As we head into October, many of the small screen's horror staples are returning to our televisions, tablets, and Apple Watches[?] AMC's warhorse The Walking Dead returns for its 10th season on October 6th and Hulu's Castle Rock will give us some sort of a take on Misery on October 23rd. Ahead of the pack by nearly a month, viewers are introduced to FX's American Horror Story: 1984. Is this latest incarnation of the horror anthology series worth your time and attention? Looking at the first episode...
From the creative minds of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (creators of Glee and all of FX's current prestige shows) comes this latest season of the AHS anthology series. The marketing for this season has been as effective as it is ubiquitous. I found myself completely interested in the promise of an 80s slasher film brought to television. The premier of the 9th season lives up to this promise even to its own detriment.
The first episode of the season is packed with references, nods, and outright plagiarism of our favorite 80s films. The show starts with a scene depicting some camp counselors having sex in a wooden structure. It is clearly intended to remind us all of Friday the 13th but for this reference to work, we need something unexpected to happen. The twist is that more than 2 people are sexing. That totally counts as being edgy and new, right? A killer kills the people having sex and some innocents as well so the idea that the slasher's violence is based in some outdated moralism is also thrown out. That is, provided you don't subscribe to the hyper-moral theory that the sins of some compromise all around them. This concept is introduced later in the episode so, again, new… right?
In the next scene we jump to 14 years later where we are introduced to our protagonist, Brooke (Emma Roberts), as she works out at an aerobics class (it's okay that its exactly like Perfect because characters reference the Rolling Stone article which that film is based upon). Emma is our standard final girl--mousy and as innocent as Laurie Strode ever was. In her class, Brooke meets some other clichés, including Billie Lourd's sexually free Montana and Gus Kenworthy's angry jock Chet.
The references and winks towards Friday the 13th, The Prowler, and Halloween can initially be fun to pick out. A viewer might watch this episode and enjoy that so much is speaking to it's 80s horror audience. But by the second half of the episode, I found myself wondering if the show's use of reference and homage was designed to act as some kind of horror Pokémon. References--gotta catch them all. I could easily imagine the Entertainment Weekly article; "All The References You Didn't Catch In AHS: 1984" and I'm already rolling my eyes.
All of this is not to say that this is not a well-made series. The production value is high and the makers of this show are clearly aware of the influences that they are looting for plot points. The actors are talented and committed to the roles they are playing. Most importantly to any horror fan, it is very clear that the art team has done all that they can to recreate Camp Crystal Lake in spirit while not in name.
Anybody who has seen more than 3 seasons of American Horror Story can easily guess the direction this incarnation will take. The surprises will come in the next 3 episodes so any complaints about the show being cliché will be mitigated by killing off of the antagonist from the first episode (whether that be the Jason Voorhees stand-in of Mr. Jingles or the real world killer that was included in this episode). Tragically, even this AHS method of surprise seems played out and tired at this point. I plan on watching this season to its conclusion and hope to be shocked by the turns it takes but I worry this may be more of the same from AHS with tired kills from horror classics dressed up as new by the inclusion of a little more sex or more overt moralizing.
By Mark Gonzales