American Horror Story Pilot TV Review


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The Shining meets David Lynch in the perverse new horror show from the makers of Glee


Writers: Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy
Director: Ryan Murphy

THE ONE WHERE The Harmon family (shrink Ben, wife Vivien and stroppy daughter Violet) move into a ‘20s mansion with a bloody history…

VERDICT It’s hard to believe that this show, with its high-gloss darkness, barbed surrealism and winking self-reflexivity, was created by the makers of Glee . You don’t get characters introduced during a gynaecological examination on that frothfest. Neither does it generally feature gimp suit sex; someone furiously masturbating, then crying; or the unabashed use of disablist epithets that would make Ricky Gervais blush.

It’s heady stuff - and utterly fascinating. There’s a vein of soapy melodrama underpinning all the spooky goings-on, but with its oddball characters (particularly Jessica Lange’s bonkers neighbour, Constance) perverse imagery and general air of artifice, American Horror Story is more akin to Twin Peaks . We’re hooked.

IT’S WOTSISNAME! Struggling to place that burn-faced former resident of the house? Denis O’Hare was Russell Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi, in True Blood . Oh, and Evan Peters (Tate) was one of Kick-Ass’s mates in, er, Kick-Ass .

INFLUENCES The opening shot of hanging animal skulls is pure The Texas Chain Saw Massacre , while the scenes in the cellar are very The House By The Cemetery . But the big one’s The Shining , of course.

BERNARD HERRMANN The late, great composer’s whistling theme from Twisted Nerve (also used in Kill Bill ) and his score for Vertigo both crop up.

BEST BIT The brilliant reveal where we discover that while everyone else sees Moira the housekeeper as an old woman, Ben sees a young saucepot in a French maid’s outfit. Although the chilling moment where Vivien makes love to someone or something in a gimp suit comes a close second.

BEST LINE Tate on his mum: “She’s a cocksucker. I mean, literally, a cocksucker. She used to suck off the guy next-door all the time.”

Ian Berriman

Read our interview with American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy .

American Horror Story airs on FX every Monday night at 10pm.

More info

Available platformsTV
Deputy Editor, SFX

Ian Berriman has been working for SFX – the world's leading sci-fi, fantasy and horror magazine – since March 2002. He also writes for Total Film, Electronic Sound and Retro Pop; other publications he's contributed to include Horrorville, When Saturday Comes and What DVD. A life-long Doctor Who fan, he's also a supporter of Hull City, and live-tweets along to BBC Four's Top Of The Pops repeats from his @TOTPFacts account.