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A Story that Scares
American Horror Story - Season 1
Member Name: ryanando
American Horror Story - Season 1
Advantages: Great plot, fantastic for horror fans, full of drama, great cast, brilliant acting, decent extras
Disadvantages: If you dont like scary stuff, you may not enjoy.
As I write, it's December. I am one of those obnoxious people who plan the absolute crap out of Christmas and as such December is completely shopping and stress free for me. I wasn't always this organized but that was back before I was a grown up and didn't have to buy anything. The point being that this usually leaves me with quite a lot of free time to spend doing fun stuff around this time of year. Casting my mind back to last year and one of the things that was high on my to-do list, other than essentially deciding to move in with my partner, was Television. Lots of fantastic shows were on and I had to watch them all. Mostly I was a seasoned veteran with most of the stuff I was watching but there was one show that was entirely new to me.
===High-school is a bitch===
Brutal murder, rape, men in rubber suits; three things that you don't really associate with High-school-musical-for-tv Glee. Well you should. American Horror Story is brought to you by none other than Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck, who wrote the first two seasons of Glee along with Ian Brennan. American Horror Story aired last year (2011) at the beginning of October, a stunt that I assume was cashing in on the time of year. Nothing like a scary TV show at Halloween right? In fact, it ran right up to Christmas with twelve 45 minute long episodes (that's an hour with adverts), with the two "Halloween" episodes straddling Halloween nicely. The show was the Fox channels highest rating premiere and quickly became one of their highest rated shows ever. You may have already guessed but this show is rated 18 and is not for the easily offended or easily scared. We've been re-watching the show with a friend as she fully admits she'd not be able to watch it on her own.
Set in present day, the Harmon family decide to move to L.A. to escape the demons of their past and start a new life. They come across a gorgeous restored mansion that is on the market incredibly cheap due to a horrible murder-suicide. After snapping up the property The Harmons soon discover that it wasn't just the previous owners who were murdered and the Harmons are not the only ones living in the property, locally known as The Murder House. The ghosts of its former residents also reside within the walls and they are not nearly as friendly as Casper.
A lot of the episodes start with flashbacks to a time in the houses gruesome history, telling bits of the stories of previous residents. After this has been done, you'll flip forward to present day to see what is going on with the current residents.
The box is the same thickness as one DVD so it will fit nicely into your collection without taking up too much space. The box we got came with a sleeve with the same artwork as the DVD it held within it making it feel that little bit more special. In the box there are four discs with all 12 episodes and Extra Footage. The discs are all black with a small creepy photo on the left and the disc number and what it contains on the right in blood red. A very pretty looking set of discs. The menus on the discs are easy to navigate and completely in keeping with the style of the show, even having some of the eerie title sequence music playing in the background. Even the menus are a bit scary. That's just brilliant!
Dylan McDermott plays Dr Ben Harmon. He has actually been in a tonne of famous movies (Miracle on 34th street, In the line of Fire, Party Monster, Twister, Steel Magnolias, and more recently The Perks of Being a Wallflower) but I had never really noticed him till now. Christ he is beautiful! Ben is caught cheating by his wife just after she gives birth to a stillborn baby. He is moving his family to try and get away from the affair and mend relations with his wife. His character is full of regret, sadness and anger but also a determination to move on. He is also a psychiatrist and plans to use the huge house they have bought to see his patients in, most of the time leading to some terrible consequences for his family or the patients. Within the first episode you will see quite a lot of this mans naked behind. Enjoy it, it is beautiful.
Vivian Harmon is Ben's wife. Played by Connie Britton (she's in spin city and played Nancy's mother in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake). She is still recovering mentally from both the birth of her stillborn child and finding Ben with another woman. Understandably she cannot bear for Ben to touch her but is working hard to patch things up and come to terms not only with her own body but her husbands indiscretions. The spirits in the house have big plans for her and eventually she is driven to the brink of sanity, not knowing what is real.
Violet Harmon is their teenage daughter Played by Taissa Farmiga. This was her second acting role and her first main role. She's starring in two upcoming films in 2013 and if American Horror story is anything to go by, she could be one to watch out for. She is the sister of the slightly better known Vera Farmiga who appeared in The Departed and starred in Orphan. Violet is happy to be moving from her old school where she was bullied and soon makes friends with one of her fathers younger Clients. She soon starts to realize the power the house holds and swings between accepting it and being scared to death by it throughout the series. Farmiga gives a fantastic performance throughout.
