If you missed the first two episodes of American Horror Story, as I did, go check them out on FX online. Between this show and The Walking Dead, horror fans can’t really complain about not having quality horror on TV. With the way theatrically run horror hasn’t offered anything good since INSIDIOUS, staying home may be the way to go.
I’d been leery about checking out FX’s new horror series, American Horror Story. Not only do I have problems keeping up with running TV shows, as I explained in my review of Season 2’s premiere of The Walking Dead, but I was also hesitant because of the ads and promos for the new show. It looked really trippy, and I’m not usually into trippy horror. But then two Mikes I love and trust, my cousin’s husband Mike Giannetta and my lifelong friend from Icons Mike Cucinotta, told me I should give it a shot. On a rare day off yesterday, I decided I would. And I’m glad I was swayed in that direction, because it’s a really strong show. Yes it’s trippy, but in a way that balances itself with the conventions of the old fashioned haunted house story.
The first episode starts off in 1978, with a retarded girl telling two annoying redhead boys that they’re going to die if they enter a house. And then the show kills them off. That’s ballsy, and manages to appease the Law of Annoying Characters’ Pleasing Deaths before the opening credits. Kudos to starting off on the right foot. Flash forward to today, and Vivien Harmon is in the gynecologist’s stirrups discussing massive bleeding. She arrives home from her appointment and thinks somebody’s broken in. But it’s her psychiatrist husband Ben, sleeping with one of his students. She gives no quarter and slashes his triceps with a butcher knife. Next thing we see, they and their daughter Violet check out the house from the opening, which the real estate agent says has quite a history of death. The daughter looks it over and says they’ll take it. From that moment, weird stuff ensues, some of it horrific, some of it just weird.
As a couple recovering from a miscarriage and a subsequent affair, Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott play it with just the right amount of edge in every scene they share. Taissa Farmiga is tough and angry as Violet, who certainly doesn’t take putdowns from anybody. The three form a family holding it together by a thread, and the house is their chance at a new start.
Sadly, it’s a haunted house that’s out to kill them all. In some ways, it’s a classic haunted house, with monsters concealed in the darkness of the basement, a kitchen with creepy paintings behind the wall paper, and a scary attic. There’s also the oddball neighbor Constance, played with wicked sass by Jessica Lange in her best role in ages, and a maid who appears old to Viv, but young and hot to Ben. There’s a strange relationship between Constance and the maid, which I’m sure the show will explain as it progresses. And there’s Constance’s mentally retarded daughter Adelaide, who keeps finding her way into the house, and persists in telling everyone they’re going to die. She’s great fun, and I hope we get more of her back story as the show goes on.
Then there’s Ben’s teenage patient Tate, who fantasizes about pulling a Columbine and sleeping with Violet, and Larry Harvey, a former tenant who burnt his wife and two daughters because the house told him to. This is one bizarre set of characters, and given the show’s title, it’s interesting how creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck view the land of the free.
The show also plays off American’s kinkiness. When the maid starts to play with herself suggestively, the newly showered Ben runs off to masturbate, and end his orgasm in tears. When Ben and Viv break the sexual tension and finally do it in the kitchen, it’s a return to a normal sex life for a couple that stopped having sex a year before. When a figure in a rubber S&M suit arrives, Viv goes for Round 2; but the show cuts to a shot of Ben downstairs by the fire, so it’s clear she’s having sex with someone else. This is disturbing, and even more so later in the show, when Viv reveals she’s pregnant. Whose baby is it?
The second episode started off just as the first, with a scene from earlier in the house’s history. Some nursing students end up on the bad side of a serial killer pretending to be an accident victim. I gather each episode will begin as such, as this house has a dark history since it was built in 1929. Having watched Salem’s Lot the other night, I find this concept intriguing. The idea of an evil house, which may draw evil men to it, certainly entices me, and makes me want to see what happened to the other residents from the past.
American Horror Story is strongly acted, written, and filmed. It takes the tropes of haunted house stories and grafts onto them the twisted psychoses of modern America. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re into ghost houses and dysfunction. Beware that the content is strong, but that’s part of what makes it effective. It’s definitely trippy, but the best kind of trippy a horror fan could want.