This self-aware new show from the producers of Glee and Nip/Tuck is one-stop shopping for horror film imagery
By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
American Horror Story doesn’t seem like the right title for this new FX series, which debuts tonight at 10 p.m./9 Central; “American Camp” might have been more accurate. It’s being sold as a noveau gothic ghost story, and purely in terms of imagery in situations, that description isn’t entirely misleading, but it’s not quite accurate, either. Co-created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the show is one-stop shopping for horror tropes, ancient and recent.
The central family, the Harmons, live in a textbook haunted house — a spacious Victorian-style L.A. mansion that was built in the 1920s and that hosted a horrific double murder-suicide. Of course it’s haunted; there wouldn’t be a show if it weren’t. But in case that’s not enough to sustain a series built around gore, shocks and spookiness, Murphy and Falchuck pile on still more unsettling elements, including Seven-style opening credits; a dysfunctional back story for the main couple, Vivian (Connie Britton) and her psychologist husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott); relentless, verging-on-Carrie bullying of the Harmons’ teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga); a kooky neighbor named Constance (Jessica Lange) who came out to Hollywood to be an actress in the ’60s and now runs a doggie day care center and tends to her teenage daughter Adelaide (Jamie Brewer) who has Down syndrome; time-shifted shocks that seem to allude to horrors that happened in the deep past, or that will happen in the future; and last but certainly not least, an unnerving teenage patient of Ben’s (Evan Peters) who brags of murderous impulses and hallucinates bloody corpses.
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A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.