American Horror Story “Chapter One” Review (Season 6 Episode 1)

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After months of speculation and subterfuge, the plot for the sixth season of “American Horror Story” was finally revealed on tonight’s premiere, and…the jury’s still out a bit, actually. Creator Ryan Murphy and company have already said that it would be set in at least two different time periods, so I suspect the current format is only one piece of the puzzle, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

(Spoilers from here on out, so you have been warned.)

In “Chapter One,” we got what amounted to a glorified episode of something like “Paranormal Witness” or “A Haunting,” complete with the customary: “Based on true events” at the beginning and first-person accounts of the story coupled with re-enactments of the events in question.

As such, each role was played by two different actors, which was kind of an interesting gambit, though it could well wear thin after a while if sustained for much more than a few episodes. Fortunately, I think the multiple time period thing was a tip-off that such will not be the case.

If I had to guess, this approach will go on for maybe an episode more or two, then it will switch to another time period, but within the same setting, which is to say, it will take place in the same farmhouse and surrounding area. They might even go back-and-forth between the different time periods instead of sustaining the “docudrama” gambit from week-to-week, actually.

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We’ll just have to wait and see until next week for that one, but until then, what we got was a sort of mixture of (oddly enough, given the timing) “The Blair Witch Project” and something like “Deadly Blessing,” with a little bit of “The Conjuring” tossed in, maybe, as well as nods to the likes of “Motel Hell” (that pig-head on the guy in the woods was straight out of it) and possibly “The Dark Secret of Harvest Home” (note the movie theater playing “Crimson Harvest”). I assume the legend of Roanoke will also figure into it somehow as well.

Of course, given that no one knew that they had shot a “Blair Witch” sequel until it was announced/screened at the last Comic-Con, I’m sure that the “AHS” crew had no idea it was coming, anymore than anyone else did. The movie was originally dubbed “The Woods” and shot somewhat on the downlow in a matter of weeks- the filmmakers obviously know a few things about keeping secrets their own damn selves.

Even so, I’m sure shooting on “AHS” was already underway and/or it was too late to do anything about the chosen premise by that point, so it is what is is. So, while the very obvious “Blair Witch”-type stuff is unfortunate, I don’t know that it is enough to sink the whole endeavor, especially as it’s only the first episode, and we don’t entirely know what’s going on yet.

Factor in the fact that, they’ve done the witch thing before, so they aren’t likely to go down that road again so soon, and my guess is it isn’t that, anyway. If I had to guess, I’d stick with my “Deadly Blessing” approach and say that it had more to do with a religious cult of some kind.

For those unfamiliar with that underrated Wes Craven flick, think a less terrible “The Village.” It’s not one of Craven’s best, but it’s an interesting little flick with a cast that includes a young Sharon Stone and Ernest Borgnine and “Hills Have Eyes” vet Michael Berryman- another flick this season of “AHS” might have some connections to. (The teeth thing reminded me of it a bit, as did some of the promos.)

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Of course, we know that a lot of the promos were meant to intentionally mislead everyone into not knowing what this season was about, but here’s a thought: what if it really is indicative of the entire season? We already know it’s going to be set in different time periods, and that much of the cast hasn’t appeared on-screen as of the first episode.

What if it’s a sort of grab bag of different ideas and things that varies from episode to episode? They could adopt the “docudrama” thing for the entire season, with different stories every few weeks or so, for instance. Or it could be a series of different stories all set in the same place, but in different time periods, showing the history of the farmhouse we saw in the premiere.

Given that potential approach, it’s conceivable that, contrary to what they said, all of the stuff we saw in the promos could factor into things throughout the season. After all, if they’re going to be bouncing around time periods, who’s to say they have to stick to one thing? Maybe not announcing what they’re up to before hand was a tip-off that’s it’s not going to be one thing, but a variety of things.

