Saturday, February 18, 2012

American Horror Story

NetFlix 4.6/5
IMDB 8.4/10
My Rating: 9/10

A troubled family move into a notorious haunted house and soon face trials of their marital fidelity, loyalty, and sanity.  The house is very occupied...

American TV has produced some good horror series over these past years, from Supernatural to Fringe to Buffy, but all of these other shows relied on a secondary support mechanism - Fringe has CSI framework, Supernatural balances itself with comedy, and Buffy mixed comedy and teen angst.  American Horror Story, by contrast, is the most flat-out, pedal to the floor, uncompromising horror series in...  Well, I can't actually think of anything to compare it to, off the top of my head.

The plot is simple - A family in crisis pick the worst house to move into.  The husband had an affair and their marriage is hanging by a thread.  The sulky daughter is in permanent, "My life is a black room" mode.  Hopeful of patching their fractured family, they buy a house that's a steal on the real estate market, and soon find out it comes with a lot of unexpected baggage.  Scary neighbors, scarred visitors, something nasty in the basement, and a Gimp-suited stalker in the attic are only a few of the new abode's surprises.  As the story of the house begins to be told, it's horror piled on horror - A history of secret abortions, murders, perversions, illegal surgery, and enough lingering ghosts to populate the Overlook.  All of this tension pressures the already straining family and begins to twist them each to the breaking point.

Those of sensitive disposition should be warned, this is fairly racy for US TV.  The show doesn't flinch in its depictions of sexual kink, ghost rape, teen sex...  Hell, you name it, it's in there somewhere, interspersed with far more of Dylan McDermott's naked behind than I really needed to see.  Ladies may be happy that for once, it's a show that's equal opportunity gender flashing, though.

One thing I dearly loved about the show was that it didn't tease its mysteries.  There is payoff to everything.  Series TV, especially in these post-X Files days, has developed the annoying habit of always dangling "The mystery that has no solution" to artificially hook viewers.  You've seen it a million times... Who is that shadowy man watching the heroes at the end of the episode?  What are the motives of the secret government agency shadowing our heroes?  Ugh.  I've reached the point where I just roll my eyes and tune out when these kind of elements are introduced, because I see them for what they are - Nothing.  Literally, nothing.  No great secret to be figured out, no complex backstory that will be revealed...  More often than not, they're just random, mysterious hooks tossed out by different writers desperate to grab a repeat audience.  AHS, by contrast, actually unnerved me by just how much it did reveal.  I kept thinking, "No, this is to soon to explain that.  You're letting all of the gas out of the tank too early!"  But that's the glory of the show - With a 12 episode run that actually ends, the pace never lets up and there's no fear of losing the mystery because this story will be told in full in one season.  Next year, it will be new characters and a new story.  This has the added benefit that no one is safe... No recurring characters means there's genuinely no telling who will live or die in a season.

The characters are brilliant too, though they're also my one single beef with the show - They are almost universally unlikable.  Connie Britton tries for sympathy as the wronged wife, but just seems too abrasive.  The husband is a lying sleaze, and anyone over 23 will want the whining daughter to die immediately.  I'd have hoped for at least one genuinely likable character to invest in and worry for, but as it is, their very fractured psyches contribute to the "I just can't relax with ANYONE!" atmosphere and keep viewers tense.  And the bad characters...  Well, they're delicious in their Grand Guignol creepiness, and rivet your attention using every trick from pity to pure lust.

So there's my review.  See it.  It's one of the best TV series to hit US television in 10 years, and it's a sheer joy to see such an uncompromising horror tale get a series run.  If I seem light on details, it's because I don't want to give anything away - The revelations come fast and bold and it's better to go in knowing as little of the plot twists as possible.  In my opinion, the AHS house takes a deserved place alongside the Overlook and Hill House as one of the scariest locales in screen horror, ever.


  1. American Horror Story is one of the greatest shows I've had the pleasure of watching. Just scary enough for my taste, while being sufficiently scary enough for the more hardcore horror fans in the family to be satisfied. Can't wait for Season 2.

  2. Yeah, I think the same. I'm so accustomed to TV horror always tossing in the Scrappy Doo factor - Something goofball or snarky to lighten the mood - that it was startling and really wonderful to see a series that was 100% horror from end to end. And the range of horror they covered! Everything from creaking doors to spooky ghost figures to slashers to body horror and more. When you look back on it, they did a marvelous job of rolling in the disparate horror tropes of the last 40 years, all into one storyline.