'American Horror Story' premiere review: Was it scary/freaky/sexy enough for you?

“The world is a horrible place,” said a character in the premiere of American Horror Story, and this new hour from Glee producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk did its best to prove that dismal sentiment true. Welcome to The Anti-Glee, or perhaps more like Gleeful Hell. There was sadism on the screen, and you may have felt a sadistic pleasure in watching.

American Horror Story is about a family and a house. The family is the Harmons (Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, and their teen daughter, played by Taissa Farmiga). They buy a big, old house in Los Angeles that may be haunted and was definitely the site of previous murders. The family is troubled even before they move into Big Scary House: Britton’s Vivien caught McDermott’s Ben (a psychiatrist) boffing one of his students a while back and they’re still working through their trust issues, as well as the trauma of Vivien having recently birthed a stillborn child, described as “a brutal miscarriage.”

Unlike most scary TV shows (and movies), which rely upon the rhythm of a few quiet scenes followed by a boo! fright every 20 minutes or so, AHS is pretty much all-scare, all the time: a whole lotta screams, sex, jolts, mashed faces, psychotic behavior, and dead children. It’s a scare-’em show attuned to Twitter rhythms.

On the basis of this and Nip/Tuck, it’s difficult to escape the idea that Murphy has a thing about women’s bodies: He and his collaborators find endless ways to distort, alter, or make them suffer. A maid played by Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) changes bodies with a younger, sexier version of herself (Alexandra Breckinridge). Daughter Violet is a cutter. Vivien had sex with a man in a rubber bondage suit whom she thinks is Ben but who probably isn’t, and tells him she loves him. In this show, everyone likes it rough. And depressing: “Wanna listen to Morrissey?” Violet asks Ben’s deeply troubled teen patient Tate (Evan Peters). “He hates everyone and everything.”

Jessica Lange eluded pain – thus far — as nosy next-door neighbor Constance. Indeed, she’s a malicious hoot, more colorful than the morose characters McDermott and Britton are compelled to play (Dermott with futile strenuousness; Britton with cunning ease). Constance uttered the pilot’s best, most baffling line, to the maid(s): “Don’t make me kill you again.” Denis O’Hare, working with half a face and a character with brain cancer, warned Ben (in the pilot’s lamest line), “Your family is in danger.”

AHS is a riotous mishmash of not merely the conventions of the horror genre, but also Charlie Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders (the producers made sure someone muttered, “Helter skelter”), Todd Browning’s Freaks, the Gothic romance, the serial-killer genre, TV shows ranging from Six Feet Underto Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and ’60s-’70s commercial art films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now — the latter two Murphy has specifically cited as influences. Those films’ plots and themes collide in AHS: (troubled married couple, death of a child, explicit-for-the-time sex, a shattered dream narrative, spooky living quarters, babies as symbols of life, innocence, and life and innocence betrayed). But does mashing influences together make for something new?

The moral rot that crumbles beneath AHS is very much a theme in contemporary film horror. Rot is, however, unstable; it’s one thing to use it for sour jolts in a 90-minute R-rated film you see for screams ‘n’ giggles on a Saturday night. But whether you’ll want to tune in every Wednesday evening to see this family endure puzzlement and misery is your decision now, right?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (148 total) Add your comment
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  • Hsr

    This was FANTASTIC. Sadistic and completely sucks you in!

    • Jennifer

      Could EW find a lamer promo still for the show for this article?

      • Shannon

        I think I have to agree with you there. It couldn’t represent the show any less.

    • Terry

      I wonder how in the hell are they gonna work around this inevitable write-yourself-into-a-corner notion; no matter how much money you paid for the house, any normal family would be OUT F THERE as soon as all those horrible things started happening. How are they going to justify the family staying in this house for an entire season?

      • DTO

        Correct. At least in THE SHINING, the family was stuck in the Overlook Hotel for the long haul. This house is right in the middle of L.A. Even if there were supernatural events going on to creep them out, I’d say having neighbors such as Jessica Lang’s bizarre Southern belle and her creepy mentally challenged daughter and Denis O’Hare’s spooky burn victim would be sufficient reasons to GTFO.

      • mark

        Who’s to say they won’t kill the Harmons at some point and have a new family move in, showing the harmons occasionally as ghosts.

      • Adagio

        I read another article with an interview of Britton and it states **Small Spolier Alert** that situations arise that moving from the house is difficult to remote.

      • jess

        Agreed. The opened so many plot lines last night… just hope they have the stamina to keep them all going to a satisfying resolution and not end up as some “LOST” cluster-f of unresolved stories.

