Jonathan Storm: Creepy, sexy 'Horror Story' on FX

Dylan McDermott plays Ben Harmon, new owner of a house that screams, "Stay away!" He doesn't hear it.
Dylan McDermott plays Ben Harmon, new owner of a house that screams, "Stay away!" He doesn't hear it. (ROBERT ZUCKERMAN)
Posted: October 04, 2011

You've never seen anything like American Horror Story on TV before. And you may not want to see it now.

But fans of the horror genre - not the splatter trash of the Saw or Chainsaw Massacre series, but the creepy, psychological, and, yes, sexy, gory stuff of classics like Rosemary's Baby or The Shining - won't be disappointed.

FX, still No. 1 on basic cable for challenging, edgy material, has teamed up again with Nip/Tuck's Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck on Horror Story, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m.

The pair, also responsible for Fox's Glee, have a tendency to start strongly and then get a little lost, but that needn't concern us here, since we're at the beginning, and Horror Story is as gripping as anything on TV.

You may find yourself looking for something to grip when the doll (or are they real?) baby heads start spinning or some unsuspecting ninny starts down the basement stairs. There are almost as many grim specimens preserved down there as there are in the Mütter Museum, and way more murderous evil spirits, some of whom may also manifest themselves upstairs as plain old human beings.

Or maybe not so plain. One appears to be a deeply troubled teenager who becomes the patient of the house's new owner, psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott).

Another is the strangest maid, Moira O'Hara, who appears to be worse-for-wear Tony-award winner and Six Feet Under matriarch Frances Conroy, 57, except when seen through Harmon's eyes. Then, she's sex-crazed, 31-year-old Alexandra Breckenridge. This can be somewhat embarrassing for Harmon when his teenage daughter sees him all glassy-eyed as the old lady gropes him.

Next-door neighbor Constance, who has a daughter with Down syndrome and an unhealthy interest in the house, might be the most dangerous of them all. "I'd move if I were you," she warns Moira. "Don't make me kill you again."

Jessica Lange, in her first regular TV series role, is having the time of her life as a faded Southern beauty who acknowledges to Harmon and his wife, Vivien, that she was doing pretty well until "the Mongoloid" came along.

When we first meet the kid, in 1978, she's a little thing chanting, "You're gonna regret it," as a pair of strange-looking twins go into the house bent on vandalism.

They do regret it.

We know the age-old story, which is that no one in their right mind should go into places like this, but, of course, they do.

In this case, Ben and Vivien can't resist a bargain, even if the last residents, a gay couple, died in an apparent murder-suicide, but, of course, we know better about that, too. The second episode starts with a grim murder in 1968, followed by the revelation that the house is on a present-day Los Angeles murder tour, which you'd think potential buyers would know all about, but, of course, they never do.

Since the show is full of surprises, I thought I'd slip one in, too, waiting all this time before telling you that Vivien is played by Connie Britton, so marvelous in Friday Night Lights, and a key piece of casting here, too. Murphy said he wrote the part with her in mind.

Vivien is the strong, reasonable spouse in the marriage. Ben is a sleazy dog whom she walked in on back in Boston as he was bedding one of his students.

They sold everything and moved west with daughter Violette seeking a new start. But it just may be the end of them, especially when Vivien gets pregnant after a very hot session with Ben dressed in one of those kinky latex sex suits.

We know it's not Ben, but, of course, she doesn't. We know whatever's growing inside her is the last thing that will save their marriage, but, of course, they don't.

And so it goes in a show that's a homage to all the '70s psycho-horror films, none, perhaps, as much as Don't Look Now, a juicy 1973 British entry starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.

The film isn't as famous here as some of its American cousins, but, in part because of its fantastic editing and use of the supernatural to examine the inner workings of a marriage torn apart not by infidelity but by grief, it was slotted at No. 8 in a British Film Institute poll of the top British films of the 20th Century.

American Horror Story may not rank that high on a TV list, but fans of this kind of thing will want to chop themselves in half, strangle in a bathtub, and slit their throats - just to name a few of the things that happen in the first two episodes - if they miss it.


Jonathan Storm:

Television

American Horror Story

10 p.m. Wednesday

on FX


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com.

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