TV

"American Horror Story's" 1984 Trailer Looks Like a "Stranger Things" Ripoff

AHS 9 seems to be taking a summery, nostalgic, cliché-filled turn.

AHS's 9th season will be called 1984—the year that's also the title of George Orwell's very famous and disturbingly prescient dystopian novel—and it'll take place at a lakeside oasis called Camp Redwood.

It seems that Ryan Murphy's going for a slightly sunnier depiction of the 1980s than Orwell's surveillance-heavy, totalitarian dystopia, though certainly there will be plenty of blood and gore to sate viewers' hunger for the uncanny in the new AHS season.

Image via AltPress

Some fans already have mixed feelings about this season, as it won't feature many of American Horror Story's most beloved cast members. Sarah Paulson will "not have a significant role," according to Variety, though she may have a cameo or two. Evan Peters and Billy Eichner also won't return. However, the Emma Roberts will be back, almost certainly playing a stuck-up character as always, along with Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy. (Perhaps it's for the best that Peters and Roberts won't have to be on set together, because after a seven-year relationship, the two broke up in March 2019). The show will also feature Billie Lourd, Cody Fern, John Carroll Lynch, Leslie Grossman, and Matthew Morrison (of Glee notoriety), as well as a bunch of overzealous teenagers who are impossible to tell apart, at least judging by the trailer's first few frames.

Considering all this, it looks like AHS is either getting desperate or going fully meta. With 1984, they're capitalizing on some of the oldest horror tropes in the book—ripping off Anna Wintour, Friday the 13th, and Orwell's titlebut the trailer doesn't suggest a resurgence of any of the elegance or intelligence that made the show's first few seasons so bone-chillingly good. While Murder House, Asylum, and Coven were incredibly timely, due to the way they deftly threaded topics like school shooters, mental illness, queerness, and feminism into hackneyed horror tropes, it's hard to see how 1984 will replicate the raw ambition and timely acuity of those seasons.

Instead, the show seems to be going for a, well, campy approach, one that makes fun of poorly made '80s B-movies and their perpetually masked, knife-wielding killers. Knowing AHS, there will be some hyper-serious, dramatic undercurrent woven throughout the whole thing; it'll either all be a movie set a la Roanoke or a hyper-realistic hallucination, or perhaps another commentary on the state of American politics or the gleeful clichés of '80s horror; but it's hard to imagine that the entire season could be a parody. Still, in this day and age, sometimes parody feels like one of the most intelligent and realistic forms of media, for at least it's self-aware of its own bullshit. If it is all a parody, then 1984 could be a complete disaster or (by some miracle) AHS's best work in years.

AHS goes 80sImage via Screen Rant

One other thing we know about 1984 is that it won't be American Horror Story's last season. Maybe it should be; since Coven, none of the seasons have lived up to the expectations set by the first three. While many of the concepts have been creative and impressive, the show has favored excessive gore and absurd, unrealistic, and hollow characters, foregoing the nuanced, flawed complexity of characters like Murder House's Tate Langdon and Asylum's Sister Jude. With Peters and Lange not returning, hopefully some of the new cast members will be able to carry the show as these actors did, but that seems unlikely given the fact that the writers seem to be creating simpler (and more annoying) characters each season.

As far as 1984 goes, it seems that we'll be taking a deep dive down the nostalgic path paved by Stranger Things, with a bit of the sunny hysteria of Midsommar to boot, though with fewer neon lights and flowers and lots more blood. Most likely, there will be murders in cabins and by campfires, murders on a lake, and murderers on the loose in the pines. It's hard to know if AHS will be able to exchange some of its reliance on shock value and for its initially spellbinding, supernatural magic, but time will tell.

American Horror Story Season 9 "Camp" Teaser Promo (HD) AHS 1984 www.youtube.com


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'1984' brings bleak terror to Broadway

REVIEW | The stage adaptation of Orwell's novel thrills with outstanding performances and special effects

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Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge lead an excellent cast suffering under Big Brother.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a difficult novel, tough and exhausting on the mind digesting it and on the characters acting it out. Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's 1984 on Broadway is a difficult play to watch. It's not a night out on the town kind of show. It's not a show you walk out of humming the finale. 1984 wears down its audience as Big Brother wears down Winston Smith: sensory overload, conflicting realities and a nagging, lingering, growing hopelessness.

1984. (Facebook)

The show blends the futuristic 1984 that Winston (Tom Sturridge) inhabits with a time even further in the future, where (as in the book's appendix) people of the future discuss the implications of the book—Winston's diary, the novel as a work of nonfiction by him, the novel itself, etc. It all becomes very strange when Winston's failing "sanity" causes glitches in the party's reality and he sees and hears the people of the future discussing him.

The show uses its brief blackouts to bring whole sets of people onstage as if they suddenly appeared in Winston's confused reality. In the twisted chronology of the stage production, this creates a disorienting first fifteen minutes that might be even more disorienting if you've read the novel. What you expect to happen does not happen, not at first. But when it does, it does viciously, graphically and painfully.

The show achieves audience discomfort through its mangled realities and through its stage tricks and special effects. Watch Winston be thrown to the ground by a guard… then watch the guard take of his helmet to reveal that he is Winston. The glitches in reality come with tall, blinding LEDs and a thunderous electronic sound like a flash-bang explosion in Call of Duty combined with a malfunctioning subwoofer.

Will you vomit, pass out, have to leave? Probably not, unless you have a very weak stomach for blood (although I can't speak for the people in the front rows; that must be overwhelming). There was a lot more blood in Rupert Goold's American Psycho: The Musical last year.

You will feel uncomfortable, angry, hopeless and probably leave the theatre short of words. Winston, Julia (Olivia Wilde), O'Brien (Reed Birney) and the other characters rage and argue about truth, fact and the importance of words. As Newspeak threatens individual thought by eliminating all of the words that make it possible, Winston struggles to convince others of the existence of truth and of fact beyond the reality of the Party—of Big Brother.

To call the play "timely" is too easy—Orwell's novel still reads as a timely critique of big governments, wartime rhetoric and social control. "If you want a picture of the future," Birney's O'Brien says, quoting the novel, "imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever." As the show's future-people say, the book always feels relevant. It's been cinematized, commercialized and now acted out on Broadway.

More than its philosophical critiques, the play's performances will weigh on you afterward. It's strange to applaud what has happened onstage when the cast bows. Sturridge's Winston is a bit more helpless, more out of control than I imagined in the novel but that's part of the stage's visual interpretation of his (in)sanity. Olivia Wilde acts with furious energy as Julia, throwing herself around the stage as the anarchy to Winston's controlled subversion. Birney's careful, clear voice embodies the ultimate control of the Party.

The show might overuse its excellent special effects but only in the pursuit of audience immersion. Try not to fidget awkwardly when the house lights illuminate the audience as Winston pleads with them—with you. You are a part of the show, even after you've left the theatre.

If you've read the book, you'll remember its famous final sentence. When you've seen the play, you'll understand why the stage doesn't need it.

See '1984' at the Hudson Theatre before it closes in October. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Watch Olivia Wilde talk about her role as Julia below:


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