Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't yet watched the American Horror Stories entry "Drive In."
With its first pair of episodes, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's American Horror Story spinoff took viewers back to Murder House for a rubbery new chapter in the haunted home's history. With Episode 3, the franchise went to new locations, but with franchise vets John Carroll Lynch and Naomi Grossman. (As well as scream queen and Broadway great Adrienne Barbeau.) As the elusive perfectionist and appropriately named filmmaker Larry Bitterman, Lynch shined in the installment's final act, with his character's humble abode serving as a shrine to horror classics such as Evil Dead and Stephen King's IT.
After the metaphorical shit hit the fan and Larry was bleeding out on the floor of his burning trailer, one particular shot captured figurines for IT's Pennywise the Dancing Clown and Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees, with the Necronomicon lurking (as much as a book can) to the side. Beyond just being a cool bit of genre synergy, those specific characters are quite meaningful for John Carroll Lynch's legacy within the American Horror Story franchise, considering he portrayed the killer clown Twisty in Season 4's Freak Show and the camp killer Mr. Jingles in Season 9's 1984. When I spoke to the always engaging actor following the episode's debut via FX on Hulu, he had the most gracious response when I brought up Pennywise and Jason's connections to his characters. In his words:
I mean, obviously, one of the things that happens, and it's happened since early on in horror, is the creation of iconographic, arresting, terrifying visual characters. From The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, they've tried to create the circumstances throughout, from Nosferatu to obviously Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and on and on. I mean, it's part of what they would do, and it's completely in Larry Bitterman's character to have those talismans. And I think there was somewhere, I don't know if you can see it, but I think there's a Pinhead in there somewhere, too. The only thing missing for me was the Phantasm killer's silver ball. So to even be in a conversation around the Horror Cinematic Universe, to have any characters that would be that iconographic is truly - I say this without a doubt, in all honesty - it's humbling.
By all means, John Carroll Lynch's Twisty the Clown quickly became one of the most iconic monsters, both visually and characteristically, in all of horror television, and all without a whole lot of screen time. And because Lynch's performance was almost entirely physical, given the character's facial malady, he managed to avoid just about any comparisons to Tim Curry's Pennywise from the 1990 IT miniseries. Not an easy feat. Especially in a world where playing horror-geared clowns is become more and more popular. According to Lynch:
I've met a lot of people who are hired as creepy clowns. I really have. I've met a lot of them at conventions and in various circumstances. Because of Twisty, not because of my real life. [Laughs.] But anyway, in that circumstance, there's a living to be had in playing creepy clowns; there's a living. I think it's a tougher living than blowing balloon animals, but what do I know?
While Mr. Jingles hasn't had quite the same pop culture impact as Twisty, the character is still a solid twist on the Jason Voorhees mythology, at least the early years. In the idea that even though Mr. Jingles was the only one anybody blamed for the massacres in 1984, the very first one was actually the fault of a female killer.
John Carroll Lynch's role as Larry Bitterman in American Horror Stories is the actor's fourth character within the franchise as a whole, with American Horror Story: Hotel's John Wayne Gacy as the until-now-unmentioned "character." And he's reportedly already returning for the halved-up Season 10, subtitled Double Feature. When I asked what goes through his mind when he agrees to take on another AHS role, he praised Ryan Murphy and the show's various cast and crew members, saying:
Since the very beginning, when Ryan asked me to do Freak Show, in each circumstance I know I'm gonna be working with the best people in the business. I appreciate the attention to detail, the obsessive nature of maintaining the quality of every piece of material used on the show. It's a great pleasure to work with the artists involved and a great pleasure to work with cast who are uniformly magnifique. I mean, when you get started with Frannie Conroy and Finn Wittrock, you know, it's a joy, and that joy never ends. And then to be able to play these wild and varied characters - [Ryan] appreciates people who can transform and who act in a theatrical sense, which I appreciate.
I'm in full agreement on that particular point, too. Because for all the opinions that one can have about Ryan Murphy's TV shows, there is one irrefutable fact: he employs actors whose performances are extremely authentic in a way that their over-the-top behavior would feel genuine in just about any scenario. Which is always good, since there is no end to batshit scenarios in the AHS-verse. And John Carroll Lynch shared his thoughts on why those performances make the show all the more enjoyable:
Because you get to see the same actor make widely different and wildly different choices from one character to another, and you start to realize the enormity of their range. It's a real pleasure to be challenged in that way, and also to support it.