There was no way anything good was going to come from American Horror Story whatsoever. How can you stretch a haunted house storyline any further than one episode? What makes the creators of Glee think they can do horror right?
The pilot episode put all of that to rest instantly, and then one week later it was topped, and then again. At the heart of American Horror Story – beyond the shapeshifting cleaning staff, murderous neighbour and creaking rubber rape ghost – is a drama so achingly real and raw that anything else just adds to the discomfort and unease that surrounds the show.
The seemingly idyllic Harmon family move into a seemingly idyllic house. Father Ben (Dylan McDermott) slept with his intern while mother Vivien (Connie Britton) was recovering from a stillbirth, daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) suffers from depression, but her parents are too concerned with frostily maintaining a pretence of normality, or else tearing each other’s skin off in the show’s frequent, all too real screaming matches, to notice and she’s driven into a Heathers-style relationship with the similarly disturbed brooding outsider Tate Langdan (Evan Peters). Next door neighbour and faded Southern Belle Constance (Jessica Lange) lets herself in uninvited and maintains a hissing rivalry with austere housekeeper Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy, except when she appears as the voluptuous younger model Alexandra Breckenridge to seduce the faithless Ben), and heavily burnt and deeply deranged ex-con Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) lurks in the bushes.
Infidelity and its toxic fallout is the driving theme, and over the 12 episodes the cast expands – taking in Zachary Quinto, most famously – bringing with it more layers to the already tangled web of secrets and lies, shocking reveal after shocking reveal as we discover who’s dead, who lives, and just who prowls the house clad in the creaking rubber of the show’s own perverse mascot.
That it comes packed with classic horror references – musical motifs taken from Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo – Last House On The Left-style home invasions, a milk and cookies Poltergeist-style medium, and plot points cribbed directly from Rosemary’s Baby and The Amityville Horror should come as no surprise given creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy’s past credits. Glee, for all its autotune abuse and wide-eyed earnestness, is an effortless nod to Eighties teen movie clichés, using them to tackle more contemporary sources of drama.
Perhaps the closest thing to American Horror Story on TV is True Blood, not necessarily in the subject matter but in that critics find fault with the same thing that fans enthusiastically embrace – just how hysterically, screamingly over the top the whole thing is. From its opening scene to its gobsmacking conclusion, American Horror Story kicks down the door of every taboo left in television, and the really terrifying thing is that they’re gearing up to do it all again…