Those of us who have stuck with Ryan Murphy’s mind-bending American Horror Story through its highs — Jessica Lange, Evan Peters — and lows — all of American Horror Story Hotel — are digging our heels in to the gargantuan mountainous set-up written in seasons 1-5. The beauty of this series is multifaceted; Ryan Murphy’s innovations include recasting the same group of scenery-chewing actors in different settings each season, masterfully leaving breadcrumbs and loose ends suggesting a huge Murphyverse, and holding his fans hostage for months before revealing each season’s theme.
Watching American Horror Story is like having a guaranteed invite to a lush, freaky Eyes Wide Shut-style party every Halloween, and the gilded invitation slides glossily into your mailbox every preceding August. We don’t have a title or theme for American Horror Story: Season 6 yet, but FX has released these clips that suggest a few themes.
A year ago, fans were hoping for either AHS: Aliens or AHS: Cult, and neither theory has been disproved. The subject of aliens, you’ll remember, was never fully settled back in AHS: Season 2: Asylum. Ryan Murphy himself said the aliens who abducted Evan Peters’s character were meant as stand-ins for a Catholic God, but he didn’t explain just how integrated the aliens were in his overall vision for the show. Point being: aliens are still game to show up in Season 6.
Many critics have described, ad nauseum, an American midwest aesthetic in these clips which recalls The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was truly an American horror film in both setting and tone. It would, however, be pretty boring of Ryan Murphy to devote an entire season to emulating an existing film, so it’s more likely that Chainsaw will factor in, threaded alongside other American horror staples, including Deliverance. That’s a chainsaw you hear in the first promo, by the way, followed by a throaty feminine scream. Here’s “What’s Cooking?”:
Cannibalism and forced body modification (read: torture and disfigurement) seem to be continuing threads woven (or violently stapled) into these teasers. “Post Op,” the only teaser which focuses on two characters interacting, is also the most disturbing of the bunch:
We also hear, in addition to the show’s crunchy, creepy theme song, a hummed refrain sung by female voices, both adult-sounding and childlike, in more than one teaser. The teaser with an insect — there’s gotta be one every year, right? — is simply a look at the song, a young girl’s face, and another example of Ryan Murphy’s fetishized “creepy thing preys on young girl” aesthetic.
Another teaser suggests a family unit, although that image is more than a little twisted. Sunset Stroll, when coupled with What’s Cooking?, feels a whole lot like the greatest and most disturbing episode of the X-Files, “Home”, which follows Scully and Mulder as they investigate a backwoods, incestuous American family. The family in Sunset Stroll doesn’t look like a cannibal American family so much as a trio of creatures (read: ALIENS!!?!) pretending to be human, and failing.
That family theme is furthered with the creepy baby promo, which some have pointed out recalls Rosemary’s Baby, though that’s only accurate if you equate every cinematic baby in horror. This particular baby appears to be non-human (and significantly extraterrestrial looking!). It’s clear the point of this promo is to reinforce the important of the surgical tools hanging on creepy-baby’s mobile.
The final promo feels especially linked to “Post Op,” giving us a character running down a flight of metal stairs as captive hands reach out for help between every step. Who’s got these poor souls in cages? Probably the same freaky doctor operating on ol’ baldy in “Post Op.” The comparison to Texas Chainsaw begins to unfurl at the seams here, because Leatherface and his family weren’t intelligent enough to derive sadistic pleasure from surgically altering people. They were eaters, not manipulators; cannibals who found fear hilarious, not surgeons who were numb to human suffering. All in all, there’s more in these teasers suggesting a pattern of sadism, and perhaps that group, centered out in the American plains, has a leader.
That fact suggests a linkage to another popular AHS fan theory: an American cult, a subject which nestles right into Ryan Murphy’s obsession with 1960s glamour (Jessica Lange, who hasn’t confirmed her appearance in Season 6, was instrumental to Murphy pulling off this look). It would be crazy for Murphy, vintage sensuality obsessive, to write an entire show about American horror and not include something resembling the Manson family, so Season 6 might be his chance.
The promos released today are masterful, in that they don’t outright negate either aliens or cults, though they do center this season’s terror in the American midwest. Murphy’s had a lot of different ideas swirling in previous years, but he’s made repetitive mentions of both an Antichrist baby — a character he promised would show up in Hotel but didn’t — and a fascination with the Manson family, a specifically Californian, glamorous group that could nonetheless be adapted slightly to exist among the blood-stained amber waves of grain.
American Horror Story: Season 6 premieres September 14.