Saturday, October 8, 2011

American Horror Story (Episode 1)

It's the classic setup: a family, on the verge of falling apart, moves into a old house with an unnerving backstory (the previous owners killed themselves). Could the house be... haunted? Probably. But here's the twist: there's like 80 twists. The girl next door with Down Syndrome likes to sneak into the house and proclaim "You're going to die here!" There's a fucked up fetish suit in the attic that may or may not come to life and rape people. The maid appears as an old woman to the mother, but as a sexy young trollop to the father. The father is a psychiatrist, and one of his patients may be able to turn in to (or summon?) a monster. Some dude with a burned face seems to be hanging around near the property, watching the family. And like a million other things I didn't mention.

Okay, so this is not technically a movie, but I thought since there was a new horror TV series debuting this month, I'd include the first few episodes for the marathon. Reviews for American Horror Story have been brutal, and I can kinda see why, but I was tickled enough with the pilot that I want to stick around for at least a few more episodes. At the very least, I'm intrigued with the format. Usually, when there's a horror themed television show, it's either an anthology series (Twilight Zone, Tales From the Crypt, Tales From the Darkside), or if it's an ongoing story, it's more of an episodic/procedural/monster-of-the-week type deal (X Files, Supernatural) with some serialized elements. So I'm really curious to see how this is going to work, a horror series that is presumably telling one, extended story.

The pilot has (serious) problems, but there's some creepy touches, some novel ones (the maid thing is kinda unique), and sometimes a sort of knowing, campy tone that let's you know they are trying to have fun with all this weirdness. It has way, way too much story for one episode of TV, but I suspect that's supposed to be part of the appeal: it's like they are trying to pile on every plot, every stock image, every cliche from every horror movie you've ever seen onto one show. I can't say that I'm at all drawn into the story yet, or that I care how the solutions to any of the countless mysteries they've set up, but I am curious to see just how thick the writers keep laying it on.

This is by some of the folks that did Glee, and this pilot was directed by co-creator Ryan Murphy. And he seems kind of like a shitty director. Well, that's a little unfair: some individual shots are kinda cool (those ghost twins walking out from behind either side of the mother was nifty), but it's all been edited into ADHD incoherence. Brief scenes of two people conversing will be broken up into what seems like 10 different shots for no discernible reason. Much like how Murphy ruined all the song and dance scenes in the Glee pilot with his unwillingness to hold a shot long enough to show a complete action (one of the main reasons I have never watched another episode of that show), he kills a lot of the atmosphere here by breaking everything up so much. Some times, it's clearly intended for effect (there's a scene where the mother thinks someone is in her house, and the editing gets herky jerky to, I guess, show her panicked state of mind), but it just looks ugly and incompetent. The only time it maybe kind of works is during a bizarre, strobe lit suspense sequence set in the basement, but it works because the point is that the scene is supposed to be visually confusing. Credit where it's due, that scene is one of the highlights of the episode.

Ha, kinda funny that I just wrote more about an hour pilot than I did about any of the full length features so far. But I guess it's just because I'm really into the idea of a new horror series, and I care enough that I don't want them to fuck it up. I'd say there's just enough here in the pilot that I'm willing to stick it out for at least the rest of October.

Grade: C+

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