“Checking In” On Fear

In conjunction with American Horror Story Tuesdays, Connor Taylor is writing a four-part review of individual episodes from the fifth season. He will discuss their relation to different aspects of fear. This first review discusses the pilot episode: Checking In. Connor is a second year English and Creative Writing student.

If you have not checked in already, the new season of American Horror Story has started and once you stay the night you surely won’t regret it.

If you have seen the first episode then you surely recall the appearance of ‘the addiction demon’ which gave us one of the most twisted and uncomfortable scenes we have seen from AHS in a long time. The scene involved the greasy, pale leathery, skin of the faceless demon, a large metal cone strapped to his groin and New Girl’s Max Greenfield (who we can no longer look at in entirely the same way).

Yet what really scared us about this shocking scene?

Everyone has something they fear, something deeper than the rational deterrence from pain and suffering which caused us to turn our head slightly away from the screen.


“The direct fear of abandonment. This can be irrational and possibly extends from the fear of letting others down. This can include a fear of being dismissed, cast out or excluded.”

There have been many studies into the effects of human isolation and the detrimental alterations it causes to the mind. Naturally we begin to function differently when placed in situations which render us incapable of human contact in even the slightest way. In its most minute form, that feeling we get when we’re alone, the one where we feel watched or uncertain, can sprout from the unease of the mind screaming for at least the presence of another.

What does this have to do with AHS though?

Well there were three characters present in the traumatic scene; The Addiction Demon (Alexander Ward) Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) and Gabriel (Max Greenfield).

It’s a common theme among works which sympathise with the immortal or estranged. We of course feel something for Gabriel during the time at which he is bound, it appeals to our need or want to see a dismissal of suffering…
But we do not sympathise with Sally, I hear you say. Are you sure about that? In the last few moments of Greenfield’s on-screen suffering we hear Sally ask for love. She seeks an utterance, a whisper, of affection which will remove from the world the suffering which plagues him. Don’t we all sympathise with wanting at least some affection, recognition, from someone? How long has Sally been alone and seeking such an insatiably need, addiction, for comfort? Is she the demon herself, like two sides of one rusted coin? …

What makes us so scared, so unnerved in the contract between Sally whispering for love, Greenfield’s tears and the macabre encounter happening half in and half out of shot. We want to turn away but we are forced to endure just a little longer and that played quite heavily into the autophobia most of us feel. In both cinema and writing, the sadness that comes from everything and everyone you love being dead is really something which resonates with audiences because it’s the exact opposition to the common family stability. What’s worse is the fear which comes from recognising isolation within yourself and searching outward for affection beyond addiction.

Autophobia aside, what we see is an appeal to one of our most primal fears, pain, and one of our most terrifying aspects, loneliness, conjoined together in a traumatic scene of death, rape, and suffering. Of course it’s made worse by the aesthetics and shock alone (we must not forget that) which at this point have already intrigued and somewhat bored us. As terrifying as it is I don’t think I can take another long hallway shot (even though I know there are many to come). They are meant to make us feel lost, that everything is the same… but it gets very old fast. Lady Gaga is oddly haunting and better within her role than I honestly expected. I thought perhaps it would be a season long advertisement for a new ‘alternative’ or ‘edgy’ album but I am yet to see any of that (although I don’t think I’d like to listen to music inspired by this season’s oddities).

All in all I am intrigued at where this is going. I have watched ahead and am preparing myself for episode four. Of course I am not without questions, questions I am preparing to answer with a look at more fears and perhaps something else too. Who is the strange woman? Why on earth are there vampires in the first place and when will I see more Evan Peters?

How Extreme Isolation Warps the Mind. Michael Bond. 14th May, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140514-how-extreme-isolation-warps-minds

“Checking In”. American Horror Story: Hotel. Ryan Murphy. Fox. October 7, 2015

About spectralvisions

Spectral Visions is an annual Gothic conference hosted by the University of Sunderland. It explores the dark, the decadent and the terrifying aspects of Gothic literature and language. This blog is a student-run initiative, where Visionaries showcase their creative talents and learning in short stories, poems and essays on the Gothic. You can follow us on Twitter at @spectralvisi0ns or like us on Facebook at facebook.com/uosgothic
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