NY Daily News's David Hinckley ReviewsR
'American Horror Story' review: Dylan McDermott and Taissa Farmiga star in boundary-pushing series
Wednesday, October 5th 2011, 4:00 AM
Stretching a horror story into a TV series is a long shot, even for a show as well-crafted and well-performed as FX's new "American Horror Story."
Most of our best horror productions, from "Dracula" and "Psycho" to "Friday the 13th," have immediately sent our adrenalin level soaring and then kept it there for an hour or two before releasing the pressure.
A weekly series needs a different rhythm.
But few creators have a better shot at making it work than Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who earlier scored unlikely hits with FX's "Nip/Tuck" and, more famously, Fox's "Glee."
"American Horror Story," which premieres Wednesday night at 10, takes the same attitude about dramatic boundaries as "Glee," which is to say, it pays no attention.
While it's faithful to the horror-film tradition, right down to lights that flicker off at precisely the wrong moment, "American Horror" cheerfully integrates Hitchcock-style psychological horror with old-school ax murders.
Like many horror films, "American Horror" starts with a creepy house, this one in Los Angeles. L.A. may not have as many troubled old houses as, say, New England, but in case anyone doubts the town's credibility for bad-house karma, an early episode references the Manson murders.
This particular house's backstory will unfold gradually, as will the backstories of its past and present inhabitants.
This may leave some viewers puzzled at first, since the premiere episode raises more concerns than it explains. The good news for viewers is that a considerable number are addressed in the next episode or two.
The story itself revolves around the Harmon family: psychologist Ben (Dylan McDermott), his wife, Vivien (Connie Britton) and their daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga).
They have moved to this house from Boston, hoping to start fresh after a couple of events that changed their relationships.
They didn't count on the house, however, or on a new circle of acquaintances that includes their creepy next-door neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange) and a disturbed young patient named Tate (Evan Peters), who seems interested in Violet.
Set against these off-center folks is Larry Harvey (Denis O'Hare), who is, let's say, a classic horror movie character.
We won't explain plot details, because they're part of the fun of watching. The viewer might want to know only that things get complicated fast and that several of the performances, while well handled, have a stylized feel.
"American Horror" doesn't fit a lot of patterns, but it does fit the style of many recent successful cable dramas, from "The Killing" to "Sons of Anarchy."
Viewers who like the horror genre and the offbeat Murphy/Falchuk approach, and who are willing to put in enough serious time to absorb all the nuances, will fall in love.