Recap and Review
*Warning there are Spoilers
Ryan Murphy is back at it again with a new season of American Horror Story, 1984. He has lured us fans back in with the tease of great tv posters, kicking it back to the original ‘80s horror movies. I have to admit I am a bit hesitant – but excited – for this season, since it follows two things I love: the ‘80s and horror movies. Season after season, Murphy sucks us in. But in the past, many seasons seemed to go off course at some point. Despite this, I have my fingers crossed for this one. So, what will Murphy have to show us in a 10-episode season that most horror movies manage to do in an average 90-minute time span?
Lets start with the first frame, where the program rating is introduced. I was immediately excited as we see a dark figure partially hidden by a wood beam at the campsite with a knife in his hand at night. I instantly thought of Michael Myers standing by the bushes, you know that one used in so many funny memes. Right away I was hooked. I love me some Michael.
Flash back to 1970 at Camp Redwood and we see three camp counselors beginning an orgy as the campers sleep. One of them hears a jingle but thinks, screw it, and proceeds to follow the other two and takes off her clothes. Just as they get back to the business at hand, the slashing and killing begins. We get glimpses of a tall figure in a black rubber rain coat and clinking keys, killing our three lovers and the female campers. Why am I reminded of “I Know What You Did Last Summer”? Anyway, we see this killer’s kink is cutting off ears and leaving the scene.
Can we stop at this point to reminisce with the opening credits, as I steep in the nostalgia of the ‘80s and horror? Heather Locklear doing aerobics, the good ol’ Walkman, the scenes of our killer, and the camp with the sweet hypnotizing sounds of a synthesizer. What more could one ask for? I could have watched an hour of this alone.
We are now back to the current date of 1984 and hey who does not want to start off with a good aerobics class taught by Xavier (played by old timer, Cody Fern). As we zoom around the room, we are introduced to our other main cast members. Sassing it up is our vixen, Montana returning to AHS played by Billie Lourd, (I was hoping to see Gary Fisher next to her but that just because I have a love for animals). New to AHS we see happy good guy Ray played by DeRon Horton, along with stereo type ‘80s jock douchebag, Chet (Gus Kenworthy). Last but not least the “last American virgin” and new comer to LA, Brooke (Emma Roberts).
Introductions are made while Cruel Summer plays in the background and the guys are discussing the Night Stalker aka Richard Ramirez played by Zach Villa. The night stalker as we know is a real person who terrorized the citizens of Los Angeles from 1984 – 1985 as he went on a killing spree till his capture. Xavier is getting out of town to a campsite to be a counselor for the summer and everyone, but Brooke decides they are game too. Brooke is hanging back because she is going to start classes to be a vet tech. As we are introduced to these new commers consumed by aerobics and themselves, Ray and Brooke appear to be more innocent but only one virgin can survive, right?
Brooke makes it home from aerobics class and goes to bed only to be suddenly awoken to Richard Ramirez sitting on top of her demanding her jewelry. Displeased with his loot, Brooke finds some spunk and opportunity and hammers his head with a good strike of the trusty old frying pan. Neighbors hear the commotion and pound on her door announcing that the police are on their way. Disgusted, Ramirez declares to Brooke “I will find you and Satan will show me the way”. This traumatic event changes Brooke’s mind and rightfully so, and she decides she is going to be a camp counselor and get out of dodge. Good decision Brooke, because there is no way I would go back to my residence again.
The next day, the group are yacking it up, drinking booze, and snorting coke as we learn a little more about them while driving to camp in a bad ass rape-van while Somebody’s is Watching me plays. Our good girl Brooke is just taking it all in. Xavier stops to get gas and use the pay phone, something I will strongly advise all in the show to stop doing. We are introduced to Ray the gas attendant (Sean Kyle, younger brother of Patrick Swayze… and we know who got the looks in that family). After finding out the group is heading to Camp Redwood, Roy in an ominous tone warns the group “your all going to die. As viewers we get the feel of other gas station attendants who have singled warnings to young adventures like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Demon Wind, hell I’ll even toss in Cabin Fever. But take heed, our counselors are not discouraged and continue on their journey as Def Leopard pumps in the background. Bad luck strikes as Xavier hits a hitchhiker as he is referred to later on in the episode. Good girl Brooke and nice guy Ray want to help while Xavier is all about ditching this guy and pretending nothing happened. Our injured stranger joins the inauspicious side character line up by not remembering his name and expressing “you’ve got to believe me, I tried” before passing out. The gang load him up and take him back to Camp Redwood to have his wounds attended to. Right away you get that feeling of “oh hell not” because that is what this stranger is going to be saying when he awakes and finds out where he is. Lets go back to the phone call Xavier makes, first he gets a voice message then we hear a message telling him he can’t take his dick and run and hide because he will be found. Ok, sounds creepy or just a stalker boyfriend?
