Friday, March 9, 2012

Needful Things - American Horror Story Season 1

Horror is the natural reaction to the last 5,000 years of history.
-Robert Anton Wilson

Spoilers below

I think this font is 25% of the reason I love this show.
I had been avoiding watching American Horror Story. This was in part due to my hatred of Glee and anything to do with musical theatre. There was a sense that no one could possibly create something all-encompassing enough to be called American Horror Story. The notion that AHS could actually be scary while on a TV network. Could something that was packaged as a commercial, serial entity be scary and enjoyable? Quick answer, yes. It's mean and nasty while being compassionate at the same time. What eventually spurred me to watching it was a couple friends' recommendations and the hatred with which it was being treated with by television critics. I've spoken  before about my dislike of hating a genre for genre sake. (yes, I realize the irony of stating that I hate musicals, I will say I hate 97% of musicals - for the 20 Rent-like shows, there's a Hedwig and the Angry Inch.)

A quick catch up on AHS if this is new to you - Ben and Vivien Harmon are a married couple escaping their collective past; Ben cheats, Vivienne has a late-term miscarriage. They move to Los Angeles in hopes of starting a new life with their melancholy teenage daughter in tow. Unfortunately for them, their new start is in the Murder House, a house so full of violent deaths that there are 12 episodes worth of ghost stories. AHS functions as both a dramatic horror series and a horror anthology. We follow the Harmons as they become more integrated with the house and its history. (two words: ghost rape) Each episode serves to illuminate some aspect of the "A" storyline (the Harmons) with a revelation from the "B" storyline (the house's history). Nothing revolutionary but for all the ambition of AHS it wraps up a lot of stories using this technique which is not always easy when your subject matter is the fantastic. (see Lost, X Files, Walking Dead et al)

Now, I will say that it's crazy over the top. There are rubber body suits, lots of sex and some truly odd dialogue. But the cast is so wonderful that I'd watch them paint this flipping house (which they do). As the beleaguered wife Vivien Connie Britton is awesome. She's lovely to watch and if I were in her shoes I feel as though I'd act that way. One of the things that bugged me, her hair. It's gorgeous. Even on a day where she's been terrorized by ghosts her hair is still glossy and perfectly blown up. Needless to say, it ate me up inside. I wasn't expecting to like Dylan McDermott's Ben but a couple episodes in I realized that the character's a slime-ball who doesn't know he's a slime-ball. He does shitty things but honestly wants to do right by the people he loves. He's just kind of an idiot. (Also, when he fights Tate wearing only a towel.... rawr) Jessica Lange is suitably fantastic. If you ever wondered what happened to a Tenessee Williams' Violet Venable from Suddenly Last Summer I think we've got a pretty accurate approximation in Lange's Constance Langdon. In the plethora of guest stars one really stands out for me, Zachary Quinto's Chad Warwick. In the past year Quinto starred in one of my favourite contemporary movies, Margin Call which he also produced. As a gay former owner of the house Quinto's over the top dialogue feels grounded and real, he's a wonderful actor and I'm happy to hear he'll be back for season 2 as a different character but a bigger part. Love Quinto, love his story line, I love the whole goddamn thing.

Yup, AHS may be the tawdry over the top show I get hooked on. It's not revolutionary. In fact it works like a puzzle with visual allusions to Halloween, Rosemary's Baby, Beetlejuice, Psycho, The Ring and countless others. For horror fans it's an ode to our favourite freaky movies and tropes wrapped in a juicy psychopath's melodrama with the icing of some really terrific performances. It's just like Glee, but instead of musical numbers there's profanity, sexual transgression and lots and lots of blood.

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