American Horror Stories is an anthological spin-off of American Horror Story streaming on Hulu that lacks any of the panache or quality of its originator. Instead, the show features Z-list actors acting out scripts that feel like first-time writers were given half-cocked ideas that were rejected for AHS and told to make an hour episode out of them. The two-part debut of American Horror Stories was pretty horrible, but it’s episode three that genuinely cements the series’ place as one of the worst shows in television history.
At the Drive-In
American Horror Stories Episode 3 “Drive-In” has a simple but interesting enough premise. A horror film is released in 1986 called “Rabbit Rabbit.” Upon viewing it, the audience turns into violent zombies and begins killing anyone in sight (think 28 Days Later). After one viewing, the director is called in front of Congress, and the film is quickly banned (and the director attacks Tipper Gore). The movie becomes an urban legend until a local drive-in theater obtains a copy.
The episode centers around two high schoolers who have been dating for six months, Chad (Rhenzy Feliz) and Kelley (Madison Bailey). Chad is pressuring Kelley into having sex with him. After she rebuffs his attempts, Chad’s friends suggest taking her to a horror movie because it’s supposedly some sort of aphrodisiac for women.
Of course, things go south at the theater, and the audience begins killing one another. Chad and Kelley are spared because she has changed her mind, and the two are about to have their first time in Chad’s Subaru when the whole thing goes down. The two are able to escape and find out where the film came from. However, instead of calling the police, they find a shotgun and leave to find and destroy a second copy of the film before a rumored second viewing can occur.
The two meet the director, Larry Bitterman, who claims to have created the zombifying effect from subliminal messaging. He claims that he’s a cinematic genius that wanted to make a horror film where the horror comes from the audience, not the film itself. Kelley shoots him in the knee and forces him to reveal where the second copy of Rabbit Rabbit is. Chad sets it ablaze on the stove in Larry’s trailer, and the two leave, letting him burn to death.
The episode concludes with Chad and Kelley finally doing it. However, it’s revealed that Netflix is now streaming Rabbit Rabbit. The last shot is through Chad’s bedroom window as the entire city starts going mad due to the film’s influence.
Dumb, dumb, dumb
The entire script for American Horror Stories episode 3 comes across as someone writing their first draft in a community college class. Within the first five minutes or so, you already know what is going to happen. The entire premise is spelled out. There’s a movie, it makes people crazy, and everyone is going to see it. There’s no mystery or twist here.
I liked the premise of a horror movie where the horror is in the audience instead of on the screen, but the way it’s handled here makes no sense. How does subliminal messaging somehow physically transform people into zombies? I’d get it if it just drove people insane, but these folks straight up mutate.
There are also pacing issues. The thing that makes it evident that a green team wrote the episode is that characters come on screen, get backstories, and are immediately killed. For example, the projectionist is an older woman who gets multiple scenes where she talks about running the drive-in and how she worked theaters in New York City and knows everything about aspect ratios. She’s on-screen enough to make you think she will be a main character, except she’s not. Instead, she just turns into a zombie and gets her head bashed in by Chad.
Additionally, it’s great that the series is more LGBTQ+ inclusive than most other shows. However, this is the second setup in American Horror Stories to show the stereotype of gay promiscuity and to kill them off. Dee (Ben J. Pierce), who I presume is gay and queer like his actor (it’s not really touched on in the show), is shown to be interested in Chad’s friend Milo (Leonardo Cecchi). He encourages Kelley to “not be afraid of the dick,” and at the drive-in, assures Milo that he’s not one of those people that “has to wait” before performing fellatio on him. But, of course, Dee catches too many glimpses of the movie between bobs and turns into a zombie and bites Milo’s penis off.
Horror works best when you can identify with what’s happening on screen. Immersion is a hallmark of good horror, which makes me wonder why they bothered to call this series American Horror Stories. This episode was campy to a fault, but I don’t feel like it was trying to be.
Tropes like Chad and Kelley not calling the cops and running off to face down Larry come across as stupid as their only reasoning is that the police won’t believe them. With a whole drive-in of crashed cars and dead bodies, the authorities will probably be somewhat receptive. At the very least, they could explain that they think Larry had something to do with it, and with such a massacre, the cops are probably going to at least detain him.
The ending is possible the most mind-numbingly stupid part of the episode. First of all, Chad and Kelley are back up in his room trying to do it, and he’s not grounded? I mean, his Subaru got crashed into a building and killed someone. The cops haven’t come around to be like, “Hey, we’ve got a warrant here for Chad. It looks like he killed a classmate with by running them into a building with his car.” It’s not like the cops are going to be like, “oh, they’re zombies, it’s cool.”
Also, are the two not too traumatized to have sex? Their best friends died horribly right in front of them, and all they can think about is getting back to Chad’s room to do the horizontal mambo. I know everyone reacts differently to stress, but damn. Also, why are the two even dating? They never say, “I love you,” or really act like they’re together. Chad only cares about not “dying a virgin,” and never really mentions anything about respecting Kelley’s decision to wait. Kelley’s only motivation for having sex with Chad seems to be that he wants it and they’ve been dating six months. I don’t really understand their relationship dynamics at all.
You’re trying to tell me that Netflix doesn’t screen any of the movies it puts up for streaming? Wouldn’t the people who viewed it when trying to digitize it go crazy and not be able to complete the job? After all, Larry said that there were only film copies. Even if it was somehow digitized, wouldn’t the person from Netflix whose job is to review content before publishing go stark raving mad and set off some alarms?
American Horror Stories Episode 3 Review: Is it worth watching?
I’m all for suspending disbelief at times, but there are just too many plot holes here to deal with. It’s just a mess that doesn’t attempt to do anything other than poorly following tired horror cliches.
The credits say that Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Manny Coto (all industry veterans) wrote this episode, but I don’t believe this one bit. This script was ghostwritten by someone who has only a passing familiarity with the horror genre and TV writing in general. It’s so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised if it were AI-generated.
Some horror is so bad it’s good. This is not. It’s just bad, depressingly so.