Saturday, October 8, 2011

Some thoughts on American Horror Story

I know I'm dropping the ball on the Second Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series but True Blood just took longer than I thought it would, plus we had to go out of town for a long weekend.  [REC]2 should be arriving in my mailbox shortly, however, and then we'll get down to it.  In the meantime, I watched the first episode of FX's hot mess, American Horror Story, and have just a couple of thoughts about it.  For a longer, more carefully thought out discussion, check out the A.V. Club's review - I think those guys have pretty much nailed it.

First of all, this show is completely nuts, schizophrenic even.  It doesn't know what it wants to be and it's got a lot going on all at once.  It first wants to be a haunted house story, opening nicely and creepily with some kids breaking in and coming to a scary end in the basement.  Then it kind of wants to be an exploration of a crumbling family, as the Harmons move in, trying to get a new start in the wake of a family tragedy and the husband's subsequent infidelity.  Then it just starts piling on as many possible horror cliches and tropes as it possibly can: poltergeistish activity, psychic savants, the decaying Southern belle (played with lunatic enthusiasm by Lange), psychotic murals, disturbed teenagers, deformed creatures in the basement, crazy and mutilated strangers with secrets, the hag/whore succubus, pleather fetish suits, possession and possible demon spawn.  All in the first hour, getting more and more frantic as the episode wears on.  This show needs to learn that the best and most scary movies let the tension build and build, not assault the viewer with every possible trick until they're cowering out of sheer sensory overload.

Secondly, AHS has some decidedly disturbing moments, but they're not the scary ones: I don't need to see Dylan McDermott creepily glad-handing himself, then bursting into tears, nor was I that psyched about the fetish-suited ghost raping Connie Britton.  Sure, she thought it was her husband playing dress-up, but ew.

Finally, great cast.  If the writers/showrunners can manage to get their acts together, figure out WTF is going on and slow it down some, this cast should be able to knock it out of the park:  Britton, McDermott, Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O'Hare (the Vampire King of Mississippi himself!) and Frances Conroy.  I think American viewers are ready for a episodic basic cable horror series, and I think AHS has potential, but it's going to need to make some adjustments first.

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