I think I have my work cut out for me here. Why? Well, tell me this, if you would. How does one truly and accurately describe the body of art known as American Horror Story: The Complete First Season to someone who has never seen it before? Let’s take the following quote for example. Ken Tucker from Entertainment Weekly goes on record saying that “AHS is pretty much all scare, all the time: a whole lotta screams, sex, jolts, mashed faces, psychotic behavior and dead babies.” Yes! You heard me (or read it) right. He said dead babies! And it’s because of all that and more that I absolutely adore AHS. Does that make me a sicko? Geez. I hope not. But wait! Who can forget to mention the black leather cladded S&M man too? Are you still with me? Good! This has the making to be a very interesting Blu-ray review.
I have to be completely honest here before I begin. When I first heard the boys behind Fox’s smash musical hit, Glee, we’re working on a darker horror series for the FX Network, I was highly critical and shamefully negative about the idea. But then there was all this marketing and curiosity peaking advertising images that roped a horror deprived sap like me right in. And so, I decided to give the pilot a watch. I knew nothing about the show’s plot, characters or locations. All I knew was that I just wanted to have a good time. And when that opening murderous scene followed with the most incredible title sequence I have ever witnessed, I knew I found my pot of gold.
The horror-drama television series first premiered on the FX Network on October 5, 2011. To say it was well received by critics and fans alike would be an understatement. “We” the people ate that sh1t up! The series consistently drew high ratings and ended its first season as the biggest new cable series of the year. And rightfully so!
But here’s the most interesting thing to note about AHS. It’s something that bugged the hell out of me initially following the season finale until I completely understood the reasoning for it and now I feel it’s my civic duty to you all to be upfront and honest about it. The series is an anthology. What do I mean by that? Well, the characters from the first season…IF they come back…will be playing totally different roles in the second season in another setting and locale too. Brilliant, huh? I will have to admit. That pissed me off at first, but once I wrapped my head around it and came to terms with really how cool and innovative this idea was and could be, I let it go. Here’s one thing you must realize with this show. Like Jack Bauer’s infinite number of lives in 24, anything is possible in AHS. Anything.
The first season of the show, which we are gathered here to talk about today, revolves around the Harmon family: Ben (Dylan McDermott), Vivien (Connie Britton) and their daughter Violet (Tarissa Farmiga). And yes, Tarissa is the younger sister to famed Departed actress Vera Farmiga. She gets extra points in my book because of that. The family moves from Boston to Los Angeles to deal with the stress on their relationship caused by Vivien’s miscarriage and Ben’s infidelity. Simply put, they into a mansion, unaware the home is haunted by “all” it’s former inhabitants. Let the good times roll.
So you’ll have to excuse the extraordinary long length of this review, but I tend to write a lot when I like something. The way my mind works, no amount of words, whether fanciful or not, will ever do the subject matter justice…so I just keep writing. Horrible, huh? But I guess I could think of worse conditions to suffer from. So remember me talking about the show’s amazing opening title sequence before? Does that psychotic title sequence look familiar to you all? Well it should to the fans of AMC’s Walking Dead and Fincher’s 1995 masterpiece Seven. Kudos to Mr. Kyle Cooper and his company Prologue. Together with sound designer Cesar Davila-Irizarry and musician Charlie Clouser, they put a sequence together that hasn’t stuck in my head since Han Zimmer’s infectious razor blade Joker theme in 2008′s The Dark Knight. Obviously, if I’m comparing the two, then you know that I’m really excited about this. And if you think you’re lost the first time you see this intro, you’re not alone. Wait until you are deeper in…to the show…and it will all make complete sense. I promise. And supposedly the rumor is that they’re doing a new title sequence for the show’s second season. But I digress. I spent way too long about my love for the intro here. Just take away the fact that it’s fantastic. Okay. Moving on…
Wait! Did someone mention my love? Well ever since Jack Bauer made the dumbest mistake of his onscreen life, in my opinion, and left behind his girlfriend in the beginning of 24‘s riveting Season 5, my heart has been beating loud for Connie Britton. Yeah, she’s getting up in her years, but she’s still a redheaded bombshell, in my opinion, with solid and persistent acting chops. And Dylan McDermott, minus all the needless naked a$$ shots they show of him, is nothing to sneeze at either. Perhaps one of my favorite moments of the show is a scene between Ben and Vivien where he just explodes like he was a shaken carbonated beverage that just got open as he went off on his onscreen wife, my beloved Vivien. Their marital dispute seemed so surreal, raw and aggressive that I bow to the writers of the scene and of course the actors for pulling it off. I love that scene. It was simply emotional and amazing at the same time, like eating a red, white and blue Popsicle after standing outside in 90-degree temps for 14 hours. I felt their frustration and their anger. It was raw, visceral and aggressive and I loved every fricking fictional minute of it. But that’s just me. Perhaps, as voted by the fans and critics alike, the show’s MVP goes to Jessica Lange…
Speaking of Jessica…she plays the Harmon’s crazy neighbor, Constance Langdon. Her son Tate, portrayed by Evan Peters, finds comfort with the Harmon’s daughter, Violet. Disfigured Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) and Ben’s scorned lover Hayden (Kate Mara) frequently disrupt and eff with the Harmon family…quite persistently too. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a secret about this house. A conundrum it faces when its inhabitants die in it and Larry and Hayden are just a few of the many nuisances the Harmon’s will have to deal with and overcome. The only problem is being able to tell who’s real and who’s not? But there’s no way I can conclude this character driven paragraph without mentioning the hottest piece of blankety blank there is on the show…the housekeeper, Alexandra Breckenridge, who shares the spotlight with her older counterpart, Frances Conroy.
