Complaining About the “Stakes” in American Horror Story Probably Means You Don’t Understand Horror

*****This post contains spoilers about the theme of season 6 of American Horror Story*****

Like with most seasons of American Horror Story (AHS), people either loved or hated the premiere of My Roanoke Nightmare. Some of us, like myself, are indifferent. I like to wait a few episodes before I judge a show negatively.

This season revolutionizes the show’s format, taking the approach of a documentary style paranormal television show (think Paranormal Witness). I find this approach refreshing, some find it confusing, while others say that it reduces the tension and the stakes of the show. You know who lives, so why should you care?

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But, there were points last night where I thought this show did something it hasn’t in a very long time – it made me nervous, like any good horror show should do. Judging by the reactions on Twitter, certain scenes made a lot of people tense.

The episode was classic haunted house horror, more so than the first season’s Murder House. The predictability of that adds to the tension. You know something is coming, but you don’t know what. You don’t so much know that the something is going to startle a character, you just know it’s going to startle you.

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The “you factor” is what makes horror work. Yes, you should care and be invested in the characters, but horror works because the characters are relatable and as such, you imagine yourself in their shoes.

So while you may know a character survives because they live to tell the tale on a television show, you still feel that tension and fear. You imagine yourself in that space. Just because you know you’ll survive a situation, doesn’t make your adrenaline pump any less. You live in the moment of that tension.

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Horror films and television shows are total sensory experiences that defy logic. When you watch one, you know there are no real life stakes. You know a monster isn’t going to come out of your screen and murder you. Yet, you jump. You may even sleep with the lights on.

So, knowing that the characters survive shouldn’t infringe on the experience of AHS: My Roanoke Nightmare. In the end, horror is about what it does to your psyche, not to the characters on screen.

There are reasons not to like the format of the sixth season and reasons not to like the plot itself, but emotional stakes aren’t one of them.

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Comments

  1. Isma Andrews says:

    I dissagree. The documentary format ruined it for me, and i think the show would be better without the “real life characters” telling the story.. Wouldn’t it be better for us to simple watch and discover ourselfs?

    The part where this article says “if you this the stakes are being lowered, you dont understand horor”.. It’s bullcrap. I need real stakes.. Maybe the author of this more sensible than I.. But.. i’ll give this season the benefit of the doubt .

    • Do you not like the documentary style because it detracts from the story or because you know the characters survive?

      I’m not sure I like it because I feel like it might get distracting. Jumping from the actual story to the documentary could ruin tension because it breaks things up. I have to wait and see on that one.

      My point is that stakes aren’t actually real in horror, we’re suspending our disbelief anyway. But, I’m interested to hear more about your perspective on this.

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