What’s it about?
American Horror Story is an anthology series set in a variety of locations and times. Common themes include murder, ghosts, possession, mental illness and supernatural forces.
Jessica Lange, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare, Zachary Quinto, Frances Conroy, Alexandra Breckenridge, Taissa Farmiga, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Joseph Fiennes, Kathy Bates, James Cromwell, Angela Bassett, Emma Roberts, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloe Sevigny, Lady Gaga, Cheyenne Jackson
An Introduction to American Horror Story
American Horror story is actually many different horror stories – one per season – with an ensemble cast playing very different roles each time. Any season can be viewed independently, with story closure each time.
The stories so far:
Season one: Murder House
Set in the present day, Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien (Connie Britton) try to repair their damaged marriage by making a new start in Los Angeles. They acquire an impressive mansion at a bargain price and move in with their depressive teenage daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). There’s even a maid (played by Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge). Why was the house so cheap? Hmm…
Season two: Asylum
Set in 1964, the Briarcliff Mental Institution is run by nuns and overseen by the foreboding Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). Many of the patients appear to be there against their will, including journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) and gas station attendant Kit Walker (Evan Peters), accused of being serial killer, “Bloody Face” after the disappearance of his wife, Alma (Britne Oldford). Well, the truth would just make him sound crazy…
Season three: Coven
Set in the present day, Miss Robichaux’s Academy is a girls’ boarding school with a secret: it houses a coven comprised of descendants from accused witches who survived the Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s. Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) is the ‘Supreme’ (most powerful) of the coven, while the school is overseen by her headmistress daughter, Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson). What challenges will new girl, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) face in the New Orleans-based academy?
Season four: Freak Show
Set in 1952, a Florida-based ‘freak show’ troupe run by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) is having trouble getting punters in after the initial novelty to the public has worn off. Meanwhile, conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson) find themselves in need of some care and support in the aftermath of their mother’s murder. If Elsa recruits the twins, might they renew some public interest in the troupe?
Season five: Hotel
Set in the present day, the splendid, art deco Hotel Cortez is situated slightly off the beaten track in downtown Los Angeles. Long-time hotel residents include the mysterious countess (Lady Gaga) and her boy toy, Donovan (White Collar’s Matt Bomer), plus transgender bartender Liz (Denis O’Hare) and teary-eyed junkie, Sally (Sarah Paulson). Iris (Kathy Bates) is the front-of-house manager who assigns rooms to patrons – Room 64 is a particular favorite, reserved for certain ‘special’ customers only…
Season six: Roanoke
Set in the present day, the paranormal documentary ‘My Roanoke Nightmare’ is being filmed. It chronicles the experience of Shelby and Matt Miller (Lily Rabe and Andre Holland), a couple who endured all manor of supernatural terrors in their new home. Actors are dispatched to the original site to dramatize their experience and the show makes for compelling viewing. It couldn’t be that straightforward, could it?
American Horror Story is a show that is so well crafted that it almost feels criminal that only horror afficianados get to enjoy it. Having said that, horror fiction itself may well be the inspiration for why it is so good – there’s an unmistakable and sincere love of the genre present throughout, and an understanding of which buttons to push for maximum effect.
Producers and screen-writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (co-creators of Glee and Scream Queens, among others) are the driving force behind the show and, along with a talented ensemble cast, present the viewer with a series of foreboding environments, unsettling encounters, and often magnificentally dysfunctional characters.
On the subject of the cast, this is major league stuff. The talent present is too much to do justice to here, but with Jessica Lange, Joseph Fiennes, and Kathy Bates as examples of the calibre of actor this show has on offer, you get an idea of the impressive standard. A special mention must also go to surprise addition Lady Gaga who was born to play the mighty Countess in season five.
Like all good horror fiction, American Horror Story mixes up its shock quotient to stay unpredictable. Sometimes an unspoken menace is way more effective than the ‘show everything’ approach but, equally, there’s a time and a place for the full-on gore beloved of slasher flicks and zombie tales (eg The Walking Dead). Rest assured, the full gamut is on offer here alongside traditional horror stalwarts such as misdirection and surprise twists.
So, horror fans are well catered for – but what of the non-horror fan? Truthfully, if you’re of a delicate disposition this probably isn’t the show for you – while American Horror Story is a class act some parts will probably give you nightmares! To everyone else, enjoy the show that relishes its remit and proudly delivers on its promise.
Check out the Season 1 Trailer here: