by Alex Greenberger
The second episode of “American Horror Story” begins the same way as the first episode: with an eerie flashback to something else that happened in the house. This time, the viewer is transported to 1968, which is immediately set up by a shot of a trio of girls walking down a staircase set to “Aquarius” from “Hair.” What follows isn’t nearly as glamorous as this, as the viewer is then made to watch a vicious double murder by a home invader. The scene is certainly creepy and definitely the best part of this episode. The episode departs from the first episode’s weirdness as soon as this sequence ends, however. Maybe this is for the better. Instead of vacillating wildly, “American Horror Story” is stabilizing.
That is not to say that the second episode was bad. Unlike the first episode, plays down the scares and focuses on the actual plot of the show. This episode shows Vivien and Violet receiving an unexpected visitor, while Ben leaves the house temporarily to confront one of his past demons. If the summary on its own sounds a lot less strange than the first episode, this becomes even more apparent in the episode’s style.
Whereas the past week’s episode featured nervous jump cutting and spooky imagery, this episode is much more restrained. Still, “American Horror Story” is an impressively well-shot show. There’s a lot of crazy camerawork, notably one shot that starts on the floor, from the point of view of a chair that’s been tipped over, and follows the chair as it’s placed back to its regular position. But part of what was fun about the first episode was the subliminal images and the twitchy editing style. All this is gone for the second episode and replaced with a more “normal” style of filmmaking to slightly disappointing results.
The movie allusions remain intact, however. Bernard Herrmann’s chilling score from “Psycho” is used multiple times throughout the episode. There’s also a little suburban horror here, primarily involving Adelaide being locked in a room full of mirrors by Constance, reminiscent of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” Murphy and Falchuk play on “Insidious” once again with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t sequence. Tate stands at the foot of Ben and Vivien’s bed and then somehow escapes through a locked door. The art of “American Horror Story” is still unusual and impressive for TV.
Yet the most shocking thing of all is that Murphy and Falchuk are still taking risks. By the end of the episode, the Harmons decide they need to leave the house. That is something that many horror movies will never have their protagonists do, and to have three characters possibly leaving a haunted house two episodes into a series about the haunted house is definitely unusual.
And furthermore, the show is still very creepy. The scene where the invaders take over the Harmons’ home is bizarre and hellish—it’s a scary sequence in many ways, and a good scare at that. Considering the dearth of solid TV horror, this is admirable in and of itself.
Even though this second episode slowed things down, it still kept things creepy and atmospheric. It was nowhere near as supernatural as the first episode, but the interpolation of the past and present is admirable. Cheers to Murphy and Falchuk for taking TV to places it never goes normally.
Alex Greenberger is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org