American Horror Story: A Synopsis & Review

For a review of the second episode of American Horror Story-Week 2, please click here:   https://lauriekendrick.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/american-horror-story-week-2/

I love all things paranormal.   I can live without UFOs and vampires do nothing for me, but offer me anything ghostly or witchy and you’ll have my full attention.

You see, I grew up in a very haunted house.   It was inhabited by troubled people who often dealt with very troubling  issues and the two seemed to create a perfect invitation for any spirit in search of a place to prey upon.   I lived among ghosts.  So naturally, when I learned that this new show was going to premiere on the F/X Network this past Wednesday night, I got very excited since my Hump Days are already filled with terrific spooky offerings from the SyFy network in the form of “Ghost Hunters” and “Paranormal Witness“. 

A few days ago, AOL afforded me a preview of the show’s first five minutes, which I thoroughly enjoyed and like the wonderful visual appetizer it was, it left me wanting more.  So, I began counting down the days until Wednesday…and when Wednesday finally got here….and 11 am arrived…then 2pm…then  4:29pm…then 7:12pm  and then finally, the clock struck 9pm,  my wait was over.   I settled in for the premier of  “American Horror Story”.

An hour and ten minutes later (including commercials which I took advantage of for much needed tee-tee breaks), I realized that this show was going to be a strange sojourn into a very strange sojourn and one I think I’ll enjoy watching,  providing of course, my adult onset ADHD can deal with its very frenetic nature.      

“American Horror Story” (referenced from this point on as AHS)  is the brainchild of the same brain trust that’s given us  “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee”,  two shows I’ve never watched.  But if AHS is any indication then “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee” must be rife with  quirky psychosexual connotations strewn in between oddly purposed jump cuts in the editing.   And like “Glee” I would imagine,  AHS has plenty of teenage angst and alienation thrown in. 

The episode begins in 1978 and once the year is established, our eyes focus on a scary looking house which we later learn is somewhere in Los Angeles.   Scary music adds to the perspective and we get a sense that we’re in for something very different when the  camera zoom into a wind chime that looks like it’s made from the entire skeletal system of an opossum that was obviously in the wrong place, at the wrong time.   From there, we  see the back of a little girl in a yellow dress, who’s standing motionless in the  very overgrown front yard.   She turns toward the camera (and it’s obvious that she has Down Syndrome)  just as two pre-pubescent, very freckled faced,  red-headed twins (picture:  Billy Mumy meets Danny Bonaduce) walk on the property.  You can tell by their attitudes that their mom HAS to be addicted to Valium because you just get an immediate sense that they’re complete and total hell raisers.   This is hammered home by the fact that they’re wielding baseball bats and they look like two very angry Sugar Crisps cereal pieces.  They throw a few rocks through a stained glass window on an upper floor and it then becomes clear they’re there for a little vandalism.  The little girl warns them, “You’ll die in there,” and then she adds, “You’re gonna regret it.”

But that doesn’t stop the Punk Ass Twins.

They call her a freak and go inside anyway to begin destroying the house.   They start  breaking everything in sight, stopping only to investigate a freshly killed animal in a growing pool of blood forming underneath it.  The source?  A huge gash in its neck.   A creaking door  leading to the basement is–as any scary movie maven will tell you–an audible invitation to enter and die.   Well, as the saying goes, boys will be boys, so they go down to the basement armed with baseball bats and misplaced pre teen imperviousness.   Once in the basement,  they see all kinds of strange things–shelves stocked with jars containing the most gruesome animal specimens amd a fetus or two.     There’s even a baby’s head in what looks like a Mason jar.   This stuff smells, according to the twins and the stench reminds them of the time when some critter animal got stuck and died in their chimney at home.  One announces “it smells  like shit” down there and begins to leave;  the other announces he wants to find the source of the odor and goes in another direction.   As the sensible evil twin walks up the staircase leading to the main floor, he suddenly stops and turns and yells for his twin, who of course, doesn’t answer.  The only sound he hears is some weird gurgling.    

Instead of making like Lassie and going to get Timmy or the Forest Ranger, he looks for his brother.   He re-enters the room with all the strange specimens and finds his twin crumpled on the floor with the same slashed throat as the animal  upstairs.   Then, a very brief glimpse lets us know that the same thing that did that to his brother, is now coming for him–and it looks terribly pissed.   I wasn’t sure what it was, but it looked like an odd mingling of Chucky, Linda Blair at her worst from The Exorcist and of course, an old boyfriend in dire need of orthodontia.

