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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 12, “Show Stoppers”

Freak Show helps to confirm an unofficial rule about the series at large: The more a season actively utilizes its chosen setting, the better it is.

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American Horror Story Freak Show, Show Stoppers
Photo: FX

Freak Show, which is now all but certain to go down in the record books as the weakest season of American Horror Story so far, helps to confirm an unofficial rule about the series at large: The more a season actively utilizes its chosen setting, the better it is. Asylum explicitly, cannily exploited the fears we have of a mental institution, positioning it as a convincing, disturbing barometer for social ills. Murder House played with most of the haunted-house-movie tropes, adding a dash of kink to a genre that, as of late, too often resists it. Coven, the first really uneven season, appeared to be driven by clichés that are more routinely associated with superheroes (particularly the X-Men) than witches. And Freak Show, apart from the occasional ghoulish flourish, really needn’t be set at the titular grounds at all, as much of its conflicts, such as they are, derive from isolated betrayals and killings that are often accompanied by the obligatory speech about freaks’ rights. A freak show is a potentially great setting for a horror series, but it’s hardly mattered here, as we’ve rarely seen a performance of the show, and backstage shenanigans are essentially nonexistent.

This penultimate episode, “Show Stoppers,” surprisingly addresses these issues, actively confronting the mythology of a freak show, and it often suggests what Freak Show might’ve been allowed to become if we’d gotten to this point three months sooner. The imagery, which has largely grown repetitive since the high-water mark of “Edward Mordrake (Part 1),” is striking and disturbing once again. Chester’s (Neil Patrick Harris) doll, Marjorie (Jamie Brewer), for instance, is often disconcertingly shown to resemble Brewer at the actress’s actual size, dressed up, her face partially obscured by harsh white lighting that serves to convey the idea that Chester can’t quite commit himself to believe that Marjorie is real. A little bit of him, somewhere deep down, fights it, understanding that he’s the real master, and thus the guy who really killed his wife, her lover, and now, in another upsetting bit of business, Maggie, a.k.a. Esmerelda (Emma Roberts).

Maggie’s murder, and Chester’s projected killing of Marjorie, are bathed in bright reds that are reminiscent of the colors of the freak show’s tent, and they also foster an association of wild, nearly Argento-esque obscenity. Penetration, of knives, of saws, is emphasized in a sexual manner that echoes the frustration that initially drove Chester to these extremes, and this penetration is affirmed further by the blood that’s shown to erupt out of both Maggie and Marjorie’s mouths. And Chester, while he perpetrates these acts, looks positively satanic in white makeup, which emphasizes his flop-sweat-infused insanity, and a shiny suit that charges the image with even more hues of blood red. (These scenes have a hyperbolic sense of close, hemmed-in violation that also brings to mind Rob Zombie’s films.)

These murders pivotally take into consideration the subterranean thoughts we entertain of carnivals and freak shows; they aren’t the impersonally rendered shootings or knifings that the series usually favors for a quick jump effect. Maggie is sawed in half when Chester handcuffs her feet, prohibiting her from curling up into one side of the traditional trick box (another inventive, chilling touch), and who hasn’t wondered, particularly as a child, what might happen if that trick were to go horribly wrong? That’s precisely the “what if” the act is intended to provoke to begin with. And Marjorie is a ventriloquist’s doll, and while one doesn’t necessarily associate those with a freak show, it fits, both visually and subconsciously, in with the other assorted tarnished, heartbroken novelty acts.

“Show Stoppers,” which lives up to its name more often than not, also benefits from an elaborate and inevitable homage to Tod Browning’s Freaks. The film informs the fashion with which Elsa (Jessica Lange) and the gang chose to square things with Stanley (Denis O’Hare), as they chase him around the camp before corning him under one of the trailers in a manner similar to the climax of the horror classic. The direct quotations of the film are competently staged, but the Browning film is more effectively evoked in the creepy and resonant blocking of the freaks throughout the episode. For once, we’re able to see this freak show as a community, rather than as a collection of isolated players alternately selected for tag-team set pieces, and this community is framed in shadows that emphasize them unapologetically as others who’re uniting in an escalating sense of fury. That last sentiment ultimately reveals why “Show Stoppers” is so much more potent than most episodes of Freak Show: It finds the cast and crew discarding the humanist pretense that has often larded the series so as to admit, straightforwardly, that this premise is occupied with the very titillation it pretends to lament.

For more American Horror Story recaps, click here.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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