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American Horror Story: The Complete First Season(TV) (2011)
A family of three move from Boston to Los Angeles as a means of reconciling their past anguish. They move to a restored mansion, unaware that the home is haunted.
For more about American Horror Story: The Complete First Season and the American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 30, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
» See full cast & crew
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
Fear and Desire
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 30, 2012
Horror on television is no new phenomenon, but series that do the genre justice—see The Twilight Zone, The X- Files, Twin Peaks—are unfortunately few and far between. Recently, though, scary TV has seemingly made a lurching comeback, with AMC's The Walking Dead bringing zombie decapitations to basic cable and the FX network's American Horror Story—an infidelity drama set in a haunted house—provocatively offering up sex and death in equal measure. Both shows push the boundaries of television norms in their own ways, but American Horror Story is by far the more unsettling of the two, a grim and claustrophobic family tragedy that resurrects several old horror tropes and uses them in clever, terrifying new ways.
The show is the dark handiwork of co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, who get to exorcise an entirely different set of demons here than they do on their other show, Fox's Glee, a bubbly pop musical sensation that lies on the polar opposite end of the TV genre spectrum. Where Glee is all high school anxiety and puppy love and be-yourself self- esteem boosting, American Horror Story is startlingly more mature, dissecting an unhappy marriage and exhuming the primal, subconscious urges that drive us all.
We know we're in for something completely different from the opening credit sequence, which was created by the title designer for David Fincher's Se7en. Backscored by an abrasive theme song—featuring slowed down samples of a chainsaw—we see skittering images of Victorian baby portraits, body parts floating in mason jars, and a white nightgown drifting through darkness. A grand Art Deco typeface flashes the actors' names on the screen in enormous white lettering before wrinkling and dissolving in a blaze of heat. It sets an immediately ominous mood.
The show wastes no time dragging us into its psychological hell. After a horrible miscarriage, nearly-menopausal Vivian Harmon (Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton) finds her husband, Ben (Dylan McDermott), a psychiatrist and professor, in bed with one of his much-younger students. To save what's left of their marriage, they move cross-country from Boston to Los Angeles, along with their sullen teenaged daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Sunny L.A. may not initially seem like a prime setting for a horror show, but like Sunset Boulevard or Mulholland Drive, American Horror Story channels the city's darker side—the delusions and failures, the drugs, the tragic accidents, and the broken dreams of all those Hollywood transplants who never "made it." There's even an appearance by the infamous "Black Dahlia."
The Harmons purchase an old gothic-looking Tudor out in the leafy suburbs, and when they ask their real estate agent why the property is so cheap, she's obligated to inform them that the previous occupants—a gay couple later played by Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears—died violently in the basement, an apparent murder/suicide. They weren't the only ones. As the season goes on, we learn through flashbacks that nearly every inhabitant of the so-called "Murder House" has met with a grisly end since it was built in the 1920s by an ether-addicted abortionist (Matt Ross) and his harried wife (Lily Rabe). We also learn that those who perish here have a disarming propensity to stick around and haunt the current owners. In a perverse take on the British upstairs/downstairs genre, the living and the dead uneasily coexist in the Harmon house. And like the servants of, say, Downton Abbey, it's the dead who really run the show.
The Harmons don't know this yet, and one of American Horror Story's keenest pleasures is in watching the family's dawning awareness that all is not quite right. The initial episodes introduce a number of mysteries that will be unraveled slowly over the course of the season. In the attic, Vivian discovers a black latex body suit—think "the gimp" from Pulp Fiction—and later that night, someone she wrongfully assumes is her husband wears it into their bedroom and anonymously seduces her. Then there's the housekeeper, Moira, who "comes with the house" and who appears to Vivian as an old woman (Frances Conroy), but to Ben as a purring young thing (Alexendra Breckenridge) in a French maid outfit, revealed garter straps, come-hither looks and all. Expect tensions to ratchet as Vivian and Ben deal with the fallout from the latter's affair. This would be dramatic enough without the supernatural goings-on, which pull them further apart, the house's previous tenants exploiting the couple's marital weaknesses.