        One major issue I have about the the use of someone with Down’s Syndome in such an exploitative way. From the mistreatment in the dialogue (Lange calls her a mongoloid) and just the overall function of her character as being “creepy” just bothered me. It didn’t have to be written that way.

      • Captain

        @Jess
        If you’ve seen Glee then you know Ryan/Brad treat actor’s with down’s syndrome very carefully. Becky and Sue’s sister are two of the most positive and likable characters on the show. I get where you’re coming from but one of them has clearly been personally affected by the condition (seeing as down syndrome plays a part in both Glee and AHS) so I don’t think they would intentionally try to exploit anyone with it.

      • Christine

        @Jess: I didn’t think the use of the word ‘mongoloid’ was meant to be offensive, but just to show the type of person her mother is.

      • Matt

        in episode 3 they decide to sell the house

    • DTO

      I disagree. I’m a fan of horror, but I thought the pilot was garishly over-the-top and just kept kept going. It’s trying very hard, maybe too hard, to be shocking and disturbing and it’s going to burn itself out soon. Also, Dylan McDermott sucks. I know NIP-TUCK went on for many seasons, but it was overdoing it on shock and camp before the end of season 3, IMO, and I can’t imagine this having a shelf life of more than 2 seasons, if that. To each their own, though. I’m not saying anyone who likes this is stupid, or any of the usual Internet trollery, just that it wasn’t for me, though I may give it another episode or two to see if I’m wrong.

      • TimBuck2

        Agree. Much as I love the genre, the show was unrelentingly grim. The Harmons are already so bleak, how can the characters develop from here? In general, overkill from the first ep.

      • Jamie

        Honestly, I said to myself if they show his butt one more time, or say shit or god d it just because they can on cable, I’m going to turn it off. I’m not against nudity and foul language when it adds to the story or the script (see The Reader), but last night felt like it was so forced that it was silly. And the explotation of the girl with Downs Syndrome just irritated me from beginning to end. I’ll probably watch it, again. But, if it doesn’t improve, I most likely won’t last through the season.

      • Josale

        I agree. From the sexually addictive dad, the father’s psychotic teen patient, to the disturbed daughter, to the depressed mom, to the crazy neighbors, to the morphing maid. There isn’t one “normal” person in the show. No one to “root” for. It was too much grim reaper, not enough scare factor. Simple, creepy stuff is best. I’ll probably stick with Walking Dead.

      • K

        Agree – This was ALL OVER THE PLACE. You couldn’t take in the scares since it was so chaotic and frenzied (not in a good way). Did not enjoy it AT ALL (such a shame because I love Connie Britton). Also Dylan McDermott has NOT AGED.

      • Valley Girl

        ITA. By the end I was very close to just deleting it from the DVR altogether, but since I like Lange and O’hare, I’ll give it at least one more episode.

      • Jim

        This, to me, is just simply must gross-out tv. I love Jessica Lange and Dylan McDermott is still one of the most handsome men in the universe, but this show is already too over the top and I can’t see tuning in each week. Unlike GLEE, there’s really no one here that you want to get behind and a good horror story needs a protagonist who withstands the nightmares they find themselves in. I never liked NIP/TUCK because it was just over the top and I have the same feeling about this. I think if Murphy wanted to capture a real American horror story, he would have done a show about the Kardashian family. THEY are scarey!

      • B

        I think “all over the place” sums it up perfectly. Moments of brilliance, but frankly sometimes it seems like they were put into a blender with pointless moments of “let’s see how far we can challenge the FCC limits without FX censoring us” and spit out. I even found it a bit difficult to follow, it was so all-over-the-place.

  • Barbarino

    Yeah. Really nothing to compare this show to. I was frustrated at times but there were so many wtf moments that I will definitely keep watching.
    What an actress Jessica Lange is!!

    • theKFBs

      Totally agree! Jessica Lange is vibrant, sexy and still one of the best damn scene stealers in the business! Based-on last night’s pilot, it looks like “American Horror Story” is set to deliver TV’s finest WTF moments since David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”…twenty years ago. OMG, it really has been that long!

      • DTO

        TWIN PEAKS could at times be subtle and also had an overarching murder mystery driving it. This doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just a bunch of deeply screwed-up people deciding to live in a house full of bad juju. I don’t see a multi-season arch here at all.

      • Dee

        TWIN PEAKS! Oh, how I loved that show. I would watch it and tape it and watch it again. Agent Cooper – oh boy. Twin Peaks grabbed me right from the first show.