But don’t take my word for it.  See the opening for yourself.    

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The scene then cuts to present day.  Vivien Harmon, played by Connie Britton of “Friday Night Lights” fame, is in an OB-GYN’s office in Boston.   Her doctor is trying to convince her to undergo advanced hormone therapy to help her recover from what we’re lead to believe, was a miscarriage.   The doctor, trying unsuccessfully to convince her, tells her that her body is like a house and that all repairs are meaningless unless the foundation is solid to which Vivien replies, “My body is not a house”.     

The only thing missing at the end of that statement was a crash of thunder and ominous pipe organ music.  

Vivien’s marriage to her psychiatrist husband, played by hunk and future Mr. Kendrick, Dylan McDermott is in trouble.  After her doctor’s apppointment, she goes home and catches him in flagrante delicto with a young woman and in their own bed, no less.    We don’t see them in the act,  but we learn later there was “pile driving” involved. 

Ooooooooof.

The next thing we know the family of three including their teenage daughter, Violet (played by Taissa Farmiga, who’s the spitting image of her older sister and Oscar nominee, Vera Farmiga–she was the love interest in the George Clooney movie, Up In The Air ) and dog head west to LA in apparent attempt to restore the family unit.      The trio then appears on the front porch of “the house”, but its been restored to its original magnificence by its previous owners, a gay couple with impeccable taste, who died in a murder-suicide in the house. 

Guess where?   Come on, guess.   That’s right.   In the basement.  

 The family moves in and we meet  Constance, the nosy, obtrusive neighbor, played by Jessica Lange.     Constance is a southern belle who came to Hollywood to be a star, but dashed those dreams after refusing to do nude scenes.  She didn’t want her nethers splayed on a silver screen some 30 feet high.     Instead, her nethers produced a daughter, Adelaide, whom she refers to as “the mongoloid.”   Remember the little girl in the yellow dress I told you about?  The one in the very first scene with the twins?  That was Addy, but she’s all grown up now and sneaks into the house from time to time and  scares Vivien, by repeating the same warning she gave the twins:  “You’ll die here.”

We then learn about a creepy S&M onesy found in the attic.   It looks like the suit the gimp in  Pulp Fiction wore when he was giving Marcellus what-for.   The suit is scary and the family immediately wants it removed from the house.  It gets taken outside and shoved in the garbage can.   See the show poster above.

Then there’s Moira, a red-headed housekeeper played by Frances Conroy, from the show,  “Six Feet Under”.   She’s prim and proper and apparently comes with the house because she’s been there forever and not only knows to how maintain it, but understands its personality.   When the philandering husband gets a gander at Moira, he doesn’t see the older prim and proper version that Vivien does.  He sees a much younger, hotter red-headed maid played by Alex Breckenridge.  We realize from the very beginning that this younger version is clearly hell-bent on seducing him.   We’re lead to believe that this could easily happen,  considering that his marriage to Vivien is still on the rocks–she hasn’t forgiven him for the pile driving session back in Boston, and he’s got a lot of penned up sexual tension as a result.  In other words, he ain’t gettin’ any.   In fact, in one scene, he opens a  door and walk in on the younger hotter version of the maid pleasuring herself, with her thigh-high clad legs spread  all akimbo over the arms of a chair.  He quickly closes the door and the next thing we see is Ben in his bedroom uh…well…uh…taking matters into his own hand, in a frenzied effort to relieve himself sexually.   We only get an above the waistline shot, but it’s replete with jerky movements (pun intended), contorted facial expressions, grunts and carefully placed groan atop the obvious money shot, which again, we don’t see…

…but we certainly hear!!

He’s also plagued by incidents of naked sleepwalking which always center around fire.   The gas stove…a fire place….a Bic lighter.

Ben turns one of the rooms in the house into an office where he sees patients…or so far, a patient.  The only one we’re introduced to  is a very troubled kid named Tate who has fantasies of killing his classmates–but just the ones he likes.   Voilet the daughter, is troubled too.  She’s a cutter…hates everything and everyone, doesn’t fit in and gets into fights at her school.   We also meet a badly burned man who follows Ben and warns him to get out of the house and he would know.  It possessed him when he lived there and as a result, he killed his wife and two daughters by setting them on fire while they slept.  He was burned severely in the process.   And it all began with naked sleepwalking that centered around fire.

