[REVIEW] AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984 RETURNS WITH CAMPY HORROR FUN

American Horror Story: 1984 delves into the 80’s slasher genre that defined so many horror movies of the decade and still does today.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984
Episode 1: Camp Redwood
Episode 2: Mr. Jingles

Starring: Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Cody Fern, Matthew Morrison, Gus Kenworthy, John Carroll Lynch, Angelica Ross, Zach Villa, DeRon Horton, Orla Brady
Director: Bradley Buecker (Episode 1), John J. Gray (Episode 2)
Writer: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck (Episode 1), Tim Minear (Episode 2)
Production Company: FX Network, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, Ryan Murphy Productions, 20th Century Fox Television
Distribution: FX

“Do either of you know who he is?

He’s the dead guy with a fucking hole in his head!”

American Horror Story has teased our fears for almost a decade. Furthermore, it has done so while bringing up real social issues. Murder House (Season 1) looked at the consequences of adultery, all the while providing an outstanding haunted house story. Asylum (Season 2) took a good look at the failed mental health system from the ’60s. It was a hard-hitting indictment of the staff and their methods, while providing us with a great serial killer story. Even a storyline involving aliens was thrown in for good measure. But independent of social commentary, American Horror Story tries to tell new stories with each new season. Among them, Coven had its witches, Hotel its vampires, and Cult its, well, cults. Even Apocalypse, which was a continuation and revisit to previous seasons, touched upon the fear of a nuclear holocaust. In that vein, season 9 is no different.

American Horror Story: 1984 delves into the ’80s slasher genre that defined so many horror movies of the decade and still does so today. Set in 1984, the story is about a group of friends who leave Los Angeles in order to work as summer camp counselors at Camp Redwood. Given the nature of the show, it’s no surprise that the summer camp has its own backstory of violent murder (cue the inevitable comparisons to previous slasher movies). It works, and it’s fun.

Brooke (Emma Roberts) out alone with a killer stalking Camp Redwood.

After a couple of episodes, 1984 appears to be everything but original. Five friends going to work at a summer camp with a backstory of murder has Friday the 13th‘s (1980) DNA all over it. The van used to drive to the camp is the same as in Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982), as is the drug use inside. Their first night around the campfire to tell Mr. Jingles’s story is straight from the notebook of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). The events that take place on the way to Camp Redwood are reminiscent of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). And there’s more.

1984 is filled with clichés and tropes. There’s the apparent virgin who runs through the forest, tripping and falling. Surprise, there’s the asylum escapee looking for revenge, as well as the gas station attendant with his ominous warning. There’s Ramirez’s (Zach Villa) entire demeanor, including his frozen stance and staring. Of course, there’s the escape vehicle crashing, forcing the characters to remain at the camp. These go on and on. It could be argued that the show lacks originality, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are subtle differences.

Brooke (Emma Roberts) is your typical final girl. She is quiet, shy, and as far as we know, still a virgin. She escapes the mad killer, running through the woods. Sure she trips, falls, and knocks her head on a low-hanging branch, but she escapes — all in the first episode and not in the final third of the show, as would be expected. The returning survivor Margaret (Leslie Grossman) should be fearful after learning of Mr. Jingles’s escape. Instead, she’s unfazed, even going so far as displaying signs of madness. Befriending the Night Stalker to use as a protector against another killer is well done.

As in previous seasons, American Horror Story: 1984 boasts a strong cast. There are newcomers: Michael Morrison as Trevor, Gus Kenworthy as Chet, Angelica Ross as Nurse Rita, and DeRon Horton as Ray. Even if only for short appearances, I was stoked to see Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files). I hope Tara Karsian, the cook, makes more appearances. She’s got the earmarks of a fun, sarcastic, don’t-mess-with-me character. Don Swayze plays Roy, the gas bar owner (he and Patrick … they could almost be twins!), who warns our future counselors about Camp Redwood. So far, these newcomers have made their way into the American Horror Story universe seamlessly and are performing well.

