Sex, Drugs, and Horror: American Horror Story “Hotel”

By: Emily Sabia

For followers of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s popular FX anthology American Horror Story, the fifth season, Hotel, has started off slowly but has nonetheless, shocked and stunned viewers in its gory, controversial nature. As a loyal viewer of the series, I was eager to watch Hotel with the hope that it would draw parallels to the first season (arguably the best,) Murder House, by following the classic ghost story of a haunted hotel. However, by the end of the first episode viewers learn through a striking, bloody orgy scene that it is not ghosts that make the Hotel Cortez ‘horrific,’ it is vampires.  

The plot focuses on a detective, played by Wes Bentley, who is drawn to the mysterious Los Angeles Hotel Cortez after a series of disappearances lead him there. Haunted by his alcoholic past, his deteriorating relationship with his wife, and the disappearance of his son Holden, the detective moves into the hotel where he encounters many unique people and strange experiences. The Cortez is home to an entire cast of questionable characters that wreak havoc within its enigmatic walls. Some of these include a serial killer (Evan Peters,) a drug addicted prostitute (Sarah Paulson,) and a mother (Kathy Bates) trying to stay close to her vampire son (Matt Bomer.)

Lady Gaga, a new addition to the cast this season, is one of the standout central figures of Hotel. She is the ‘Countess:’ the mysterious, ruthless vampiress, and fashionista whose background and intentions are unclear. She hoards a host of vampire children in the Cortez and works alongside her ‘boy toy’ (Finn Wittrock) to lure victims in. Each episode provides another anecdote, fact, or explanation for the Countess and her current life as both the murderess and hotel owner. She delivers her lines simply, seductively, and with a near emptiness of any human emotion. From the moment the Countess first appears on screen she commands attention and makes an enormous visual impact with her dramatic clothing, overstated jewelry, and standout makeup.

While each episode of Hotel consistently provides viewers with scenes of gore, violence, sex, and new plot elements, the episodes feel largely disconnected in their narrative content. It has been exceptionally difficult to try and piece these complex characters, events, and time periods together into a coherent explanation of the Hotel Cortez and its inhabitants. In fact, the gaudy style and gratuitous violence completely overpower any evidence of effective storytelling.

The main thing that has struck me about each episode of Hotel is the ostentatious brutality. For example, the first episode immediately stuns viewers with a scene of a hotel guest being anally raped by an anonymous man wearing a pointed drill dildo. Many of the scenes felt overtly disturbing and as if they were one exposed body part away from exceeding the limitations of the MA rating. Murphy and Falchuk have certainly pushed many limits with Hotel but nonetheless; the first few episodes have been a promising new start to a consistently captivating series. Aside from the gore and scattered plot, the fundamental concept of the season and each character’s unique story is fascinating. I am hopeful that the episodes will all reach a logical conclusion and some type of coherency both within Hotel and the anthology as a whole by the end of the season. The eighth episode airs on December 2nd on FX.

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