I reviewed the first two episodes of American Horror Story back in October. It has finished its first season, and attracted a large enough fan base to merit a second.

Good for them.

I won’t be watching.

Title: American Horror Story

Cast and Crew

Connie Britton as Vivien Harmon
Dylan McDermott as Ben Harmon
Taissa Farmiga as Violet Harmon
Evan Peters as Tate Langdon
Jessica Lange as Constance Langdon
Denis O’Hare as Larry Harvey
Kate Mara as Hayden McClaine
Lily Rabe as Nora Montgomery
Jamie Brewer as Adelaide
Frances Conroy as Moira
Alexandra Breckenridge as Moira
Matt Ross as Charles Montgomery
Christine Estabrookas Marcy
Morris Chestnut as Luke
Bodhi Schulz as Troy
Kai Schulz as Bryan
Michael Graziadei as Travis
Celia Finkelstein as Gladys
Mina Suvari as Elizabeth Short

Full credits may be found at the IMDB.

Premise

A troubled family move across the country and take possession of an even more troubled house with a horrendously troubled past.

Chief among the troubles that ensue: people who die in the house remain earthbound, and they cause no end of trouble.

High Points

Individually, many of these stories work. Violet’s arc plays especially well even if you see the twist coming.

The writers also receive credit for tying in so many disparate threads, even if the final explanation appears to be… the House is trying to bring about the birth of the AntiChrist! Well, it is an American horror story.

Low Points

A debate rages around the series’ sexual politics, perhaps more strained than the one that surrounds The Walking Dead. Is the series misogynistic, pro-feminist, or doing its best with problematic conventions? No, the female characters aren’t very sympathetic (Constance is a monster outright, a modern-day Echidna), but the male characters don’t draw much affection either. And everybody suffers, right?

Both our principals, Vivien and Ben, suffer. Vivien gets raped, impregnated, goes through Hell, and ends up in a mental institution. Ben gets tempted by sexy ghosts and realizes he’s kind of a jerk. It doesn’t quite seem fair.

Feel free to continue the debate here. I mention the controversy because it connects to my low point, the handling of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. Yes, this young woman’s brief life and grisly death became fodder for sensational headlines and variable adaptations almost immediately. Mystery writer James Ellroy, whose early life entangles with the Dahlia’s1, wrote a gripping though chaotic novel about her, and it became an atmospheric though chaotic movie. The speculation in most adaptations is sleazy, but fact-based. Even the sleaziest papers struggled with the enigma of Elizabeth’s short life, and tried to give her death some meaning. Here, the notorious victim has been dragged back from the grave once more, only to be presented as a simple-minded nymphomaniac with no purpose save to titillate. She has sex with the sexy version of Moira in order to tempt Ben. Like too much of this show, reality and horror have been mined to produce well-directed softcore erotica.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The series is an original mix of old clichés and deliberate borrowings from classic horror movies and twice-told tales.

Effects: 6/6 The show features brilliant visual effects and editing.

Story: 4/6 The series is wildly uneven, teetering between horrific drama and horribly bad excess.

Acting: 5/6 The show has employed some exceptional actors, who really live in their parts, however twisted. Jessica Lange has come a long way since she was the Bride of de Laurentis’s Kong, and she handles her over-the-top character quite well.

Emotional Response: 3/6 I went from intrigued to uncaring. Personally, I would have preferred an anthology of unconnected stories with one setting, but I suppose that would defeat the purpose of the series. I just think the stories work better on their own, rather than parts of a horrific train wreck.

Production: 5/6

Overall: 4/6 Perhaps this show is an acquired taste. The key thing about horror for many viewers: you have to have some kind of real-world contrast. When every scary thing imaginable gets thrown at you at once, nothing seems frightening.

In the end, the show’s better moments could not make me care enough to continue watching. Millions of fans, however, beg to differ, and the show’s creators have given themselves an interesting challenge for the next season.

Total: The first season of American Horror Story receives 30/42

Notes

1. Ellroy’s mother also fell victim to a killer in L.A. in the same era, and that murder, too, remains unsolved. I have an account of Ellroy’s novel and the movie here. The influence of these killings on the noted author’s real life he discusses at length in My Dark Places.