AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1×05

"Halloween, Part 2"

Every week, when I sit down to unpack the overloaded insanity that is American Horror Story, the first thing I do is make a list of everything that happened in the show. Then I stare at the list, and despair about how I am ever, ever going to cover everything that happened in all its glory. This week, as I stared at it, the list seemed to acquire a sort of madcap poetry of its own; with a little rearrangement, I began to hear music behind it.

Sometimes, I simply have to amuse myself in order to keep my spirits up. So here—with apologies for the sloppy rhyme scheme, and with apologies to Bob Dylan and his seminal "Subterranean Homesick Blues"—is a recap in song.

Murder House Halloween Blues

Violet’s in the kitchen,
Worryin’ bout the 'sitch she’s in:
Rubberman’s behind her
But doesn’t seem to mind her.
The man with the burned face,
Hand out, pissed off,
Wants for Ben to pay him off
for knockin’ little Hayden off.

Look out, schmuck,
It’s someone you fucked.
God knows how,
But you’re really in it now.
She didn’t stay buried down below
Under the gazebo.
Still the man with the burned face
at the front door
wants a thousand dollar bills
for buryin’ that whore.

Hayden comes, mad as hell,
Ringing on the door bell,
Talkin’ bout extortion,
and about her own abortion.
The phone rings, and your wife
Talks to Hayden ‘bout her life,
Conversation rife with strife,
Ben has grabbed a kitchen knife.

Look out, dick,
You’ve pissed off this chick:
But you're so damn thick
you think it’s all some trick.
You still don't know
That Hayden is a vengeful ghost,
Back from the grave,
and fucking depraved,
Now she makes poor Vivien
Think the dog was in the microwave.

Meanwhile, vile Tate
Takes Violet on a date.
Out late, tries to mate,
But his penis won’t inflate.
Then five ghosts arrive
Bleeding heads, very red,
Wanting Tate to tell ‘em straight
Why he shot ‘em all dead.

Look out, kid,
Here’s some folks you did:
Jocks and cheerleaders,
Academic leaders,
Now dead bleeders.
You shot up the school,
Now they're just angry ghouls:
You don’t recall,
But you shot ‘em one and all.

Ah, gay guys, doctor’s wives,
Is anyone in town alive?
Vi, Ben, and Vivien
Still don’t know the Hell they’re in.
Dead kids, dead maids, dead whores,
Neighbors, decorators,
Five episodes of gore
And you still don’t know the score?

Look here, guys,
There’s no one alive.
Better pack up and get away,
Find yourself somewhere to stay.
Don’t stop, don’t delay,
This shit happens every day.
Don’t wanna be dead
You should have fled.
This house is fucked up,
And there’s really nothing else to say.

 

And now a few additional thoughts:

