Welcome to Camp Redwood! Let’s hope your stay is better than your trip to the freak show, or that time you joined a cult.
1984 begins in 1970 with a threesome. Numbers, people! Not much foreplay happens before the “teens” are ready for “lambskin” protection. Of course a rubber can’t protect these lovebirds from Mr. Jingles, a Vietnam vet whose blood thirst is only sated with a fresh severed ear (the solider ear necklace trope persists). Honestly, I expected a young Bloody Face from Asylum, but John Carroll Lynch (Twisty the Clown) looks to be our killer for the season. The man elevates whatever he touches, as he was one of the few effective stories on Freak Show.
For reasons of fairness, I will resist comparisons to past AHS seasons. I want to forget my disappointment for seasons beyond the first two (though I enjoyed Apocalypse upon rewatch). In honor of AHS’s decadence: if this comparison rule is broken, an out of context quote will be provided from Hustler magazine’s Larry Flynt, taken from his horrific autobiography, An Unseemly Man.
1984 has just begun, but the genre boxes are already being ticked as AHS echoes The Burning and Friday the 13th Part Whichever with a summer camp theme. Gas station harbingers, aerobics, and teenage mutilation. Brooke (Emma Roberts) appears to be in the Final Girl role, but I sense a secret or two. She might be up to something, but then again maybe that’s just Emma Roberts coming through. Camp owner Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman) is also suspect, seeming less concerned about murder than she is Brooke’s cleanliness following a mud run. Real-life SK Richard Ramirez is part of the story, by the way. Ramirez sexually assaulted and murdered older women, all in the name of Satan (according to him).
Of course, 1984 continues AHS’s celebrity worship with various cameos. I confess my excitement for an appearance by Mitch Pileggi (X-Files). Could Skinner be the Adam Levine of this season, or someone more integral?
“I didn’t know what it meant, but it disturbed me deep down in my gut.” –Larry
Honestly, there isn’t much to say just yet. 1984 gives what’s expected: a synthwave intro, silly fashion, pop cues (because that’s all the Eighties was, right?). Oh, and it does that thing where the character’s name SPLATS on the screen in a wacky font upon introduction.
This season is a few years late for its nostalgia. The integration of archival news footage could be interesting (think The Killing of America), as most low-budget slasher fare never had access to news archives. For many, the Eighties was a doomy, nuclear-possible nightmare, with crime rates rising to numbers higher than U2 ticket prices. IRL footage to reflect this could build real atmosphere. Will this season subvert the Slasher genre, as Cabin in the Woods or the Leslie Vernon films already have? Will queer representation only appear as the spectre of the closeted jock, and will the Night Stalker be put down a la Tarantino revisionism?
Maybe. The early seasons of AHS swirled the outlandish and serious together with originality, but the characters kept things grounded. In Apocalypse when the family from Murder House returns, I was reminded of how much I cared for those people. I knew what they’d been through, and what they failed to do. I don’t have this same attachment for the disposable characters of newer seasons, and this is AHS’s biggest problem. Thankfully we’re just getting started, so here’s hoping for a little humanity to go with the evisceration.
“I have no idea how she managed to obtain the gruesome specimen. I didn’t know whether it was from [her] womb or not, although it seemed unlikely. I fled the scene, angry and confused.” –Larry
Nine years in, maybe it’s unfair to have high expectations of this series. The under-seen anthology Channel Zero was cancelled last year, so I have to put all my eggs into Ryan Murphy’s basket. And Murphy often breaks my eggs. Pose excelled once he seemingly handed the reigns over to diverse writers, but there’s no sign of his exit here. Murder House, with its familiar yet joyous horror smorgasbord was a long time ago, but here’s hoping 1984 gives viewers a new hook in episode 2.
“By nine we had a big crowd. I stood up on the new runway to make a brief statement that turned into an emotional speech … It was a grand moment.” –Larry