‘AHS: 1984’ brings back campy horror in blast to the past


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The ninth season premiere of American Horror Story pays homage to "the 80s slasher genre."

The 80s: sexual revolution, aerobics classes, and serial killers galore. The notoriously campy horror anthology series literally goes to camp in its 1980s summer camp setting, a homage to the 80s slasher genre, in its ninth season. 

“American Horror Story” (AHS) has always been a series that has fueled its success off of viewer nostalgia. One of the best parts of the series is seeing the way that directors John Murphy and Brad Falchuk can take something so exhausted like a haunted house or witches and turn it into something fresh and exciting. This season was no different with its setting in the 1980s.

In the premiere, viewers are introduced to Brooke Thompson, played by Emma Roberts. She is visited by The Night Stalker, real-life serial killer who killed a little over a dozen females in California in the 80s. He breaks into her house, steals her jewelry and vows to murder her before escaping after being hit in the head with a skillet by Thompson. To get away from the madness of the LA serial killer, Thompson  joins her friends, a group of fellow aerobics enthusiasts, as a counselor at Camp Redwood that summer.

Before we get into the gory details, let’s discuss Thompson’s friend group, which is a masterful satire of 80s stereotypes. First, there’s Xavier Plympton, an actor who has apparently turned down many daytime soap roles, played by Cody Fern. Next up is Montana Duke, played by Billie Lourd, who dreams of becoming the greatest aerobics competitor of all time. There’s also Ray Powell, a bored orderly who has no idea what he’s getting himself into, played by DeRon Horton, and Chet Clancy, played by Gus Kenworthy, who was disqualified from the Olympics for heavy alcohol and cocaine abuse. These characters are delightful spins on the 80s stereotypes involving drugs, aerobics, and failed acting.

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AHS paid homage to several iconic movies throughout the premiere. The group stops at a gas station where they are warned by a creepy gas attendant not to go to Camp Redwood, homage to the classic horror film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”  In this iconic horror film, the group in the film also stops at a creepy gas station, and the attendant warns them not to go to the hotel where some of them will be inevitably murdered. Personally, I thought this addition, though small, shows how clever the directors are with minor details.  Anyways, the advice is not heeded and the group continues on until they run over a random hitchhiker, homage to another iconic horror movie, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” The scene goes down in ‘AHS’ just like it does in the classic film, where a group hits a hitchhiker then picks him up and takes him along with them. I enjoyed this nod to horror classic films even more because instead of being just a minor detail, it is actually an important moment in the plot for the episode.

 When they arrive at the camp, they let the hitchhiker be treated by camp nurse Rita, played by Angelica Ross, while they are given a tour by camp owner Margaret Booth, played by Leslie Grossman.  Margaret is an extremely devout Christian who came to Christ when she believed that her faith kept her alive during a summer camp massacre, in which a deranged serial killer named “Mr. Jingles” murdered 9 campers and cut their ears off. Now, she wants to reopen the camp as a “godly, decent” place for kids to escape for the summer. To me, Margaret definitely seems very suspicious, and the show does a good way of setting up her personality that way.  Between her strange personality and the way that she carries herself and tells her story, I feel that somehow Margaret was involved in the murders at Camp Redwood. 

Speaking of escaping, Mr. Jingles escapes from an insane asylum, a subtle homage to “Halloween,” where the infamous Michael Meyers makes his escape from an insane asylum to murder his sister. I especially loved this connection because the ‘Halloween’ series is among one of my favorite horror series, plus I feel that they are comparing the insanity of Mr. Jingles to Michael Meyers. After his escape, Mr. Jingles makes his return to Camp Redwood.

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He then chases Brooke through the woods after murdering both the gas station attendant and the hitchhiker. While I won’t go into the full details, the chase was definitely a great satire of horror movies, in my opinion.  For a full minute, viewers were treated to Thompson stumbling around and falling for no reason at all while trying to escape the deranged Mr. Jingles. I personally thought this was hilarious and definitely added to the absurd elements of the new season, while remaining true to cringey horror films with unrealistic and dramatic chases. Of course, the whole group thinks Brooke is crazy after the ordeal and dismisses the attacks in typical and naive horror movie fashion. Brooke then hears a phone ringing ominously in the middle of the night and the episode closes with the reappearance of the Night Stalker in the backdrop, who is clearly a man of his word, which I found was a very nice addition.  The chance of having two villains in the season really was a nice and unexpected twist to add. The best part of the premiere is easily the way that it pays homage to the slasher films of the 80s. From the summer camp settings to the poorly made decisions, the directors perfectly captured the essence of cheesy horror films. Another great part of the premiere was definitely the heavy use of comedy, despite the series being a horror show. The exaggeration of 80s stereotypes makes the episode more entertaining overall. The only critique of the new season is the way that the plot remains stagnant, which made the episode a little more difficult to sit through. 

This series premiere was definitely like no other in the franchise and left me amused, shocked, and slightly scared. It brought nostalgia to a generation that wasn’t even alive in the 80s and has put a spin on the typical slasher films that we all know and love. The clever mix of comedy and horror worked significantly well in the episode. Only one question remains: what’s next for our group of quirky camp counselors?