A REAL AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOLLYWOOD’S HOLY SHIT
American Horror Story doesn’t seem to understand Satanism. But American Horror Story rarely seems to understand anything, up to and including horror, stories, and America, so the bar is low.
The hit-and-miss hit FX series uploaded its 2018 season, “Apocalypse,” to the online hive collective of Netflix last week, prompting fresh complaints from Satanists who missed the broadcast version last year.
You might think they’re mad about the story structure, the aimless casting, the subplots that don’t go anywhere, or the fact that Evan Peters apparently just fucks anybody who shows up to his bomb shelter in a rubber suit without question. (Although fan service is a sin, so points for trying.)
But no, mostly they’re salty that old Anton LaVey made a cameo, and he brings some ham for their salt with the cheesiest of onscreen human sacrifices. (Mmm, salted ham and cheese…)
Honestly though, this embarrassing exhibition aside, I will actually say one positive thing about American Horror Story: Apocalypse. Just one, but hey, the world is ending, carpe the fucking diem.
You can surely tell I’m not big on American Horror Story. But neither is the show’s trashy appeal lost on me, and it’s undeniably a huge success, whereas my critic’s wit hasn’t gotten me further in Hollywood than the tram ride at Universal Studios, so hey.
“Apocalypse” is a labyrinth of plots and roles from previous seasons, all tangled up in a messy mass around a twinky Antichrist played by Cody Fern.
Episode six info dumps the Antichrist’s entire biography via ghosts, including one time he aged a decade overnight and we’re treated to Fern waking up in underoos. This is presumably also fan service, but sometimes shit hits that fan.
Anyway this is the episode where old Anton pops up to perform a “Black Mass” in the kitchen. This consists almost exclusively of cutting out a woman’s heart and dropping it in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Last time something this anti-climactic ran on network TV it involved the phrase “Capone’s vault.” (Ask your Gen X friends.)
I do like the addition of Kathy Bates to the ritual though, more Satanic rituals need Kathy Bates. Anyway, at the time, Church of Satan head/perpetual Alan Moore cosplayer Peter Gilmore called the depiction “smirky, belabored, and desperate.”
Despite teeing up a joke about Pete’s own writing style so handily that it must have left a mark somewhere, he’s actually right. Although I find it funny that he ever previously watched American Horror Story anyway, given the Church of Satan’s hilariously fussy 20th century anti-TV crusading.
In any case, “Apocalypse” is quite literally last year’s news, and I might not bother to bring it up now if it weren’t for YouTube media critic an Krull aficionado Leon Thomas.
Thomas’ “Renegade Cut” channel published an essay this week about religious horror, which he notes almost invariably reinforces medieval theology and the ugly, repressive assumptions that come with it.
Movies like The Conjuring and The Exorcist base their horror in chauvinist religious paradigms that vilify things like secularism and skepticism.
Thomas also points out that the way movies treat witches and devils ends up promoting violent and archaic prejudices about women, foreigners, outsiders, and other religions.
“Supernatural horror stories made in the west depict non-Christian religion with suspicion or even panic,” Thomas says. “Foreignness makes [other religions] scary to the target audience,” and “the otherness and villainy of otherworldly religions” sticks to horror-themed media like a patchy bloodstain.
And we can see that in cinemas just this year. In Pet Sematary, a now-cursed indigenous burial site spawns evil; in Midsommar, a pagan fertility cult lures unsuspecting Americans to disaster; Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic features wealthy Satanists killing off the working class, etc.
But, weirdly, not in American Horror Story. Most of the heroes of “Apocalypse” are a) women, and b) witches, as it turns out, rather than mainstream institutions.
Similarly, Netflix’s own The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina features heroes who undo the devil not through prayer, miracles, and Jesus, but mostly just ingenuity and, oh yes, witchcraft, of course.
That’s a show that’s also rubbed real Satanists the wrong way, but oddly I still think it does a pretty good job promoting real Satanic ideals in spite of itself.
For the record, I don’t dislike any of those movies. I’m even mostly inured to the invariably villainous depictions of Satanists in media, which I still think of as amusing and sometimes even rhetorically useful. (Bad guys get easy PR these days.)
But I can imagine a time not far off when younger Satanists object more stridently to the way show business handles religious imagery, themes, and conflicts–and probably think I’m a shill for not agreeing.
And, for all of their faults, in shows like these two we can see also the potential for an alternative status quo. One that is evidently not yet friendly to Satanism, but neither feels necessarily beholden to mainstream religious culture either.
Except, whoops, that actually IS friendly to Satanism; after all, all it takes is for just one person to wonder whether or not they can do it differently. And there’s a twist ending you won’t get even on American Horror Story.