Constance Langdon is played by Jessica Lange. Lange first appeared in the 1976 version of King Kong, playing Kong's love interest. She has since appeared in an absolute tonne of films and television shows and recently winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the role of Constance Langdon. This character is the long time neighbour to the mysterious house. Her character is hilarious due to the fact she is a complete bitch. She goes from being a protective mother to her down-syndrome daughter to a complete monster who locks her in cupboards and calls her names. There is a constant edge to this character leaving you with the feeling that there are some evil secrets lurking just below the surface. Just for the record, there are. I can understand why Lange won awards for this role. Any time she is on screen you are just mesmerized by her acting. She sucks you in and keeps you hooked.
Adelaide Addie Langdon is played by Jamie Brewer. Not only is Addie the first character you meet in American Horror Story, this is Brewers first role in anything film or TV related. She is a seasoned dancer and has worked for a long time with theatre groups both writing and performing. She is one of my favourite characters in the show partly due to the childlike innocence and the fact that she tends to bear the brunt of her mothers horrific temper. Brewer not only scares the living crap out of viewers and the inhabitants of the Murder House but she also tugs violently on your heart strings at the best of times, most notably when she simply wants to be a "pretty girl" for Halloween.
Tate is played by Evan Peters. He is a very pretty 25 year old. His biggest role till American Horror Story was probably as a bit part in Kick-Ass. Tate is one of Dr Harmon's patients who has been sent to him due to his worrying nightmares and visions in which he goes on a shooting rampage in his high school. He is having difficulty dealing with the nature of the visions but is also clearly enjoying aspects of them. He persists on getting involved with the whole family and is a brilliant character who swings from very light and happy to disturbed within seconds. Another brilliant performance that ties the whole show together nicely.
===Past Residents and other Players===
As I said previously, the show flips back and forward between the past and present, looking into short snippets of the lives of previous residents in the Murder House. These characters really make the story complete. There are also some important side characters who are not ghosts but just as important to the plot. They are not all in every episode but they are arguably more important to the plot than even the main characters. As such there are some brilliant supporting actors giving memorable performances throughout.
Lily Rabe plays Nora Montgomery, the woman who the house was built for. He husband is a doctor with a drug problem which eventually leads to being slightly insane. Rabe's portrayal of a 1920's housewife who is more concerned about having a maid than her husbands well being is outstanding.
Moira O'Hara is a long standing maid for the residents of the house and is played regularly by two people. Alexandra Brekenridge portrays the younger, sex-pot maid in a very short maids outfit with stockings and suspenders, intent on stirring things up and sleeping with anyone with a pulse. Brekenridge has been round quite a bit having apperances in things like Buffy and True blood. She also used to date Evan Peters who has another main role in the show. Frances Conroy plays the older demure side of the character. Conroy's most famous role was as the Mother in Six Feet Under (brilliant show by the way). Her outfit covers everything and she's very prim and proper. She becomes a little protective over the Harmons, especially Vivian and is in a bit of a battle of wills with the nosey neighbour Constance.
Larry Harvey is the creepy guy with the burned face. He stalks Ben around warning him about the evil that is within the house but does he have other intentions? His relationships with some of the other main players will make you raise an eyebrow throughout and there are some great twists in his characters story. He is played by Denis O'Hare who was in True Blood for a while and has been in quite a few other things in bit parts.
Zachary Quinto took up the fantastic role of Chad Warwick: A former resident of the Murder house who was trying his best to sell the house on when he found out that his partner Patrick has been cheating on him. Quinto takes a bit of a different role than I was used to seeing him in, rather than playing the Emotionless Spock from the star trek movies or the Heartless serial killer, Syler from heroes, he takes up a very effeminate queeny character, allowing him to be a complete bitch. You go girl. A fantastic performance from Quinto.
The last main player of the supporting cast is Kate Mara who plays Hayden, one of bens flings that just won't go away. Mara played heath ledgers daughter in Brokeback Mountain and has had quite a few appearances in other American TV shows such as Nip/tuck and will soon to be appearing in a Netflix produced show "House of Cards" alongside Kevin Spacey. Hayden follows the Harmon family to their new home to stir up trouble, not realising the family are already in enough trouble as it is without her help. She really helps ramp up the tension between the main characters and digs up a lot of the past for everyone to see. A brilliant portrayal of a disgruntled and slightly unhinged young woman.
