American Horror Story Season OneAmerican Horror Story – Complete First Season
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk

Cast: Jessica Lange, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott
Review by Brian M. Sammons

Now this was a cool idea. Make a thoroughly adult horror television show and have it tell a complete story, from start to finish, in a single season. And by adult I don’t mean pornographic, although there is plenty of sexy in this show, but I mean it doesn’t have lovesick vampires, teen witches, hunky monster mashers, and no mandatory happy ending so that it doesn’t actually get too scary. As for the one story per season thing, that’s just an overall great idea. Not only does that add some much needed variety, as theoretically the series could go on and on without getting boring by just coming up with a completely new idea/theme/setting each season, but it also keeps things unpredictable. After all, a ‘regular’ TV show would never kill off the main characters (not in this country anyway) and so it’s hard to be scared for them when they’re put in frightening situations, which sort of puts a damper on the whole horror thing. I mean was anyone ever really frightened for Scully and Mulder during the X-Files? Nah, I didn’t think so. But here, with American Horror Story, bad things can happen to good people, and they often do. But less you think this show is all doom and gloom, it is also funny, weird as hell, sexy (yes I said that already but I like sexy) and best of all; surprising. The first season of AHS did things that I never saw coming, and I’m usually very good at predicting the twists and turns of a plot. And that, perhaps above all else, is why I loved this show so much. But enough with generalities, let’s get to specifics. Oh and don’t worry, there are no spoilers here. Ruining a surprise in a show this good would be an unforgivable sin.

A husband, wife, and teenage daughter is having a family melt down dealing with infidelity, a miscarriage, depression, and other things that make real life oh so pleasant. Desperate for a fresh start in an attempt to save their marriage they move across country to California and into a large and magnificently macabre looking house. And wouldn’t you know it; they’ve just bought themselves a whopper of a haunted house.

Ok, so the setup is nothing original, but it’s what this show does with that premise that makes it so good.

First and foremost let me applaud the acting. Sure there are lots of good television shows with great acting in them these days, but usually anything associated with horror gets short changed in the quality actors department. Our favorite genre is often not looked upon kindly by the powers that be in Hollywood and many ‘serious’ actors seem loath to become associated with anything horror. Thankfully that is not the case here. Everyone in this show is giving it their A game. Not a one of them was less than good, with some going as far as being excellent. Favorites of mine were Evan Peters as deeply disturbed teen Tate, Connie Britton as a mother trying to keep her family together, and epically Jessica Lange as one of the nastiest neighbors and the most miserable and monstrous mothers ever captured on screen. Jessica Lange positively steels the show in every scene she’s in, and in a cast this good, that’s saying something.

As for the story, it’s as far from the typical ghosts in bed sheets moaning and rattling their chains as you can get and still be about a haunted house. Each of the 12 episodes usually begins as a flashback to some part of the house’s long and sordid past to highlight all the madness and murder that has gone on under its roof. With all that haunted history the house is now literally filled with ghosts, but as you watch the show you have no idea who is a spirit, who is real, who can see the ghosts and what do they look like to them, who is insane and why are they crazy and just how damn crazy are they. Then there are the ghosts themselves. In American Horror Story the spooks are not relegated to the background of the story, only popping up from time to time to go ‘boo.’ They are as fully fleshed out as any of the living characters and have their own motives and alliances both within the spirit world and in the living world. In fact, some of my favorite characters of this show were the nonliving ones.

Take all that and drizzle it with good writing, surprises, dark humor, uncomfortable situations, and some naughty fun and it adds up to a unique watching experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and soon became hooked on. I was literally unable to hit play on the next episode fast enough just to see what kind of new crazy and creepy hell was next to break loose. But as good as the show is, how is the new Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox?

Pretty darn good, actually. No it’s not great, but it is better than many TV shows released on disc (yes I’m looking at you Dexter) as it has a few noteworthy special features. There’s a six minute tour of the ‘murder house’ by the Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood from the show that shines some light on all the various deaths that has happened in the house. There’s a 25 minute making of featurette called “Behind the Fright” that interviews most of the cast, the creators, and crew. There’s a 10 minute bit about the opening title sequence. There a 15 minute featurette about some of the ghosts that haunt the house. Lastly there is an audio commentary track for the pilot episode with co-creator Ryan Murphy.

American Horror Story is a great slice of weird horror. It’s scary, shocking, sexy, twisted, funny, and manages to do something that few TV shows pull off: contain some honest to God surprises. It is well acted, directed, and written with a creepy and mysterious atmosphere it manages to maintain from the first episode until the last one. I love that season one is its own self-contained story with a great beginning and a solid ending with no cheesy cliffhangers needed for the season finale. In all ways AHS is a winner and I can highly recommend it for all horror fans out there. Do yourself a favor and pick up this Blu-ray set today.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has penned stories that have appeared in the anthologies: Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Atomic Age Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu and Flesh Like Smoke. He is also the managing editor of Dark Regions Press’ Weird Fiction line. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can check out his infrequently updated webpage here: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/ and follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons.

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