American Horror Story is an anthology horror TV series created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Each season is designed as a self-contained miniseries, with a different story, setting, and characters. Season 10, titled “Double Feature,” premiered on August 25, 2021 and concluded on October 20, 2021.
The tenth installment marked the first time a season of American Horror Story was split into two parts, each with their own theme and aesthetic. This unique format led to the season being dubbed “Double Feature.”
Part 1: Red Tide
The first half of Season 10 was subtitled “Red Tide” and took place in the seaside town of Provincetown, Massachusetts. It followed a struggling writer named Harry Gardner (Finn Wittrock), his pregnant wife Doris (Lily Rabe), and their daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) as they move to Provincetown for a fresh start.
Once in town, Harry meets the eccentric Austin Sommers (Evan Peters) and the glamorous Belle Noir (Frances Conroy), who introduce him to a mysterious black pill that unlocks his full artistic potential. However, Harry soon discovers the pills have monstrous side effects.
“Red Tide” wove elements of classic creature features with psychological horror and body transformation tropes. The coastal setting evoked old school tales like The Shadow over Innsmouth. Key influences included vampires, sirens, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror.
Main Themes in Red Tide
- The Faustian bargain of talent/success at a terrible price
- The horrors of drug addiction
- Gentrification and class divides
- The corruption of the elite privileged class
Red Tide Creatures
The black pills transformed people into pale, vein-covered, sharp-toothed vampire-like beings with a thirst for blood. These creatures had enhanced artistic abilities, superhuman strength, a photosensitivity to sunlight, and a diet consisting solely of human blood.
Part 2: Death Valley
The second half of Season 10 took place in the mysterious Area 51 within the Nevada desert. Subtitled “Death Valley,” this part jumped between two timelines:
Timeline 1 – Present Day
In the present-day timeline, a group of young internet influencers takes a tour of Area 51 and ends up detained by the government for knowing too much about extraterrestrial activities on Earth.
Timeline 2 – Eisenhower Era
The second timeline took place in the 1950s during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. It followed a new suburban housewife named Mamie Eisenhower (Sarah Paulson) discovering her husband, President Eisenhower, has made a pact with an alien race known as the Grays.
Mamie struggles to expose the conspiracy unfolding within the highest levels of government. The Grays plan to take over America through nefarious means, using Area 51 as a base of operations.
Main Themes in Death Valley
- Government cover-ups and conspiracy theories surrounding UFOs and aliens
- Paranoia surrounding Area 51 and extraterrestrial contact
- Nuclear age anxieties
- The darker side of Eisenhower’s presidency
While “Red Tide” and “Death Valley” explored different worlds, they had some key connections:
- Protagonists who learn disturbing truths that upend their realities
- The presence of monstrous creatures, both human and extraterrestrial
- An air of paranoia regarding sinister elite classes and organizations
- Science fiction and horror motifs
Both halves explored conspiracies, corruption, and losing one’s humanity to dark impulses and obsessions. The seaside community of Provincetown in “Red Tide” also geographically connects to Area 51 in “Death Valley.”
Why the Double Feature Format?
In interviews, Ryan Murphy explained the inspiration behind the season’s two-part format:
“It was always the concept from the start. It was my and Brad Falchuk’s idea. We loved the two themes, the two ideas, and we thought, ‘They seem like they would pair well together.’ I also love old drive-in horror movies that are made up of two different stories. I thought it would be fun to do a double feature.”
Murphy took inspiration from the experience of attending a double feature at a drive-in theater, which would show two thematically connected horror films back-to-back. Some of the slasher movie double bills he cited as influences included:
- Halloween and The Fog
- Jaws and Piranha
- A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th
Structuring Season 10 as a double feature allowed Murphy and Falchuk to explore two mini-worlds in greater depth. It also provided viewers with twice the scares across two completely different settings and storylines.
The unique double feature format was heavily emphasized in the show’s marketing and promotion. The season’s poster featured two contrasting halves merging together:
The tagline read: “Two horrifying stories… One season.” Promos highlighted the dual themes of vampiric creatures and alien encounters.
Ryan Murphy and the network leveraged the split nature into increased hype and intrigue leading up to the premiere. The unconventional structure brought freshness and novelty to the milestone 10th installment of the anthology series.
American Horror Story: Double Feature received mostly positive reviews from critics:
- Season 10 has a 76% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- The AV Club praised the seaside horror and social commentary of “Red Tide.”
- IGN called the black and white “Death Valley” a “delightfully weird and chilling tale.”
- The two-part format offered something for all AHS fans according to Entertainment Weekly.
However, some dissenting opinions emerged:
- The second half “Death Valley” felt rushed and underdeveloped to some viewers.
- The wrap-up of “Red Tide” disappointed fans who expected more closure.
- The thematic connections between the two parts felt tenuous at times.
Nonetheless, the majority of critics and fans praised Double Feature as a creative twist on AHS tradition. The novelty of the format carried the landmark 10th season and opened up new storytelling possibilities.
American Horror Story has remained a powerhouse series by constantly reinventing itself each season. The Double Feature format for Season 10 offered something new by telling two distinct stories back-to-back in Provincetown and Area 51.
Paying homage to the drive-in movie double bills of horror history, Ryan Murphy delivered twice as many scares. He also explored social themes relevant to both our oceanside communities and the evils lurking within government corridors.
By utilizing the short miniseries structure, both halves could take viewers on a shocking ride as their characters uncovered terrifying truths. Despite unevenness between the two parts, the risk of Double Feature’s unconventional format paid off overall.
After 10 intense seasons, American Horror Story continues to find fresh and innovative ways to keep fans on the edge of their seats. The collided worlds of AHS: Double Feature proved the show still has plenty more nightmares to unearth in the seasons to come.