AMERICAN HORROR STORY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
Last year when “American Horror Story” premiered on FX, I watched it with eager anticipation. The trailers and teasers on the network definitely had atmosphere, and I was already starting to hear some great things about the show. Ryan Murphy’s name attached to it didn’t bother me too much, in spite of his involvement with the deteriorating series “Glee.” After all, Murphy helped give us “Nip/Tuck,” and that was a pretty edgy series.
However, Ryan Murphy post-“Glee” yielded a very different edgy show than “Nip/Tuck” in a post-“Popular” world. This is not to say that I hated the series by any means. There are some really fantastic elements to it. However, as a fan of the horror genre, I found a lot of it deliberately derivative and less about the actual horror elements and more about the soap opera of the people’s lives.
The story follows that Harmon family, who moves into a spooky house in Los Angeles. Immediately, they start encountering bizarre things. Some things are supernatural, like bizarre apparitions that appear and a geriatric maid who looks like a steamy sexpot to the husband; some things are completely natural, like a creepy and intense neighbor who seems to be hiding a dangerous past. Over the course of a year, the bizarre nature of the Harmon’s home is revealed, and we see how they are all in danger from their own house.
Like I felt with “The Walking Dead,” I’m not wild about the show, but I do appreciate a strong attempt at bringing horror movies to television without goofing them up like “The Munsters” or “The Addams Family” from the 60. (And don’t get me wrong. I like both those shows, but a serious attempt at horror was needed, much like a serious Batman movie was needed after the silliness of the 1960s television series.)
Parts of the cast are superb, particularly Jessica Lange as the creepy neighbor, Connie Britton as the tortured and suspicious housewife, Lee Harvey as a disfigured former resident of the house and Alexandra Breckinridge/Frances Conroy as the multi-generational maid Moira. These are the actors that hold up the otherwise phoned-in and stock performances from the rest of the cast.
Like a David S. Goyer film, “American Horror Story” works from scene to scene with some authentically creepy cinematography and eerie atmosphere. There’s also a good commitment to make things genuinely haunted rather than copping out with a “Scooby-Doo” plot twist.
However, as much as Ryan Murphy gave us some excellent elements, he hadn’t divorced the show completely from the weight of “Glee.” There’s a tired surly teenage girl character as well as her angsty relationship with one of the house guests. There’s also a terribly cliched love triangle between the husband, wife and the husband’s former mistress. As original as some elements of the show can be, these get boring very fast.
The other stumbling block with “American Horror Story” is the cavalier nature by which the rules of the haunting are broken. In the special features, the cast brags about how the series sets up these rules for the show’s reality. However, these rules are constantly bent and often broken. The logic doesn’t follow through the series, and there are too many questions, but not the good kind of questions that make a story more intriguing. Rather, they show cheats by the writers where they either don’t care about the rules or they didn’t actually follow them because they didn’t know what was going to happen farther down the road.
In the end, I respected what “American Horror Story” did for television than really liked the show. I’m looking forward to Season Two, hoping that Ryan Murphy gives us an authentic terror tale rather than a “Peyton Place” with spirits.
The Season One Blu-ray includes all 12 episodes, which includes an audio commentary on the pilot episode. The final disc includes the featurettes “The Murder House presented by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood,’ “Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story,” “Overture to Horror: Creating the Title Sequence” and “Out of the Shadows: Meet the House Ghosts.”