American Horror Story- Episode 1

Jedward spliced with Ron Weasley. What could be spookier?

American Horror Story is not a subtle show. Here’s a (partial) list of the things the pilot episode throws at the viewer:

  • A man with a burnt face (not Burnt Face Man, sadly) who gives cryptic warnings
  • a jar with a human head in it
  • a self harming teen
  • a dead rat that won’t stop bleeding
  • the ghosts of two malevolent ginger children
  • a ghost rape
  • a killer puppet

Oh, and a school shooting fantasy. And that aint the half of it.

Basically, they’ve taken anything that could be considered ‘horrific’; thrown it on screen and then they’ve filled the kitchen sink with blood and semen and thrown that in too. 

Sadly, although the programme was created by Glee’s Ryan Murphy, none of the haunted puppet ghosts and evil children break into so much as a half-hearted version of ‘Vogue’ by Madonna.

The plot is fairly straightforward: a married couple in their late thirties (played by Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) move to LA with cranky teenage daughter in tow. They hope the move will patch up their failing relationship, but instead compound their troubles by moving into a house that is trying to kill them.

Britton is quite good, McDermott is awful: the scene where he masturbates then weeps is tour de farce of terrible, terrible acting.

The daughter is even worse, though admittedly very poorly served by the script. She smokes! She wears a hat! She listens to Morrissey! Are you getting that she doesn’t fit in with ‘normal’ teenagers yet?

Amazingly her character isn’t the worst thing about the script, which serves up some really wince-inducing dialogue.

There’s a recurring metaphor in an opening scene about how you can’t be a healthy person if you have rotten foundations. You know, like a house! Like the house the main characters are about to move into! A house with bad foundations. A house whose foundations are rotten! Like the main characters’ marriage!

Like I said, not subtle.

The tone is all over the place too, with the show jumping from sassy teens to serious marriage drama to full on horror with an epileptic sense of pace and timing.

However, I have to admit the horror stuff, which is the main reason most viewers will watch, does work.

I have a rudimentary system for grading frights in horror films, the fundamentals of which are the scare, the shock and spook.

A scare is when something jumps out of a cupboard and you jump a little, a shock is something disturbing or unpleasant that makes you want to look away from the screen and a spook is when something on the screen makes you genuinely and profoundly uncomfortable and haunts your dreams for a worrying time after.

If you’ve seen Mulholland Drive, the bit where they walk round the back of the diner and see the ‘thing’. That’s a spook. Grade A.

Anyway, American Horror story does deliver on all three. There are plenty of unexpected jumps and appearances to scare you, the house itself is a masterpiece of production design where weird shocks loom out at you constantly and there’s a couple of scenes that spooked me to the extent I couldn’t get them out of my head afterwards.

I do feel like the show cheated its way to being effective just by throwing so much at you it just batters its way past your defenses, but at the end of the day, it works.

Its other great strength is its supporting cast: veteran character actors bringing some serious game to the table.

Frances Conroy of Six feet Under has a heavy duty presence as a two faced housekeeper and Jessica Lange’s campy malicious neighbour Constance is perhaps the most enjoyable things about the show. There’s a particularly good and intriguing scene between the two at the end that suggests a whole raft of history to the House, painting the supposed main characters as just its latest sideshow. Hmmm.

So, although American Horror Story isn’t a good show (and will almost certainly get even worse) I fear I won’t be able to stop myself watching more.

Fear! Do you get it? Eh? Do you? Eh?

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American Horror Story is on FX on Mondays at 10pm

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About Ian Dunn
I love avocados, WH Auden and dinosaurs but I don't like effort.

5 Responses to American Horror Story- Episode 1

  1. Mads says:

    The Mulholland Drive bit freaked me out so much the first time that I get a bit upset just waiting for it to happen, about 3458u3459838y85i345o345p3 viewings later (yes, that number has letters in it).

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