Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Starring Jessica Lang, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott
Scary stuff hasn’t done well on network TV for quite some time. Part of the reason could easily be that it just never was scary. At best you might get a little creepy or eerie. Old shows like The Night Stalker or Night Gallery are examples of relatively successful horror-ish shows for network TV. Basic cable on the other hand has less to loose so why not give it a go? The Walking Dead, a series about the zombie apocalypse, proved very successful for A&E. FX answers with the much edgier American Horror Story.
Season one of American Horror Story tells the story of a haunted house and the very damaged people who have been connected with it and the damaged family that buys it to try and recover their lives. Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton play a husband and wife recovering from not only a miscarried child but an affair that McDermott’s character committed. They have a high school aged daughter caught in the middle. After the affair the couple went through six months of counseling and decided to buy a big old house in California, far from their past lives and tragedies, to get a new start. The problem is odd things start to happen the minute they move into the house. A creepy thieving southern lady played by Jessica Lang begins showing up uninvited and mostly unwelcome. Her daughter also finds ways to constantly break into the house just to sort of hang out.
Throughout the season episodes begin with scenes from the house’s history usually ending in tragedy, from the graphic murder of two young girls in the living room and bathroom to the shooting of a man and his mistress to a murder suicide. The house begins to almost learn about this new family and find ways to use their weaknesses against them to try and rip them apart. Several guest stars appear as both humans and ghosts throughout the season most notably Zachery Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes) as one half of a gay couple that once owned the house and found their lives end tragically.
Episode one of the show starts off with a bang not only setting the stage for what the show is all about and how the story will be presented but it also attempts to get the viewer used to something much edgier and racier than they may be accustomed to seeing on basic cable or network television. The language and situations portrayed in the first episode and throughout the season push the edges of what can be done on night time TV. Sexual situations in particular can make you a little uncomfortable depending on who you may be watching with. Yes you see McDermott’s butt but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s hard to get into much without just spoiling the whole thing but let’s just say there are some dark sexual situations and a good bit of masturbation happening.
The season is dramatic and the story is complex and always engaging. The scare factor is also in full effect. There are some truly scary moments but more than that the completely unnerving atmosphere is palpable and unique to TV. The acting is spot on most of the time and the execution of the series is of such a great quality it feels almost theatrical.
American Horror Story is shot on film, something we don’t see much these days. The good is a depth and realism, or “unrealism” that we are still used to seeing in the cinema. The bad is that there is a substantial amount of grain running throughout the episodes. The grain thankfully is just about all related to the film not any compression done to the video for this release. In fact this HD blu-ray release looks noticeably better than the original compressed television broadcast. Artifacting due to the transcode to blu-ray is minimal also. Colors look great throughout but darker scenes do show off the grain too much.
The series gets a DTS Lossless audio presentation which does a splendid job of spreading the sound around the soundstage. Now this is still no theatrical movie so you won’t get that level of audio detail but there is ambient noise that attempts to make the proceedings feel immersive and when the s hits the f the surround speakers do kick in solidly. Dialogue is always clean and easy to hear which is essential for the story driven series.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The series is packaged in a slim blu-ray with standout vivid blood red art for the cover that matches the overall style of the series. The packaging isn’t special but it does work.
There’s an audio commentary from one of the show creators on the pilot. The commentary is engaging as it offers up plenty of behind the scenes information on how the show was created. The Murphy House Presented by eternal darkness is a fake tour of the murder house that’s pretty poorly assembled actually. Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story is an all to brief but really well done behind the scenes documentary featurette with interviews from nearly everyone involved with the show. Finally there’s a short featurette on the creation of the title sequence and a series of interviews with all of the ghosts that inhabit the house.
There’s pretty much always room for more behind the scenes extras but here there are just a few things missing. More lengthy discussion of the writing is one thing that would have been great. This could have even been handled with additional commentaries. What we do get is solid stuff though.
American Horror Story is a magical combination of truly scary and deep engrossing story. You truly invest in these characters even if you don’t much like them. It’s edgy, modern, unique, and fascinating, one of the best shows on television and truly riveting to watch on blu-ray.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Season 9.5/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an average) 9/10