Entertainment Magazine

Review #3077: American Horror Story 1.3: “Murder House”

Posted on the 21 October 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

In some ways, this episode felt like an improvement on the previous two. The show has toned down the excessive homages and stylistic flourishes to the point where the show can more easily stand on its own. I’ve found the show to be something of an intriguing mess so far. With the show so over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, and purposefully derivative of seemingly every horror flick that Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy have ever enjoyed, the show was having trouble standing on its own two feet. But the creators did say that they’d be moving away from the homages a bit after the first two episodes, and that’s exactly what happened.

Review #3077: American Horror Story 1.3: “Murder House”

I did like that the show tried to solve that oft-cited problem of haunted house movies: why don’t the characters just move? Not being particularly knowledgeable when it comes to financial matters, I can’t be sure exactly how believable this explanation is. But from my perspective, it made quite a bit of sense that the house would be a tough sell, thanks to its sordid reputation and the general crappiness of the housing market at present. The medical reason given for not moving also made sufficient sense to me. It seems odd that the creators would worry about suspension of disbelief in this one area, when it seems to be of so little concern overall.

Another thing I liked about the episode is that we’re finally beginning to see that there’s been a method to all this madness. So much of what was seen in the first two episodes made no sense, but now we’re seeing that there may be actual reasons for the show’s fixation on themes of forbidden sexuality, pregnancy, abortion, murder, etc. And it’s all wrapped up in this house and its history, with the house being treated almost as an evil entity bent on forcing whoever resides in it to work toward its unknown goals.

Moira is dead; killed by Constance back in 1983. This is how the conflict between those two got started. It’s interesting to me that the version of Moira that appears to Ben (and apparently other men as well) is basically a reflection of Constance’s inaccurate perceptions of her. To Constance, Moira was the naughty maid that seduced her husband and ruined everything. This revelation about Moira has made it a lot more difficult to determine who is dead and who isn’t. And now there’s a theory floating around that Larry Harvey is all in Ben Harmon’s head, which actually fits pretty damned well with what we’ve been shown so far. Some things are becoming clearer, but the show is still as mystery-laden as ever.

Unfortunately, as intriguing as the show is getting, it still engages only on an intellectual level (for me anyway). And that may contribute heavily to why the show isn’t scary or suspenseful to me. This is supposed to be a horror show, after all. But as I said in my last two reviews, if I don’t care about the characters and can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to put myself in the characters’ shoes, then the show has to rely solely on the viewer’s basic curiosity. And to be fair, “American Horror Story” is doing a pretty good job of that. But how long can they keep this up?

I keep saying that I’d prefer a show that’s more straightforward, but perhaps “American Horror Story’s” deranged, reality-bending approach is the only way it can work. At the very least, though, I think the show could work on becoming more emotionally involving. And I wish it would stop borrowing from other horror scores. Wojciech Kilar’s score for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is one of my favorites, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to grin whenever I hear an homage of it in something else. The score was written for a specific movie, and even though this version is obviously a re-recording of a cue from that film, it still drags me out of the experience and makes me feel like I’m watching a rough cut of the episode with the temp tracks still in it.

I suppose you could say that I’m developing something of a love/hate relationship with this show. I love what it’s trying to be (especially after reading more about Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy’s ambitions for the show), but often think that it’s going about it in the wrong way. The show is certainly like nothing else currently on the air. The idea of trying to do a weekly show about a single haunted house, and somehow make that work and keep it interesting, seems like an immensely difficult task, now that I actually think about it. It’s something that typically works best for a feature-length film, for obvious reasons. Stretching that type of story out over a season (or multiple seasons) is certainly possible. But given the task of creating/writing such a show myself, I’d have serious doubts that I could pull it off. So I have to hand it to Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy for making it work as well as they have.

Rating: 7/10

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