I thought it was about time I got back to reviewing some television, after the success of my posts on that topic. This time I will be reviewing the creepy American Horror Story, which has become one of my favourite TV shows as of late. From the first time I watched it I was gripped by the nature of it and how each season changes characters and settings in line with an anthology. Horror is easily one of my favourite genres and American Horror Story delivers it in spades and then some. So without further ado, here is my review of the first season, subtitled Murder House. Please be aware that spoilers will follow in this review.
Psychiatrist Ben Harmon(Dylan McDermott), his wife Vivien(Connie Britton) and their unhappy teenage daughter Violet(Taissa Farmiga) move into an old mansion in Los Angeles. The move has come about after Vivien caught Ben cheating with one of his students and her painful miscarriage. Ben hopes the move can repair the deep void left in their marriage. The mansion itself has quite an alarming history of murder and scandal since its opening in the 1920’s, with the last owners allegedly being killed in a murder/suicide. As the Harmon family settles in, strange and mysterious events soon take hold as the house is a haunted plane for the deceased who can’t let go of the house, although the family are initially unaware of this fact until later on. A housekeeper by the name of Moira O’Hara(Frances Conroy/Alexandra Breckenridge) appears and in a strange turn of events appears old and peculiar to women, but seductive and nubile to men. A horribly scarred man named Larry Harvey(Denis O’Hare) warns Ben of the house and that it drove him to kill his family by torching the place. A strange creature lives in the basement and on more than one occasion unleashes fury on the unfortunate. Matters aren’t helped by the intrusion of Constance(Jessica Lange), a bitchy but intelligent neighbour who knows a lot about the house but only drops hints on the sinister nature of it and her daughter Addie, who has some sort of personal link to the creepy house. Vivien becomes pregnant after sleeping with a figure in a gimp suit who she believes is Ben( in actual fact, Ben was downstairs sleep walking when this act happened) and begins to believe there is something unholy about the baby she is carrying inside of her. Ben’s former flame Hayden shows up with unexpected news that leads to tragic consequences.Add to this, the increasingly troubled Tate(Evan Peters), one of Ben’s patients who takes an interest in troubled Violet and horror begins to engulf all who step foot in the house and refuses to let go. Twists and turns a plenty unravel in this disturbing yet gripping series of television that will make you shiver with fear and plague your dreams with its mixture of sex, death and all things horrific.
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have created a series that takes old clichés and breathes new life into them. Everyone has seen the haunted house formula been done in movies, but having it on TV adds another dimension as tragedy and horror unfold. American Horror Story is not afraid to push the envelope either, with copious amounts of sex, twisted crimes such as copycat murders and psychiatry all coming under the spotlight. The intense visual style contributes to the feeling of uneasiness as the house reveals its sinister nature, the jittery cuts back and forth give the show a creepy edge. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the title sequence, which in itself acts as a mini mystery as it travels through the basement of the house and reveals the mutilated body parts from botched experiments and melancholy old-fashioned photographs to the sound of distorted instruments.
The structure of the episodes deserves praise as it features flashbacks to the past traumas of the house, then in the present shows the repercussions of them in terrifying fashion. The most frightening of these traumas and travesties is that of an ether addicted doctor, Charles Montgomery and his nervy socialite wife Nora, who performed backstreet abortions in the 20’s. After a girl secretly had one of the procedures, her boyfriend found out about it and took revenge by snatching the couple’s beloved baby son. The boy was later found horribly mutilated. The crazed doctor began to fashion body parts from various creatures in order to bring his son back, but instead created a Frankenstein like beast that now resides in the basement. The ghosts of the couple still haunt the house, with Nora still searching for her baby. The music of the series is an eerie mix of old-fashioned strings and ominous percussion, perfectly capturing the clash between the old ghosts who populate the house and the new residents.
A game cast of talented actors give life to these characters, even if a lot of them are unlikable people. Dylan McDermott embodies the selfish ways of Ben who has cheated on his wife and wants to rebuild their relationship, but whose demons and the ominous house stop him from doing so. Connie Britton is sympathetic and quietly strong as Vivien, the wife terrified of not just the house but the baby growing inside of her. Out of the characters in this series, Vivien is the one who you root for the most. Taissa Farmiga is suitably gloomy and filled with angst as Violet who falls into a strange relationship with the disturbed Tate. The two have a creepy and morose chemistry with one another which highlights how dangerous Tate can be. He is played with sly menace by Evan Peters, who also manages to delve into the vulnerable side of this disturbed soul as his past is eerily revealed to us. The almost perverse relationship forms a creepy story arc that slowly descends into unspeakable terror. Stealing the show has to be Jessica Lange as the intrusive Constance. With her Southern accent, penchant for stealing and subtle hints about the past of the mansion, she is riveting to watch. She delivers some great one liners with a diva like authority and also gets to show the hidden depths of this intelligent woman who isn’t to be trifled with. Frances Conroy is caring and insightful as the benevolent spirit Moira, who has a history with Constance. While she is kind and knowing, her other face is the opposite. Played by the gorgeous Alexandra Breckenridge, the young Moira is a seductive tease who tempts Ben with her innuendo filled lines and skimpy French maid outfit. Her presence adds to the sexual side to the series as well as the creepy atmosphere of horror. Rounding out the cast is Denis O’Hare as the scarred Larry, who is menacing and mysterious in equal measure, whilst providing some dark humour to the disturbing proceedings.
Not for the faint of heart, but twisted and disturbingly enthralling throughout, the first season of American Horror Story really has me excited for the next season and what it has to offer.