There are still a plethora of other characters to sink your teeth into throughout the 12 episodes each with a well thought out back story. Every single person in this show gives a fantastically believable performance which just makes the show that much creepier.
===A spooky Ghost did it===
I fully admit, when you read the premise, it sounds like it's going to be terrible. Even watching the first episode or two, I was completely baffled as to where the story was going. I can, however, tell you that if you stick with it, the story develops into a fantastically rounded show. The ghosts are not a person in a sheet and it doesn't feel like they are trying too hard to scare you. There is a well thought out plot that runs through the whole show eventually tying everything together at the end, even the stuff you hadn't realized was important. Not only is there amazing writing, but it's the first TV show I've ever watched that had a real fear factor that never got old. Walking dead came close but the Zombies all got a bit stale after while. X-Files had one or two creepy episodes but not quite on the same level as this.
The first series of American Horror Story was kept fresh and interesting throughout, constantly building suspense, mystery and intrigue making you need to watch to find out what happened next. The only complaint I have about the show is that the end episode was too long by half. The story was nicely rounded up by half way through the episode and so what followed after that just seemed a bit Bleh. Mostly it gave the head honchos at FOX a chance to tack on an incredibly happy-but-morbid-if-you-think-too-hard ending to the show.
At the time it felt like it was setting season two up to be a really boring watered down version of this final episode repeated till the show was cancelled, however, someone had a brilliant idea! Rather than continue the story of the Murder House and the Harmons, season 2 is a completely different story set in a new location with completely different characters. A lot of the cast has returned but playing completely different roles. Fantastic.
If you really love a show, you'll probably enjoy delving into a few extra features. I know a lot of TV shows where I love the extra footage. American Horror Story is one of those shows that just leaves you wanting more so the extras had me quite excited. Let's see how they went!
===The Murder House presented by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood===
Throughout the first season we occasionally catch glimpses of a local horror tour stopping outside the house and telling a little bit of the stories of the gruesome events of the house. This is a sort of mock-umentary set after the end of the first season and is the tour guide (the guy from Ellen) retelling the full story of the house on a tour. If you haven't seen the series, you need to leave this till afterwards or it will spoil the entire show for you. It basically just recaps everything that happened in the season. Like most tours they get some of the information wrong such as where the bodies were found (two in particular were found in the basement but he says they were found in the house). It doesn't cover absolutely everything either but it's an interesting little recap and lasts just over 6 minutes. Not essential viewing.
===Behind the fright: The making of American Horror Story===
This making of documentary runs for just under 24 minutes and is an alright piece of extra footage. Starting off just explaining the story and then delving into things like costumes, special effects, locations it certainly lets you see some of the interesting behind the scenes stuff. It goes into a little about the history of the house they used in the show (a real house in LA that used to be a nunnery!) which I found brilliant. I have to admit I was a little disappointed that we never got to see anything from or about Addie, one of my favourite characters. Overall though I'd say this is a good extra. We even get to see a little bit of mutilated penis. Just what I needed.
===Overture to Horror: Creating the title sequence===
This was an extra that I was really excited about as I was really curious about the music and how it was put together. They used the team that worked on the film Seven. It starts off with the imagery used in the title sequence and why they used what. Thankfully they do go into the music they use too. I was fascinated to find out they worked with one of the members of Nine Inch Nails reworking a piece of music made by another artist experimenting with slowing music down. I'd still have liked a bit more information on in but it was still a very interesting piece on the fantastic opening sequence. This extra lasts for just under nine minutes.
===Out of the Shadows: Meet the house ghosts===
A bit more of an intimate look at some of the ghostly characters in the house, featuring mostly cast interviews and lasting just over 14 minutes. I quite enjoyed it but I still felt like there were areas they didn't touch on. We did, however, get to hear about some of the more gross scenes and what exactly actors were "throwing up". Another interesting one.
This is definitely the best show to come out of 2011 and the second season is well underway and very muchly keeping American Horror Story up there in the ratings. This box set contains everything you need with a few extra things to keep you entertained and I would say it is a definite must have for any horror fan. Even if you aren't a horror fan, the story that underpins the goings on in the house should be enough to hook anyone. It's not just about blood and guts, there is some amazing drama happening here too. Not one to enjoy with the kids, but without a doubt something that most adults will find fascinating. Five stars out of Five for me.
Summary: One of the best TV shows from 2011
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