Fact vs. Fiction
Well, here we are. After wrapping up “My Roanoke Nightmare” last week, “American Horror Story” reveals what will drive the back half of Season 6: found footage. It would be an understatement to say that the found footage sub-genre has been played out in cineplexes in recent years, but after the stultifying docu-series format of the first five episodes, it’s a breath of fresh air. If the goal with the first half of the season was to bore us enough to make us amenable to five episodes of found footage horror, then mission accomplished.
A title card tells us that “My Roanoke Nightmare” was a resounding success, boasting 23 million viewers for its finale and beating “The Walking Dead” in the ratings. (In your dreams, “AHS.”) Naturally the network is eager to greenlight a sequel, produced by Sidney Aaron James (Cheyenne Jackson), who created “Nightmare.” Sidney’s big idea is to get Shelby, Matt and Lee to return to the house during the blood moon. The twist? They’ll be accompanied by many of the re-enactment actors from “Nightmare,” and hidden cameras will film their every move. Sidney doesn’t believe any of the ghost stories — after all, they filmed all the re-enactments at the actual house and saw nothing strange (albeit during the non-haunted summer months). However, he’s not just interested in putting all these combustible elements in a house together — he’s convinced that Lee murdered her ex-husband Mason and is determined to prove it. So begins “Return to Roanoke: Three Days In Hell.”
The success of “My Roanoke Nightmare” has apparently done quite a number on Shelby, Matt and Lee. Shelby and Matt have split up (due to Shelby having a brief fling with Dominic, the actor who played Matt), and most of the world is convinced Lee killed Mason. Even with Lee’s innocence to prove and a marriage to save, it still beggars belief that any of these people would voluntarily return to a house they know for a fact is full of murder ghosts. And even if they somehow convinced themselves that the ghosts weren’t real, they were definitely taken hostage by hillbilly cannibals who were definitely not figments of their imagination. It’s such an unbelievable decision that the show can’t ignore it, with the re-enactment actors commenting on how crazy a decision it is. Still, without the house’s original residents, the show can’t go on, so “AHS” just has to bulldoze through and hope we buy it.
Meet The Players
There’s quite a bit of information given to us this episode, since we need to meet all the actors who portrayed characters on “Nightmare.” Dominic, who played Matt, had the already-mentioned affair with the real Shelby, while Monet, who played Lee, has developed a drinking problem due to overly-enthusiastic method acting. We also meet Audrey, who played Shelby, and it turns out she’s British, which allows Sarah Paulson to demonstrate some really dodgy dialect work. Audrey wound up married to Rory, who played Edward Mott the dandy ghost last episode. There’s an amusing bit of business where he asks her for date during a “Nightmare” outtake, and we get selections from their hilariously cheesy wedding video. It’s already such a relief to be free of the documentary format, since the found footage allows for such a variety of characters and tones. A bright spot of this episode is its deft handling of comedy and horror.
Case in point, we’re also introduced to Agnes Mary Winstead, who played The Butcher. At first she seems like a relatively warm person, albeit with a certain amount of pomposity about the role she played. (She was nominated for a Saturn Award!) But we soon learn about her psychological problems, and see footage of her swinging a meat cleaver at tourists on Hollywood Boulevard. Turns out she spent six months in a mental health facility, and might have lingering issues. She even turned up at Audrey’s house, raving and resentful that Audrey had won the Saturn Award instead. When a circle of bloody pig fetuses turn up outside the house, Sid blames Agnes and bans her from set, while not-so-secretly hoping she’ll show up, anyway.
This Week In Horror
Despite all the introductions, the show wastes no time getting to some decent scares. First, there’s creepy footage of a workman “accidentally” chainsawing his own head off. When Sid won’t take the death seriously, his assistant Deanna drives away, only to spot a colonist in the road. Her reaction of “I have no intention of finding out who that is,” is a great laugh line, which makes the shift all the more unexpected when the Pig Man is suddenly in her back seat. A title card ominously states that this footage was found months later, and Deanna’s body was never found. Spooky!
Another title card late in the episode lets us know that everyone involved in the production of “Return to Roanoke” died under mysterious circumstances, except one. It’s a better hook than “everyone died,” because then we’re just waiting for the entire cast to get theirs. Now there’s the tension of which character will make it out alive, and how.
We know for a fact it won’t be Rory, who meets his end at the episode’s conclusion. He’s finished off by the sister nurses, who finally found an ‘R’ to finish their hilariously-interrupted “MURDE” from way back in “Chapter 2.” It should be noted that the nurses look much more horrific than they did in the re-enactments. The fact that all the ghosts in the back half of Season 6 will be played by unknown actors under heavy makeup makes for a nice element of added danger. It’s a nice instance of the show saying “That was make-believe, but this is real.”
All in all, “Chapter 6” is a promising start to the back half of the season. It’s too late for Season 6 to be declared a complete success, but it might be able to pull up from its nosedive.