When producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk go into creating any given season of American Horror Story, they do so armed with decades worth of horror movie tropes.
Pick any memorable scene from any AHS and you’ll likely spot a subtle reference – if not obvious homage – to a horror film favourite from yesteryear.
The main building in Murder House looked like a cross between the creepy house in Psycho and the haunted home in Amityville Horror, while the demon child at the heart of the season drew obvious parallels to Damien in The Omen.
Apocalypse featured some gooey scenes akin to those seen in Alien while the whole ‘pregnant with the Devil’s spawn’ thing is a direct descendant of Rosemary’s Baby.
And what else was 1984 but a nine-episode gore-fest that paid tribute to practically every slasher flick of the ’80s?
Fast forward to the latest episode in the current season (or anthology), and Murphy and Falchuk have gone full-on Scream meets Saw.
But the victims here aren’t preppy high-school friends, or strangers stuck in a room together with no recollection of how they got there. Rather, they’re a little closer to the here and now. They’re cocky social media influencers, and according to the show’s makers: They’re. Time. Is. Up.
Titled The Naughty List, the episode’s main protagonist is one seriously fucked-up Santa Claus whose initial kink is chopping up other Santas. But when one frat-boy influencer plays a dirty trick on this Father Christmas, well, hell hath no fury like a Mall Santa scorned.
One by one, Santa starts to kill off the influencers – each meeting their demise with utter surprise, their own death scenes ultimately uploaded to the web. (How’s that for poetic justice?).
The killing of these social media sluts is a treat to watch because while we can all say we’ve been seduced by influencers at one time or another – even if it’s just a quick flick of some Instagram poser’s how-to video – influencers for the most part are a very annoying breed, especially when seen and heard relentlessly.
Most successful influencers are showy, egotistical, greedy, even fake. So, yes, I got a great kick out of seeing (spoiler alert) some (literally) riveting neck-twisting and electrocution of these me-me-me bastards.
As is the case with most American horror, the ‘victims’ need to be shown to be doing something wrong just before they get the chop. Sometimes it’s as seemingly harmless an action as someone smoking a joint or getting a little too drunk, or someone swearing or littering before they meet their demise. In this case, the bad actions leading to ultimate penance are aplenty.
The five members of the ‘Bro House’ do anything and everything to shock online viewers so as to see their hit tally grow exponentially: from crudely taunting shop attendants, to filming suicides, to – the ultimate in sacrilege according to this Santa – revealing the truth about the big daddy of Christmas to a group of unsuspecting kids.
This trio of badly received videos sees the Bros’ Like numbers dwindle, and so they turn to ‘playing gay’ since this is supposedly what’s trending on TikTok and the like. And that’s not the cringiest part. After every ‘gay’ move, each influencer mumbles a stern “No Homo” toward the camera to assure viewers (gay viewers, mostly) that this is all just good fun and that, really, they don’t like to suck cock.
By now, viewers at home are just dying to see all five of them, well, die.
It’s a cautionary tale to influencers everywhere, really. Go too far in your decadence and offence, and it could be the death of you. Or at least the death of your popularity and channel.
This is not to say the themes in The Naughty List are representative of reality. Influencers are currently at the very height of popularity and demand – funneling billions in advertising dollars from social sites such as TikTok and YouTube straight into their designer tracksuit pant pockets.
But I’m guessing there will come a time when you, me, and pretty much everyone who owns a mobile phone, will get sick and tired of influencers to the point of switching off. There’s only so much constant bragging, bad grammar, plastic smiles, dodgy editing and selfish plugging that even the most Covid-bound, Insta-glued idiot can take.
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk might just help speed up that process.
American Horror Stories is more of a degustation of short stories which have been boiled down to a seven-episode anthology rather than an actual full season. The first two episodes are part of the same ‘story’, making it six stories in total. After the seventh episode, fans won’t have too long to wait before the official premiere of AHS season 10 – and that promises to feature many previous cast members we’ve grown to love.
‘American Horror Stories’ Episode 5 (‘BA’AL’) premieres August 5 (US) / 6 (AU); Episode 6 (‘Feral’) airs August 12 (US) /13 (AU); and the finale (‘Game Over’) airs August 19 (US) / 20 (AU).
Season 10, ‘American Horror Story: Double Feature’, will premiere August 25 (US) / 26 (AU).