I started watching the recent FX series American Horror Story this week. I've always been a bit of a horror fan and upon hearing relatively good reviews I figured that it would be a fun way to fill the hole left by the first season of the excellent Downton Abbey.
I wasn't disappointed. At least not with the first episode. American Horror Story is a strange beast indeed. Not at all what I expected. The series pilot is a giddy exercise in excess. The episode opens with a flashback to the 1970s in which a preteen handicapped girl eerily tells two young redheaded twin boys that they will die in the creepy house they are about to enter in order to retrieve their wayward baseball. Surely a prime time TV show wouldn't kill two young children in its opening sequence. Right?
Wrong. They die. Brutally.
And that's just the beginning. We are then treated to a deliciously disturbing opening title sequence, very reminiscent of Fincher's Se7en, except here tinged with hints of the supernatural. Following the titles the show hits the ground running and over the remaining forty minutes we are relentlessly assaulted with a barrage of creepy imagery, some more successful than others, but the show screams forward at such a pace that there is barely a chance to think about what you have just witnessed before the next ghoulish image is splashed across the screen.
And this is what I loved about the pilot. There is simply so much craziness thrown at the audience that the show begins to take on a surreal, Lynchian atmosphere. American Horror Story presents a world that is spatially and temporally fractured. Nothing seems to fit, you are never sure how much time is passing. It's full of jump cuts, crash zooms and off kilter camera angles. Yes it's brash and silly. But if you roll with it you will be rewarded with one of the loopiest, most fun television pilots I've seen in years.
The downside however is that I have since watched the next four or five episodes and the giddy insanity doesn't quite hold up. American Horror Story has begun to morph into a more conventional television serial. That's not to say there isn't any fun to be had, there is. It just lacks the crazy surrealism of the pilot. The spooky creatures are becoming fleshed out characters, which unfortunately also renders them less frightening. The jarring, choppy structure too has begun to fade into a more conventional passage of time which again lessens the show's creepiness.
Having said that I do plan to keep watching. American Horror Story is a bold and unique show. It's certainly not afraid to go places most shows would never dream of going. Admittedly the strategy of the creators seems to be to throw as many scares at the audience as possible and assume at least some will stick. But luckily, some usually do. And I for one am keen to know where this show will go and what it will become.
Plus I need to know what's up with the weird haunted leather gimp suit.