us haute couture to boot.
The character of Liz Taylor, played by Dennis O’Hare, is also one to look out for when it comes to nuance. As the aging transgender bartender of the Hotel Cortez, Liz takes in others’ pain while silently suffering in the shadows. O’Hare brings tragedy and levity to the screen in equal measure, and Murphy has yet to surpass Liz Taylor’s depth when it comes to writing queer characters for AHS. One scene, in particular, finds Liz coming face to face with her adult son from a life she has long since left behind. Something of a precursor to what Murphy would eventually do with Pose, the heartbreaking truth behind stories like this is essential queer storytelling.
Much more can be said about the very gay showcase that is American Horror Story. There is the homoerotic slasher throwback season 1984 that also debuts Angelica Ross as the series’ first black trans actor, Double Feature going full inclusivity with the bizarre pregnancies of gay males via alien experimentation, and underpinnings of gay panic seen through characters like the extremely possessed and sexually charged Sister Mary Eunice in Asylum and scantily clad serial killer Dandy Mott in Freakshow. And I haven’t even mentioned Jessica Lange performing David Bowie and Lana Del Rey or the queer warlocks of Apocalypse! Wow, this show is really gay, huh? In all seriousness, AHS has had its highs and lows of quality and critical acclaim, but its unapologetic and unabashed queerness deserves to be commended. On behalf of myself, Horror Press, and the month of June, we thank you American Horror Story for bringing queerness, warts and all, to the main stage. BALENCIAGA!!!
Revisiting the Incomprehensible Silent Night, Deadly Night Series: Which Is the Best, Which Is the Worst, and Are Any of Them Actually Good?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Which means we need to bust out some relevant Christmas horror films to watch here. And it also means there will be many listicles that put Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 at the top of their rankings for Christmas horror films by default. But it got me thinking that maybe we need a bit more of a meditation on this series.
Have we really written them all off so quickly because one of them is the most meme-able? I like the first few films in the series as much as the next guy, but The Ricky Chapman Trilogy that kicks us off doesn’t go beyond the pale the way everything after does. 4 & 5 are Apocrypha to the Ricky Bible, but they introduce many weird, out-there concepts that make them enjoyable bad movies.
So today, I’ve taken the liberty of hitching up the man-eating reindeer to the sleigh to take a retrospective ride through the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise and find out…well, you read the title, you can do the math. Starting with…
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT
The one that started it all and got a bunch of people in hot water. It’s funny to think that outrage culture has pretty steadily assaulted our eyes and ears with the dumbest of controversies since time immemorial. Still, it’s even funnier knowing this movie contributed to that outrage. But beyond the controversy, this film is actually…kind of good?
It’s the best shot of all the movies, so big props to Scream Factory for remastering it and restoring it to its fullest. It’s only a little meanspirited, which is good since it doesn’t get too heavy for its absurd concept. On top of that, the kills in the movie are exceptionally creative (antler impalings, Christmas light hangings, and sled decapitations, oh my!). My only problem is that Billy Chapman is no Ricky, he’s more serious and isn’t as much of a goofball.
I would say this ranked high up when I first started my rewatch but may go closer to the bottom of the list. Not for any technical fault of its own—just because it gets much funnier from here in…
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, PART 2
Do I even have to say the line to know it’s the first thing that went through your head as you read the title? GARBAGE DAY!
Let anybody who told you Art the Clown is the best slasher villain to use a gun see this and watch them change their tune. Watching this is only enriched by not having seen the first movie, which makes it one of those sequels that is better than the first in the worst way possible. If you were unfortunate enough to watch both the first and second films in one sitting, like myself, you’d know that roughly half of the movie is flashbacks to Billy’s rampage. But that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining as all hell.
Ricky Chapman is an all-time great slasher villain and delivers some kills almost as good as the original. Eric Freeman may just be the best-worst actor of all time, which makes this movie one of the best-worst films of all time by proxy. Which makes the following film feel like a fall from grace, given its…
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!
