“American Horror Story” brings the scary (Spoiler-free review)

I had not previously heard a lot about FX’s new series American Horror Story before its premiere this week, but the title alone had me interested. And having not watched any of the trailers, I only ended up watching it online after it came recommended to me on Hulu.com.

However, after just one episode, I will state that this show is my break-out favorite new fall television series of the season.

That sounds pretty bold, doesn’t it? But I knew I was going to love this series after the very first scene.  Because that first scene establishes that this is an authentic good old-fashioned scary Stephen King like story. But not just that, it has elements of some of my favorite horror movies, including The Shining, Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. In fact, I don’t believe there has ever been a series like this on t.v. (at least that I have seen).

American Horror Story starts with a dysfunctional family, the Harmons. Vivien (Connie Britton), wife and mother, has had to deal with not only a miscarriage but also a husband who cheated on her shortly afterwards. Ben (Dylan McDermott), the cheating husband, is doing everything he can to make amends for his indiscretion. In the middle is their teenaged daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), who seems to have suicidal tendencies.

The family moves cross country from New York to Los Angeles in order to make a fresh start. And in typical fashion, they settle for a house that’s a good deal because… surprise… people have died in it. And although those deaths seem to have been brutal and violent, they move in anyway. But isn’t that how these stories always start?

And of course, the house is haunted. There’s the maid, who appears to be an elderly woman to Vivien and a sexy young woman to Ben. There’s the psychotic patient of Ben, who is a psychiatrist, who has formed some sort of strange friendship with Violet. There’s the nosy and strange next door neighbor, Constance (Jessica Lange) and her equally strange daughter, who has a knack for sneaking into the house with the ominous words “You’re going to die.” There’s also a guy in a S&M outfit who appears randomly and even fools Vivien into thinking that he is Ben.

Finally, there is something scary in the basement. We get snippets of a girl that bullied Violet getting attacked by this thing, but only enough to give us a fright.

And this is where the show excels. It is truly frightening. There’s the possibility that each and every character might be a ghost. There is no guarantee that anything that is happening is real. But there is a guarantee that whatever is going on in this house has gone “All work and play makes Jack a dull boy” on people and sends them on a family murdering spree. Because this house has a body count and wants to add to it.

The show is also well acted, thanks to an extremely adept cast. I felt the pain that Britton puts into her character, as well as the frustration that McDermott displays in his. Jessica Lange tends to steal every scene she’s in as the older Southern belle next door neighbor who once dreamed of being a movie star. Her accent drips off of her lips like honey, but beneath every word, there may be poison. Denis O’Hare (True Blood) puts in an appearance as a man who once lived in the house and survived to tell his horrific tale. And even Francis Conroy (Six Feet Under) adds to the creepy factor as the older maid.

The beauty of actually watching American Horror Story is that it feels like a film. You want to watch it sitting in the dark clutching at your pillow or your significant other with a big bowl of popcorn sitting next to you. And in traditional horror film fashion, it has lots of language, nudity and violence. This is certainly not The Vampire Diaries.

How appropriate that this show premiered just in time for Halloween. I, personally, cannot wait until next week to be scared out of my wits again.

3 thoughts on ““American Horror Story” brings the scary (Spoiler-free review)

  • October 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm
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    Saw the show and although some people have labeled it as a knockout of other horror classics, I think it really has some promise.  It is great to see Jessica Lange on the small screen.  She is amazing in this show and I can’t wait to see what evilness she conjures up. 

  • October 20, 2011 at 2:05 am
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    re the series being a knockout of other horror flicks, well… the premise is common place within the genre, but I think it will be interesting to see where they will take the series. I think they may have a plan to steer off the beaten path at some point.

    • October 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm
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      I’m curious as to how they can sustain the suspense and horror throughout a series. I’m just happy to see a really good and scary haunted house story on t.v.

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