Blu-ray Review: American Horror Story: Season One

STUDIO: Fox | CREATORS: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk | CAST: Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Frances Conroy
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 9/25/2012 | PRICE: DVD $59.99, Blu-ray $49.98
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes
SPECS: NR | 534 min. | Horror | 1.78:1 widescreen | DTS-0HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

 

If you’re one to bet, your money is probably safe if you wager that there will never be another television show featuring a character in a rubber “gimp suit” to win an Emmy Award. But that happened this week when TV’s American Horror Story took home the statue for Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Lange in a creepy, over-the-top performance). It might also be the only time a program in the “miniseries or movie” category has been slated for a second season, highlighting some of the peculiarities about the nomination process overall.

Whatever you prefer to call it, American Horror Story is an entrée-sized small-screen experiment that plays out over 12 gothic, blood-soaked, hallucinatory, ghostly episodes. It features a stand-alone season-long story of a family besieged by spirits of former occupants of their new home, all of whom have been murdered in gruesome ways and are trapped within its walls. And, yes, one of those lost souls appears as a rapist in a gimp suit.

American Horror Story scene

Jessica Lange gets fired up for American Horror Story.

While frequently silly – are we to believe this family wouldn’t run screaming after the first home invasion or supernatural occurrence, let alone the second, third, etc.? – the show goes full-out camp in its treatment of the material. That’s best exemplified by Lange as nosy, in-the-know neighbor Constance, a Southern-fried, hard-drinking mother who punishes her Down’s-afflicted daughter by locking her in a room of mirrors. The other leads – Dylan McDermott (TV’s The Practice) and Connie Britton (TV’s Friday Night Lights) – have definitely had better material to work with, but give it their best, especially Britton, who continues to bring class and credibility to everything she does. Frances Conroy (Stone) is fun to watch as Moira, the home’s long-time maid whom appears much younger and more seductive than her years depending on who’s looking at her.

Each episode seems to outdo the one before it in the bizzarro department, and each will have you rubbing your eyes as you ask yourself, “did I just see that?” It’s a credit to the creative team that they’ll take risks to deliver something fresh even if it’s unsavory or completely unexpected of episodic television. And nothing’s left hanging (well, almost nothing), given that the upcoming Season Two is a complete reboot with a new story, setting and characters, with the thankful exception of the returning Ms. Lange.

The Blu-ray package isn’t particularly loaded, but the extras here are good. There’s a 25-minute making-of featurette that includes interviews with most of the actors and creative talent, and covers the period costumes, interior design of the house and various characters. The highly disturbing main credits sequence gets its own featurette, during which we learn (in case we hadn’t already guessed) that the producers brought in the designer who did the opening for Se7en. There’s also a cool LA-style “Murder House tour” that reacquaints viewers with all the various deaths that have occurred there, and “Meet the House Ghosts,” an overview of all the victims.

Creator Ryan Murphy (TV’s Glee) delivers a lively commentary over the pilot episode, in which he says that the series is an homage to Dark Shadows and the horror films he and co-creator Brad Falchuk watched as kids. The track is spoiler-filled; don’t listen until you’ve seen the whole season.

This “miniseries” returns on Oct. 17 with American Horror Story: Asylum. Here’s hoping that Murphy and Falchuk provoke, frighten and shock us for a few more seasons.

 

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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.