Viewing low-income people who are addicted to drugs as worthless. The desire to hurt others in order to get ahead in your career. The fear of what to do when you realize you have messed up. These are just some of the themes in Double Feature, the title of the new season of American Horror Story.
For the uninitiated, AHS is an anthology series that explores the worst parts of human behavior. Double Feature concerns artists who decide to take a black pill for the chance of greatness. The talented get better; the untalented become monsters—and both sets of characters have to kill people to drink their blood. While AHS is not for everyone, it touches on universal themes, not just in everyday life but in horror fiction as well.
Gore and monsters may make AHS and other media in the horror genre scary, but so do their parallels to real life.
This type of horror date back decades. In 1980, science-fiction author and academic Joanna Russ (1937–2011) summarized the appeal of the genre. As she wrote, “at its best horror fiction does…give the subjective, undiluted, raw, absolute, global experience-in-itself of these basic human issues.”
A subgenre of horror that Russ believed does this well is Lovecraftian horror—named after author H. P. Lovecraft—which uses the fear of the unknown, including the supernatural, to reveal dark yet realistic parts of human nature. Characters often suffer consequences for their actions, just as in nearly every season of AHS.
Lovecraft’s short story “The Haunter of the Dark” sees Robert Blake, a young man fascinated by the occult, accidentally unleash a demonic being after entering a church with cult connections.
After the demon causes harm around their city at night, the people of Providence and even Blake himself become terrified. There’s a power outage and Blake is found dead, having faced the consequences of his morbid curiosity.
Russ explained that Lovecraft “was able to fashion artistic images which express certain basic issues in human experience, issues which matter to all of us though they trouble some of us more and others of us less.”
As is the case with this season of American Horror Story, there were key takeaways about our society. “Such social criticism as is contained in even the best horror fiction is usually implicit,” Russ wrote. The first part of Double Feature is in part criticism of how far people are willing to go to succeed.
Hypocrisy is also front and center this season. The talented and rich are encouraged to abuse substances by taking the black pill because then they write amazing screenplays or some other feat. On the other hand, low-income people who use substances like meth are killed by the talented and rich, as characters say that no one will miss them.
The question remains, for this show and real life, will the hypocritical and dangerous methods used to help the select few succeed catch up with them in the end? While horror fiction can be relatable and directly critique parts of our society, Russ wrote succinctly that “it’s not the whole truth of anybody’s situation,” but rather a reflection on a problem in our world.