If your jaw drops and your face feels like it's melting off as your eyes widen into saucers, no need to worry — it just means you're getting into the groove of American Horror Story, perhaps the freakiest television show in the history of the medium.
With top-tier acting talent, drama rooted in family tragedy, nightmarish atmospheric visuals and a premiere with no less than eight cliffhangers, this psychosexual haunted house series could give even the cult horror-meister Rob Zombie the heebie-jeebies.
Get ready for blood, dark mystery, violation of the body, strobe-lit scenes, a disturbed ghoul, a bloke in a black rubber suit and a basement with more rusty medical instruments and jars of body parts than you would care to count.
American Horror Story revolves around the Harmons, a family of three who move from Boston to Los Angeles as a means to reconcile past anguish. They take up residence in a decaying mansion that hides dark secrets within its walls as well as the ghosts of its former inhabitants. And they're not a very pleasant bunch, either.
One of the most shocking revelations about American Horror Story is that such demented offspring could spring from the minds of the executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk — the creators of Glee, that sunny, button-shiny song-and-dance confection populated by lip-synching cherubs.
"I think we're both obsessed with the [horror] genre," says Falchuk. "Working with Ryan, it's being obsessed with the genre - and then it's … how can we bust the genre up? What can we do to the genre to make it not the genre anymore, while paying homage to all these things that we love so much?"
The TV industry apparently loves their bust-it-up approach, too. The first season of American Horror Story, which wrapped last autumn in North America on the FX network, earned 17 Emmy nominations, tying with Mad Men for the most of any programme this past year, as it set a record for the most Emmy nominations for a mini-series in cable history. (The Emmys will be handed out on September 23 in LA.)
In a casting coup, the producers managed to entice the two-time Oscar-winner Jessica Lange (Tootsie, Blue Sky) to the series, where she's magnificently malignant as the next-door neighbour Constance Langdon, a past-her-prime Southern belle with a murderous past and a daughter, Addie, with Down syndrome whom she cruelly refers to as "the mongoloid".
"Maybe we're getting more like the English," says Lange. "You do television, you do theatre, you do film, you do radio. I mean, you can do anything [in the UK]. I don't think there's that kind of delineation: if you're this, you're this; if you're that, you're that. So when this came up, I thought, well, here is great writing, here is a wonderful character. Something very unusual. I had a couple of phone conversations with Ryan [Murphy] and I'd never had a man promise me so much."
Coming off of her acclaimed football drama Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton found herself hungry for a fresh acting challenge in Vivien Harmon, a strong but emotionally wounded wife whose stillbirth causes her to withdraw from her psychiatrist husband Ben, who goes on to have an affair with one of his college students.
"Ryan [Murphy] takes an idea, and then he makes it happen in a way that has never been done before," says Britton. "And it's incredibly visionary and innovative. And so I, too, sat down, and we had a breakfast at the 101 Diner, Ryan's favourite spot. And he, too, promised me more than any other man ever has."
The former Nip/Tuck star Dylan McDermott plays Ben Harmon, whose infidelity spurs the decision to move his family west in a bid to start anew.
"I was instantly intrigued because of the genre," says McDermott. "It's in the vein of Rosemary's Baby or The Shining and Repulsion and all these movies that I loved growing up with. I was immediately obsessed with the idea of it."
"I was just so fascinated with the idea of psychological horror that when I met with Ryan and Brad and Connie, we instantly had this chemistry, which we kind of prayed for," he says. "I just love this world. I love strange and weird and creepy - and it's also rooted in this reality of this broken family. So it just had all the elements that I was looking for."
As the twig is bent, so grows the tree, goes the old maxim, and Murphy traces his love of horror to childhood disturbances of his own.
"My first seminal television moment was my grandmother used to force me, even when I was sobbing and screaming, to watch [the vampire soap opera] Dark Shadows. She would make me sit through it to toughen me up, I think. And then, when I was bad, I had to watch The Waltons."
American Horror Story premieres tonight at 11pm on OSN First HD.
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