I’ve never actually watched a season — or even an episode — of American Horror Story. It took me a while to finally get on the TV terror train and when I did, I’d heard not great things about the show’s ability to stick its landings. However, when I started seeing ads this past fall hyping the ninth season’s totally 80s feel, I just had to give it a look!
And I had a great time with it! Over the course of the season’s nine episodes, we meet a group of 20-somethings who all decide to get out of L.A. in the summer of 1984 to become counselors at Camp Redwood, a place where a slasher dubbed Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) killed a slew of campers back in the 70s. As it happens, the only survivor of that attack, Margaret (Leslie Grossman) wants to take this place of misery and turn it back into a place of beauty (for Jeebus, of course).
Making matters all the worse, one of the counselors Brooke (Emma Roberts), is also being hunted by serial killer Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa) who shows up and wants to finish up what he started back in the city. As the series progresses, we learn that everyone — EV-er-y-ONE — has a deep, dark secret that informs how they react to the increasingly terrifying and bizarre circumstances they’re faced with. From the very Friday the 13th beginning, the series expands to cover not just different pasts and futures, but also subgenres of horror that made for a fun ride.
Without digging too deeply into the plot, which I enjoyed experiencing as it happened, I will say that everyone in this show is super arch. The archiest of arch. That may be standard operating procedure for AHS, but I’m a newbie! Early on in the series, the ridiculousness of the characters and their motives — almost all of which revolve around death and murder — seemed way too bonkers. Once I realized that’s the whole point and tone of the show, though, I was totally in.
Going in, I was a little concerned about spreading an 80s slasher movie over 10 hours, but the way they jumped around and got into the various back stories — and where they went in the last few episodes — made for a wild ride that I was on board for. Add to that the stellar cast and you’ve got a blast of a show. Lynch is my new favorite scary dude between this, The Invitation and his season of Channel Zero. I hadn’t seen Roberts in much, but she perfectly encapsulated her arc. All of the counselors felt perfectly plucked from the decade of my birth, Grossman’s awesomely unnerving, Villa’s the perfect killer and Dylan McDermott pops up in an excellent part. For me, though, Matthew Morrison steals the show and stood out as a shining star.
The series made me really wish that the excellent Dead Of Summer had lasted because it had a similar feel and flavor, but went a very different way. In a way, it also made me think of the first season of Slasher, which I didn’t like (and may not have finished). The main reason I dumped that show was because everyone in it was also an awful person. AHS 1984 has a bit of that, but thanks to a more fun tone (thanks in part to the setting) and flashbacks that help explain some of the deeds or beats that turn things around, it didn’t feel like I was steeped in the worst of humanity, but kids who made some dumb choices in their life (with some real scumbags thrown in for good measure).
So, if you’re looking for a fun romp that essentially takes a standard 80s slasher movie and stretches it into a delightfully campy and wild flavor of taffy, then give it a watch.