In a bizarre partnership. the creator of The Iz‘i'i/ Dead has teamed up with David Cassidy‘s brother to take us on a horror trail into America‘s Deep South. Eddie Gibb passes the spade.
his being set in the dirt—poor Deep
South where implements are
primitive and the folks even more so.
and this being a television series
bearing the name of schlockmeister-
iii-chief Sam "I'lte lft'i/ Dearl‘ Raimi. it all starts with a shovel. Perhaps it’s the symbolism of killing someone with the tool that will dig their grave which appeals to horror directors. or maybe it‘s because a good solid ThwackY registers well on the soundtrack. but death-by-spade must be near the top of the genre‘s hit list.
In the opening scene of American Got/tic. the latest long-running American television import to seek cult approval in the UK. a dungaree-clad hick clouts his mentally disturbed daughter on the noggin with said shovel and sets in chain a sequence of bizarre happenings in the town of Trinity. South Carolina. Yes siree. we got ourselves a southern version of Twin Peaks.
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The most bizarre thing about American (int/tie. howcvet‘. is the guy who created the series: Shaun ('assidy. 70s teen popstar and half- brother to the more famous David. But for an accident of birth. Shaun could have been a member of the Partridge Family belting out 'Rreaking l'p Is So Hard To Do' with his nauseatineg wholesome siblings. Instead he
was awarded the dubious consolation pri/e of
playing the equally wholesome Joe Hardy in T/lt’ Hardy Boys .lfysteries. By N74 he was wearing tight white pants tin the American sense. but who knows. possibly in the British sense too) and making little girls scream. So what happened. Shaun'.’
‘l‘ve always had a dark side.‘ he has said. ‘But the image that everybody was pushing was the
lighter one. »\nd early on. I was conscious of
keeping the darker stuff in check. because I felt like Santa (.‘laus to a lot of kids.‘ Now he's intent on scaring the kids. having
hooked up with splatter movie specialist Sam Raimi. who was hired by American television network CBS to inject a bit of fright into its night-time schedules. The result ofthis unlikely conception between people from opposite ends of the popular culture spectrum was American Got/tie. which in the US attracted a modest but vociferous cult following who are now lobbying hard to get the show recommissioned for a second series.
The comparison with Twin Peaks was inevitable. given that the central character is a policeman. it’s set in an apparently normal town where under the surface nothing is as it seems. and a beautiful young girl is laid out on a slab by the end of the first episode. But whereas David Lynch‘s strange tale of a small town possessed by evil was a psychological thriller that lived on
Horror movie buffs will be able to spend happy hours deconstructing the plot lines and exposing the influence at
their tavourite B-movies.
its wits. American Got/tie looks like a much blunter instrument. This is dumb fun for people who love their horror movies to be a kind of scary ritual where familiar moral themes are played out. It isn’t the kind of series that‘s going to get all existential over a cup of coffee and slice of cherry pie. no matter how damn fine they might be.
Whereas Agent Dale Cooper was the deep. complex FBI man who arrived in the town of Twin Peaks to sort out a little local difficulty. the police chief of Trinity is the local difficulty. Sheriff Lucas Buck is evil incarnate. a bad seed who controls the townspeople by some unseen force. The only thing that seems to scare him is a young boy called Caleb Temple whose father is incarcerated after that unfortunate shovel incident. With guidance from the ghost of his dead sister. Caleb sees through the Village of the Damned set-up and threatens Buck‘s malevolent power.
Horror movie buffs will be able to spend happy hours deconstructing the plot lines and exposing the influence of their favourite B- movies. The most obvious twist. however. is the casting of Caleb as a wild-eyed little tyke of the sort that usually causes chairs to fly around the room in such movies. At least to start with. he‘s a force for good. but who knows what the future holds for the unholy Trinity"?
Like Twin Peaks. and just about any horror movie from the cheesy Nightmare On Elm Street series to David Lynch‘s earlier stylish shocker Blue Velvet. .-lmeriean (Int/He trades on the subversion of suburban normality. The idea that behind the trim shutters and shingles of
small-town America he dark secrets and perverse goings on holds an enduring
fascination. This is probably because they are made by over-imaginative boys who spent a childhood in such towns wishing something exciting would happen. As soon as they were old enough to take charge of a film crew and a bunch of special effects. their celluloid revenge was exacted on the stifling dullness of home towns where everyone knows your name.
For Shaun Cassidy. on the other hand. American Got/tic may be just his way of finally exorcising the demons of teeny television.
American Gut/zit“ begins on ll'er/nesday 5 June at /()pm on Channel 4.