  • Schwartz

    I am really interested in seeing where murphy/falchuk takes this series.
    And as long as Dylan McDermott bares his ass every episode, I am there.

    • dan

      and spanking the monkey

      • GARTH

        Something else happened besides the bare ass and monkey spanking? I’m gonna have to watch again. Much. More. Closely.

  • Thalee

    I personally loved it and cant wait to see more ! It was sexy, scary, jumpy, a psychological thriller, its exactly wat you can ask for ! Keep it coming and I guarantee ill be tuned in every time !

  • Randy

    Definitely excited to see more. Only fault (and a big one if it continues) is that it went WAY too fast. It felt like a 2 hour premiere was edited into 1 hour. Scares every minute are nice visually but ruin the story. Hard to feel anything for the characters if theres no time to process the horror.
    Lange is classic as always – hope to see more of her.
    Summed up – Visually stunning, compelling plot but edited and/or directed poorly.

    • Lincoln

      It’s episode ONE, Randy. “Hard to feel anything for the characters if there’s no time to process the horror.” Um. It’s hard to feel anything for almost any character in any series after just watching 1 episode. It’s all about getting the feel of the show first. Being INTRODUCED to characters, really. It’s supposed to be a steady pace. Be patient!

      • DTO

        Randy’s got a point, Lincoln. Have you heard the old saying about the candle burning twice as bright lasting twice as long? It’s so over-the-top and in-your-face that even the people who like it could grow tired of it before the season’s out.

    • K

      Spot on Randy. That’s exactly the problem I had and I think that’s a big problem if not addressed.

  • steven

    I think every person who commented about this show and loved it, would have loved this show know matter what. The pilot was complete garbage and yet you all still say you love it.

    • Sarah

      lol. Why on earth would a bunch of us lie about how we feel? What good would it do to us if we say we like it if we didn’t like it? Ryan isn’t paying me money to love it. I’m sure half of us aren’t getting paid to watch. In fact, some of us have to pay to even have the channel! You’re silly. lol. Why would anyone say they love it if they don’t? Makes no sense.

      • DTO

        Nobody’s accusing you of lying. Steven’s just accusing you of having no taste.

    • bet625

      @STEVE Unfortunatley you do not control or are the owner of other peoples opinions therefore what you believe and what is reality are two very different things. If you did not like the show guess what TURN IT OFF.
      Simple enough no….

    • kate middleton

      I didn’t think it was very good either. I’ll give it one more week.

      Really don’t like seeing Connie Britton in something like this!

      • Simm Fan

        Do you hear that Connie? Kate wants you to retire now!

    • Adagio

      I think every person who commented about this show and hated it, would have hated this show know matter what. The pilot was complete genius and yet you all still say you hated it….See how that works?

      • Jamie

        I don’t think that’s true. I’m a huge fan of all types of the horror genre. Books, movies, etc… I’m reading a book about a haunted house now called the Floating Staircase and am enjoying it. I didn’t hate the piolt of the show but there were several things I didn’t like. I’m going to give it another chance, though. Just because someone doesn’t like one horror or thriller doesn’t mean they are opposed to the genre.

      • Adagio

        Jamie, I guess I should have stated “insert sarcasm here” Steven was making a generalization and I just switched around a couple of words to mock his statement. I don’t find either to be true.

    • Lovely_Dove04

      @ steven-Dude…seriously. That show was great. Great story. Great actors.

    • Ann

      I agree. I thought the show was horrible.

  • Jay

    Sick and vulgar. Hell yes, I will watch this every week!

  • James

    I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. It wasnt very scary but had a unique style thats not for everyone but I loved it.

  • Shannon

    It was pretty wacky, but I’ll probably keep watching. Really liking Taissa Farmiga. I don’t know when FX became HBO lite, but it’s amusing.

    • James

      Since they came out with The Shield in 2002. I take it the people surprised by the sex stuff in the show have never watched FX very much before. Ryan Murphys other FX drama Nip/Tuck makes this show look PG.

      • Shannon

        Yeah, I had a feeling I was a little behind. I only started watching FX recently with the screwball Wilfred.

      • Shannon

        Oh, I should mention that it’s not just the sex stuff I’m not accustomed to watching on semi-basic cable. It’s the if-it’s-not-the-f-word-it’s-ok language. It’s good to hear some of the peppery and not just the salty, but it seems out of nowhere to me. Sure, I’ve heard plenty on South Park and Comedy Central Roasts and such, but I guess I haven’t been watching as much cable as I thought.

