Over the years, countless haunted house stories have come and gone, through both our physical world and entertainment mediums such as film and television. Some have stuck with us, while others have been debunked, or have become forgotten, though our wonder regarding the paranormal has never waned. As such, the creative minds among us still attempt to come up with new tales of ghostly spirits, while kids continue to try to scare each other with spooky stories about the abandoned house next door. Intermingled within those two camps are the documented hauntings which, although tough to factually prove, provide us with constant mystery, keeping us intrigued.
In a world where ghosts and spirits are constantly sought, but are always feared, lies a great market for paranormal fiction. For that reason, we’ve been blessed with Chris Carter’s fantastic supernatural drama, The X-Files, as well as familiar fare like Supernatural and reality-based investigation shows. However, up until last year, the popular sub-genre was missing something: a great, episodic haunted house story. That void was (thankfully) filled, however, by FX and its dramatic ghost tale, American Horror Story.
Focusing upon a romantically-challenged couple and their teenage daughter, the show is very much a character study amidst a paranormal backdrop. You see, the three members of the Harmon family have decided to move across the United States, uprooting their lives in Boston for a new beginning in sunny California. They think that they’ve purchased the perfect house – a large, older construction residence in which psychiatrist Dr. Harmon can see his patients – for a surprisingly low price. However, there’s much more to their new digs than brick, mortar and aged wood.
Although the building itself is a wonderful-looking old manor with lots of room, its walls house a terrible past and, as such, it’s known as the Murder House. It’s said that, over the years since its construction, many unspeakable acts of human cruelty have occurred within the place, and those who were harmed have yet to move out. Of course, the realtor wouldn’t say such things. Instead, her commitment to full disclosure sees her skip over most of the historical events, choosing to only reveal the residence’s most recent atrocity: a murder/suicide which took the lives of a gay couple.
Generally speaking, the show is much more of a dramatic presentation than anything else. Sure, its name elicits fear, as does its chilling title sequence, but it never really frightened me. Those less familiar with the horror genre and all of its classics may feel differently, though. However, I would recommend giving the story a chance instead of writing it off as a dumb spookshow if you’re easily scared, because that would be criminal. In actuality, there aren’t any cheap scares or anything of that sort, and everything revolves around personal relationships, character flaws and feelings of regret. Interesting stuff to say the least.
Of course, there’s more to a good show than well-developed characters and riveting dialogue, though American Horror Story has both in spades. On top of all of that, quality actors are required to perform each script, and the members of the show’s large cast did an impressive job of bringing their on-screen personas to televised life. Connie Britton and Dyland McDermott were incredibly believable as the troubled Harmon couple, while those who supported them helped to create an engaging but confined world, wherein the past could wreak havoc on the present. The always-great Frances Conroy (from HBO’s spectacular Six Feet Under) is an absolute standout as the older half of a dual-aged maid character, while Evan Peters is always engaging as a conflicted teenage character. However, they’re not the only standouts from what is certainly a quality cast.
Presenting a familiar premise in a very unique way, and through an unexpected medium, American Horror Story is an interesting ride from start to finish. There’s so much depth within the show’s narrative that it’s tough to pull away from the Harmon family and the ghosts who live amongst them. In fact, it was so immersive that I became enthralled, and ended up watching the entire show within a couple of days. Finding out more about each spirit, and seeing how they interacted with the three main characters eventually became addicting.
Now available on Blu-ray, American Horror Story: The Complete First Season presents the show’s twelve-episode debut arc in beautiful high definition. With it being a modern piece of filmed fiction, it’s no surprise that the offered video quality is generally very strong, though it must be noted that there are a lot of interior scenes, some of which are quite dark. With that being said, the odd piece of visual noise did show up, and at least two scenes featured an abundance of grain. Then again, that may just be a result of the way that the episodes were filmed. I only got a chance to watch the pilot when it aired on a local channel, because FX isn’t available through my television provider. As a result, I’d been looking forward to this set’s release for quite a while.
Complementing this package’s visual presentation is an impressive-sounding DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which is tough to fault. All of the show’s loud scenes were both vibrant and boisterous, while all of its quieter scenes were incredibly easy to hear. Simply put, there’s a large spectrum of sound to be found within this dramatic gem, and its Blu-ray release offers audible justice.
This three-disc package includes the following extras:
- Pilot episode commentary with co-creator Ryan Murphy
- The Murder House Presented by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood
- Behind the Fright: The Making of American Horror Story
- Out of the Shadows: Meet the House Ghosts
- Overture to Horror: Creating the Title Sequence
- On the Set of American Horror Story: Season One
Combined, the mentioned extras offer over sixty minutes of additional content, which is, for the most part, very insightful. It was interesting to learn about the ideas that went into the show’s conception, as well as many of the actors’ thoughts regarding their characters. It would’ve been nice if more detail had been included, and if the features were longer, but the good news is that there’s a decent amount of them, and collectors will be happy to hear that this is by no means a barebones release. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how cheesy the Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood clip is.
Simply put, American Horror Story: The Complete First Season is a must-buy Blu-Ray set. From start to finish, its included story arc is both entertaining and immersive. On top of that, it happens to be one of the most unique and memorable shows I’ve ever seen.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-ray set that was provided to us.