Ritual | Concept Inspiration
Updated: Oct 24, 2021
This concept is based on 1970's Hollywood Babylon, a time when America had a fascination for the occult. A sinister Hollywood producer clashes violently with a charismatic young misfit who wants to purge Hollywood of its' sin. This is a town where people will do anything to get famous, even sell their soul to the devil.
The concepts page on the website is where you can read about the characters and plot line, it's designed to be a companion to this inspiration blog where I discuss some of my favourite movies and other influences.
The seventies is one decade that I would have liked to see represented in a full season of AHS, although we have seen a few snippets in other seasons. I loved 70’s Lana Winter in Asylum, but we didn’t see enough of Angela Bassett as blaxploitation actress Ramona Royale during the era that made her famous. The 70's also happened to be the Countess’ favourite decade, and the one which simultaneously gave birth to both disco and punk rock. Themes you will find in this concept are fame, the cult of celebrity, abuse of power and influence, occultism and witchcraft, corruption, feminism and the duality of feminine power, misogyny, vice in the form of drugs and sex, and demonic possession.
There was a lot going on in the 70’s, the Women’s Liberation movement was in full swing as was the sexual revolution. The movie industry was going through a resurgence producing a string of “blockbuster” films with darker, more intense and thought-provoking themes. It was the golden age of porn, with explicit films crossing over into mainstream cinema creating the sexploitation sub-genre. The occult was suddenly in vogue with people exploring another meaning to life and interests such as witchcraft, satanic worship, astrology, and esotericism all made their way into popular culture.
I started fooling around with these concepts at the end of 2016 (pre-Cult) so there is a bit of duplication of some of the character tropes, especially the Charlie Manson/Cult theme and with Evan Peters in the part of aspiring-actor-come-cult-leader, Isaiah Holmes. I thought about scrapping this concept or taking out the character due to the similarities with Kai Anderson, then changed my mind because I wanted to write it, so hopefully there is enough of a spin on it to make it seem a bit different.
The Sin of Lust
The sin that best describes Ritual is lust. This is in the form of sexual lust, lust for power, and lust for fame - all intertwined. Many of Hollywood's aspiring actors and actresses equate their level of sex appeal with success and use lust as a means to step up the ladder, giving out sexual favours. The Hollywood casting couch at this time would have been in full swing. In fact, the practice of swinging reached its' height in the 70s. The Sinclairs are a couple that freely express lust, they have an open marriage and they host lavish parties that often turn into partner swapping orgies. Lilith Levay (Lady Gaga) revels in being an object of lust, and uses it to empower herself and manipulate others by practising rituals of sex magick. There is also the growth of the porn industry which uses sex as a commodity; Sol Goldblum (Cheyenne Jackson) has made quite a lucrative business for himself by trading in lust.
The perfect person to play the part of the producer and main antagonist, Damien Sinclair, was a no brainer. Julian McMahon is Ryan Murphy alumni from Nip Tuck, he has already cut his chops on evilness playing a demon in TV series Charmed, and he also rocked the 70’s look in 2018 Australian comedy Swinging Safari. I love Sarah Paulson playing bitchy characters like Venable and Sally so her character, Veronica Sinclair, is an absolute super-bitch-train-wreck. Although, you do end up feeling some empathy for her towards the end.
Gabourey Sibide’s performance and accent in The Heist, gave me the idea for an evil Jamaican crime queen who terrorises Dennis O'Hare's strung-out film maker character, Marvin Tork. I actually looked up some Jamaican slang to use in her scenes, so hopefully it makes sense and needs no translation.
What I thought would be really cool is to have Taissa Farmiga as the Children of the Prophet cult member, Roxy Renko murdering her (real life) sister Vera Farmiga who plays a Sharon Tate-type character, Lydia Stone. The story also delves into Isaiah Holmes' (Evan Peters) ability to influence people and get inside their heads, a skill he abuses. We also see how his own mental fragility was created and how he goes to great lengths to hide his own demons.
One quintessential 70's movie I remember is Live and Let Die with Jane Seymour as the clairvoyant Solitaire. There is a scene where she reads the tarot for James Bond and I incorporated this in an interaction between Lady Gaga's character Lilith Levay and Damien Sinclair. There is an odd triangle between the Sinclairs and Lilith, but the relationship is centred purely on the Temple of Thoth and their places within the hierarchy. Lilith Levay's name is a combination of Zena LaVey and Lilith Sinclair who were both real life high priestesses in the Church of Satan and Temple of Set, respectively. More on some of the real life characters later in another blog.
Left to right: Rosemary's Baby; Eyes Wide Shut; The Exorcist; The Love Witch; The Devils
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) explores the theme of selling your soul for personal gain. Mia Farrow’s character Rosemary Woodhouse was the inspiration for Debbie Sinclair (Emma Roberts). What could be more horrific than your husband farming you out to a satanic coven in order to get a leg up with his career? It would be your parents, grooming you your whole life to be used in their crazy cult. Both begin to doubt their sanity and have to deal with a betrayal of confidence, Debbie mistakenly confides in her college professor Dr Jones (Leslie Jordan) just as Rosemary tries to seek help from Dr Hill. The film was written and directed by Roman Polanski, who adapted the script from a book by Ira Levin, who also gave us The Stepford Wives. The Rory McLoughlin character in Ritual, played by Dylan McDermott, is obviously based on Polanski.
Stanley Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is about elitism, secrecy, covert rituals and hidden desires. The sequence in the mansion with the masked participants, and the pomp and ceremony of the ritual influenced some of the scenes with the Sinclairs and their followers in the Temple of Thoth. A similar dynamic between the husband and wife in the film is played out between the Sinclairs with Veronica secretly jealous of Damien's encounters. She continuously seeks out more and more sexual experiences as payback and a form of one-upmanship on her husband.
The Exorcist (1973) was a ground-breaking film for its genre and had such a profound effect on audiences world-wide when it was released. It still rates as one of the top ten scariest movies of all time according to IMBD and serves as a blueprint for movies about demonic possession. Much of the possession scenes in Ritual borrow from this movie such as the growling like a dog, the clairvoyance, and levitation. Father Brian Farrelly (Wes Bentley) also has a crisis of faith and has to take over exorcisms from his superior, just as Father Damien Karras did in the movie.
The Love Witch (2016) by director and writer Anna Biller, is a horror-comedy with a feminist message and is one of my all-time favourite films. Audiences have been polarised with people either loving it, hating it or just not getting it at all. The aesthetics and production are just beautiful and really capture the style of the late 60s and early 70s. The main character, Samantha, is a femme fatal archetype and is the basis for Lilith Levay who is also a practising witch. A lot of the spell-work in Ritual is taken from this movie.
Ken Russell’s The Devil’s (1971) was based on a non-fiction book by Aldous Huxley called The Devils of Loudun which examined the case of a group of nuns in France in 1634 who were possessed by the devil. It was a controversial film at the time, banned in a few countries, and contains themes of mass hysteria, the abuse of power, lust, vengeance, temptation and sexual repression. Vanessa Redgrave's hunchbacked mother superior is infatuated with Oliver Reed's priest Grandier, and she is driven to vengeful madness when he spurns her. Father Farrelly becomes infatuated with Lilith after she works her spells on him. She has become a source of torment to him, and he constantly dreams of her. The surrealist dream sequences in the movie with their strong religious and sexual imagery are an influence in Ritual in both Father Farrelly's dreams and Debbie Sinclair's nightmares.
Thank you, this was the first concept I starting fooling around with back in November 2016. I have penned almost half a season which is now up on Wattpad.