Saturday, 2 May 2015

TV Show Review: American Horror Story: Murder House (2011)

© FX |  Source:

United States; 12 Episodes (Season 1); Horror, Drama, Thriller
Channel: FX
Creator: Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy
CastConnie Britton, Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Jessica Lange, Kate Mara, Dylan McDermott, Denis O'Hare, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto

  Constance: Is he dead yet?                                                                                                         Larry: Not quite yet.                                                                                                         Constance: Well make sure he's off the property before he expires. I wouldn't            care to encounter his carcass ever again.

Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is already heading towards its fifth season, and despite the fact that I am a huge fan of anything related to the horror genre, it took me this long to finally take note of it. It’s not like I have been unaware of the existence of this series, but somehow I never felt the impulse to start watching it. When zapping through the TV program at night, I would catch some occasional glances at the second season: American Horror Story: Asylum – too little to be able to follow what was going on, but more than enough to have just about every major turn of events spoiled.

It was only when my brother started watching the first season with his girlfriend (who was too afraid to continue past episode two) and he told me how good it was that I decided to give it a try. The title of the first season – Murder House – sounded promising enough, since the haunted house theme, when done right, is the one that keeps you awake at night, listening for the sound of creaking floorboards or the hostile hissing of the radiator – in short, it’s perfect.

So I began watching the pilot episode with pretty high expectations and I can’t really say they have been met. There were so very many things happening, it was hard to follow but it was also refreshing in a way because it was not predictable. What really bothered me at first were the main protagonists. After the pilot I found it hard to relate to them.

When watching a TV show or a movie I always need someone to relate to or else I simply don’t care whether something happens to them or not. And I can’t be the only one who feels this way because already the ancient Greek talked about “eleos” and “phobos” – pity and fear. It is essential to pity or sympathise with the characters in order to be afraid for them, and I somehow didn’t really feel like I could sympathise with the philandering husband Ben (Dylan McDermott), his passive-aggressive wife Vivien (Connie Britton) and their angsty teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga).  Then I watched the second episode and thought: “Oh well, maybe there's some hope for them after all,” and already after the third episode I was hopelessly hooked on the show.

In a nutshell, American Horror Story: Murder House centres on the Harmon family. After Vivien suffered a miscarriage and her husband, the psychiatrist Ben, cheated on her with one of his students, their marriage is on the brink of destruction. As a last ditch effort to glue their family back together, the Harmons decide to move from Boston to Los Angeles. They fall in love with an incredibly cheap restored Victorian mansion, fully aware of the deadly fate that befell at least some of the previous owners. What they don’t know, however, is that, although dead, they never left.

In every single episode there is some unexpected turn or event that will leave you gaping like a fish out of water and unlike most other horror TV shows, this one is actually scary, which is quite a feat, I think. And despite my initial aversion to the characters, the human interest stories actually do become interesting. The love story between Tate (Evan Peters) and Violet for example is gorgeously unique – and strange and a little freaky and twisted. Evan Peters plays Tate as a fascinating and extremely complex character, who has that special something that makes you forgive him whatever he does. (If you haven't yet watched the series you should skip the next part, because it contains some serious spoilers.) I mean, he is a murderer, psychopath, rapist, arsonist and father of the antichrist and yet you can feel your heart break along with his, the moment Violet tells him to go away.

Connie Britton’s performance as Vivien Harmon is also outstanding. (Spoiler!) Her losing battle for the preservation of her sanity, when everyone else tells her she has lost it, is a kind of horror we can all realte to - with or without ghosts. Everyone knows what it’s like to know something for sure, yet have no one believe you. But the fact that the ghosts of the house conspire to not only make Vivien but everyone else believe she is insane, just to get her out of the way, tops that of course.

The first season of American Horror Story is not just a simple horror show, it’s also a bit like a mystery ride. You know already since the pilot that there are quite literally a dozen bodies in the basement. Every episode focuses on one of them and reveals one piece of the puzzle that adds to the bigger picture of how they ended up haunting the house. Again there are quite a few OMG-moments that sweep you off your feet.

So yes, it took some time, but that first season has left me in a head-over-heels infatuation with American Horror Story. The show  is scary, mysterious, suspenseful and simply intriguing and I’m already excited for what else the creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have in store for us,.


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