Gruesome deaths

TV Review: American Gothic

Messages written in blood, gruesome deaths, children with biblical names, ghosts who are better looking than their living selves, skeletons in cupboards, an evil sheriff: this can only be small-town America. American Gothic (C4), a 20-part drama directed by Sam Raimi, whom you might remember for the rapacious forest plants in The Evil Dead, kicked off with two murders, a small boy in peril, a feisty journalist returning to her hometown to confront her demons and a nice doctor from Harvard who has his suspicions.

No prizes for guessing who the heroes are going to be. Twin Peaks this ain't, though, judging from the schlanging Chris Isaak-style guitar as the opening credits rolled, it would dearly like to be. Raimi is a more- than-competent director (whatever else he does, Darkman will stand as testimony to that) who lacks the vital ingredient of total insanity that makes David Lynch a great one. Former teen idol Shaun Cassidy, whose fevered imagination produced the town of Trinity, South Carolina, and its ghoulish inhabitants, obviously has a firm hand on the old word processor. One can but hope that 19 more episodes prove he understands the human character as well.

So: shocks galore, and a nymphomaniac schoolteacher to boot. The catchline of the series appears to be "Someone's at the door". As a catchline, it's not bad, though it doesn't have the redolence of "the owls are not what they seem". Actually, I've got a feeling that it's going to get mightily on my nerves before long. It issued initially from the lips of 16-year- old Merlyn Temple (Sarah Paulson), the catatonic sister of pre-teen Caleb (Lucas Black). In fact, she said it so often that her father clocked her with a spade to shut her up. Enter Lucas Buck, local sheriff and Not What He Seems. His first action was to finish the girl off.

There then followed a series of set-piece shocks. Merlyn's corpse wept blood. The errant father was found in his cell with the hapless deputy's pen through his windpipe. Caleb, recuperating in hospital under the kindly eye of Good Doctor Matt Crower (Jake Weber), woke in the night to find that ghostly forces had scribbled "Someone's at the door" in blood on his own. He raced home, mended his broken birthday cake (ah, symbolism) and met his sister's ghost. She filled him (and, of course, us,) in on a few things he didn't know: he was actually Lucas's son, the product of the rape that had also turned Merlyn weird. And Lucas was after him. Pilots are always difficult: you have to introduce such a lot of information in such a short amount of time. But really, I've had more shocks from the inside of my sock drawer.

The effect of Gothic might just have been watered down by the horrors that preceded it. Tales From The Wasteland (C4), part of the second night of the Broke season, left one frothing at the mouth at the way this nation of Gradgrinds has steadily victimised its weakest members over the past few years. This was done by the simple method of showing us the daily lives of four desperately poor families and interspersing them with famous quotations from public figures in the field.

As with this, from Keith Joseph: "The only lasting help we can give the poor is helping them to help themselves; to do the opposite, to create more dependence, is to destroy them morally, whilst throwing an unfair burden on society." There was no evidence that we are doing anything at all to help the poor improve their lot, unless closing law centres, Citizen's Advice Bureaux and adult education centres is part of a deliberate plan to make them take responsibility for themselves. What we did see was tears and terror behind the net curtains.

There were also some stark truths that should make even the most committed tax-cutter think again. Debt has risen fivefold in the past decade. Three million people are visited weekly by debt collectors. Interest rates of 50 per cent are legal. Children nurse graveyard coughs from sleeping on rotting mattresses in sub-zero temperatures. Still, at least their morals are protected.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before