Warning: This article contains massive spoilers for the Season 6 premiere of American Horror Story.
The heavily anticipated sixth season of American Horror Story premiered on FX last night, with its shocking theme finally revealed to the world. Deviating from it's usual over-the-top style of horror, Season 6 of the hit anthology series is known as American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare, and takes the form of a fictionalized documentary based on "real" supernatural events.
Yes, it's as creepy as it sounds, and I was genuinely frightened while watching the premiere episode. The new storytelling approach that co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have adopted led to several intense moments and some great scares. After only one episode, it's becoming clear that My Roanoke Nightmare is set to become the most horrifying season of American Horror Story yet, creating a fresh and terrifying world for the anthology series.
Bringing Documentary Style To AHS
My Roanoke Nightmare immediately separated itself from previous seasons of AHS when series regular Lily Rabe appeared on screen in an interview style segment, making it clear that this season of will take a mock docu-series format. Rabe played the character of Shelby in the interview segments and while returning AHS star Sarah Paulson played Shelby in the "re-enactments" — which were the actual narrative parts of the show. This technique increased the sense of reality for the viewer, as we're meant to believe that the events of the show are based on a true story.
It also became clear that the show had dropped the campy horror elements from previous seasons in favor of a more stripped back horror story. Gone are the vampires and witches of the past, and in their place we find a couple who are being haunted by something much worse — something based on historical events.
The Theme Deviates From The Norm
Season 6's theme is based on the story of the Roanoke Colony which was established by the British in the 16th Century on a small island in North Carolina. When a new group of colonists arrived several years later, they discovered that the entire Roanoke colony had mysteriously vanished, leaving no trace of what had happened. Roanoke became known as the Lost Colony, and to this day nobody knows what happened to its citizens.
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My Roanoke Nightmare is American Horror Story's first attempt at a real-life story and so far, it's proving to be exactly what the show needs. We've had some outlandish plotlines in recent years, from the carnival antics of Freak Show to the ghouls and killers of Hotel, and a change of direction will open the show up to a new audience. The Roanoke colonists disappeared in real life, and whether you think it was the result of supernatural forces or something more normal you have to admit that's pretty terrifying. It's not a theme I would've thought AHS would ever cover, but it seems to be a solid start for the show. In fact, I'd argue that this season is so unlike anything the show has ever done before that it's almost unrecognizable — which isn't a bad thing.
It's Genuinely Scary
The creators of American Horror Story tend to pick a horror element and create a story around it, with varying degrees of success. For example, the witch theme for American Horror Story: Coven failed to deliver solid scares even though witches are classic horror characters. But My Roanoke Nightmare's historical horror vibe has set the stage for some wild scares, which we got a taste of during its first episode.
On several occasions I found myself jumping out of my seat and wanting to shut my eyes. The most startling moment occurred as Kathy Bates's character appeared seemingly out of nowhere in front of Shelby's car. Another panic-inducing moment was when Shelby, Lee and Matt discovered the old recording of the strange pig-like figure. What made it all the more terrifying was the fact that the home video was recorded on an old VHS. These details really added up to build frightening moments and a creepy atmosphere we'll see develop throughout the season.
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Kathy Bates Will Give You Chills
I think we can all agree that Kathy Bates and the horror genre are a perfect match. Bates has had some great characters on American Horror Story, my personal favorite being Coven's Madame Delphine LaLaurie. What made LaLaurie great was that, despite her wicked ways, she was the comic relief of the show. But Bates's character in My Roanoke Nightmare is nothing short of terrifying.
We've seen very little of her thus far, but between her attempt to drown Shelby and trapping her in the woods, it's becoming more and more likely that Bates's character could be the most terrifying element of Season 6. I can't wait to find out the character's history, especially because this one appears to be the most evil of all of her characters. Most importantly, a strong villain provides the deadly threat that this new AHS setting needs to stand out.
Elevating Standard Horror Elements
Obviously, AHS is going to borrow from the horror greats that came before it, and there were several instances in the Season 6 premiere that borrow from well-known horror films. For example, when Shelby and husband Matt's home was invaded by unknown assailants with pitch-forks and afterwards, several unusual stick dolls hung from the ceiling. The dolls were reminiscent of those from The Blair Witch Project and Shelby later encountered them again in the woods, recalling the horrific memories of the found-footage classic.
Of course, there's also the fact that our main characters are constantly stalked by an evil threat, in this case a supernatural tribe that lives in the woods surrounding their house. That's a recurring motif in the horror genre, seen in slasher successes like I Know What You Did Last Summer, the Friday The 13th movies and plenty more, but adapting it with the historical mystery of Roanoke provides a new flavor.
The Perfect Setting For Terror
You know when you're watching a film or a series and a character buys an ancient secluded house located in the middle of the woods? You always think it's a horrible idea, and I thought the same thing when Matt and Shelby moved into their new home. With no neighbors or civilization nearby, it's the perfect hunting ground for the supernatural tribe that lives in the woods. You definitely wouldn't find me living there, that's for sure — it's a recipe for disaster.
The constant darkness that surrounds the house also makes it an ideal horror location. There were very few daylight sequences in "Chapter 1," though it's probably due to the nature of the show. Darkness allows the mysterious the colonists to rear their heads and terrorize our protagonists, but it also maximizes scares for the audience. You never know what's out there in the woods ready to attack, and we could see something crazy at any moment.
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We're only one episode into Season 6, yet somehow I'm more terrified watching American Horror Story this year than I've ever been before. This new direction has proven rewarding not only for the show, but for the viewers who have been hoping for some serious scares. My Roanoke Nightmare is set to be the scariest of them all and I cannot wait to see what happens next. Keep those cushions close guys, we'll be needing them for the next episode.
American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare airs Wednesdays on FX. Do you think Season 6 will be the most terrifying yet? Tell me in the comment section below.