I’ve just finished watching the entire series of American Horror Story. I’m deeply skeptical about horror TV shows, usually, because tension is difficult enough to maintain over an hour and a half movie, let alone a ten-part serial. And I was even more deeply skeptical when I discovered that the makers of Glee, Ryan Murphy and Brad Flachuck, (Murphchuck?) were the brains behind the piece. Apropos to nothing, the title also looks like a placeholder name the schedulers forgot to change before release. And this didn’t fill me with faith either.
The first series is set in the “Murder House”- a house with a horrific history that is revealed bit by gruesome bit- the story focusing on the Harmons, the new owners, and their relationship with the houses questionable past occupants and their new neighbors, the Langdons. The cast wavers between decent and utterly superb- a particular nod to Jessica Lange as the Southern-Belle-from-Hell Constance Langdon, a soaring psycho bitch with just the right balance of sugared sarcasm and genuine threat. Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears remain my favourite duo, the fabulously catty Quinto and alpha-gay Sears playing a heart-wrenching couple coming apart at the seams but trapped in a dysfunctional relationship when the horror of the house takes hold. Most of the main parts are thankless but solid- that said, I love Evan Peters as Tate Langdon, the last word in gorgeous teen hearthrob madmen. Though every time I look directly at him, my eyes ache a little with his beauty, making it difficult to properly judge his performance.
What really sold me on the first series was the gleeful way it ascribed to all the old horror archetypes-the haunted house, scores of creepy children, the mysterious backstories and Something in the Basement. But the writing is solid and throws in handfuls of black humour to keep the show properly entertaning, and the Charlie Clouster (SAW YEAH SAW!) theme is simply superb. All in all, it’s an outstanding season with a satisfyingly chilling payoff.
The second season is, bravely, completely unrelated to the first, set in an asylum in the 1960s. It’s literally impossible to even give a comprehensive outline of the plot without peppering it with spoilers, but suffice to say someone ends up wrongly imprisoned in the deeply questionable Briarcliff Mental Institute. Much of the cast returned for this series, with Jessica Lange and Zachary Quinto being the stand-outs once again, with Quinto getting a much meatier, much darker, much more understated role that he absolutely nails (perhaps an unfortunate choice of words). Bizarelly, Chloe Sevigny pops up playing a irresistible nymphomaniac who suffers a terrible fate at the hands of the deranged Doctor Arden (a patchy but screen-dominating James Cromwell). I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the second second series as much as the first, as I was far more interested in Quinto’s Oliver Thresdon than the writers seemed to be. But I’m hopeful for the third, especially after the Mother Superior of the series Jessica Lange has been confirmed tor return, and Kathy Bates (yes, THAT Kathy Bates) will be joining the cast too. Glee is Dead; Long Live Horror Story.