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Why the director of Heathers won't make another episode of American Horror Story

Contributed by
Aug 15, 2018

Michael Lehmann might like the darker side of film, but American Horror Story proved too dark even for him. The filmmaker, who famously directed the black teen comedy Heathers, has helmed three episodes of the twisted anthology for Season 1, Murder House, and Season 2, Asylum.

In the latter series, he directed the infamous "The Name Game" episode which had a brilliant musical sequence involving Jessica Lange performing the titular track, but despite the added levity of that moment, the series all-in-all was too much for him to continue working on.

“I went in for the first season and saw a little glimpse of the show and I thought this looks really good,” he explained to SYFY FANGRRLS. “I did an episode and had a great time and I thought the cast was just fantastic, and for television, it was really good quality stuff.  

“I also did a couple more in the second season and I really liked what I was doing but in a way, I didn't really like living in that dark place. It's really dark, and I'll go as dark as anybody for sure, but I think after a couple of seasons of it it was less interesting to me and so I doubt I'll go back.”

Lehmann knows a thing or two about dark. His 1988 teen comedy is one of the darkest around. Delving into suicide, eating disorders, bullying, rape culture and murder, Heathers to this day sticks out for its ruthless disregard for the Hughesian high school movies that came before it. 

“I think that very few if any movies have gone quite to such a dark place and when they do go to a darker place it tends to be more in the horror genre,” Lehmann said. “They'll go to darker lengths but it would be lighter in satire and humor. If you look at Mean Girls, it's sort of Heathers-lite; it's perfectly good but it doesn't go to those dark places. 

“And Heathers doesn't let you off easily,” he added. “It's not meant to but the tendency is still to find a sort of more easily palatable happy ending for their stories.”

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Heathers celebrates its 30th anniversary this year

It’s no wonder that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk tapped the director for Seasons 1 and 2 of American Horror Story, as well as the dark teen horror-comedy series Scream Queens, for which he directed the brilliant Season 1 Thanksgiving episode. 

Certainly, it’s a shame Lehmann won’t be back to direct any episodes of the upcoming eighth season of American Horror Story, but it’s still set to be a special one. Apocalypse will mash-up characters from Murder House and Coven (Season 3), and marks the return of Jessica Lange after her absence from Season 7, Cult.

Lange is set to reprise her Murder House role, Constance Langdon, with Cody Fern cast as her grandson, Michael Langdon, who you might remember was the child conceived by Connie Britton’s character Vivien Harmon after she was raped by Tate Langdon (Evan Peters). Sarah Paulson will direct the episode Lange will return in, as well as appear in character(s) as Billie Dean Howard (Murder House), Cordelia Goode (Coven) and a new character called Venable.

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There are many more faces returning; Coven witches Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) and the White Witch herself Stevie Nicks are in the cast as well as several stars from Cult including Adina Porter, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Leslie Grossman, Billy Eichner, and Frances Conroy.

There’s also two major new faces in the line-up: Billy Porter, who appears in Murphy’s Pose series, and the inimitable Joan Collins. I, for one, hope she and Lange share the screen at least once during the new season.

The Apocalypse title likely refers to Michael, who is the Anti-Christ, and is probably going to bring about the end of the world, so obviously, we’ll be getting the typical cheery stuff from the FX series. Alexis Martin Woodall, the show’s executive producer, said at TCA that “the story begins with the end of the world, and then our world begins," and that’s the only clue we have to the season but honestly, it sounds like the exact creepy narrative delights that have viewers coming back for more.

AHS: Apocalypse premieres on September 12. Heathers 30th Anniversary 4K Restoration is available on digital and on demand from August 20.