    • Jennifer

      Because you’ve never heard of THE SHIELD?

      • Shannon

        Oh, I’ve heard of it. But, I never watched it.

    • ronco

      Still pissed at FX for axing Terriers and Lights Out, but I’m giving this a try.

      • Yes

        AGREED!!! Only two shows on FX I watched, and I LOVED both. I guess they weren’t edgy/graphic/button-pushing enough :(

      • Holly

        I loved Terriers!! I’ve been boycotting FX since they kicked it off the air. But I have to admit this show has got me hooked. Lots of craziness going on, hopefully they will give direct answers and not vague crap ala Lost.

      • JustMe

        I still miss Terriers!

    • Jen

      Please may I have more kink!

  • Simona

    Holy mother of God! I have no idea if I can sit through the type of scare this pilot gave me! I’m still reeling from it. I’m not sure I can put myself through that every week. But I loved it!

    • Kelly

      I’m with you. I tend to gravitate to dark, edgy shows, but this was over the top creepy, scary and sick thrown into one hour. I was exhausted by the time it was over. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think I can watch week after week (if the show lasts that long).

    • tejo

      deepen03 on April 11, 2010 man this eiecrver is slick i have the 722 and i’m so tired of that old GUI.. this is the best dish eiecrver ever. if its only 200 bucks to upgrade. i’m gonna get this soon. a slingbox alone is 160, so not bad for 200 bucks.

  • Lori

    Freaky and scary (why do you think I’m still up at 3am EST?) At the end of the scene with McDermott and the half-burned guy, McDermott runs away and the burned guy flashes a creepy smile. Terrifying. I can’t wait to see more, although I think I’ve figured out what’s going on, or at least some part of it (think “Sixth Sense”).

  • Preston

    I didn’t think this was great (or scary) television, but I found it terribly creepy, often chilling, and highly intriguing. Next week, I’m sure I’ll somehow find myself riveted once again; I think it has the potential to be much better (mostly thanks to the acting groundwork by Britton and Lange).

  • Turtlespoon

    creeperotic.

  • Jay Borcherding

    There were some story arcs on Nip/Tuck that were absolutely insane. I gave this show a shot because of Murphy. I’m a little worried about maintaining this kind of pace–why in the world would they stay in the house if this stuff keeps up? But it was a fun, spooky and deranged pilot, and if they can develop the characters and keep interesting revelations coming, it has a shot at being a really good. But can it last?

    • Geralyn

      The Allen Folk Music Society meets on the third Saturday of each month for an old-fashioned sing along. Bring an acoustic inustrment, a song to share, and a snack to share (please no alcohol since we are on city property.)Open to ages 15 to 100.Venue:The Blue House102 S Allen DriveAllen TX 75002The Blue House is located on Allen Drive just north of McDermott.If I can help you any more, you are welcome to write me at .It is a small, friendly, and talented group (except for me who loves this music.)Regards,Bob MartinBoard Member, Allen Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphony Chorus

  • Troy

    I found this totally unwatchablee. Not because because of the dark nature of the material but because of the incomprehensible style of editing (If i didn’t know that it was deliberate I would call it incompentent.) I don’t see this show lasting even on a network that prizes itself on its edginess like FX. I think the way the story is being told will prove to be too off-putting. I do agree agree that Jessica Lange was an ominous hoot and her curious remark to Francis Conroy “Don’t make me kill you again” was intriguing but not enough to make up for the editing styleo. I’m done and will NOT be watching again.

    • MCS

      I think using jump cuts was innovative, and really worked in certain sequences, especially when McDermott was being pursued by the stranger in the car.

    • Tiffany

      I am glad that you brought that up Troy. Then I realized that Murphy directed it and then it started to make sense. This pilot was awful. Ryan Murphy needs to be the kid that just sits there and not touch anything. Just let the adults take care of things and if he behaves, then he will be treated to an ice cream cone later. Dude, you are not David Fincher, just STOP. I will give it another chance next week if I know he is not directing. Sorry for the rant, I am still pissy that he is going to destroy the play The Normal Heart.

      • dan

        Not defending Ryan Murphy, but he did win an Emmy for directing the pilot episode of Glee.

      • @dan

        Because every critic and TV insider was creaming themselves over the pilot of Glee. One of the most overhyped and overrated things I’ve ever seen.

    • txmama

      agreed. we tried to like it but even jessica lange can’t save this show. it had such potential. now if it can pull a 180 like fringe and turn it around, i’ll be back. but i’m out for now.

    • Caroline

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