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Rubber Soul

December 8th, 2011

Every once in a while, a television show comes along that is so bugfuck nuts that attention must be paid. And while it’s not as trippy as Twin Peaks or labyrinthine as Lost, FX’s American Horror Story is a ghoulishly weird treat.

Like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story (henceforth AHS) is an attempt to make an ongoing series out of a typically done-in-one horror trope. In this case, it’s the “troubled family moves into a haunted house” thing. I’m unsure how it can sustain itself over the long haul–a second season has been ordered–but it’s wacky enough that it just might work.

The usual complaint about haunted house stories is “why don’t they just move?” Indeed, the Internet asked that even before the pilot episode had aired. AHS gets away with it in part due to the real-life recession; it’s hard enough getting out of an underwater mortgage without the property in question being featured on a bus tour of infamous Los Angeles murder sites.

But the other reason that the Harmons haven’t skedaddled is that they haven’t yet realized that their home is haunted. One of the clever ideas here is that the ghosts are entirely corporeal. They can touch, be touched, kill and screw just like normal folks. Some are confused enough about their true nature that they pass as people who have wandered in off the street, while others are scheming and duplicitous.

The Murder House itself seems to operate as something of a spirit trap. Everyone who dies on its grounds winds up bound to the premises. Some make frequent appearances, others lurk in attic or crawlspace, and still others just seem to drop in from who-knows-where.

As I mentioned, the ghosts can themselves kill, and that means that the lost souls in the Harmon household are piling up. Offhand, I can think of at least twenty.

It’s becoming a sort of spiritual Upstairs Downstairs, a society of ghosts ranging from the Frankenstein baby that lives in the cellar to the maid who appears to women as a blind-in-one-eye old lady, and to men as a fetishistic sex doll. There’s also an emo spook boy who is strangely sympathetic despite being a mass murderer in each of his two lives.

The main not-dead characters may be dull–with the exception of Jessica Lange as the casually racist, homicidal next-door neighbor–but who cares when there’s an entire ectoplasmic ecosystem?

One way in that AHS is not Lost is that there’s not a long wait for answers. Two of the most burning questions already have been put to rest. We know the identity of the rubber suited figure (colloquially known as the “Rubber Man”) who somehow impregnated Vivian Harmon. And last night’s installment clarified the ghost/not-a-ghost status of one of the main cast. Neither of the answers were all that surprising, but honestly, I’m not going to complain about a mystery show that plays fair and provides its audience enough information to come to a correct solution.

Also, did I mention that the show is bugfuck nuts? Seriously. One episode featured both the Black Dahlia (adding her to the Murder House spook parade) and the Pope. And, in another of the show’s “did they just go there?” moments, told us that not only do the two babies growing inside Vivien have different fathers, but that one just might be the Antichrist. (Ooooo-eeeeeee!)

American Horror Story is gleefully ridiculous and oh-so-watchable. I don’t care so much where it’s going; I’m just enjoying the macabre buggy-ride.

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