American Horror Story: A Modern Penny Dreadful

Last night Art Attack dove headfirst into the middle of American Horror Story. We'd been meaning to catch the series, but have instead spent our time reviewing Once Upon a Time, a decision we are really coming to regret. The powers that be decided that our readers might enjoy a take on FX's groundbreaking new show, and so like the slasher flick fodder we are we walked right into the Murder House with no regards to our personal safety,

Are we confused? Sure. We haven't seen any of the previous episodes, and post-viewing studies via Wikipedia haven't left us anymore knowledgeable. We can say this so far, there has not been anything like American Horror Story that we're aware of.

Sure, lots of shows use horror movie elements in their premises. Buffy, Twin Peaks, Lost. Dark Shadows, True Blood, the list goes on and on. However, none of those show really attempted what American Horror Story has in trying to basically create a parceled out seven-hour true horror film.

Literally every minute of the show is laced with the tension and anxiety of a modern scare flick. The camera pans and the looming Rubberman appears just in frame, only to disappear when our protagonist turns to look. Hands reach for ankles, and in this particular episode we get our favorite of all horror conventions.

It's Halloween, and Tate (Evan Peters) takes Violet (Taissa Farmiga) on a date minutes after a hideously burned man spent several minutes banging on her door (like you do). They head to the beach to not have sex, despite Violet's wish to, and are then interrupted by the zombie Breakfast Club. That's not totally fair, each of the actors who make up the group of school shooting victims looking to find their masked killer actually plays their role to the hilt with depth and haunting sadness, but, yeah, they went out of their way to put together an undead version of the Breakfast Club stereotypes.

The ZBC tries to get Tate to admit he was the masked shooter, which is impossible as their cheerleader remarks that she'd be 34 this year and Tate is clearly still in high school. They walk off into the dawn distraught, but leave behind them a brief passion play of the vengeful high school ghosts, our favorite kind of horror flick.

Meanwhile, the story continues to swirl around Ben's (Dylan McDermott, who is not aging... at all) former student and mistress Hayden (Kate Mara) who the aforementioned burned man murdered as a favor and buried under the Harmon family gazebo. She's back and terrorizing Vivien (Connie Britton) because Ben left her to return to his pregnant wife. We get a tense moment when it looks like Hayden has burned the family dog alive in the microwave but otherwise that whole part of the episode plays out more as a needlessly frightastic soap opera than anything else.

They do seem to be leading up to a good possessed baby storyline, though, and that's always good for unholy terror.

The show has us hooked already, though we are wondering why ghosts get to be corporeal in this universe. Our only worry is that as American Horror Story tries to continuously outdo itself during its run, it will nuke the fridge faster than your typical show. Until then, though, you have a show that may be the first true episodic scarefest since the demise of the penny dreadful.

American Horror Story airs at 10 p.m. E/P, 9 p.m. Central on FX.

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