So as you can see, I really did not have to divulge much of the show’s ghoulish plot to peak your curiosity and to allude to the fact that there’s much more going on than meets the eye when you’re talking about AHS Season One. But perhaps the one thing we haven’t yet broached the subject about is the locale…the house it all goes down in. It’s majestic, isn’t it? It’s located in Country Club Park, Los Angeles. Of course. Why are all the cool things in life an exclusive LA item? Sigh. Well anyway…I found an interesting fact out today. Supposedly this house was built in 1902 as a convent and a chapel is adjoined to it. They obviously removed the chapel part with some clever CGI, but nonetheless, that’s interesting to know. You know it is. And obviously, the majority of the season was filmed on replica sound stages.
Do you really need to read me babbling on anymore about the show or did I sell you on it? Like all television shows, the 12-episode series has its highs and lows, but most importantly when talking AHS, the highs always outweigh the lows. So go. Take this Blu-ray set and venture alone to the bowels of your basement if applicable or brave enough, turn off all the lights and…ENJOY! All your questions will be answered. And okay…maybe leave one light on…just in case.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment brings the sometimes horrific visions of AHS to life on the Blu-ray format with a haunting 1080p MPEG-4 AVC video codec presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. What’s different about AHS compared to most television shows is the fact that it’s shot on film. I guess you could actually say that’s what gives the show it’s visceral and grittier look than most others in the cable genre. MORE SCARES FOR YOUR BUCKS. While this is good for the tone of the show, it’s bad for the snobs who want the absolute best picture money can buy. I’m sorry. You’re not going to get it. However, what you’re going to get is so much more. You’re getting a faithful representation of how the show is supposed to look, not gloss. So like they say in those St. Jude commercials, “give thanks.” Also, while staying true to the source, you’re also compromising clarity and experiencing moments of softness from time-to-time. Again…deal with it. I would rather have this then some waxy Predator redo. Colors are vibrant, when available…most strikingly the reds. So for what it’s worth, I’m a fan of this transfer, but I can see many Blu-ray snobs, including my former self, objecting to some of the material presented on their HDTV sets. AHS is a dark, gritty tale into the forbidden unknown. Shouldn’t its presentation be the same, too? I think so!
AHS brings home the scares on the Blu-ray format with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound presentation. In other words…things that may you go BOO! I know…that’s pathetic of me. While the front speakers take on the excessive burden for most of the show, you can rest assured that the rears serve up the scares, the creeps and all the little things that go bump in the night and frighten the bejesus out of you. You know…your average horror soundfield. I’m sure you watched enough gere movies to know what I’m talking about here. The music and score is mixed prominently with significant importance to cues and the uneasy scenes, while the dialogue levels all remain loud and clear throughout. In other words, everything is in check and assembled in perfect harmony. Also, for those interested, the Blu-ray set includes optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.
In addition to being one heck of a bada$$ horror television series, AHS: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray also manages to scare up a host of engaging and engrossing extras. I’m typically not one to brag about Blu-ray extras, unless we’re talking The Dark Knight or something, so let’s skip the unnecessary and awkward words here and jump straight into dissecting all the extra scares.
First and foremost, as I said above, the first season is broken into thirteen episodes. They are spread amongst three Blu-rays as listed below.
“Pilot” (Disc One)
“Home Invasion” (Disc One)
“Murder House” (Disc One)
“Halloween Part I” (Disc One)
“Halloween Part II” (Disc One)
“Piggy, Piggy” (Disc Two)
“Open House” (Disc Two)
“Rubber Man” (Disc Two)
“Spooky Little Girl” (Disc Two)
“Smoldering Children” (Disc Two)
“Birth” (Disc Three)
“Afterbirth” (Disc Three)
With the obvious mention of a commentary during the first episode, let’s take a look at everything else you can find on the third Blu-ray disc.
- Audio Commentary on Pilot Episode by Ryan Murphy – Although it’s kind of disappointing we only get one audio commentary, at least we get to hear a little info about the house, scrapped ideas, casting and how the show came to be.
- Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story (HD, 24:38) – This is basically everything we hear discussed in the commentary, but complete with visuals now showing set decorations, interviews with cast and crew, some stunts, costumes and more.
- The Murder House Presented by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood (HD, 6:35) – This is an extended fictional take on the locations tour actually featured on the show.
- Overture to Horror: Creating the Title Sequence (HD, 9:12) – If you read the paragraphs above, then you know I’m in love with this one. What more can I say? This one’s a MUST-WATCH. Discover how this one came to be one of the creepiest show openers ever.
- Out of the Shadows: Meet the House Ghosts (HD, 15:10) – This one pretty much covers all the former deceased characters that make up the mystery inhabitants of the house. I won’t spoil anything here.
Overall, I think I enjoyed this series much more than I thought possible. Every episode serves up a new round of scares, crazed sexual behavior and tension and most importantly…leaves you wanting to know more. I don’t know about you, but that equates to effective prime time television in my opinion. Some may find the subject matter a little risque, but just go with it. What’s wrong with a man’s naked a$$ or s3x in a black rubber suit? Absolutely nothing! You have just enough time before the October 17th premiere of Season Two, Asylum. Watch it with the lights out, the kids all nestled in their sacks for the night and pray. Pray that something like this doesn’t happen to your family one day. And of course, horse, BUY THAT BLU-RAY! Extra points if anyone can tell me what horror movie “of course, horse” is from.