  • I loved the dawn shots of all the ghosts returning home after a hard night of haunting, but seriously, are there any normal, living people in this town? Luke, the security guard (Morris Chestnut) seems to be fairly normal—so far—and in fact stars in a future urban legend as Hayden disappears from the backseat of his car. Presumably the nurse who passed out while looking at the sonogram last week—a sub-plot completely unmentioned here—is also relatively human. At this point, however, the dead significantly outnumber the living, which is leading me wonder if the Harmons aren't, in fact, also dead. (Spoiler alert for the series finale: it was Hell all along!)
  • As fun as this week's episode was—and it was—the sheer number of ghosts and ghouls helped me narrow in on a major issue with the show: I just don't give a fuck about Ben and Vivien's marriage. Actually, that's not even true: I actively, aggressively, nearly violently want the Harmons to split up, and then I want Ben to be dismembered and have his individual pieces placed in jars in the basement until the ghost of Dr. Montgomery can fit him for some bat wings. One of the reasons Stephen King didn't like Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining was that King's book was about a nice guy who goes crazy, while Nicholson's character was crazy from the moment he appeared. Similarly, American Horror Story might have worked better for me if the Harmons had been happily married when they arrived at Murder House, and then their marriage had slowly disintegrated over the course of the series. As it is, Ben began as a dick, stayed a dick, and shows every sign of becoming (if possible) more and more dickish: were we really supposed to feel sad when he left at the end of this episode?
  • Speaking of which, can we all just agree that Dylan McDermott was miscast? Take a moment to imagine, if you will, that Mrs. Coach had been reunited with Coach: if someone with the subtlety of Kyle Chandler had played this role, how much better this show would be?
  • The revelations about Tate's parentage and homicidal activities were not much of a surprise, but it was a surprise that he genuinely didn't remember anything. It is almost enough to make me feel sympathetic towards him—or would be, if previous episodes hadn't shown him to be total psychopath who seemed to know everything about everything. (Here we have Falchuk and Murphy's Patented Character Inconsistency again: we are now supposed to feel bad for the kid who tried to feed Leah to Batboy in Episode One, and did feed the home invaders to the basement in Episode Two?)
  • It's criminal of me to have written four reviews of this show, and have barely mentioned Denis O'Hare, who is a comedic genius. His character, Larry-the-Half-Burned-Man, is wonderfully random, just showing up and whacking people in the head with a shovel whenever the plot needs him to. (He reminds me of one of those recurring Monty Python characters who would appear out of nowhere when the writers couldn't think of any other way to end a sketch.) But O'Hare makes me laugh nearly every time he opens his mouth. (During this episode, Ben is beating him up, and tells him that Hayden—who is supposed to be under the gazebo—just showed up at the door. "Shit," Larry says. "Was she pissed?" O'Hare's delivery and timing are pure gold.)
  • There continue to be some clumsy directorial and editorial choices that make me wince: while Ben is beating Larry, we get a few seconds of shaky Larry Cam that don't work at all.
  • As overwritten and overwrought as the character of Hayden is, Kate Mara is wonderful—she plays vindictively crazy very, very, well, selling lines that should be unsellable. ("He said my face was soft like a baby, and between my legs I tasted like strawberries and cream.")
  • So we now have ghosts working against ghosts, some to protect the house and its occupants, others to destroy them. Chad stops Larry—who is or is not a ghost?—from burning down the house, and Mrs. Montgomery sets Ben free after he's tied up in the basement. (More echoes of The Shining here: it reminded me of Delbert Grady setting Jack Torrence free after his wife locked him up.)
  • Chad: "I feel like I'm doomed for all eternity to be trapped in an unhappy, adulterous relationship, working on this goddamned house, which will never be just the way I want it." Moira: "You are."
  • I stand by last week's criticisms of the Addy storyline, but Jessica Lange rocked both her grief scenes this week, putting garish makeup on Addy in the morgue to make her a "pretty girl," and in her long scene with Taissa Farmiga (who is also excellent).
  • Speaking of Addy, can we assume that was her hand reaching out from beneath Violet's bed? I hope so: this show really isn't the same without her.
  • I can't even tell you how much more I would have loved this episode if Hayden had really nuked the dog. Way to pussy out, American Horror Story.

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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2 thoughts on “AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1×05

  1. Your reviews are rocking. Couldn't help but notice all the homages paid to The Shining (the movie, not the book) myself: http://goo.gl/lb94W

    — One of the reasons Stephen King didn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining was that King’s book was about a nice guy who goes crazy, while Nicholson’s character was crazy from the moment he appeared. —

    It's one of the great conundrums of my horror loving life, because I do love Stephen King as a writer, and love Kubrick as a director even more, so to hear King say his greatest disappointment ever was how The Shining turned out it Kubrick's hands? Very hard to reconcile the two.

    King is a great writer, maybe flawed a bit in that sometimes you get the feeling from his characters that maybe this is a guy who just doesn't get out all that much and meet people, but his imagination, his thoughts and premises are the best of the best. And as talented as he is, maybe he deserves to be a control freak, because that's certainly what's at play when he sees Kubrick take such great liberties with The Shining.

    Guess what, Mr. King? Love your writing, but you could not be any less objective. On a scale of pure horror, Kubrick's Shining is on any one's top ten, or maybe top five, probably my number one. Your miniseries that was faithful to the book in every detail and it was a bore, a yawner, three nights of tedium.

    I just find it strange that such a great writer could be so oblivious as to what makes a good adaptation.

    You had to get me going on Stephen King and The Shining, so I had to let loose, but I'm enjoying your reviews very much.

    1. Thanks, Mike: glad you're liking the reviews. And I agree with you about The Shining: I understand King's complaints, but Kubrick riffed on the novel and made a masterpiece. (Kubrick fascinates me: I'm not a fan of all his movies, but there are effects he can achieve with a camera that boggle my mind. I don't understand what he does exactly, but he can compose a shot like nobody else.)

      I'm actually a big fan of King as well, but—as I said in the post on IT—the only adaptations of his stories that really work are the ones that are smaller-scale stories to begin with, or else the ones (like The Shining) where the director strips out all the excess baggage. (There were a lot of reasons that lousy TV mini-series didn't work, but trying to stuff everything from the novel into it certainly didn't help.)

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