TV Review: American Horror Story (TV Series) (Season 1) (2011)

SYNOPSIS:

A family of three move from Boston to Los Angeles as a means of reconciling their past anguish. They move to a restored mansion, unaware that the home is haunted.

REVIEW:

Under the creation engine of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, TV just got a little more edgier this year. Now it’s entirely possible that you haven’t spent any time with this new hit series, though if you are pretty hip on the horror genre, that possibility is slim. It’s true that with all the new horror genre driven TV shows, FX managed to come up with one that is almost entirely formatted for an adult audience. I say that as it doesn’t waste time into delving headfirst into sexuality, hardcore violence and a scary premise that jumps back and forth between an elaborate ghost story and a marriage on the rocks.

From its opener credit sequence, I don’t think a opener has made itself clearer than American Horror Story’s opener suggesting that you are in store for dark times ahead. I mention this opener particularly as it stands to be one of the more perfect edgy openers I’ve seen in years. This is of course fueled by the creepy opener score that echoes the days of “Se7en” style industrial noise. (Make note: this would make perfect sense as it was created by Kyle Cooper and his company Prologue. – also the creators of the “Se7en” opener)

So what is American Horror Story? Its name is an irony of itself as on one hand we have the ghosts that haunt the series. On the other, it’s a failed marriage quickly getting worse by echoing infidelity, dishonesty and a stressful influence of living within a dark house that feels like it could be the next replacement for “Amityville Horror“. This serial-soap-driven-drama focuses on the new tenants of the Alfred Rosenheim house (real life name), the Harmons. The house has its share of dark decor but is also a restored mansion that most of us would “kill” to own. I’ve often said during viewing, that I’d be willing to put up with the ghosts just to own that house. Well, this was the same line of thinking that the Harmon’s invested into but have since decided that they would be better off “anywhere” except within the halls of this cured establishment.

Side note: The real location that was shot in Country Club Park, Los Angeles, California has been announced as being up for sale for 4.5. million. The series has been moved to a set location but the sets are noted as being exact replicas of the house.

“American Horror Story” is an original TV series initiated by the FX network TV station. It has since received critical acclaim especially among the minions of horror-interest viewers. It’s rather late playing time would attribute to the fact of its content being too edgy for young minds. It consists of 13 episodes which play Wednesday nights.

Our players are Ben (Dylan McDermott), Vivien (Connie Britton) and their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) who have all relocated from Boston to the new location of Los Angeles. This is revealed as a healing effort to a prior miscarriage.

We discover that the Harmons were “not” given full disclosure when they purchased the house, thus unaware of its jaded history. It doesn’t take long to fill in the gaps with a death tour driving by every day detailing the sorrid history of murder and death that have long cursed the foundation.

American Horror Story“, as with most TV series, starts on a slow grind of details. The content is certainly not slow, but we begin to suspect things “not” really fitting into reality as new characters begin to emerge. One of which who provides a deep sexuality to the series is the introduction of house maid Moira O’Hara. Now Moira appears to the women as an older, old fashioned maid (Frances Conroy). Her appearance to men is one of a young sexy red-headed house cleaner (Alexandra Breckenridge) who’s eyes often beat her to the actual physical aspect of her advances.

Ben Harmon, is a somewhat well paid psychiatrist trying to make a new stab at acquiring clients. He works out of his house of which clients are often seen coming and going. Ben harbors deep skeletons from his past that still follow him to this day. One in particular goes by the name of Hayden McClaine (Kate Mara), an attractive young coed who Ben had a brief affair with. This has damaged his relationship with Vivien although she is still making efforts to reconcile their marriage. This conflict is acknowledged from episode one while bringing Hayden into the mix later in the season. Their daughter Violet fits within the typical mold of a teenager who battles bulling issues at school while exploring her own feelings towards a mystery boy named Tate.

Tate is one of Ben’s clients who is later also revealed to have a violent past involving the murder of students from his high school. Tate was also shot to death at the mansion by the police when confronted.

The one thing about “American Horror Story is that the pieces don’t get entirely fuse together all at one time. We begin to suspect the answers before they are revealed, but in essence the Harmon mansion is haunted by the spirits of the past. These are spirits who are seemingly caught within the foundation and have to exist until the mansion is no longer. As it is later mentioned within the season “those who die here stay forever”.

Call them cursed spirits or victims of the house energy, in any case they have managed to exist to all those who visit, also choosing when and where they are seen. This interchange of real people and dark entities gets contused at times but works itself out in the evolution of the series. It also tends to introduce a certain dynamic that has you guessing at times how the 2 interact and what rules they abide by. For instance, do the ghosts have substance? Do they keep a form of solidarity in reaction to people and matter? The characters don’t seem to always appear to everyone at once. By some sense of understanding, they come out of hiding as if there is a build up period for the living to prepare for.

Speaking of, many of the series characters are introduced over time rather than a mass welcoming of new bodies. Primarily, this entails all the previous owners over the many years the house has existed. We get the sense that those who it attracted are all in some way a variety of dark energy under different circumstances.

Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) is our model of a jaded wife, jaded mother and victim to an unfortunate miscarriage. She often empowers the female aspect of several stereotypes making her a form of hero in the eye of female viewers. The sense and dedication to the subjects of infidelity and scorned women almost seem too perfect to not be intentional. This is also reinforced with the character Moira who embodies this “man’s view”/ “womens” view” point of view.

Jessica Lange plays Constance Langdon, an older snoopy neighbor who is more connected to the house than most would think. Her subplot dram plays out underneath the Harmons often merging the 2 in connection with each other and the house.

The series never ceases indulging into death, dying, and violence. It does so in a narrative way producing its very involved story of characters and haunted spirits. While I didn’t find it a very “scary” series, it does master the element of dark and brooding. I also tend to think that the presence and the old fashion feeling of the house itself helped to really embellish much of this troubled spirit confine.

In one of HorrorNews.net Articles, the question has been asked, did the series go to far in Portraying Real Life Murder Case? This refers to the inclusion of the famed Black Dahlia. We’ll leave the details of that question to further investigation in the article itself.

The season ends on a full coming of age revelation about all involved. We learn a few things that weren’t to be expected and end on a few that make for an interesting move forward for all. In reported interviews, the writers had suggested that there will be no stones unturned by the end of the series. My guess was, this being a fall back in case “American Horror Story” had not been renewed.

American Horror Story” is a powerful drama cleverly placing itself in the horror genre. We’ll of course be paying attention and looking for more to come from this fantastic series.

The bluray features a smattering of extras which are noted below. My favorites were the inside look into the making of the title sequence and a tour of the actual house used in the movie (I vowed to purchase it, if I won the lottery here soon….). Fans might also notice that the house was the inspiration for the set (which had to be remade back at the studios). This was explained as being pertinent to being able to move cameras in and out of breakaway walls. “Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story” provides a cool behind the scenes look with actor interviews and production set shots.

American Horror Story is now available on bluray per FX
Special features include:
Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary on Pilot Episode by Ryan Murphy
  • Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story
  • The Murder House presented by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood
  • On the Set of American Horror Story Season One
  • Overture to Horror: Creating the Title Sequence
  • Out of the Shadows: Meet the House Ghosts

American Horror Story (TV Series) (Season 1) (2011)

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3 Responses to TV Review: American Horror Story (TV Series) (Season 1) (2011)

  1. sarah phelps says:

    will there be a second season?

  2. sarah phelps says:

    i loved the show so i hope there is

  3. yes it has been confirmed!

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