The sixth installment of American Horror Story follows a different format from previous seasons. There is no opening title sequence. Instead we jump right into a television show within the show, My Roanoke Nightmare, in which married couple Matt (André Holland) and Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe), and Matt’s sister Lee (Adina Porter) recount the horrifying events they experienced. In the reenactment within the show, Matt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Shelby Miller (Sarah Paulson) leave the city and move into a mysterious house in North Carolina. Matt’s sister Lee (Angela Bassett) comes to live with them after an unfortunate incident causes her to lose her home and custody of her daughter. They start to experience strange occurrences, and assume someone is just trying to scare them into leaving the property. Shelby assumes it’s the hillbilly Polk family that lives in the mountains—they were upset when the Miller’s outbid them at the auction for the mansion. However, the Millers start seeing things they can’t explain, and discover the gruesome history of what went on in the house decades earlier. They also hear the tale of The Butcher, who for hundreds of years has haunted the woods surrounding the property. She returns every blood moon to brutally murder anyone who refuses to get off her land. The Millers are anxious to leave, but they can’t afford to—they spent their life savings on this home—however, if they stay, they may not survive.
This My Roanoke Nightmare show-within-the-show lasts for the first half of the season. Afterwards we learn the about the aftermath of the airing of the series, and that greedy producer Sidney James (Cheyenne Jackson) wants to do a sequel. This time he sends the real Matt, Shelby & Lee back into this house of horrors along with the actors who played them in the series,. He plans to film the commotion Big Brother style, and even arranges to manipulate the situation with fake scares, starting with scheduling the production for a blood moon. However, Sidney is unprepared for the horrors that will be reawakened and unleashed while filming this second season, Return To Roanoke: Three Days in Hell.
I found the first few episodes of this season a little difficult to follow, as it tries to unfold this larger mythology about the house. Another issue I had was that since these characters were being interviewed after-the-fact, the sense of danger was lessened—you knew that anything they encountered would not be fatal. However, that’s not to say the series didn’t constantly make me jump. This installment of American Horror Story seemed to take inspiration from films like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, The Grudge, Saw, You’re Next, and The Hills Have Eyes, among others.
By the time the series-within-a-series came to an end in episode 5, I was skeptical of where the series would go for the second half of the season. However, I was pleasantly surprised, as it is the latter half of the season where this Roanoke installment really shines. The events and characters established in the first half of the season really pay off in the second. While at first there is some humor as we learn more about the actors from the show-within-the-show, the series quickly moves from fun to horror. Nothing is held back in the second half of the season—it is tense, gruesome and brutal, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I was glad I stuck with the series as the second half was quite entertaining.
The picture quality of this Blu-ray is a mixed bag. Most of the footage for the My Roanoke Nightmare half is crisp and clear, though it’s sometimes tough to discern details in the darker scenes. The quality of the picture really goes downhill in the second half of the season, but that may be as designed. For the Return To Roanoke: Three Days in Hell reality show, there are hidden cameras in the house, and the participants are given cell phones to record their thoughts. When footage from those lower-quality sources is used, the picture looks blotchy with some dark crush. The characters are also doing a lot of running in the dark, so the picture is moving fast and can be unintelligible. (This is where is really felt like Blair Witch.) However I believe this is the aesthetic the filmmakers were going for.
The audio track is really good throughout the series. It not only provides clear dialogue, but it makes excellent use of the surround and stereo channels to completely freak you out! Screams and other ominous sounds come from every direction, giving you a sense of uneasiness, and making you feel like you are right there in the middle of the horrific things that are going on.
The Blu-ray contains only two supplemental features—a 30-minute PaleyFest panel with some of the cast and producers, and 12 short promos that aired on FX. The three Blu-ray discs come packed in standard multi-disc HD keepcase with a cardboard slipcover.
- All 10 episodes of the sixth season
- 1080p / Widescreen 1.78:1
- Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1, German DTS 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, German
- The Paley Center for Media: Q&A with Cast and Creative Team from PaleyFest 2017 (30:30)
The cast and producers talk about the season at PaleyFest. The panelists include cast members Adina Porter, Cheyenne Jackson, Dennis O’Hare, Cuba Gooding Jr, Sarah Paulson, and Kathy Bates, executive producer Tim Minear, and co-creator/executive producer Brad Falchuk.
- Collection of American Horror Story: Roanoke Promos (3:29)
Collection of 12 creepy promos for the season play back-to-back.
While I found the first half of this sixth installment of American Horror Story to be a bit of the slog, it ultimately pays off in the second half of the season. While I know it’s a bit much to ask someone to get through 5 episodes, I do think the rest of the season is worth it. The Blu-ray provides decent picture, and excellent sound, along with a small but entertaining amount of bonus material. While I wouldn’t rank this as the best season of American Horror Story, it is certainly not the worst, and I recommend checking it out, particularly for the second half of the season.