A story line centering on a bloodlust for talent and ambition during deep COVID feels like a hate crime, but what could be scarier than the fear of being ordinary, really?
American Horror Story, the big fat fried turkey in the center of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s table, has never been afraid to take big swings with its carving knife. From the initial succulence of Murder House (2011) to the crispy marshmallow campfire fun of 1984 (2019), fans of AHS have grown accustomed to gobbling up whatever the showrunners decide to dish out. And this time, with Double Feature, we’re being served double-fisted portions of pinnacle camp and horror, family style. But what the hell is on the menu now? Vampires? Aliens? P-town A-list serial killers and cryptid lore from the ’60s and ’70s? *insert Kevin McCallister Home Alone face slap screaming gif*
Pilgrim … you better get ready. If you’ve ever, even once, lost sleep over wondering just how talented you are, if at all, part one of Double Feature is gonna really froth you up. The fresh hell of a horror show rubbing “you might not be good enough” in your face is so deliciously ouchy. AHS has touched upon “real-life” fears and torments before … but not like this.
The introduction of Macaulay Culkin as a new cast member this season isn’t the only “let’s try this” element of Double Feature. There’s the double feature-ness of it all, splitting the season into two sections, with part one (Red Tide) taking place by the sea for the first six episodes and part two (Death Valley) taking place in the sand for the remaining four; the first-time supplemental materials, like the three-part “audio dramas” that debuted August 23 on YouTube; and the decision to send each episode direct to Hulu immediately after airing on FX proper. It’s been ten years and the show is dusting off the doormats a bit. All good signs pointing toward fresh blood and possible new angles on murders and mysteries of the past and present.
Delayed twice due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions, once during initial production and again during the Delta wave, part one of Double Feature features a number of speculative clues as to what’s in store that can be gleaned from its location. At the top of 2021, Massachusetts news outlets reported two notable productions in the area. AHS, under the working title “Pilgrim,” was setting up in and around Provincetown, as was a series in development by Robert Downey Jr. called Helltown, which centers on the murders of Tony Costa. Costa was a handyman, cannabis farmer, and frequent user of pills and LSD who killed a string of women in the late ’60s, dumping their bodies in shallow graves in Truro, Massachusetts. He was known for his brutality, said to have bitten chunks out of his victims. Ironically or not, given the vamp versus alien imagery we’ve seen from Double Feature so far, Tony Costa was often referred to by press as the Cape Cod Vampire.
P-town mascot John Waters, who vacations there each year and can often be spotted tooling through town on his bicycle (perhaps on his way to the dick dock?), mentions Tony Costa in his 2019 memoir Mr. Know-It-All. In it, he interviews another Provincetown legend, Victor “Moulty” Moulton, who says that everyone in the area knew about Costa’s “predatory ways,” and no one was surprised when he was arrested for murder. In the end, Costa was convicted for murdering two women, but the consensus was that the body count was probably way higher. During sentencing, the judge asked if he had anything to say for himself, to which Costa is said to have replied, “Keep digging.”
In the early planning stages of season ten, Ryan Murphy hinted that a clue to the new season could be found in episode eight of season nine, 1984. The episode in question makes mention of the popularity in the ’70s of Bigfoot, aliens, and the Loch Ness Monster, and fans of the show have been chewing on that ever since. Aside from Tony Costa, Massachusetts is dank with AHS touchstones. In the first season, Murder House, the Harmon family move from Boston to Los Angeles (another filming location for beach and desert locales in season ten) and then immediately dissolve into actual hellscape chaos. Coven, although filmed in New Orleans, has ties to Massachusetts for Salem reasons, because Stevie Nicks says so. And then there’s the whole Lady of the Dunes and Bridgewater Triangle tie-ins. You see, this area is known for way weirder things than Ben Affleck.
The premiere of part one of Double Feature is fittingly done with two episodes. In the first, we meet a young family: Harry Gardner (Finn Wittrock), his very pregnant wife Doris (Lily Rabe), and their violin-playing daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). The similarities to The Shining are pretty immediate, with the family’s main purpose for staying three months in off-season Provincetown being so that Harry can do some Hail Mary writing. The similarities don’t go much further than writer’s block, though, as Harry doesn’t have a taste for booze and axes. He’s more of a meat smoothie and pointy teeth kind of guy.
As the family nears their coastal rental, Alma ticks off the roadkill along the way and stops at ten. Something is (I refuse to say fishy) different here, and whatever it is seems to leave a bloody mess in its wake.
The local color is thrilling. Their property manager cracks gay with a joke about how the septic systems back up a lot during bear week. The only restaurant in town that’s open is called Muse and is adored by townies who have that “Sleep No More meets Hot Topic shift supervisor” look. And Tuberculosis Karen is played by Sarah Paulson with a bad Overtone dye job and Oreo teeth. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to vacay here for a bit of rest, inspiration, and sexy segue into vampirism?
Everything is cozy and quaint as a foie-gras funnel cake, and local sex worker Mickey (Macaulay Culkin) is readily available to teach winter tourists like Harry the fancy word for dicks rubbing on dicks. But then, as is doomed to occur at every party, pasty glam grumps Austin Sommers (Evan Peters) and Belle Noir (Frances Conroy) tempt Harry to dip his tip-tappy Word doc fingers into the black-pill candy jar.
There are vampires in Provincetown, but they’re cute about it. Those who squeak about needing a creative boost are quickly introduced to a black pill that will either give it to them in spades, albeit with a hefty clause attached, or turn them into crunchy-jointed, goth-dancing vamp zombies, referred to as “pale people.” Harry takes a black pill and speeds through his rewrites in a flash, vocalizing his own genius in one breath and in the next screaming in his own daughter’s face about how she sucks dick at violin. The daughter, fearing being “perfectly ordinary” like her beige-obsessed interior decorator of a mother, sneaks a black pill from her dad’s bag. Sadly, she inherited something from her parents, but it wasn’t talent, and we see her chomping on squirrel guts in the cemetery as a soon-to-be pale person. Not everyone can be talented, Alma. BOO! And boo to YOU too! Finish that novel yet? How about that pitch you were gonna send to new Gawker? You fucking loser!
Islands in the Stream
• Billie Lourd’s character Lark sent at least a handful of AHS fans into the bathroom with a nail file to see how painful it would be to file teeth into points. Probably a lot, I’d imagine.
• Macaulay Culkin’s character Mickey tells Paulson’s Tuberculosis Karen a story about Jaws in episode two, “Pale,” that brings to mind a widely spread theory regarding the identity of the “lady in the dunes” victim. On July 26, 1974, an unidentified woman was found face down on a beach towel in the Race Point Dunes in Provincetown. Some of her teeth had been removed, as well as her hands, and her head was crushed to the point of near decapitation. Investigators never found out who she was, or who killed her, but articles of her clothing matched a female extra pinpointed in photos from the filming of Jaws.
• Anytime they show a toilet in a show, you just know someone’s gonna be puking in it soon. Doris barfs while getting ready for her botched date at Muse with Harry, and I don’t even think she flushed. Rude.
• Doris is obsessed with Lyme disease.
• You Killed a Man in Our Sunroom would be a great name for a band.