American Horror Story Review: The Wrong Kind of Fear

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My biggest fear regarding American Horror Story isn't related to any dire warnings of death, or any half-burned former owners or even any basement-dwelling ghosts.

It's simply this: that the new show from the minds of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck will focus a lot more on the horror than the story.

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Based on the series premiere, this drama isn't lacking interesting characters.

There's enough going on with Ben and Vivian Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton, respectively, the latter in a role as opposite as humanly possible from Mrs. Coach on Friday Night Lights) to keep me intrigued, and Jessica Lange's Constance likely has a layered backstory, although it would help if the actress dialed down her performance a few hundred notches.

However, the pilot didn't really spend a lot of time with the couple, choosing instead to amp up their shady surroundings. There are weird images here, strange sounds there, a history of residential murders going back decades. Sprinkle in these haunting teases around characters that are struggling in other ways with their everyday lives and you may have something.

But American Horror Story doesn't want to take that path, which is consistent with Murphy and Falchuck's resume. In both shows these two have collaborated on in the past (Nip/Tuck and Glee), the pair seemed to take joy in just seeing what they could get away with. There wasn't a focus on consistent storytelling as much as there was on crossing lines, taking chances, trying to send messages they believed to be profound or important to society.

And there's some merit in that. I have no doubt many viewers will love American Horror Story, if only because it's different than anything else on television. I'd certainly prefer to watch it over yet another CBS procedural.

I just need more for my viewing pleasure than a furrowed brow. The aim of a series can't be solely to leave viewers asking WTF at the end of every episode, or, heck, every scene. Here, for example, there were some tantalizing mysteries, the main one centering around Constance's message to Frances Conroy's maid: Don't make me kill you again. It's also safe to assume that Vivian's baby doesn't belong to her husband (you really do need to leave logic at the door here, considering Vivian and Ben had make up sex - after almost a year without it - one moment, and the next moment she's nonchalant and open about another round... with her partner in a rubber S&M suit.).

Will these mysteries ever get answered, though? Or will the resolution always be the same: the house is haunted. Anything can happen. Again, that's my fear. I don't envision the series going anyplace except to whatever creepy destination Murphy and Falchuk wish to take it on a weekly basis, consistency, logic and character development be damned.

Yes, though, this is presuming a great deal. For now, I'll reserve judgment and wait to see if there's a real story behind American Horror Story. What did everyone else think?


Editor Rating: 3.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (196 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.


It's sad that this show relies on masturbation and kinky sex to keep the audience interested. It's even sadder that there is actually an audience that wants to watch this crap. Compare this show to The Omen (1976). The Omen has a great plot, suspense, and horror. And we don't have to watch Gregory Peck masturbate or dress up in an S&M outfit and bang his wife, or see Lee Remick getting a gynecological exam, or watch the maid masturbate. Won't be long before we have to have pedophilia or coprophagia in the story to keep it "edgy" and "modern". No thanks, modern tv is sick. I'll stick with reruns made in the pre-masturbation era.


I read through all the reviews in one shot, I have to give props that you reserved judgment to see if it would be all incoherent freak show or if a story would emerge. It was fun seeing you through the next 3 or 4 reviews saying, wow, there really is a solid underpinning of plot lines among all the craziness. Well done on the reviews both yours and Carissa. Love this show, cannot wait for the next episode.


I guess I didn't really see any promos/previews for this show, so when my brother in law brought it up last week, I figured I'd give it a shot. Going in with no expectations, I liked it. It's The Shining meets Amityville Horror. I can only assume that those making reference to Tarantino and others of this generation have no respect for the wonderful quality in 70's style horror films. Go back and watch the ORIGINAL Amityville Horror with James Brolin and you will see MANY similarities. I have an affinity for 70's horror films and find them to be more terrifying than anything made today. Those movies were not made to play on hypersensitivity by making it silent and have loud cracks of music to make you jump; they were about the build up of suspense that has you riding on the edge of your seat. There are only two problems that I can see with this show; one is exactly what the review stated...lack of a real storyline. I want to know who these people are, and I want to be rooting for them to survive. Right now, I think Ben is an egocentric asshole; Vivian is a bitch that wants to work things out but has never really forgiven (which is pretty necessary if you really want to try again), and the daughter thinks she's better and more whitty than everyone she comes into contact with. I don't want to root for survival of any of these characters just yet. The second is that while I love the 70's Horror genre in film...can on story really sustain an audience for more than the average 2 hour film? Either way, I have enjoyed the first 2 episodes, and am hoping that these people become more likeable and we start to have an understanding of who all these people...or ghosts....really are.


Dumb show.....does a good suspense show need all the foul talk and references to sexual activities???? Are we so dumbed down that we can no longer appreciate suspense that challenges us intellectually? They should have knew the house was wierd when the dog barked for no reason at all when they got there.


It's an interesting premise, I like the core story, but this pilot episode just seems so schizophrenic. Everything just jumps into the next thing, there's no flow in the story. If they can focus it and give some more clear direction, instead of just creepy jumping shots every 5 minutes, I really see myself enjoying it. But as it is after this first episode, they could lose me really quickly. I'm hoping they get everything tightened up, but we'll see


my problem is's just the first episode and i'm already wondering why they just don't leave the damn house.Anyway i loved Jessica Lange acting, i think that in such a nonsense thing you have to take it over the the top.


I'm thoroughly confused. Waited until 4 am to watch this to get the horror aspect, but now I'm just confused. Is this supposed to be a series with the same people starring every week? Who's the star of this? Emo girl? Cheating dad? I feel as if I just watched an abridged version to Amityvile. Or Rose Red, or some Stephen King thing. What is this? Somebody tell me what this is supposed to be. All I know for sure is that it's not a comedy. Is it supposed to be a suspense thing? I don't see how, because there's nothing suspenseful about it. Except I know it's not a horror. And why is it so glitchy? I tried it in three different players and then decided it was a style thing, but why? They're going to keep that glitchiness for the entire season? Again, what is this? So much confusion.


LOOOOVEEEED IT!!! I honestly was blown away by the pilot and I'm very excited about the upcoming episodes. The pilot gave me exactly what I was hoping for this series to be.. weird, morbidly funny, scary, sexy, experimental and sooo creepy. It's well written and produced, the characters are over-the-top interesting and the camera.. oh the camera. ;)


did NOT live up to the oo-too-scary-for-tv hype but it's definitely interesting and i'll keep watching at least a few more episodes to see what happens..loving jessica lange btw...and i need better scares...! :)


The show seemed like it might be ok. However I think the family is already dead and just don't know it yet. They had the flash back to her catching him cheating and cutting him and just drop it from there so far. The kid has been in 2 fights in school and no one has called the parents? I just think they are already dead.

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