"American Horror Story," a freaky new horror series from the team who brought us "Nip/Tuck" and "Glee," is easily the most polarizing new show of the fall season. Among television critics, there's very little gray area: you're either into it, or you despise it.
I think I'm into it.
I admit up front I have no idea what Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are trying to do here. But I do know that "American Horror Story" is among the scariest things I've ever watched.
The series follows a couple as they move their teenage daughter to Los Angeles to try to heal their marriage and make a fresh start. The problem is they move into the most haunted house in the history of haunted houses. We're talking "gaping Hellmouth" kind of haunted. There are no romantic vampires or buff werewolves in this house. Right down to the last nail in the last creaky floorboard, this is a house of pure, ugly evil.
In the pilot episode, Vivian, played by Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights") is still reeling from a particularly brutal miscarriage and from walking in on her husband in bed with one of his college-aged students. Dylan McDermott plays her husband Ben, a psychiatrist who is trying to regain her trust.
Jessica Lange plays a pushy, failed starlet who lives next door to the haunted house. Lange's character, who is sort of a monster in her own right, has a daughter who is obsessed with the house and who matter-of-factly informs those who enter that they will die inside. Lange and her daughter may seem superfluous in the pilot, but they are integral to the story of the house.
There's also Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") as a creepy housekeeper who essentially "belongs" to the house throughout its succession of owners. The weirdest thing -- so far -- about Conroy's maid is that while the rest of the world sees an older woman in a prim black uniform with one dead-looking eye, Ben sees her as a young redhead in a slutty Halloween maid costume. Which makes for some interesting and creepy moments between Conroy and McDermott.
There's also a psychotic teenager being treated by Ben, and much like Lange's character, his connection to the house is stronger in each episode.
But make no mistake, the real star of this show is the house itself.
Each episode opens with a murder that has taken place there. The pilot opens with a 1978 murder. The second episode opens with an even more gruesome 1968 murder. Episode three skips back to 1924 for the house's origins and another murder (the house's first).
The show does seem a little "all over the place" at times, and there are moments of sensory overkill (pun intended): some of the murders almost seem to be committed by the house itself, while others are not; some of the horror comes from within the house, but a good bit of "horror" is also brought into the house by others. It is clear, however, that McDermott's character, as he's slowly placed under some kind of spell by the house, is being groomed to murder his family -- as others before him have done.
Presumably, at some point, we learn why the house attracts and/or hosts that amount of evil. I'm guessing it won't be as simple as "built on an old Indian burial ground." Co-creator Murphy promises the episodes have been plotted very carefully and that answers will come, sooner rather than later.
I'm not sure yet if this is great television, or even good television. But I do know that I was so terrified watching the second episode that I can only watch subsequent episodes during daylight hours.
In short, it's flat-out scary as hell. It's spooky and violent and graphic and kinky. If that's not your thing -- and I totally understand if it's not -- you should definitely stay away from this. But if you're even the teensiest fan of a very non-subtle brand of horror and have a strong heart (and preferably don't live in an old house with a cavernous basement and sketchy past), you should absolutely check this out.
I'll keep watching. In the daylight.
"American Horror Story" debuts Wednesday October 5 at 10 p.m. on FX.