A.K.A. “The one with Bill Moseley in it,” because that’s the most remarkable thing about it. He’s not even a killer Santa in this one, but I guess mixing the motifs of “killer with exposed brain pan” and “Santa Claus with murder tools” might muddy the aesthetic waters. The final entry for our boy Ricky is kind of a sad whimper to go out on because this movie’s pacing is painfully slow.
It squanders a very fun concept (psychic girl is hunted by an evil Santa Claus she keeps having visions of) in favor of watching a lobotomized Ricky taking a road trip to his murder victim and killing people off-camera on the way. Worse, it squanders Bill Moseley, who doesn’t get to act outside of lumbering with a slack jaw. It’s the cinematic equivalent of dragging your sled up the hill again: tedious, no momentum, and no fun as you wait for the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: THE INITIATION
And the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise is here! Why should this even qualify when it looks and feels like Springtime in Los Angeles, and people had just forgotten to take down their Christmas decorations for months? Well, three reasons:
- Spontaneous combustions caused by witches.
- Monstrously massive bugs everywhere, designed by Screaming Mad George.
- Clint Howard as the resident crazy homeless guy who walks in and out of the movie.
While Ricky may be gone and its status as a Christmas movie is dubious, it’s a trip of a film with one particularly hellish sequence involving a lot of slime-covered giant insects. Some complain about its ham-fisted thematic notes of gender inequality, sex, and exploitation…but are you actually going into Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 expecting strong themes? Just enjoy this one for what it is, which is a lot of classic ick-inducing Brian Yuzna filmmaking. If you liked the weird, psychosexual nightmare that was Society, you’ll like this.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER
I was going to do another A.K.A. joke here, but I realized that the twist of this movie is so weird that it outclasses even The Initiation and needs to be seen to be believed. Rewatching this, I had forgotten exactly what the deal was with our mystery killer in the film and was mouth agape when the movie jogged my memory.
The Toymaker gives some very gruesome deaths and puts the Yuletide feeling of the film at center stage with a plot about murderous toys (not Demonic Toys, we swear, please don’t sue us Charles Band!). In fact, I would argue that since the effects in this movie and the violent kills don’t feel like a rehash of Society, it’s actually a major improvement on what 4 had going on. While four is slower-paced as it tells a (somewhat) more tempered story, five is aware of how goofy the plot is, with faster and funnier editing and some truly hilariously bad performances.
SILENT NIGHT (2012)
The final entry in the series is as plain jane of a slasher as they come but does manage to get the holiday aesthetics down pat, so even though it isn’t as wacky as the others, I’m including it in the ranking.
This film isn’t the one that reinvents the wheel or brings any fire to mankind (outside of the literal flamethrower murders depicted in it), but it is a very solid slasher. It has a cast of fun character actors, particularly Donal Logue and Malcolm McDowell, with our lead Jaime King as a no-nonsense detective hunting down our slasher. I just wish it was as madcap and off the walls as some of its predecessors were.
Which is the best, which is the worst, and are there any good films in this series?
I would argue that all of them (except for 3) are great horror flicks in their own rights, since not a single one of them (except for 3) is boring (3 is getting the worst spot, sorry if I’m being redundant, but it sucks).
If I had to choose a best one, it would probably be our 5th spot on the list as The Toymaker is a diamond in the horror rough that, while lacking the bad acting of Part 2, has a genuinely insane script and all the best special effects of the series. So, from best to worst:
- Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker
- Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
- Silent Night, Deadly Night
- Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation
- Silent Night (2012)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!
When you’ve got those cookies baking in the oven, the house smelling of pine tree, and the lights twinkling, let this list from nice to naughty help you make the right decisions on which campy horror movies to watch this holiday season.
From all of us here at Horror Press, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year everyone!
In Memory of the Video Rental Store
Cinemas are for those who know where they’re going. But the video store? The video store is for the wanderers who are still looking. Or, were still looking.
