TV

American Horror Story: Hotel: Season 5, Episode 1 - "Checking In"

Leyla Hamedi

While it's fun to guess the references and inspirations of various plot points, the fifth season premiere of American Horror Story shows the same cabinet of morbid curiosities without adding anything new.


American Horror Story

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Lady Gaga, Sara Paulson, Wes Bentley, Denis O'Hare, Chloe Sevigny
Subtitle: Hotel: Season 5, Episode 1 - "Checking In"
Network: FX
Air date: 2015-10-07
Amazon

The Call Is Coming From Inside the Hotel, and Other Stories We've Already Heard

There is a specific line from an episode of Friends that has stuck with me. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is talking to her sister, Jill (Reese Witherspoon), and trying to give her advice about her life. In a means to her own ends, Rachel tells her sister not to do too much at once, because hasn't she heard of the girl who tried to do too much? "She died, Jill," Rachel sadly reveals. While a 1990s sitcom might not have too much in common with Ryan Murphy's ultra-violent hour-long dramas that revel in modern-day horror (complete with gleeful, bloody orgies), that line is the best summation of the fifth season premiere of American Horror Story. Murphy and his host of writers are the girl who tried to do much and inevitably, their characters will die.

Covering too many cliched scary-movie themes is not a new thing in the world of American Horror Story. Each season showcases a particular setting that allows various tropes to show up and drive the action. This season, that setting is a hotel, and besides the obvious nods at classic hotel spook stories like The Shining and retro Los Angeles horror lore (i.e., The Twilight Zone's “Tower of Terror” episode), there's also a grand heaping of vampires, deranged gimps, and holier-than-thou serial killers. The end result is a confusing mishmash of somewhat familiar stories, desperately trying to work as a cohesive unit but still not hitting the right resonance with one another.

That being said, rather than crashing and burning in this Baz Luhrman mode of storytelling, we still get an experience that can only be described as lush. The camera angles, the decor, the costumes, and the bodies displayed before us are all for pure, luxurious voyeurism. American Horror Story brings morbid curiosities and extravagances together in a way that celebrates the gross, the upsetting, and the violent without making you feel guilty for enjoying any of these things.

The story begins with a fish-eye view of the lobby and two beautiful Swedish blondes checking into the Hotel Cortez. Already we assume the role of the observer by trapping the imminent danger in an aquarium, complete with two gorgeous Swedish fish to swim around in. The women are in Los Angeles on vacation and have ended up at this wreck of an art deco hotel. The crusty receptionist, Iris (Kathy Bates) refuses to refund the girls’ money when they wish to leave, forcing them to stay in the hotel. The old Hollywood grandeur-gone-to-seed atmosphere of the place goes over the tourists’ heads and, of course, we’re immediately informed that the hotel has no wi-fi and gets no cell service. Pretty good deal for those pesky murderers. The girls check in to room 64 where, by following their noses, they find their mattress has been stitched up. Cue the first, “Don’t go in there moment,” where they rip it apart and get scared witless by the bald, sightless, screaming…thing that emerges.

As it’s the premiere, the introductions go by swiftly. Wes Bentley plays John Lowe, a cop whose child mysteriously disappears at the fairgrounds one day; he and his wife, Alex (Chloe Sevigny), never quite got over that trauma. Any peace of mind they might be moving toward, however, is shattered when a serial killer starts sending John texts and hints about his latest victims, one of whom we see super-glued to his dead female partner with his eyes and his tongue ripped out. Judging by the commandments that flashed by during the opening credits, and the fact that the lovers were married but not to each other, it can be assumed that there a Sev7n-style killer on the loose, this time with three extra rules to enact. If that wasn’t bad enough, John and Alex’s child now resides in the hotel as part of an undead gang of blonde children who stay up all night and play video games all day. (Truly the Lost Boys of the 2010s.) To keep his family safe, John checks into the hotel where we’re introduced to the elusive owner: The Countess Elizabeth (Lady Gaga).

It’s unclear whether Lady Gaga can actually act, as all that is required of her here is to be a mad Donatella Versace-Bowie. (She’d hyphenate for sure.) Thus far, she’s perfect in this role as hotel owner/vampire-coven leader, because she’s basically playing herself. From her metal Alexander McQueen-meets-Morticia Addams’-Chinese-finger-trap talons to her alien lack of eyebrows, Lady Gaga plays the Countess as the perfect blank canvas onto which you can paint everyone’s ideal sexy and dangerous immortal. In blood red, of course.

She and her beautiful companion, Donovan (Matt Bomer) -- who, incidentally, is Iris’s son) -- take their time getting ready to attend a cemetery screening of Nosferatu, in a beautiful 1980s synth-goth Sisters of Mercy montage. They seduce a couple, take them back to the hotel, and in a beautifully shot orgy, slash their throats and gyrate in the waves of blood. It’s the most tastefully trashy soft-core porn you could watch, but it’s about as subtle as having Sarah Paulson’s Hypodermic Sally walk into the scene and start yelling, “I’m a vampire! We’re all vampires!” (She doesn’t, just to be clear, but Catherine Deneuve she is not.) In these The Hunger-inspired segments, it easy to question exactly how seriously this show is taking itself because for Satan’s sake, Gaga also happens to be a modern art dealer with appropriately mood-highlighting written word light installations conveniently hanging around the dungeon where our poor Swedish meatballs (Bates’ words, not mine) have ended up.

It’s all a big game of Clue, where Denis O’Hare plays Mrs. Peacock dressed as Liz Taylor dressed as Cleopatra, and although the unfolding story promises to be a ridiculous circus of melodrama and innards, I can’t help but wonder if any of the storylines can really be fully fleshed out in the face of the show’s constant weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image