Our group finally make it to camp and meets the owner, Margaret Booth (played by Leslie Grossman) who pleasantly greats the counselors. Once the injured stranger is presented to her, they take him over to the infirmary. We meet Nurse Rita (Angelika Ross) whose day job is at Hawthorn Hospital in the ER and informs the group in a blasé tone how hikers get injured, killed or go missing all the time. Margaret, like a mother hen shuffles the group out and takes them on a tour of the camp grounds. She too has a spiel about swimming in the lake, as the camera ends on a wide panoramic view. Foreshadowing, maybe? Hey, is Jason in that lake? We meet blunt-talking chef Bartie (Tara Karsian) who loves this camp and worked there prior to its closing. For now, her role is limited in this first episode. Margaret, our camp owner, leader and rule buster shows her holy roller drive and begins preaching about how the filth is causing the world to go to hell in a hand basket and she will not stand for it.
Before we continue, lets not leave out one of the stars of the show, Camp Redwood. Right away we get the feels for Friday the 13th and Sleepaway camp (wonder if we will get a head cut off and a dick reveal at this camp). Redwood is set in an isolated looking part of the forest that sits right near the lake, it is beautiful but hey we have seen enough slasher movies to know woods equal a stalking killer. The camp looks small and there doesn’t seem to be much to it but then again the campers have not arrived so we don’t get a real feel of the place yet.
As night ascends on our counselors the staff gather around a campfire before the kids arrive in the morning. Smoking that “funny weed’ and roasting marshmallows there is more talk about the Night Stalker. Brooke is still on edge while Montana tells her to chill. Apparently, these individuals are too self-absorbed and forgot why they got out of the city in the first place.
It is scary campfire story time like The Fog and Madman to inform everyone the history of a killer and creep everyone out before the butchering begins. Nurse Rita flashes us back 14 years and tells our counselors about the massacre that took place by the hands of Benjamin Richter (John Carrol Lynch), that’s right, the guy in the black rain coat with the noisy key ring. As this is occurring the camera steps back into the trees and the audience is given a feeling that the camp staff is being watched, reminiscent of all the slasher movies we love. We learn that Richter went to Vietnam and had the highest kill rate and loved killing, so much so he took trophies. That’s right he gathered himself ears from his victims so he could make stylish necklaces. When the Army found out, they washed their hands clean of him and gave him and unhonorable discharge. Heartbroken (I just added that), no one to come home to and jobless, Richter landed himself a spot at the camp. Then he snapped (maybe due to that broken heart I mentioned) and killed 10 campers and counselors before being arrested and placed into a hospital (asylum).
Duh Duh Duhm…(insert dramatic effect) Margaret shows up and corrects the story by stating there were nine victims, scolds the group for rule breaking and reveals she is missing an ear. She continues the story with that day in 1970 and after she was stabbed she saw a bubble that led up to a bright light that she got lost in, while in this light she met Jesus and she was able to keep still and survive the incident, even while getting her ear cut off. She mentions her struggles throughout the years and her decision to buy the camp to make “bright and happy” new memories. If this was me, my response would be, “Nah, I’m good”.
We move on to the infirmary and get another dramatic moment that you probably already guessed, when our injured stranger awakes and looks into the mirror to reveal his ear has also been recently removed. Brooke goes to check in on our stranger and he warns her that she should not be here but gives us no explanation and also states that the phone lines are down. Guess what, he learns where he is at and loses his shit.
