Now that we’re a few weeks into this season of “American Horror Story: Cult,” we’re becoming familiar with the disturbing images in the opening credits produced by Kyle Cooper and his Prologue Studios. This sequence reaches a whole new level of creepy – so horrific, in fact, that according to The Huffington Post some people have even started calling them the scariest part of the entire show! So let’s dig a little deeper into the opening credits and discover what the Merry-Go-Round in Griffith Park added to the sequence’s dark ambience.
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“When Prologue contacted me, they said they were looking for an older, vintage carousel. One with a little ‘shabby chic,’ not a plastic-y looking modern machine,” said Julio Gosdinski, one of the carousel’s two owners (the other being Rosemary West). “I laughed and told him that was exactly what we had: a vintage machine with a lot of history.”
The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round was built in 1926 for the Mission Beach Amusement Center in San Diego by the Spillman Engineering Company of North Tonawanda, New York. The machine boasts more than 50 horses – all jumpers – riding four abreast and carved by artisans from the Spillman, Looff, and Carmel factories. It was moved in 1935 to the “Gay Way” (amusement zone) of the 1935 California-Pacific International Exhibition in Balboa Park, and operated there until the end of the exposition in 1936. At the exhibition’s closing, the carousel was installed in Griffith Park in 1937 and has remained in this location since then.
The sequences used in the opening credits were filmed in a two-day period in 2017, starting in the afternoon of July 15th and filming overnight until about 4:00 a.m. on July 16th. “Prologue set up a car with green lights and a fog machine to give the entire shoot an eerie feeling,” Gosdinski said, noting that when he first saw the completed sequence he thought the lights and fog had “really worked. It was really eerie.” Gosdinski especially liked the section where the machine was shown running in its usual direction, then shown running in reverse. “They did that,” he admitted. “Our Merry-Go-Round doesn’t run backwards.”
Prologue used both these eerie shots of the merry-go-round and close-up shots of the carousel’s band organ to create the “American Horror Story: Cult” sequence.
Stinson Band Organ
A custom-built Stinson band organ was ordered specifically for the carousel in the mid-1980s. It plays Wurlitzer-style 165 music rolls; the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round owns over 100 of these rolls, and can satisfy almost any musical taste from marches to Disney favorites. The credit sequence, however, did not feature actual music from the band organ, preferring to use other effects including music composed for the series. (Read more about the credit sequence’s use of sound and music.)
The castings on the carousel (which don’t look nearly as creepy outside of the credits) are inspired by traditional European antique figures. Two of these figures were shot in close-up by Prologue’s photographers, the cherub with the lyre on the far right, and the concert master in the center.
Now that you know all that, here is the opening credits sequence for “American Horror Story: Cult” so you can fully appreciate the way the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round helps create the sense of impending horror:
Still scary, right?
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