“American Horror Story” A Successful First Season of Scares”

A husband and wife, Ben and Vivien Harmon, who are dealing with inner demons – his the aftermath of an adulterous affair, hers a miscarriage – along with their teenage daughter Violet, leave their home in Boston seeking a better life in Los Angeles. What they get for their efforts is anything but, thanks to both a newly renovated mansion with a dark history of disappearances, murder, and mayhem, and the former occupants, who still take up residency there. As an aside, the house (known as “murder house” on the show) that was used in the pilot episode and the exterior shots of the house that are subsequently used in the other episodes are of a real location in Los Angeles known as the Rosenheim Mansion. The residence located at 1120 Westchester Place was built in 1908 by Alfred Rosenheim, who was an architect of promincance in Los Angeles in the early 1900s, and who made the mansion his home.

Created and produced by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tick) and Brad Falchuk (Glee), the surreal horror-drama television series debuted on the FX network on October 5, 2011. The pilot episode was watched by over three million viewers, earning it the best ratings FX had ever received for a premiere episode. The series features a uniformly strong cast that turn in solid performances week in and week out. Featuring Dylan McDermott (The Messengers) as psychiatrist, Dr. Ben Harmon; two-time Primetime Emmy nominee Connie Briton (Friday Night Lights) as his estranged wife Vivien; Evan Peters (One Tree Hill) as the deeply troubled Tate Langdon; Taissa Farmiga (Higher Ground) as the Harmon’s daughter Violet, who takes her character in a direction that is beyond the stereotypical morose teenager; sinister southern belle and omni-present next door neighbor Constance Langdon, played by two time Oscar winner for “Tootsie” (1982) and “Blue Sky” (1995); Jessica Lange; and lastly, Denis O’Hare’s (True Blood) Larry Harvey, who is a love sick, badly burned former owner of the mansion. In addition, the cast includes a number of recurring characters and among those are: Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) as the elder, loyal maid Moira O’Hara, whose younger self portrayed by Alexandra Breckenridge (D.E.B.S) appears to men who come into the house as a seductive temptress; Kate Mara (127 Hours) as vile vixen Hayden McClaine, a former student of Dr. Harmon, whom he had an affair with; Matt Ross (Good night, and Good Luck) as the ether-addicted, demented abortion doctor Charles Montgomery; and Lily Rabe (All Good Things) as his wife Nora, who is desperate for a baby.

Each episode of the series showcases spot on cinematography by both John B. Aronson (Heroes) and Michael Goi (My Name Is Earl). The series, in part, is an interesting homage to famous horror films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and “The Shining” (1980) as well as the gothic soap-opera “Dark Shadows” (1966-1971). It was co-creator Ryan Murphy’s grandmother who forced Murphy to sit down and watch “Dark Shadows” when he was a child in order to toughen him up. It paid off. What could have been a show that traveled the well tread ground of the haunted house / ghost genre gets transcended in this series. The viewers, who tuned into the FX network at 10:00PM on Wednesday evenings, were offered a heart-pounding, psychologically visceral, and gripping one-hour of television.

After two and half months, the first season, which consisted of twelve episodes, ended this past Wednesday evening, but not before providing its fans with the type of ending that fuels debate as to what exactly will happen in season two. On October 31, 2011, FX announced that “American Horror Story” was renewed for a second season, which will air sometime in September or October of 2012. In other AHS news, the series received two nominations for the upcoming 69th Golden Globes Awards ceremony which will be held on January 15, 2012. Jessica Lange garnered, in this blogger’s opinion, a much deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and the series received a Globe nod for Best Drama Series.

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!

Before I write anything further not only did I think it was fair to offer a spoiler warning to those of you who might still have some episodes to watch on your DVR, but also, if you’re not a fan of the show then a great majority of what comes next will not make sense to you.

One of the most interesting and thought provoking episodes from this past season was titled “Spooky Little Girl.” An aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short, who will forever be known as the Black Dahlia was murdered in 1947. Though there were numerous leads as to the identity of the killer, no charges were ever brought. The mystery surrounding who killed her remains both unsolved and infamous in the annals of California crime.

