Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Related Story: Everything About American Horror Story
When was the last time a genre television show really scared you? Not merely presenting the supernatural, or showing off gory effects or cool monsters, or even jolting you with the occasional “gotcha!” No, I mean genuinely scared. Like, “keep you awake at night” scared. “Get under your skin and worm around” scared. “Did a little bit of urine just leak out?” scared.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present “American Horror Story”, a seriously creepy new show from FX Networks and the creator of Glee (yeah, you read that right). Unlike most television shows that flirt with the horrific, “Story” is happy to jump right into some truly dark and twisted territory, and does so with skill and a sense of class (remarkable, that, considering how grisly and borderline sleazy the material sometimes gets). More so, the series tells a complex tale that is as emotionally engaging as it is terrifying.
“American Horror Story” opens with the Harmon family: husband/father Ben (McDermott); Ben’s wife, Vivien (Britton); and their teenage daughter, Violet (Farmiga). The family has packed up and traveled cross-country to California to escape a few demons (Vivien’s miscarriage, Ben’s infidelity) and to purchase a stunning old Gothic Victorian mansion that they’ve found for practically a song. Of course, there’s a catch: The previous tenants died in a gruesome murder/suicide. Undeterred, the family purchases the home and moves in, ready to start their new lives. And then things get a little weird…
To say anything more would be criminal. Even if you’ve had a bit of the show spoiled for you by TV spots, glimpses of its airings, or the occasional review, you really have no idea what you’re in for once you sit down and view the show proper. The series delights in presenting not merely one type of scary happening, but several. Ghosts, murderers, hideous creatures, deformed stalkers, and a teen psychopath are just some of the threats to the Harmon family. And if that weren’t enough, the family still has to deal with its “real-life” issues, which leads to some of the best damned drama a genre show (hell, any show in recent memory) has had.
The show features a fantastic cast of supporting characters, including the Harmons’ next-door neighbors Constance and Adelaide Langdon (a superb Lange and Brewer), psychiatrist Ben’s new teenage patient Tate (a super-creepy Peters), and Ben’s ex-mistress Hayden (Mara, equal parts seductive and batshit crazy). There is also Ben’s badly-burned stalker Larry (O’Hare), who seems as pitiful as he is nefarious. And then there’s the Harmons’ maid, Moira, who appears as a sexy young temptress to Ben (as played by Breckenridge), and a matronly older woman to all others (portrayed by Conroy). And then, oh but then, there are the two most nerve-shredding characters on the program: the constantly-lurking Rubber Man, who slinks about the house in an S&M suit, unbeknownst to the Harmons; and the basement-dwelling creature known only as the Infantata.
Particularly interesting about this show is the fact that the first season is entirely self-contained. That’s right, the twelve episodes that represent Season One tell a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end (the upcoming Season Two, while featuring some returning actors, will have no ties to the Harmon story). While an odd choice for an ongoing television show, the finite nature of the arc allowed the story to have a maximum impact, without the fear of the story becoming overstretched or overstaying its welcome (as too many shows do).
“Story” gets a nice release on disc from FX, with a sterling image and rich colors that are gorgeous on Blu. The DTS HD 5.1 track is just great, and will have any viewer retreating back into their sofa before blowing them right out of it. The bonus features are nice enough, though a more extensive package would’ve been appreciated for a twelve-hour long story. There is an audio commentary for the pilot episode, and then a number of featurettes, including: The Murder House presented by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood, a POV tale set within the world of the show that follows a camera-toting tourist taking a rare glimpse into the famed Murder House during a tour, with disastrous results; Behind the Fright: The Making of “American Horror Story”, a standard talking heads piece that runs about twenty-five minutes; Overture to Horror: Creating the Title Sequence, which is a neat look at the making of the show’s brilliant opening; and Out of the Shadows: Meet the House Guests, which details the various ghostly inhabitants of the Murder House and features the actors who play them chatting about their spooky roles.
While some may find the series’ mix of drama and horror tiresome, those looking for a genre show with a bit more depth than usual should find this “Story” to be right up their alley. With its mix of beautiful visuals, brilliant acting, and hair-raising horror, it’s hands down one of my favorite new television series.
Now, bring on Season 2!
4 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5