From a very young age, I, like many people, was in the clutches of a business nobody even knew was doomed to collapse yet. At least, nobody I knew knew, and certainly, you didn’t know. We were children, and children rarely know much about themselves, let alone the intricacies of a market on the brink of an unknowing death at the hands of an unknowable, unfeeling force. A force that would take all the whimsy and love out of picking a film and replacing it with scrolling and idly zoning out as you watched the screen.
I learned quickly to love the video store. I hadn’t yet grown to love the comic books that would line the boxes in my room, or developed the skills to play with others, but I did have a video store on my block. It was a downright frigid spot in the sweltering heat of the summer, and that was all it needed to be.
The fatal weakness the store preyed on was that my eyes and heart were still perfectly big in proportion to my positively diminutive brain. I was enticed by every expertly crafted cover, every famous face I acquainted myself with. I ended up carrying names and voices belonging to the friends and enemies and loves and heroes I’d never meet.
And the terrors I’d never experience first-hand.
The eyes in paintings follow you sometimes, but the eyes on movie cases always follow you when you walk along the aisles. It’s the horror film cases that always seem to be watching you from between the shelves. Red eyes peering from the darkness. Monstrous eyes that seem particularly human and human eyes that call on the particularly deranged. The only lit spot on a face leering in shadow with wide eyes, wide maniacal stares and bloody hands and bloody weapons, bloody everything–
So scary that it would leave me rambling. And I’m a habitual rambler, always nervous, so you can only imagine how scared I was, even as a child, when my parents were there to assure me it’d be fine.
I can’t wash out how those images evoked a primal disgust and curiosity in me. I remember that the Saw movie covers did it to me quite a bit with their various severed limbs and torn-out teeth hanging by wires; the Texas Chainsaw remake had me standing in shock when I passed it in the store, the face of Thomas Hewitt staring back with void sunken features. Sepia-toned filth that leeched off the poster’s art and into my brain to leave stains so strong I can remember them as clear as day. Growing recognition that would turn into admiration.
And I kept running into these faces, even when I wasn’t in that video store. A man in the neighborhood who sold movies out of the trunk of his car frequented the same block as my grandmother’s apartment. He lured me over to browse the selection once, and there it was. My father took my hand and led me away, but that first glance at the stitched face would terrorize me for most of my childhood.
Cover after cover through flea markets, electronics retailers, and bargain bins in big box stores. Everywhere, that damned face. Good old Charles Lee Ray, Chucky. Killer dolls, which I only got glimpses of, were infinitely more terrifying than the films themselves. God forbid I saw one of the full-sized replica Chucky dolls in a store and froze up to have an asthma attack.
When I got older, eventually, I did what every idiot in a horror film does. I took the proverbial steps into the darkened basement to find out what was making that noise. I had to find out what I had been seeing glimpses of from the corner of my eye.
Far and away from the first video store that stole my heart, we had a Blockbuster in the town we moved to next. Twelve-year-old me snuck a copy of “Dawn of the Dead” in with some of the films we had rented, covering that pale, bloodstained half-face with a box of old candy off the shelf near the register, taking advantage of the fact that my parents were still browsing while I made my pick. The young cashier, whose face has melted into memory soup all these years later, still had one distinct feature on their face I could see: a smile. It could have been them being nice as usual, but part of me likes to think that they knew what I was doing and just wanted to give a little push to rebel.
I watched it a few days later in my room, nervously dancing around the fact we’d have to return it soon. And though I had to cover my eyes most of the time, and the volume had to be turned down low so that my parents couldn’t hear the carnage from the next room over, I made it through. And I wanted more now.
Now that I’m grown, I wish we had met earlier, horror; I wish I had gotten to know how fun the fear could be. How silly some of these things were. The joys of camp and goriness. The way you could put the laughter in slaughter and the sense of fun in fear. But that was the trajectory I had to be on, to feel equal parts “I’m scared, I want to go home” and “I’m scared, I need to know more.” I’m just glad that I caught those eyes watching between the shelves when I did.