I haven't even mentioned the Harmons' next-door neighbor, the aging southern belle Constance—a brilliantly deranged Jessica Lange—who insinuates herself into family affairs. Or Larry Harvey (Denis O'Hare), a burn victim who lurks about in the garden. Or Ben's depressive patient Tate (Evan Peters), a high schooler who has a thing for the equally morose Violet, and who may or may not be a We Need to Talk About Kevin-style mass murderer. The less you know going in, though, the better. American Horror Story has more twists than a noose, and I'm wary about saying anything more.
Just know this—the show is sexy and terrifying and morbid, sometimes all at once. Yes, it occasionally goes way over the top, but this is certainly intentional. You'll see some of The Shining here, some Rosemary's Baby and The Others too, but you might best think of American Horror Story as a more adult-oriented Dark Shadows for the 2010s—a scary soap opera laced through with a deliberate sense of camp. There's nothing else like it on television right now. The first season is killer, and the prospects for season two are even more tempting; Falchuk and Murphy have opted to turn the series into an anthology of sorts, giving each yearly batch of episodes its own setting and self- contained story, with several actors returning in entirely different roles. This time around, we'll be trapped in a 1960s asylum run by Jessica Lange as a sadistic nun. If that doesn't excite you, you may not have a pulse.
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
One of the increasingly few television shows to be shot on film—the Super 35 system, in particular—American Horror Story has a visual aesthetic that's grittier than comparatively glossy, digitally-shot TV series. This works well with the show's tone and setting—particularly during flashbacks to the house's previous inhabitants—but be aware that the film stock is quite grainy, especially during the darker scenes. Thankfully, though, there's been no attempt to smear away any of this in post, which would be much worse. On Blu-ray, each episode has been given a 1080p/AVC encode, and the results—as you'd expect—are a hair better than cable broadcast quality, with fewer compression concerns and motion artifacts. If you're standing right next to your screen you may still spot some noise mixed amid the chunky grain, but never from a normal viewing distance. There's definitely no noticeable banding or macroblocking. Clarity is constrained somewhat by the nature of the spherical Super 35 format—along with the lenses and film stocks used—but the high definition presentation does yield far more fine detail than available on DVD. If a little soft around the edges, the image at least looks faithful to source. Color-wise, the picture is plenty dense, with strong saturation in the occasional vivid hues—blood reds, say—and tight contrast. If shadows are a bit oppressive, it's by intent. This show is all about the oppressiveness of the dark.
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Things go bump in the night—and often during the day as well—with American Horror Story's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound presentation. You shouldn't expect theatrical horror movie levels of immersion and engagement, but for a television series, the show certainly builds up some creeping aural dread when necessary. While the front channels get the most play during typical domestic scenes, the more overt "scare" sequences bring the entire soundfield to life with cackling laughs or jittering movements or any number of other spooky sounds. What really makes it, though, is the show's fantastic use of music. Of course, there's the terrifying opening theme song—with its slowed-down chainsaw samples, water drips, and swelling bass—but the uneasy minor-key orchestral cues that drift in and out of each episode are effectively mood altering as well. And then there's the song "Tonight You Belong To Me," by 1950s sister duo Patience and Prudence, which is subverted into something dark and sinister within the context of the show. The music, the effects, the dialogue—everything sounds as clean and clear and well-balanced as required. The discs include optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles, which appear in easy-to-read white lettering.
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
American Horror Story wrapped me up in its dense, dark world and smothered me to asphyxiated bliss. The is one of the edgiest new shows on television—all sex and death, tied up with a ribbon of camp—and like The Walking Dead, it proves once and for all that horror does indeed have a place on basic cable. I can't wait for season two, which will feature many of the same actors in entirely different roles—Jessica Lange as a sadistic nun!—plus a new asylum setting. If you've yet to see the first season, you've got just enough time to get caught up before the October 17th premiere. So, snap up this Blu- ray set, turn off the lights, and settle in. Just know that the show will never let you get too comfortable. Highly recommended!
American Horror Story: Other Seasons
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American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, News and Updates
• American Horror Story: The Complete First Season Blu-ray - July 12, 2012
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring American Horror Story: The Complete First Season to Blu-ray in September. Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Nip/Tuck, Glee), FX's Golden Globe-winning supernatural thriller centers on a troubled family ...
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