In Review: Does FX's American Horror Story Have the Fright Stuff?

Is the American Horror Story Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are about to tell a page-turner or a stomach-churner? A bit of both? This much is certain: The new FX series, premiering tonight at 10/9c, is certainly one polarizing piece of fright fare.

American Horror Story: Watch the First Five Minutes

Horror Story stars Dylan McDermott (The Practice) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) as Ben and Vivien Harmon, a couple that has decided to put past demons to rest by moving cross-country with their teen daughter (played by Taissa Farmiga) to inhabit a house that apparently comes pre-furnished with demons of its own. As is fast (and repeatedly) established, this home over the many, many years has played host to any many, many grisly murders and disturbing rituals — and the Harmons seem poised to become the latest victims of its darkness.

Ben is a shrink, so for good measure his at-home practice seems to draw in the fantastically troubled, from a teen boy who has dreams of dispatching his school full of peers to a young woman who is haunted — and yet not, really — by visions of being cleaved in half by an elevator.

And yes, it is depicted for the viewer exactly how one gets dismembered in such a manner — because AHS is not at all shy about being in your face with its unsettling images, psycho-sexual tropes and a palpably frightful atmosphere (especially if one is to brave… the basement, with its jars full of fetuses and such).

Casting News: Modern Family Star Visits FX’s Horror Story

The Harmons arrive at their new ‘stead with not just movers’ boxes but also all kinds of sordid baggage, from Ben’s deplorable infidelity with a much younger woman to Viven’s tragic loss of the last child she carried. These two have unresolved issues, and soon enough the eerie goings-on prompt them to unleash them, verbally, in a two-way harangue that will make you uneasy with its text, subtext and tone. (It is in this scene, for one, that Britton brings her Emmy-nommed FNL skills to the table, making the hyper-real seems heart-wrenchingly real.)

Were more time spent on the Harmons and what their not-quite-as-scary East Coast life has been about to date, Horror Story would be more compelling from the get-go. Instead, from the very first frame — a flashback to 1978 involving two punk-ass ginger boys and a little girl with Down Syndrome who warns them they are about to, you know, die — the narrative keeps the noisy scares coming fast and often, and always so, so dark.

The only “light” moments to be had come courtesy of Academy Award winner Jessica Lange, playing the aforementioned girl’s mother, a Southern-fried belle from Hollywood’s yesteryear, a onetime actress who had to cut her career short and still seems rather bitter about it. Lange is obviously having a very good time with the role, to the point that one half expects Britton to break mid-scene as Vivien is subject to this nutty neighbor’s first exposition dump, told as colorfully as it is.

Heroes‘ Zachary Quinto Joins Horror Story for Major Story Arc

Also on hand for the bedlam is True Blood‘s Denis O’Hare, playing a former resident of the house whom we now call “Larry the burn guy” — which is kinda self-explanatory once you see his half-melted punim. Larry shares with Ben not so much a cautionary tale but a set-up for another flashback sequence rife with skin-crawling chills.

There’s a lot being thrown at the wall in Horror Story, and I haven’t even gotten to the sexually aggressive mystery person/entity in the rubber gimp costume, Ben’s tendency to walk around the house as naked as an Ashton Kutcher (yes, Dylan, we can see that you’ve been working out), or the bully at the daughter’s school who stands to receive quite the horrific comeuppance. Nor did I mention Six Feet Under matriarch Frances Conroy’s turn as the house’s “built-in” housekeeper who — fun fact! — appears to Ben (and apparently only to Ben) in the guise of the comely Alexandra Breckenridge. What’s fantasy, what’s reality? AHS, even a few episodes in, hasn’t really paused or cared to steer us either way. Why don’t the Harmons think to move out, after five too many brushes with terror? You’ll have to wait almost two full episodes for that burning question to be raised, then addressed.

Get the 411 on Horror Story‘s Taissa Farmiga and Fall TV’s Other Fresh Faces 

Again, I say: This is a lot to process, and how you choose to do so will determine whether you enjoy this sprawling horror story for its unbridled bombasticness or close the book on it one chapter in. But this much is true: Murphy and Falchuck are determined to scare you, freak you out, and perhaps even make you stay up for the comparatively happy-shiny 11 o’clock news to cool down. Yes, there are times during the first few episodes where I was wondering “But what does this all mean?,” but I consider myself on board for this twisty, twisted ride. I’ll be most curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on Thursday morning.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

26 Comments
  1. Dessy says:

    LoL!

    “and I haven’t even gotten to the sexually aggressive mystery person/entity in the rubber gimp costume, Ben’s tendency to walk around the house as naked as an Ashton Kutcher”

    :D
    Still I am very excited for this show!
    I hope it really creeps me out.

  2. Joanna says:

    What is that woman holding in the top picture? Looks like a dog with a pig’s face & elf ears.

    • Noelbelle says:

      That is one ugly dog. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, but if I woke up and saw that sitting at the end of my bed, I’d think I was in a horror story too.

  3. Sheldon W. says:

    I’ve watched the premiere twice now, and am mostly still on the fence. I gave it a B- because it is never less than interesting and, you know, an interesting failure [which I'm not AHS is, yet] is usually more fun to watch than a middling, competent success.

    I think the premiere’s buggest preoblem is simply that Ryan Murphy and Bead Falchuk are trying too hard. Maybe, if they relax into it a bit, it’ll kick into high [quality] gear [it definitely can't get into any higher gear vis-a-vis stuff going on!]

    I will say that Constance gets the best line of the ep – and it’s a real showstopper!

  4. JMC says:

    This show was so lame. There was nothing original or scary in it. It was just a vehicle to show McDermott’s abs & arse.

  5. SK says:

    I’m still undecided. It was unnerving, yet interesting, but it doesn’t seem like something I’d feel like watching every week. Like, “Oh, it’s Wednesday! American Horror Story!” I’d have to watch with friends or something, like I did tonight.

  6. Michael says:

    I don’t think it was good. At all. But I already poured out my thoughts: http://nowhitenoise.com/2011/10/american-horror-story-1-01-pilot-review-american-train-wreck/ -_-

  7. Michele says:

    The series, Connie Britton, and Jessica Lange should be mailed Emmy’s tonight. It’s not slasher it’s smart and I love it.

    But Dear Fox: forget the gore – show audiences stuff like the husband and wife fight about 40 minutes in and you will add to your viewership. That entire scene could be a semester long lesson in film studies class.

    Looking at the resume of the creative team I am constantly impressed with the layers of light and dark they have found themselves tapping into over the years. If they can keep up the tension and the strong storytelling for longer then a season this show has a bright future as an adult show for adult viewers.

  8. DL says:

    I’m surprised by the lack of positive comments, I must say. I’m a definite fan of horror films, and I thought AHS accomplished all it set out to do and more. It certainly kept me engaged all the way through, it was atmospheric and creepy, and while it may not have delivered any hardcore scares as of yet, it did have a significant chill factor which was more than enough to keep me engaged. I’ll take what AHS supplied any day over cheap shock tactics, gore, or any of the other low-brow tricks that most of today’s horror films supply.

    • Sunny says:

      I agree with you. I don’t usually get attached to series that is a continuation, but I’m hooked on this one. It keeps me wondering. A lot of the cast members have pasts that keep emerging, so it keeps me wanting to know more, therefore, I have to stay tuned.

  9. shaun says:

    Revenge will likely own this show ASAP.

  10. anthony says:

    I thought it was good, I’ll tune in again next week.

  11. MichelleR says:

    I like it. I think that there was a little too much going on all at once though — that there was a lack of focus and like they were trying to hard with what is really good material.

    Also, shall we begin a countdown to when the dog, er, you know… (Really hope I’m wrong.)

  12. Monica says:

    With all the hype that was around this show with the creepy promos and all, I was expecting to be really freaked out and begging one of my guy friends to come over every week so I didn’t get too scared while watching it alone.
    Instead, I was bored 5minutes into the pilot. But I did watch the whole thing, expecting to rush across my room and flip on the light so I wouldn’t be so terrified at some point. Didn’t have to worry about that.
    I WILL watch the next episode, hoping it will redeem itself now that it has laid out the basis of the plot. But if it doesn’t improve after next week, then AHS will just be another show that falls victim to deletion on my dvr.

  13. britt says:

    Anyone else get the feeling that someone had watched Heathers one too many times while writing the high school kids part?

  14. Tad says:

    I am a huge fan of horror films, and this is one of the first series that I feel really captures the essence of a truly scary movie. I am interested in seeing where they go with it from here, so you’ve got me on board, Murphy!

  15. Lee says:

    I liked it, seemed like the quality on hbo,etc. there is a great bbc horror series called “the fades” airing now

  16. Alice says:

    I don’t understand the really negative comments. AHS is definitely polarizing—you’ll adore it or completely hate it—but I happened to love it. It has a few flaws, but it’s unlike anything that I’ve ever seen on television, which is so refreshing. It’s dark, twisted, and unsettling; I can’t wait to see what happens.

  17. TD says:

    I somehow missed the female patient who fears getting chopped in half by an elevator. Did I fall asleep?

  18. Tanya says:

    I thought it was okay, which bums me out. This was a show that I was really looking forward to watching. It sorta felt like they took all the elements of their favorite classic horror movies – Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Heathers, etc – and mashed them together. And that might have worked and been interesting if they added their own twist, but they didn’t. I’ll watch another episode before I make a final decision about the show but my expectations are low.

  19. Allison says:

    I felt it ripped off The Shining too much. The maid reminded me of the old lady/sexy lady who tried to seduce Jack Nicholson. Also, the burned man describing how the house made him kill his family in a fire (then showing Dylan McDermott playing with fire) reminded me of the hotel in The Shining making men kill their families, too.

  20. echo says:

    I enjoyed the pilot so much that I watched the subsequent reruns.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,004 other followers