American Horror Story is about a family and a house. The family consists of the Harmons (Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, and Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s sister, who plays their teen daughter). They buy a big old house in Los Angeles that may be haunted and was definitely the site of some murders. The Harmons are troubled even before they move into the Big Scary House: Britton’s Vivien caught McDermott’s Ben (a psychiatrist) screwing one of his students a while back, so they’re still working through their trust issues. On top of that, Vivien is still trying to overcome the trauma of having recently delivered a stillborn child.
The above does not come close, however, to conveying the storytelling methods employed by creators and Glee exec producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Unlike most scary TV shows (and movies), which rely upon the rhythm of a few quiet scenes followed by a boo! fright every 20 minutes or so, AHS is pretty much all scare, all the time: a whole lotta screams, sex, jolts, mashed faces, psychotic behavior, and dead babies. On the basis of this and his Nip/Tuck, it’s difficult to escape the idea that Murphy has a thing about women’s bodies. He and his collaborators find endless ways to distort, alter, or torment them. A maid played by Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) changes bodies with a younger, sexier version of herself (Alexandra Breckinridge). Taissa Farmiga plays the Harmons’ daughter, Violet, is a cutter. Jessica Lange eludes pain — thus far — as nosy next-door neighbor Constance. Indeed, she’s a malicious hoot, far more colorful than the morose characters McDermott and Britton play (McDermott with futile effort, Britton with cunning ease). Add to this the dire warnings from a badly burned former occupant of the house (True Blood’s clever Denis O’Hare), and the murderous fantasies indulged by Ben’s teen patient Tate (an effectively troubled Evan Peters), and there’s a general air of moral rot and emotional ugliness permeating AHS.
The latest series from creator Ryan Murphy is a deeply disturbing adrenaline attack in which a haunted house provides metaphorical backdrop to a troubled marriage. Infused with a “Dark Shadows” and “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe, “American Horror Story” is one scream after another. So much creepy stuff happens in the first episode that viewers will be left asking: Can I possibly watch an entire series of this? Followed, of course, by a more obvious question: Why do they stay in that house?
Overdoing things is one of Murphy’s trademark flaws, but this show has a captivating style and giddy gross-outs. It also has Jessica Lange, who’s terrific (in both senses of the word) as a sinister neighbour.
Produced by 20th Century Fox; created and written by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk; directed by Mr. Murphy; Mr. Murphy, Mr. Falchuk, Dante Di Loretto, executive producers; Jennifer Salt and James Wong, co-executive producers; Tim Minear, consulting producer; Chip Vucelich, line producer; Alexis Martin Woodall, producer; Jessica Sharzer and Brad Buecker, supervising producers.
Here’s a fact, even with all the zombies and the vampires, there’s always room for a good “American Horror Story.”
American Horror Story unravels in India with its Series Première on Thursday, March 15, 08:30 P.M. exclusively on FX!