Courtesy of Urban Dictionary, for those unaware...
Crybate: Simultaneously crying and masturbating; the most pathetic act a human being can engage in alone.
Like millions of other seemingly ordinary individuals, I engaged in the horror mash-up that was last night's premiere of American Horror Story. The show has balls, coming out of the gate with a slew of disturbing imagery, homages to classic horror, Dylan McDermott crybating while being watched by a creeper standing amongst his family's drying sheets, and the most incoherent, jumbled assembly of timeline and plot ever created for a pilot series.
The show already has numerous reviews addressing the WTF-ery of its existence, as well as some top ten lists associated with the insanity vomited out of Ryan Murphy's GLEE-addled brain. My assessment runs more along the lines of: if this is an "American Horror Story," what makes it such... and does it work?
Ignoring generalizing and/or subjective queries such as: Is it scary? Are the ghosts real? Is anyone real? The biggest question about whether this show lives up to its title is this: What makes a horror story American?
Without getting all near-two-decades of watching, researching and writing about horror on y'all (because that would get far too intellectual for something as ridiculous as this series' pilot), it basically boils down to the following:
American horror wants to shock you. How it goes about achieving this varies depending on the desired shock level, where it hits you psychologically, and the style of its crafter. In this sense, American Horror Story wins in its first episode, if a string of mental WTFs can be considered shocking.
American horror is fascinated with disturbed individuals and their penchant for killing people, often in gruesome ways, with lingering effects. This show has disturbed people all right, and there's already hints and statements that some have already killed.
We like sex in our horror. It's not uncommon for American horror films to contain as much sexual content as violence, or at least the undertones of it. Europeans tend to be more subtle in their portrayal of sexuality as it relates to horror. It's almost non-existent in Japanese horror. Not us, we come out balls-blazing, coupling acts of gore in tandem with college orgies. From McDermott's luscious booty, to the (Ghost?)Gimp sex scene, to the hilarious (if you're me or anyone who works in my office) crybation scene, this series is no exception. In fact, if allowed by the censors, it could take torture-porn to a new level: porn-torture... like elevated crybation.
Many other themes in horror are embraced by the show: isolation, struggling against our desires in a heightened situation, history resurfacing to (possibly literally) bite us in the ass, and a questioning of what reality truly is. These are general constructs of most horror, not necessarily American.
So, the show hits most of the themes set forth in hundreds of years of American horror, along with more than a dash of general horror conventions. Does it work, though?
It could be a bit too soon to tell, but thus far... not entirely. The issue, I think, is that it's combining too many established constructs, coupled with homages, coupled with an incoherent plot and timeline. While it's shocking, disturbing, and full of weirdness (supernatural and otherwise), it fails to provide the audience with an answer to one of the most important questions in successful horror: What makes this horrific, and why tell us this story?
It has a chance to reveal this to us, but as of right now I'm doubtful it can accomplish this given its explicit bombardment of freakshow moments in the very first episode. That type of insanity cannot be maintained and retain the necessary creep-out factor to keep people engaged. yet you need to pull away a bit to provide some actual, coherent storytelling. Backing away from the crazy too soon, though, could expose perhaps the greatest flaw (so far) in this scenario: If all this insanity is happening within weeks(days? hours? who the hell knows right now...) of moving into their new home -- why are these people staying there and why should we care?