DRAMA PREMIERE "American Horror Story"
WHEN | WHERE Tonight at 10 on FX
REASON TO WATCH From the producers of "Glee" (but no singing).
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Harmons decide to move from Boston to Los Angeles, and -- housing prices being what they are -- buy a haunted house. They don't know this rambling, post-Victorian brick beast is haunted, of course, although past occurrences (many centered in the basement, where jars of pickled human remains were once stored) would suggest otherwise. The previous owners were involved in a murder-suicide pact (in the basement).
Viewers quickly learn other unfortunates met their end in the house as well (Guess where?). Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) is a shrink who cheated on wife Vivian (Connie Britton) after she had a miscarriage. They have a daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), who's both wise and deeply troubled. Soon, the broken family meets the neighbors, like seriously wacko Constance (Jessica Lange) and her daughter, Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who has Down syndrome. They also get a housekeeper, Moira (Frances Conroy). She's unusual, too.
MY SAY The pleasure that comes with a good horror flick is raw, cold fear. The pleasure that comes with "American Horror Story" is warm, fuzzy recollection. Watching this is like walking through a wax museum of classic horror tropes, themes, styles and gimmicks. Over in that dark corner -- "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Shining." Down in that cellar? "The Amityville Horror." "Freddy vs. Jason" must be somewhere up in the attic, or in someone's nightmare. And check out the comic relief! Moira is Frau Blücher from "Young Frankenstein." There is nothing wrong with this. Horror is all about borrowing and paternity a matter of endless dispute. But the masters of cinematic horror, like Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") know how to genuinely scare. The creators of "Horror Story," Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, do not. They're too caught up in homage to have any particularly original ideas of their own, at least in the first two episodes. Fortunately, some of the solid performances, like Britton's and Lange's, make up for that deficiency.
BOTTOM LINE Amusing to watch, but not particularly scary. "Creepy" seems the better word.