Mena Suvari (American Beauty) guest stars on the episode as Elizabeth Short, who needs work done on her teeth. The dentist, who is living in the “murder house” and has a home office there, puts her under, and while she is passed out has his way with her sexually. Upon attempting to revive her, he discovers that Elizabeth is dead. In his panic, he chops up her body and dumps it into a grassy area where it is discovered by a young boy who is out walking with his mother.

That particular episode caused a dramatic surge in internet activity regarding searches for information about the more than sixty year old case. In addition, internet users searched for pictures of the real Elizabeth Short, as well as factual information about her brief life, and the varied theories that are espoused in cyber space as to who sexually assaulted and dismembered her. For those of you who saw the episode and are interested in more speculative Black Dahlia viewing material check out the 2006 film simply titled “The Black Dahlia” from director Brian De Palma (Carrie), which stars two time academy award winning actress Hilary Swank, as well as Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, and John Kavanagh. There are also a number of books which deal with the subject; one of the more notable is acclaimed author James Ellroy’s novel also titled “The Black Dahlia,” which the Brian De Palma movie is based on.

Now to the season finale which aired this past Wednesday evening which brought closure for the Harmon family in the most literal of ways. In the last few episodes, I began asking myself, not which characters I thought would meet their end and how, but instead, which characters would still be among the living? For starters, although it wasn’t a great stretch of the imagination to have predicted the demise of the entire Harmon clan, it was still a bit unexpected to watch Dr. Harmon meet his end (death by hanging) orchestrated by the ghost of his ex-lover Hayden, who perhaps got more than what she bargained for with his death. Once she killed him, it allowed Ben to join Vivien and Violet in the afterlife as another eternal resident of “murder house,” thus insuring a united front against her and any of the more evil inclined spirits she would align herself with. That could have been the end of the show right there, but it wasn’t. Instead the ever continuing loop of the destruction of the family re-booted itself when another young family with hopes and dreams of a better life move into the mansion because the asking price is just too good to pass up.

The new family moves in, but instead of allowing the houses morbid pattern to take place once again, the Harmons take proactive measures to ensure that what happened to them doesn’t befall the new family. With help from some of the other innocent spirits of “murder house,” the new family gets shown how the mansion will only lead them down a path of death and sorrow should they opt to keep living there. Happily, they take heed of the horrific warnings and vacate the house.

Still looming in the land of “what happened to” questions, was the fate of the twin babies. Only one of the babies which led to Vivien’s death was assumed to have lived. A wrong assumption, because in actuality both babies survived, which in turn will allow Vivien to raise her child with Ben after all, albeit in the after life. As for the other child she gave birth to thanks to Tate raping her while wearing the “rubberman suit” (Vivien thought it was Ben), Constance saw to it that she removed him from the “murder house” after the killing of Dr. Harmon, and she is raising the child as her own adopted son. How will motherhood be this time for Constance? Well, toward the end of the show there is a time jump of three years where Lange’s character is waxing poetic about herself in a beauty parlor, and what she could have been if she hadn’t been surrounded by so much death. The dialogue contains some strong irony because when Constance returns home, she finds her nanny has been killed, and her three year old adopted son is sitting in a chair with a devilish grin on his face. Instead of being horrified at what the child has done, she looks at the toddler and asks him in a non-threatening voice, “now, what am I gonna do with you?”

Ryan Murphy in an interview the day after the season finale aired clued fans in on some things that will take place during season two of the series. For starters, every season of the show will contain a different haunting. The Harmons will not be showcased from this point on, their storyline is finished. The “murder house” will also not be used in the second season. Each season going forward will take place in a different house or building. And while Murphy says the show will take place in theUnited States, he informed listeners that next season the show will not take place in Los Angeles. As of the writing of this blog, no new location has been decided. In addition, Murphy said that certain actors and actresses will return as different characters next season. I am looking forward to seeing where co-creators, Falchuk and Murphy, take the show next season. If it is anywhere as good as the first season, it should be a dazzling ride of escapist chills and thrills.

My RobbinsRealm Blog will be back in early 2012. In the meantime, I want to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a great holiday season and I hope you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

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About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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