A few more things to note:   Vivien finallly lets her guard down….and her panties…because she and Ben have monkey sex on the floor in one of the rooms.   Then, the black vinyl S&M onesy that Ben threw away in the trash makes a reappearance.  Later that evening, someone or something in that suit is having what looks like very clinical sex with Viv although she’s obviously groovin’ to it.  In the heat of passion, she looks  up and sees her husband’s face, thinking he’s still feeling randy and is coming back for Monkey Sex Version 2.0., but the audience is treated to one that’s obscurred by all that vinyl.  No one knows for sure who it is. 

The next thing you know, Vivien is jonesin’ Indian food which apparently, is something she ONLY craves when pregnant.   Yeah…uh-huh—you read that right.   So, who or what’s the father?    We’ll have to wait three months–which is all the time TV allows for gestation–to find out.     Also, there are an unusual number of red heads in this episode (the dual role of the housekeeper;  the twins…even Vivien’s hair is red, though a much lighter shade) and one gets a sense that this particular hair color will play a role in future episodes.     From what I’ve read,  it will.   Red hair will be plot point because it has something to do with Ben’s childhood.

Well, there you go.   AHS  is being billed with the adjectives such as horrifying and terrifying.  I wouldn’t say I’ve been horrified yet…and I’m still waiting for all that terror.     I’d say disturbing is a far more apt description.  It’s overly ambitious at times and it tries too hard, but I have to give the creators props.  They unapologetically broke one of the cardinal rules of  horror movies and really, of filmdom in general;  no harm shall ever befall a child.   But in this series, that happened in the first five minutes of this show and it couldn’t have happened to a ‘nicer’ set of twins.    

I got the feeling that AHS  influenced in part by the strangeness of David Lynch with a little Quentin Tarrantino quirkiness thrown in and even some Sam Peckinpah too, though slow motion, exploding blood squib gore-filled shoot-outs have yet to make an appearance.    The concept is is good, but at times flawed in its execution, but that could be due in part to the fact that the creators might actually want the audience be a bit unsettled and feeling off-kilter.  If that’s the case, they are successful in their efforts, because I felt that there were times I was watching it through one of those odd Dutch camera angles–you know, like they used in “Batman” TV series, minus the slant.  

Additionally,  since this show is as much a psychological thriller as it is anything else, the premier was jammed packed with relevant plot details that will no doubt be important down the road.  That meant there was an awful lot to take in and digest.   One  has to pay attention to a show like this and sadly,  this doesn’t exactly bode well for a complicated effort like AHS, especially since the average American TV viewer has the attention span of a drunk gnat with daddy issues.  

But…

Because I’m a fan of the horror genre, I really want this show to have  potential and yes, I will watch the second episode next week, and hopefully, more episodes in the weeks to come.   But I also hope subsequent episodes won’t be as depressing as the first one.   Psychologically, the family is as haunted as the house and while evil abounds within those four walls,  I’d venture a guess that infidelity is the real monster that lies hidden in every dark, dank closet.  That said, the creators have included what I perceived to be a thinly veiled, but relatively pervasive  message about morality throughout the script.   At least I think they have–but I’m not really sure. 

I’m still trying to get over listening to Dylan McDermott  aiding and abetting his one-eyed meat felon.

4 comments

  1. I enjoyed the show!!
    It was very unTV and for that I salute it.
    I agree with your last line…. talk about …. affecting!!

    Is it hot in here??

  2. wow. excellent review. got all the feelings i got from the show down.

    especially the “disturbed” part.

    i wish it was “terrifying” and “horrifying” but i was only disturbed from watching the episode.

    i liked the beginning, although the little chucky doll glimpse baby slasher wasn’t what i was expecting.

    but then they pulled the whole sexual stuff and the family drama with him cheating and all that stuff, and i got bored with it.

    absolutely love how the husband sees this hot sexy red head, and the wife an old woman, but i hated the scenes afterwards. they could have done other stuff instead, but they didn’t.

    anyway, this is a slight rant of my disappointment of the show, but compliments to you and your review.

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