By Paula Hendrickson
You decide: What’s more terrifying, a horde of rotting corpses lumbering through the woods to feed on you, or being locked in a boxcar by a mysterious group of living, breathing, human beings with a slab of meat on the barbecue and what appears to be a pile of human bones in their compound?
And what’s more disturbing? A two-headed woman, a killer clown, or the way townsfolk and sideshow patrons treat the “freaks” among them?
The Walking Dead and American Horror Story: Freak Show — which are premiering this week — certainly don’t shy away from grotesque special effects and gore, but they also provoke viewers to consider deeper questions about family, morality and especially man’s inhumanity to man. There’s far more to fear on these shows than zombies and freaks.
The first three seasons of AHS twisted classic horror story conventions and drew parallels between the horrors its characters experienced and everyday life. In season one, horrific events at the murder house explored themes of family, trust and relationships. The second season, subtitled “Asylum,” questioned faith, the dangers of powerful institutions, and the definition of sanity. Last year’s “Coven” delved into legacy, prejudice and relationships.
The new season, set in a small Florida town in 1952, is about life and survival among outcasts of society. Jessica Lange — Emmy winner for her work on two past seasons of AHS — returns, this time as the freak show’s owner, Elsa Mars. Other returnees include Sarah Paulson as the two-headed woman; Evan Peters as the lobster boy; Kathy Bates as the bearded lady; and Angela Bassett as a triple-breasted hermaphrodite. Expect to see other AHS alums as well as Emmy winner Michael Chiklis (The Shield) as the circus strong man. With a cast stronger than the world’s strongest strong man, it will be a treat to see what the AHS company does with the upcoming season.
When The Walking Dead — recently renewed for a sixth season — returns on Sunday, we’ll see how the re-energized Rick (Andrew Lincoln) reacts to being locked in the boxcar with his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and some newer additions to his ragtag group of survivors. After a season spent doubting his ability to keep his community of survivors safe, Rick is ready to resume the responsibilities of being a leader. Who knows, we might even find out what happened to Beth (Emily Kinney), who was apparently abducted while under Daryl’s care. Whatever Terminus really is, it will never be the same once Rick and company escape the boxcar.
Both of these series go beyond mere horror tropes to explore deeper themes. They’re thought-provoking as well as entertaining. That makes them shows I enjoy watching and discussing, despite never having been a fan of blood-and-guts horror.
• American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 9 p.m. Central on FX.
• The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. Central on AMC.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Oct. 7, 2014