All our counselors are in one cabin (breaking the rules) and in walks a tall, six-pack carrying Trevor (Mathew Morrison), who is the activities director (aka big dick) and looking the part in his tank and yellow short shorts. After some shameless bragging and catching Montana’s eye the two go off into the lake to go skinny dipping…Hey NO!! As they are flirting in the water, Montana hears an engine revving and spots headlights for a moment then they go out and a storm is rolls over. I felt the scene fell short here and missed an opportunity for suspense. We are left guessing who was that in the truck, Mr. Jingles or Margaret making her rounds and why doesn’t she say anything to Trevor, and how does Trevor not notice?
As the storm continues, we see inmates running amok on the hospital grounds as Dr. Hopple (Orla Brady, our Dr. Loomis) arrives after being called in by Art (played by Mitch Pileggi.) We learn that just three hours prior, our friend Richter aka Mr. Jingles (you know because of that king ring he carries) fakes his hanging death and kills an intern and kindly unlocks all the patient’s doors before making his escape. Side note, I love that he wears glasses. Dr. Hopple then enters Richter’s empty cell and finds a folded-up news article about Camp Redwood reopening.
In the style of several Halloween renditions, Richter makes a pitstop to Roy’s gas station. We see Roy underneath an old car he is working on and this will be the last of us seeing him as Richter removes the floor jacks and crushes our odd gas attendant. Richter steals himself some wheels and makes his way to Camp Redwood. I like that Richter keeps quiet. Sure he could have snagged a car but he needed those keys and a fresh kill, I’m sure it’s been a while, 14 years by my calculation.
We go back to the cabin and the crew are watching the 1984 Summer Olympics that did take pace in Los Angeles. Tensions are raised when Chet roid-rages, injuring Ray with a smashed-up beer can. Once again, our little helper Brooke ventures off alone to collect bandages. While at the infirmary, Brooke spots our hitchhiker dead and hanging on the back of the door. Although we have seen this in several slasher movies, I shouted “Bob!”… maybe I’m just crushing on Michael Myers. As Brooke screams, she catches a figure outside the window in a black rain coat and this causes her to run out. Terrified yet again she goes off running in the rain slipping and falling all over the place. I think she spent more time on the ground than on her feet, as she was being pursued by the unknown individual in the black rain coat. During this chase we see, in contrast to Brooke, flashes of Rafer Johnson, the first African American, carrying the torch majestically running and making his way up the stairs to light the Olympic cauldron. After several painstakingly falls and slides Brooke makes it back to the cabin hysterically shouting “he’s here, he tried to kill me” exclaiming it was Mr. Jingles in his rain coat and jingling keys. Then we get this shot of her alone standing there, wet straight hair and her face splattered with mud and we see (in our mind) Carrie alone covered in blood on the gymnasium stage. The men rush out the door and glance around (not much effort if you ask me), claiming they see nothing. We get another first person POV shot here. Brooke is admitted that it was Mr. Jingles and lets everyone know that the hitchhiker is DED and missing an ear. Here we go, the group goes to check out Brooke’s story at the infirmary, but guess what, the body is gone and there is a black rain coat hanging on a stand and everyone begins teasing her. Another heart stopping moment for Brooke when a figure in a black raincoat shows up at the door. Oh wait, its only our favorite holy roller, Margaret wanting to know what is going on and why Brooke is so dirty.
Here we go again with the pay phone, Brooke hears it ringing while she is in bed and wakes up Montana who could give zero fucks. Since Brooke hasn’t had enough excitement in one night, she ventures out alone to answer it. As she picks up the receiver, she hears keys, they be a jingling, then Richard Ramirez (who is not dress for camping by the way) sonders into view, and scene.
This first episode had a lot of nods to classic horror movies, which is why we are excited for this season. We got a little introduction to some of our characters and they all fit. I like how they are bringing in some actual events that occurred in 1984 in Los Angeles, giving it that Summer of Sam vibe. I’m not sure where I stand on the Night Stalker appearing in this episode. It works for getting Brooke to join the group, but was that him at Camp Redwood or was that Brooke seeing shit due to all the trauma she experienced in such a short time. Guess we will have to see how that plays out. And something seems off about Margaret. Sure, she went through her own shit, but is it coincidence that she has a black raincoat and keeps creeping around the camp grounds showing up at odd times to freak Brooke out? AHS 1984 speaks to those of us that were teenagers in the mid ‘80s – complete with the clothes, music and slasher horror film references – but will they be able to sustain our attention? I’ll definitely stick around to find out.