American Horror Story has one of the best opening titles of any TV show ever. I don't say that lightly. Opening titles are a cornucopia of creativity in modern TV. From Breaking Bad's effortless twangs to Lost's minimalist "poof", to the now iconic Game of Thrones toy set map along with ear worm theme tune. American Horror Story seems to forgo subtlety or exposition in an effort to make a simple mission statement. This show will be creepy and indulgent, and you will love it!
With American Horror Story: Hotel rearing it's head later this year, it's worth taking a look back at the openings of the other seasons and wondering if Season 5 can live up to that formal genius!
The Openings for Murder House, Asylum and Coven
These openings are at once a pitch for the show, and a concentrated experience of what each season is like to watch. Those steady, ominous notes play on all the way through, while those horrific churning sounds seem to burrow into your mind until you just want it to stop! You actually feel relieved when show begins. Now, making your viewer distressed might not seem like a good way to start your show, but it's the best way to get across the style and campiness that American Horror Story embodies so well.
These openings are also brilliant hype machines, with sudden scare chords making it seem as if names like "ZACHARY QUINTO", "JESSICA LANGE" and "EVAN PETERS" are the most terrifying letters you've ever seen. Jump scare letters have become a somewhat fashionable technique, having been started with Michael Haneke's Funny Games, and spreading to horror darlings like Cabin in the Woods and The Guest. American Horror Story goes one extra by employing this trope casually every episode, and making it seem effortless. Just when you get used to the imagery on screen, suddenly "EVAN PETERS" jolts you to attention!
The basic trick here is creating interesting imagery and immediately distracting from it as if you don't even care. American Horror Story: Hotel would do well to follow this model, as the show knows that brevity is the key to being cool. Oh, and creepy black and white monsters and screeching noises apparently.
What Freak Show did differently
My suspicion that American Horror Story: Hotel may depart from the established model comes from Freak Show. It keeps with the same theme tune and ominous air laid out by the first three seasons, but it ditches the in-your-face acid trip quality that seems to scream at you how good the show will be. The opening for Freak Show is even slightly serene, albeit with spine tingling kids music over the top, and with models of eponymous "Freaks" jankily moving around. While it's definitely my least favourite of the openings, it has stop motion skeletons, and you can't argue with stop motion skeletons!
What can American Horror Story: Hotel do?
American Horror Story Season 5: Hotel seems to have the cards stacked against it. There's plenty of scary imagery to be drawn from murder houses, asylums, witches and freak shows, but a hotel? I can only imagine scenes of bell boys and elevators and guests having trouble with their card keys, only to be interrupted by "EVAN PETERS". While I'm sure American Horror Story will make the intro to Hotel suitably scary, I hope personally that it follows the model of the first three seasons.
Still, whether American Horror Story: Hotel opts for mind-bending, hallucinatory jump scares in it's opening, or for a vaguely gothic sinister quality, I'm sure we will all be glad when this image finally hits our screens in October.