Friday, November 22

Second Take: “American Horror Story: Cult” excels at both horror, comedy

(Photo courtesy of Frank Ockenfels/FX)

(Photo courtesy of Frank Ockenfels/FX)

If you’ve ever watched Sarah Paulson scream, then you’ve already seen about 80 percent of “American Horror Story” season seven.

Paulson, who plays one of the protagonists this season, is an episode staple in the most recent installment of the “Horror Story” franchise, and yet she spends most of the show running around a large house yelling at people over the phone.

But that’s what makes it good.

Paulson’s excessive screaming and the clowns’ demon-themed outfits are just two of the season’s ridiculous cinematic choices, which, along with the main character’s blue, stringy hair, add a sense of comedy – a clear indication that this season isn’t trying to take itself too seriously.

As an avid fan of “American Horror Story,” one of my favorite aspects of the series is the campiness behind almost every horror moment. Whether it’s the sexy old lady maid from season one or Lady Gaga’s over-the-top vampire outfits in season five, the franchise’s ability to add flair to scare has made it one of my favorite creepy shows to watch.

And despite my initial misgivings with Paulson’s over-the-top performance in the beginning of the season, I found myself enjoying the absolute ludicrousness of each episode.

Set during the most recent presidential election and the days following it, season seven follows the strange and greasy-looking Kai Anderson (Evan Peters) and the homicidal cult he leads. As the cult embarks upon a murdering rampage within the small fictitious community of Brookfield Heights, Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson), an innocent restaurant owner, grapples with the new president-elect and an overbearing phobia of clowns.

Coincidentally, Kai’s cult following adopts creepy clown uniforms for their murdering antics, leading to some exciting, yet unsurprising chase scenes with Ally. Paulson plays the character superbly, running around screaming for what feels like hours in her large suburban home as Kai’s clown posse simply stands in various closets and hallways watching her.

While the grimy clown costumes are disturbing, Ally’s reactions make the overall feel for some of the episodes quite comedic. And a fear of clowns is just the beginning for Ally. She soon enters a downward spiral of suspicion, paranoia and trypophobia, a fear of irregular patterns or clusters of holes.

Ally’s exaggerated phobias act as the perfect platform for the show’s over-the-top horror. Gruesome stabbing scenes and body decomposition flashbacks seem even more horrible compared to Ally’s intense breakdowns over the holey piece of coral in her therapist’s office.

However, while Paulson’s character delivers on a comedic level, the show still exceeds in all things horror. In the fifth episode, one man dies from an axe to the head, another is stabbed while hanging from the ceiling by his skin and another gets shot in the head with a nail gun multiple times. Although disturbing on their own, this season’s deaths are even more chilling because of the murderers’ unsettling costumes.

Moreover, viewers don’t know for sure which characters are cult members and which aren’t until pretty far into the show. Anyone could be a killer clown in disguise, so Ally’s paranoia becomes easier and easier for viewers to understand.

Yet despite the horrific murders of innocent people, the most ridiculous part of the entire show is the cult’s central motive behind all of its gruesome murders – winning a small city council election. While the murders are terrifying on their own, when they’re done in an effort to gain a seat on the Brookfield Heights zoning board, it’s hard to take them seriously.

With five more episodes to go, I am excited to see what else Kai can achieve with his small band of murderous clowns, even if it does mean I’ll have to watch Paulson scream even more.


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A&E editor

Nickolai is the A&E editor. He was previously the assistant A&E editor for the Lifestyle beat and an A&E reporter.

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