Friday, October 7, 2011

Horror on TV - New Shows (Part 2)

American Horror Story (2011):  Fair warning - the following review will be rated TV-MA, just like FX's new haunted house drama.  Ready?  Buckle up...

This show is all kinds of fucked up.  That's not a complaint, mind you.  It's a serious observation based on years upon years of horror experience.  I've watched R-rated flicks from major production companies that were less twisted and dark.  Don't believe me?  Just the opening theme song and credits made me want to go hide under my bed.  What's it all about, you ask?  Oh, boy...I'll do my best, but no promises.

We start with a flashback to the 1970s.  A young girl with Down syndrome is standing in front of a vacant mansion.  Just staring at it.  (First fucked up thing.)  Twin boys, full of bluster and bravado only 12 year-old males seem to have, show up toting bats, give her a little grief, and then head inside to wreak havoc.  That she tells them they'll regret it and won't make it out alive only earns her more derisive jeers.  A trail of destruction in their wake, these fine lads finally discover the basement and a laboratory replete with jars filled with things P.T. Barnum would have paid top dollar for.  Doesn't take long, though, before the boys get very dead.  How?  By whose hand?  Well, now you see, that's the thing...that's the second fucked up thing.  Sorry.  Can't say.  Spoilers.

On to present day.  Viven Harmon (Connie Britton) and psychiatrist husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) move from Boston to Los Angeles with teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) to start a new life.  Viven miscarried her near full-term baby.  Not long after, she walked in on Ben boinking his secretary in their marital bed.  Don't ask me why she stayed with him.  People who can forgive that kind of thing are like an alien species to me...totally incomprehensible.  In L.A., they decide to buy the mansion even after the real estate agent discloses that the previous couple died there from a murder/suicide.  At this point, I realized sympathy would not be one of the emotions I would be feeling for the Harmons. 

Soon, we're introduced to a bunch of characters and many more fucked up things.  The Down syndrome girl, Addy (Jamie Brewer) is grown up and lives next door with aging southern belle mother, Constance (a wonderfully menacing Jessica Lange who I think is channeling Gloria Swanson).  The dour housekeeper, Moira (Frances Conroy) shows up assuming the new tenants will hire her.  She's right.  Oddly, Viven sees her as a 50-something, drab, arrogant but capable woman while Ben sees a 20-something bombshell in a French maid's outfit.  Yeah, that gets explained later, and it is what you think.  Then there's the psycho teenager Ben is treating.  Did I mention he's seeing patients in the mansion?  The psycho is Tate (Evan Peters), a boy who fantasizes about killing a bunch of kids at his school.  Of course Tate and Violet find each other and start hanging out.  How well does that bode, do you suppose?  Did I mention Violet is into self-mutilation?  Anyway...

A man with half his face burned off starts stalking Ben.  This guy, as it happens, used to live in the house and was recently let out of jail because he has inoperable brain cancer.  What was he in jail for?  Killing his entire family by pouring gas on them and tossing a match.  Why did he do it?  The voices in the house told him to.  (Go ahead...have an Amityville Horror flashback.  I did.)  Ben doesn't want to hear the man's warnings, despite the fact that he's been sleepwalking naked and playing with the gas stove and fireplace.  It was during one of these fugues that someone in the rubber suit had sex with Viven.  Oh, did I mention the freaky rubber bondage suit they found in the attic?  A few days later, Viven announces she's pregnant.  Who didn't see that coming?

All of this in the pilot episode, what I call a "holy shit" episode.  I'll admit it's over the top, maybe overreaches a bit, but there's lots of style with just enough substance to make it work.  Is it scary?  More creepy and disturbing than make-you-jump scary.  I'll admit, I had trouble watching some parts and not because of blood or gore, of which there is very little.  It's the tension, the suspense that gets to you.  Then again, it's hard to resist the urge to scream at these people, "Get the hell out of the house, you stupid bastards!"  Of course, that wouldn't be any fun now, would it?

So how about it?  Is American Horror Story worth your while?  I had my doubts, initially.  Still have a few, but from what I've seen so far, I'm more than willing to give it a go.  Cliches aside, this show is character-driven.  And boy-oh-boy, they certainly are characters.  It's the ambiance and story, though, that will make you want to come back for more.  What the hell is happened all those years ago (before melted-face guy and before the twins) to make the house so incredibly fucked up?  I know it has to do with who/what killed the twin boys at the beginning, and I have no problem watching every single episode they air to get that answer. 

American Horror Story airs Wednesday nights on FX.

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