Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Connie Britton , Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga

In this oddball series a family moves to Los Angeles and winds up living in a haunted house which is so notorious it is known as "Murder House" on a guided tour. Anyone who dies in the house -- and there have been a lot of murders there down through the years -- can't move on but must stay inside the house [except for Halloween when the spirits can travel wherever they want]. These ghosts are not misty, insubstantial visions -- they have substance, physicality, and sentience, and interact with the living people in the house, who often don't even realize the individual is dead. [Some of the surprises in the series are discovering that a character you thought was alive is actually a ghost, and someone you thought was a ghost is still alive.] The premise for this first season of American Horror Story is a good enough one, but the execution is decidedly uneven. One thing that can't be faulted (with a couple of exceptions) is the acting, with Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, and Taissa Farmiga turning in fine performances as the members of the highly dysfunctional family, and Evan Peters nearly walking off with the show in his star-making turn as the deeply troubled Tate Langdon. If Jessica Lange was hoping to turn into an acclaimed character actress with her turn as the weird neighbor, Constance, she's got a bit of a problem in that the role is possibly too strange and unreal for anyone to play altogether convincingly. Zachary Quinto [Star Trek Into Darkness] plays a gay character like such a swishy stereotype that it's hard to believe that his masculine, philandering partner would ever have been attracted to him. Frances Conroy scores as a maid who was murdered but still does the  housekeeping (perhaps the series' only moving moment has to do with her and her dying mother), as does Kate Mara [House of Cards] as a woman who's had an affair with shrink McDermott; there are other notable performances as well from a very large cast. The show, like most "horror" today, is really more of a very black comedy than anything else, even though the ultimate effect is kind of depressing and at times schlocky. But for the most part it holds the attention even as you're wondering why you're bothering to watch it; it could have been so much better. The use of Bernard Herrmann's music from Psycho and Vertigo is really quite annoying and fortunately they stopped lifting it after the first couple of episodes.

Verdict: Not exactly Downton Abbey -- and its internal logic is often screwy -- but it has its moments. **1/2.

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