Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm Loving "American Horror Story: Freak Show" // Plus: My Favorite Five Freak Shows!!

Before last Wednesday, I had never watched an episode of "American Horror Story." Husband Mark has been a fan of the series since the very beginning, but I always found something else to do. Until this season. I've a confession to make: I love freak shows. I don't think I've actually written about them on this blog, but I really dig the cultural baggage behind the historical freak show. So there was no way that I would miss "American Horror Show: Freak Show."

This season is set in 1952 Florida within one of the last remaining American freak shows. It's run by the manipulative Elsa Mars and features such characters as Bette and Dot Tattler (AKA the Siamese Twins), Jimmy Darling (AKA Lobster Boy), Ethel Darling (AKA the Bearded Lady), and Desiree Dupree (AKA the Three-Breasted Woman).

Nearby Jupiter, FL, is rocked by a series of terrible murders and kidnappings -- committed by the utterly horrifying Twisty the Clown. It's unclear to me if Twisty actually belongs to the Freak Show, but his crime spree has terrified the community -- which doesn't bode well for you if you live on the margins of society.

It's easy to worry that the freaks are going to be unfairly scapegoated for the crime of being different. And then you remember that Bette and Dot are seeking refuge within the Freak Show after stabbing their mother to death. And then there was that drug-aided orgy that Elsa arranged using a local hospital aide. Oh, don't forget about the detective who came to arrest the twins and found himself on the wrong end of Jimmy's knife and then hacked apart like so much meat by pretty much all of the freaks.

AHS: Freak Show isn't just about physical freaks. Jupiter, FL, has its own home-grown freak named Dandy Mott who dreams of stardom, but ultimately appears to take up residence with Twisty. I imagine we will eventually meet Dandy the Clown very soon?

I really haven't been too disappointed by this program. I heard lots of complaints about the first episode in particular -- about how it dragged on too long in too many spaces and how the musical performances were too anachronistic. I don't disagree with that last bit, but I actually liked the music. This show has the potential to become extremely dark. I think we need to mix it up with a little camp.

But I've liked the series a lot so far and will definitely be continuing to watch it every Wednesday evening.

Anyway, I haven't done one of my "favorite five" blogs in a while and felt inspired to create one based on this program, so....

Here it is: Jon's Blog's Favorite Five Freak Shows!

5. The Circus of Crime: The Circus of Crime is this bunch of d-list super-villains from Marvel Comics. They usually go up again people like the Hulk or Spider-Man -- though variations of this bunch have gone up against the X-Men, Kid Colt, and others from time to time. They're usually lead by a mass-hypnotist named Ringmaster. The Circus draws in the crowds and then Ringmaster uses his powers to put them to sleep long enough for his minions to pick their pockets! This team usually looks best when they aren't trying to be portrayed as huge powerhouses, IMHO.

4. Freakshow: This AMC reality television program has had two seasons so far. It highlights the efforts of the Venice Beach Freakshow over in Los Angeles, CA. The Venice Beach Freakshow features a wide range of acts, including body-puncturing, sword-swallowing, and fire-play. Some of the acts include little people, a bearded lady, the world's tallest man, and a lobster boy. I really like this show, but I can only watch it in small doses. The "stabby" acts get a little too much for me! But I do follow the Venice Beach Freakshow on Facebook -- which provides feedback about the show itself as well as cool documentation about historical freak shows and circuses.

3. Oddities: It's kind of odd to add this Science Channel reality TV show to my list of favorite freak shows. But that's what this show essentially is. This show follows the day-to-day operations of Obscura Antiques & Oddities in Manhattan, NY. The shop specializes in oddball antiques like mummified animals, straight jackets, shrunken heads, ancient medical devices, and jars of pickled deformities. This is the embodiment of the rest of the freak show: the bibs & bobs that titillate and entertain the crowds until the performers are ready to come out onto the stage. I've watched tons of episodes of this program -- as well as its two spin-offs. It's a great show and I highly recommend it!

2. The Carneys: This is the Archie Comics series that I never knew existed and immensely regret that it never took off. I keep holding out hope that it will get a second chance -- in fact, I have a story idea featuring the conjoined twins that I would love to pitch someday! The Carneys are a family of carnival folks who find themselves without a carnival after the circus' owner gets flattened by an elephant. They decide to settle into the suburbs and fit in with the normal folks. The family consists of Stretch (AKA the Rubber Man), Hairy-Ette (AKA the Bearded Lady), Mightor (AKA the Strong Man -- and their son), Rhotunda (AKA the Fat Lady -- Mightor's wife), Linda-Louise (AKA the Siamese Twins), Wolfgang (AKA the Wolfboy), and Fangs (the toothless lion). I would totally love to see the return of the Carneys. This family might not be original, but they definitely stand out.

1. Freaks: This is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's not uncommon for me to watch it once or twice monthly. It was released in 1932 and stars a variety of "normal" actors alongside various carnival sideshow performers and personalities. When you watch "AMS: Freak Show," you will see all sorts of characters like Meep the Geek and Pepper who were patterned after people from "Freaks." Even the sets themselves hearken back to this movie. "Freaks" tells about a trapeze artist named Cleopatra who plots with Hercules the strong man to marry and murder a little person named Hans for his secret fortune. Hans and the other "freaks" then fight back against Hercules and Cleopatra -- mutilating them and transforming them into actual sideshow freaks. I love this movie for a variety of reasons. But I truly respect the integration between actors and actual sideshow performers. Anyway, this show was terribly controversial back when it debuted. It was even barred from the United Kingdom for 30 years following its debut! But it's a great movie and one that I highly recommend that you check out when you have a free afternoon.

So those are my favorite freak shows. I would love to hear about your own favorite freak shows in the comments section!

1 comment:

Katy Anders said...

I haven't seen any of your faves, but I'm really digging the new season of AHS, too.

I tried watching the first season on netflix and found it awful. Utterly humorless - which is the worst possible sin for me. Bad pacing. Unlikable characters...

They have really made a different show of it!

The anachronistic music (and crowd surfing!) doesn't hurt, either...