Realm-o-Ween: AHS Freak Show

Series: Realm-o-Ween

Spoiler Warning: American Horror Story: Freak Show (episode one, Monsters Among Us)

Trigger Warning: Discussion of abuse, violence, murder, possible rape, and ableism. I also use both the q-slur and the word ‘freak’ in the review, uncensored.


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Realm-o-Ween: Defining Horror

Series: Realm-o-Ween


A month of changing leaves, hooded sweatshirts, and candy displays. And of course, horror movies. And so, for the month of October, I’m going to be looking at horror movies, and how they treat issues like disability and gender.

Before I can start talking about horror movies, we need to define horror movies. So let’s say that a horror movie is any movie where one of the primary intentions is to inspire fear, anxiety, or shock. As criteria go, that’s pretty broad.  It also relies on intent rather than effect, which makes it potentially difficult as a working definition (especially if one does not consider the intent of the artist to necessarily be synonymous with the marketing of the film). The variation in what people find frightening, however, makes relying on audience reaction even more imprecise.

Horror is also one of those genres that overlaps quite a lot. Horror and thriller go together much the way that scifi and action or drama and romance do, and scifi horror is also quite common. One could perhaps divide horror into several main categories: thriller, scifi, paranormal, and realistic. Within these categories you’re also going to get a lot of overlap–we’re talking more of a Venn diagram than a collection of boxes. You also have subcategories which, again, overlap: torture flicks, vengeance flicks, slashers, monster movies, etc. A better system of categorization might perhaps be to have a number of different tags which can be applied to any different movie.

Despite the wide variety in types of horror movie, the genre is known for being repetitive and full of tropes. Which is not to say that tropes are a bad thing–they exist to some extent in every genre. It often seems, however, that they are especially prevalent in horror (and in fact there are movies which play on this fact, such as Cabin in the Woods). Partly this is because horror movies try to play on widespread fears, such as claustrophobia or arachnophobia. And almost all of these fears build on three basic things:

  • Fear of death
  • Fear of pain
  • Fear of the unknown

As a result, there are two main consequences in horror movies: death and disability. The latter results in a whole lot of ableism. Frequently mental illness and physical disfigurement are used as a source of fear. Sometimes these things are a threat facing the protagonist, sometimes they are elements of the villain.

This particular trend is one I hope to explore this month. Additionally, I will be looking at misogyny in horror. Horror movies often treat both women and children as closer to the supernatural (and by extension, less mentally stable). And then there is the use of violence against women as the shock element in a horror movie. If I’m lucky, I’ll find some well-made movies that manage to avoid both ableism and misogyny.

The first movie review of the month, on a film called The Woman, will be up on Friday, with one or more a week after that. At the end of the month, I’ll post a conclusion, in which I look back over the movies I watched and the questions they raised.

Happy October!