Montana (Billie Lourd), sassy and feisty. Can she be the final girl?

There are numerous returnees as well. Cody Fern, first seen in Apocalypse, is Xavier, a lighter role than last season’s. Leslie Grossman is back for her third season already, as Margaret Booth, the sole survivor of the Mr. Jingles killing spree. She’s got the scars and the memories. But has she also brought a darker side? John Carroll Lynch gets a full season credit. Having played Twisty the Clown in previous seasons, he’s no stranger to being a warped violent killer. His Mr. Jingles, who collects an ear from each of his victims, is a cross between Ben Willis (the killer in I Know What You Did Last Summer) and Michael Myers (Halloween).

Billie Lourd is back for her third season as well. Whereas she played calm, in-the-background kind of characters in previous seasons, Montana, the badass ’80s girl who sleeps with a switch blade, is a fun and welcomed change. She’s sassy and mischievous, and she should prove to be one of the feistier characters this season. Finally, Emma Roberts returns as well, for her fifth season. As with Lourd, her character seems the complete opposite from what we’ve seen in the past. She’s the calmer, introverted, shy, final-like girl. But can she maintain this calm? Or will some inner madness be revealed as Mr. Jingles and the Night Stalker make their way to Camp Redwood? If the crazy events that have plagued her past are any indications, there is a chance it just might.

The ’80s was a bodacious decade. The fashion, the hair styles, the CRT televisions, the attitude–they’re all in full display in 1984. And for those who relish in the nostalgia, the soundtrack is bound to get your attention. Try not to spaz out when you start to hear Banarama’s “Cruel Summer,” Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” and Hall and Oates’ “Private Eyes.” Hearing them will bring you right back in time. Even the theme song has taken on an ’80s vibe. It’s gnarly, it’s rad, and it adds quality to an an already outstanding start to the season.

The setting is pretty simple. It’s a summer camp, with few buildings, located far enough from society to isolate its temporary lodgers. It’s on the shores of a lake, presumably to allow for those nighttime sexually-driven swim scenes. All things ’80s have been included for realism, and it works. But where 1984 excels is how campy it is.

Brooke (Emma Roberts) and Xavier (Cody Fern). Their first night at Camp Redwood.

It’s clear that this season is, in part, an homage to old-school slasher movies. Some of the rules are amended to maintain a level of surprise. However, the real fun lies in how campy it is. The exaggerations are over the top. After being attacked by Mr. Jingles and almost killed, Brooke returns to the girls’ cabin. She’s awakened by the ringing payphone, which is outside. What does she opt to do? She goes out, alone, to answer it. Can she really be that dumb? Yet, it doesn’t diminish the quality. In fact, it’s done so deftly that it feels right.

The dialogue is cheesy and reflective of the ’80s slashers. The characters are larger-than-life caricatures. Trevor’s (Matthew Morrison) story involving his impressive asset is funny. But sporting a Ron Jeremy mustache makes it hilarious. The kills are violent, graphic, and worthy of the slasher genre. The wedding scene is too outrageous to be anything but campy. Even the product placement is spot on. Multiple viewings are sure to be in the cards to catch everything that’s going on. Falchuk and Murphy have so far delivered.

1984 is off to a strong start. Not one killer, but two. A summer camp à la Crystal Lake Camp. The ’80s on full display. Homages aplenty to classics like Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, and Halloween. So campy! Easter eggs for the astute and nostalgic viewers. Killings and gore aplenty. Humor and sass. And what would American Horror Story be if there weren’t any ghosts? From the decade that brought us MTV, this new season is a great ride and promises to be another must-watch entry in the American Horror Story franchise. Party on, dude!

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984

9.2

Night Stalker, Jingles, and kills, oh my!

9.5/10

Schweet! Righteous! Rockin' the '80s!

10.0/10

Slasher and campy fun? Yes, please!

9.0/10

Falchuk and Murphy delivering horror at its best.

9.5/10

Wearing that Burt Reynold 'stache like it was in style might take some getting used to.

8.0/10

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