Ryan Murphy just lost his damn mind. The creator of Nip/Tuck and Gleehas reason to believe that his shit stinks not of shit. It’s rare enough to create one significant hit in TV, let alone follow it up with another in a completely different genre but he’s already done that so why not try your hand at horror when everything you touch turns to TV gold? The premiere of American Horror Story, his modern Gothic ghost tale, is a 60 minute manifesto on why he shouldn’t have done it. It is the work of a madman, a fruitcake and an ego out of control. Ryan Murphy lost his damn mind.
There’s a lot going on, but let’s start with the basics. Psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) has moved his family from Boston to Los Angeles. It’s a drastic move but he was caught by his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) putting his cock in a piece of ass student of his called Hayden and wifey boo wasn’t crazy about it. “I can’t look at your face without seeing the expression on it while you were piledriving her in our bed!” she screams. That’s a bit harsh, Viv. Ben was frustrated by lack of sex and sad about that miscarriage you had. “You buried your sorrow in some 21-year-old’s pussy!” Ah, it’s always the last place you look.
“That’s a bit harsh, Viv. Ben was frustrated by lack of sex and sad about that miscarriage you had. ‘You buried your sorrow in some 21-year-old’s pussy!’ Ah, it’s always the last place you look.”
Along for the ride is their teenage emo daughter Violet. Like every other psychiatrist’s daughter you ever met Violet is a self-harming depressive. Life sucks for Violet but she quickly finds a kindred spirit in one of her father’s patients Tate Langdon (Evan Peters). Tate may be planning a Columbine style school massacre and is therefore exactly the kind of malcontent sociopath suicide girls dream of.
“A gay couple committed murder-suicide in a basement filled with body parts in jars. It’s a basement of death. I guess I’ll never fully understand gay culture.”So a fresh start: that’s the thing that will clear up recent infidelity and a dingbat daughter. But wait – this insanely creepy old house is no ordinary insanely creepy old house. It’s haunted! There’s a strange old lady child monster in the basement that cut the throats of two obnoxious twin boys in 1979. Then there’s the house’s previous owners – a gay couple who committed murder-suicide in the basement – a basement filled with body parts in jars. It’s a basement of death. I guess I’ll never fully understand gay culture.
But a monster in the basement is just the beginning of the weirdness. Next-door neighbour Constance (Jessica Lange) wanders in and out of the house like it’s her own as does her strange Down’s syndrome daughter Adelaide (Jamie Brewer) who has a habit of telling people they are going to die. Constance is a creepy failed actress Southern Belle who refers to her daughter as “the mongoloid” and seems to know a lot more about the horror in the house than she lets on. I’m sure we’ll get around to that.
“Something worth knowing about Moira: while everyone else sees as the sixtysomething housekeeper she is, Ben sees her as the twentysomething rocket fit slutbag in Ann Summers housekeeper uniform she (presumably) isn’t.”
Horror tropes fly out at you like bats in a cellar in Scooby Doo. Former resident Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare), burned to a crisp after voices told him to torch his family, tells Dan two get the fuck out of the house or he’ll be barbecued too. A rubber gimp suit seems to have a mysterious inhabitant1.
Like all good creepy houses it comes with a housekeeper. Frances Conroy plays Moira, in her 60s or thereabouts – efficient, old school, otherworldly air as befits her station as weird came-with-the-fixtures employee employed by who-the-fuck-knows.
Something worth knowing about Moira: while everyone else sees as the sixtysomething housekeeper she she is, Ben sees her as the twentysomething rocket fit slutbag in Ann Summers housekeeper uniform she (presumably) isn’t. Ben finds it only mildly noteworthy that his paranoid mistrusting not-fucked-him-in-a-year wife is happy to let the Queen of Skanktown slut around the house like she’s in The Benny Hill Show but it’s not like he’s going to make a thing out of it or anything. He walks in on Young Moira masturbating and has to jerk off naked in his study to relieve the ballbag pressure. Young Moira is played by Alex Breckenridge thankfully and not Frances Conroy after a few Botox shots. Be grateful.
“To be effective and have longevity horror needs to make sense. Here, there are no rules. Anything goes means everything blows.”Such small mercies are thin on the ground here. This is one of the most barking shows I have ever seen. It’s a pick and mix of American cinematic horror from early whenever to the present. The house is The Amityville Horror, the twins are The Shining, the creepy neighbour and mysterious sexual partner Rosemary’s Baby,. Wearing your influences on your sleeve is no bad thing but there is absolutely no coherence. It’s all over the frigging shop and the suspicion that they are just making it up as they go along arrives very early and is difficult to shake. Dylan McDermott gnaws through more scenery than Blowseph Whines in FlashForward – he may just be the suckiest thing in it.
I don’t know whether this is an affectionate tribute to every horror film Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have ever watched or if they are just throwing things into the mix they half remember. To be effective and have longevity horror needs to make sense. This doesn’t. While it’s certainly spirited it doesn’t have a core. There are no rules. Anything goes means everything blows.
The verdict on American Horror Story: The only thing scary is that it gets a second season.
Marks out of 10: 4
1 I suppose all gimp suit inhabitants are mysterious but some more than others
Imagined: Friday 4 November 2011