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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, February 03, 2023
Ben Golden

'American Horror Story’ returns to its roots in new season

“American Horror Story” is finally back with its fifth season and it did not disappoint. The anthology series has made some serious changes: Jessica Lange bowed out, Lady Gaga is the new lead and the new sinister location is a once-glamorous-now-dodgy hotel in Los Angeles. However, even with these fresh new changes, the show seems to have returned back to its roots; victims get tortured and killed in their residence by an ensemble of other-worldly oddities that have a routine to their madness and run through the drill like it’s just another day. Sound familiar? Season one featured the same type of formula: New residents of a haunted house falling prey to the ghosts that haunt it. Season five takes place in the same city, has a similar plot and even guest stars the realtor that sold the horror house in season one. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I personally thought the first season was one of the best in the series and established the distinctive world of “AHS.” With “AHS: Hotel,” there is enough change to keep viewers intrigued and hopefully enough diverse material to stand as its own unique story. So far, it is looking good. Already in the first episode there is a deadly foursome, a ghoulish spawn of bloodsucking children, a serial killer with a bowler hat and a “Pan’s Labyrinth”-type monster with a lethal strap-on dildo.

The biggest ploy to have viewers coming back for more is casting pop-star Lady Gaga as the new lead. Gaga seems just right for the “AHS” world; she lights up her scenes with her allure. However, there seems to be a reason why Gaga meshes so well with the show. Even with the excitement and vitality Gaga brings, I cannot help but notice that her character seems like an extension of her “Mother Monster” alter ego from her pop chart days. I’m sure this made Gaga’s transition from a singing career to an acting debut much smoother; she has been rehearsing for this role since the “Bad Romance” music video came out. In the show, she is literally a mother monster that has a thirst for blood, with the hotel being her menacing web where she catches her prey to feed to her young.

The first episode has so much to offer that you can comprehend how much fun Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, is having with this season. The deliciously demented world he has created is infectious with each season beholding more and more entertaining screams. From the opening of the episode, you can feel the echoes of other horror classics inspiring this new chapter. The carpet pattern and camera movements are an admirative nod to “The Shining,” not to mention Gaga’s creepy identical children running through the halls. During the wonderfully bizarre foursome scene, “Nosferatu”plays in the background as Gaga and her goth-glam sidekick (Matt Bomer) pick the meal of the night—a couple on a picnic date night. As Gaga and Bomer seduce the pair, “Nosferatu” rises up from the tomb; easily interpreted as symbolic for the sexual excitement of the night (an erection). After a demented and erotic night of sex and gore—with the band She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart” gyrating the scene along—Gaga and Bomer lay in the bloodbath as she nonchalantly purrs “call housekeeping” to clean up the mess.

Kathy Bates seems to be another character with blood on her hands. She plays the receptionist of the hotel and has her own twisted secrets. As she is torturing some international tourists who mistakenly stay at the hotel, she bellows “you dumb Swedish meatballs!” (reminiscent of her iconic character in the horror staple “Misery”) as she force-feeds the women to prepare human foie gras for Gaga’s refined diet.

With a new season of unabashed terror around every hotel hallway corner, “AHS” seems to have found its sweet spot. It may be returning to its original foundation from season one; however, with each shock, it becomes apparent that it has returned at its best. Lady Gaga has found her niche and carries the show to new fearful heights. Akin to its true main character, the Hotel Cortez, this season is a horrifying beauty with culture from the past running through its DNA. With winks to other classics that have defined the genre, Ryan Murphy continues to succeed in doing what was once thought impossible, seamlessly bringing horror to television.

Are you an “AHS” fan? Let Ben know at bagolden@wisc.edu.

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