American Gothic

I’m re-watching American Gothic, having recently bought the complete box set on DVD.

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Yes, Sam Raimi’s supernatural drama looks creaky and very of-its-time (contemporary to The X-Files and only just after Twin Peaks), but it’s still pleasingly engaging with a great sense of atmosphere.

Created by Nancy Drew star Shaun Cassidy, the series charts the adventures of young Caleb Temple (Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black) whose father and sister are murdered by the evil Sheriff Buck (Gary Cole), who may or may not be the devil himself. As Buck attempts to lure Caleb to be his Antichrist, the spectral form of Caleb’s sister tries to put him on the road to good. This central conflict forms a weekly tug-of-war, as we see which of these otherworldly forces will triumph.

Even though Sam Raimi isn’t actually directing, it’s pure Raimi in everything from the quirky camera angles to Rob Tapert’s production and Joseph LoDuca’s score. Bruce Campbell even guest stars in an especially amusing episode.

The “good” characters of Dr Matt Crower (Jake Weber) and Gail Emory (Paige Turco) are beautifully balanced by the charming “evil” characters – the horribly likeable Buck, and his femme fatale girlfriend, Selena Coombs (Brenda Bakke). The basic formula of the show is the sheriff calling in some ancient favour, which usually results in someone’s grisly death. Matt and Gail will try to uncover the truth but will be thwarted by Buck, in much the same way that the shadowy government always scuppered Mulder’s plans in The X-Files.

Central to the story is not little green men, but a little Southern boy, and it’s really Lucas Black’s precocious performance that makes the show work. He’s very good at playing the wide-eyed innocent long before Haley Joel Osment ever saw dead people – but can be surprisingly chilling when he’s letting loose his Damien side.

All in all, it’s suffered a little for the passing years but is still great fun. If you’ve had your fill of vampires and zombies, a few ghostly shenanigans from the Deep South should be the perfect thing to raise your spirits.

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