With the exception of The Walking Dead, in recent years decent horror TV series have been very hard to come by. The joy of Netflix meant that I could delve into the box set of American Horror Story and not worry about whether it would be good or not. After all I could just stop watching if it was awful. I’m therefore pleased to say that I did manage to get through the entire first series.
Anyone who has watched even a small number of horror movies will know the formula of the ‘haunted house’ genre, and it is this formula that Murder House sticks to. It has all the standard tricks of the genre; jump scares, anticipation and dark corridors. What is unique about Murder House however is that unlike the aforementioned horror flicks, this has longevity and therefore the ability to tell a much more intricately woven story. This is not to say it is wholly successful at doing so. Indeed at times, the episodes feel very repetitive and there is not much progression in the overall arc. Towards the end of the series, the speed suddenly picks up as though the writers have realised they actually need to produce a proper ending. A conclusion is reached, and it’s not that world-shattering: Most of the audience will have guessed what happens at the end.
What is unique about Murder House which absolutely cannot be accomplished in a sub 2 hour film is the character progression, and this is where the series really shines. In particular, Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) plays an extremely tortured character who is central to the main plot of the series. He develops a crush on Violet (Taissa Farmiga) and this becomes more and more disturbing as the series progresses. We learn aspects of his back story in almost every episode and this helps keep interest. Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) plays a character with horrendous facial disfigurement and is somewhat of an enigma throughout, lending a sinister air and constant threat to proceedings. Kate Mara, in a role which propelled her towards stardom in House of Cards, plays the extremely sinister and ominous Hayden McClaine, whose affair with Dr. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) creates some great tension between him and his wife Vivien (Connie Britton).
The plot line to American Horror Story is fairly strong, and the basis of the haunted house arises from the many deaths which have occurred there, with the dead trapped in limbo and haunting the residents. Numerous episodes focus on different tragic events which have occurred in the house and this means that many tell a self contained story which also contributes to the overall series arc. One particularly memorable episode guest-starred Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears as the gay couple Chad and Patrick who were brutally murdered by a man dressed in a black latex bondage suit. They inject some light hearted fun into the episode through their bickering and reappear later in the series. The man in the latex suit also appears in perhaps the most disturbing and memorable scene in the series where he has sex with Vivien, consequently impregnating her. Ultimately, the pregnancy provides a major arc in the overall series and is one particular aspect of the show which keeps the audience guessing right until the very end.
Those who enjoy the horror genre will lap up American Horror Story, but its tropes are somewhat stereotypical and repetitive, especially as they reoccur numerous times throughout the series. This is not to say it is uninteresting, far from it. But considering the story arc could have probably been completed in half the episodes, it feels quite drawn out at times. It is an enjoyable journey however and the show is now on its fourth series. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how much longer it can go on for before the concept becomes even more tired than it currently is.