REVIEWED: SEASON 9 (EPISODES 1 - 2) | WHERE TO WATCH: SKY GO, NOW TV, AMAZON, APPLE, TALK TALK TV, CHILI
The last few seasons of American Horror Story have proven somewhat divisive. Cult’s theme was a little too on the nose for some given its very real political backdrop, Roanoke tried to do something interesting with a take on reality TV but never quite lived up to expectations, and Apocalypse, while enjoyable thanks to a number of nods back to earlier seasons, still didn’t feel like the best of what AHS has to offer (Coven, in case you were wondering). Now in its ninth season, we’re travelling back to the ‘80s in American Horror Story: 1984 where a summer camp is being terrorised by a murderer with a penchant for slicing off victims’ ears - cue the spandex, leg warmers, and enough classic ‘80s slasher tropes to get you through ‘til Halloween.
AHS alum Emma Roberts takes the lead as Brooke, ‘the last American virgin’ and pretty much the polar opposite of Roberts’ most memorable AHS incarnation, Madison Montgomery. We meet the rest of the gang at an aerobics class (because, the ‘80s) as they plan to escape Los Angeles for the summer and head to Camp Redwood as counsellors to avoid the Olympics frenzy and threat of real-life Satanic serial killer Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker. There’s workout-obsessive Montana (Billie Lourd), aerobics trainer and wannabe serious actor Xavier (Cody Fern), disgraced athlete Chet (Gus Kenworthy), and party guy Ray (DeRon Horton).
Of course, Camp Redwood isn’t the easy summer the gang had in mind as a campfire tale reveals Redwood was the scene of a bloody massacre in 1970 and sole survivor Margaret (Leslie Grossman), a staunchly Christian camp counsellor, is re-opening the camp to make it “a happy place”. With murderer Mr. Jingles having escaped from a nearby mental hospital and Ramirez lurking about, let’s just say, that ain’t going to happen.
Despite obvious inspiration from movies like Friday the 13th and Halloween, this season feels fresh for AHS. It doesn’t take itself super seriously, there isn’t any strange folklore to wrap your head around (though a hiker who can’t seem to stay dead may need some explaining soon), and it’s unapologetically cheesy. There’s a brilliant over the top scene during episode two where a wedding turns into a bloodbath, the bride’s perfectly puffy sleeved wedding dress splattered red to the tune of Billy Idol’s White Wedding. It’s even shot like an ‘80s film. Gone are the signature fishbowl angles in favour of a low budget aesthetic, camera wobbles, and neon title sequence.
While all the typical horror boxes are being ticked, by episode two, we’re starting to get the sense that all may not be as it seems - this is AHS after all. An encounter between Margaret and Ramirez presents an unsettling logic about how you can justify doing pretty much anything with “God and trauma” and we learn more about Brooke’s painful past. Guess we’ll be spending a little longer at Camp Redwood to find out.