After all, the last few seasons garnered some critical and audience backlash, which might have given the creators pause. Maybe they decided to try something new- or even throw a bunch of things at the wall to see what sticks. (Or a bunch of stick figures at the rafters, at least.) It’s certainly a distinct possibility. Personally, I didn’t mind last season, but “Freak Show” didn’t do it for me, for the most part.

It seems like I end up liking every other season, actually. For the record, I loved the first season (“Murder House”), the third (“Coven”) and the fifth (“Hotel”), more or less in that order. “Asylum” was good in places but a bit too scattershot for its own good, and “Freak Show” was more bizarre than scary, with only a few redeemable moments, IMHO. (Hello there, Twisty the Clown!)

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By that wisdom, this season should be a miss for me, but I can’t say I hate it just yet. I actually dig the whole “docudrama” thing when done right. For instance, speaking of “Blair Witch,” I actually dug that faux documentary they did, “Curse of the Blair Witch”- it comes with the DVD/Blu-Ray, if you’re not familiar- more than the movie itself.

I also watch both of the shows I mentioned, “Paranormal Witness” and “A Haunting,” from time to time and enjoy them both, along with similar type shows over the years. Yes, the whole idea of having two actors play the same part could get a bit much after a certain amount of time, but I didn’t mind it for the first episode, at least.

If anything, it was sort of neat, given the actors involved, although occasionally distracting. For instance, I couldn’t help but be a bit thrown, after having watching Murphy’s “American Crime Story” series, to immediately go to Marcia Clark and O.J. Simpson in my brain when I saw the pairing of Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the reenactment parts, so that was a bit disconcerting, to say the least.

Thankfully, the decidedly different appearances of the characters they were playing and the overall personalities of them overrode that after a little while, after that initial “OMG, Marcia and OJ are totally hooking up!” thing went away. It also helped that it was not without a dark sense of humor, i.e. Cuba’s character’s remark that “When a mob shows up in the middle of the night with torches, they are not there to welcome you to the neighborhood.”

Angela Bassett was also good, playing a recovering prescription drug addict/former cop. She got the best line of the evening, after Paulson’s character said she’d feel better if Bassett’s character was still a cop, and thus, still armed, and she said: “I may not have my badge, but mama’s still packing.” (Shades of the film roles her character played last season, a la Pam Grier.)

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The story itself, subtitled “My Roanoke Nightmare,” revolved around a couple that moves back to the husband’s home-state, North Carolina, after the husband is assaulted and hospitalized in a gang ritual and the wife loses her baby, likely due to the stress of almost losing her husband.

Once there, they buy an old farmhouse on the cheap in an auction- a little too cheap. None too happy to have lost the bid for the house are some local hillbilly types (this was one of the things that reminded me of “Hills Have Eyes,” given the off-kilter look of the guys), who the husband suspects are the ones who subsequently cause the couple trouble.

The wife, however, thinks it’s something more insidious, and possibly even evil. Though she doesn’t quite go with ghosts- and neither does the show, for that matter- it’s clear that someone doesn’t want them there for some reason. My guess would be that the hillbilly types only wanted to buy the house to burn it down or something along those lines, and are just a fake-out.

The reason being, there’s some sort of cult in the area that are probably using the house as a sort of gathering place to do culty things and rituals and the like. Not sure what exactly those would be, but it obviously has something to do with the pig-headed creeper in the woods, I’m guessing. They’re either trying to combat him or call him up, I should think.

That was really about it this week. I can’t say I was really scared by any of this- as aforementioned, I’ve seen all those movies, too, Murphy and company. As such, it takes a lot to unnerve me, but the episode had its moments and was, at the very least, reasonably watchable and the format was sort of fun, albeit I’m not sure if I’d care for it to be sustained throughout the season.

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I honestly don’t think it will be, though, and in the short term, I can deal with it for now. The general premise is okay, I suppose, and I’m interested enough to be curious as to what happens next, given the cliffhanger ending, with Paulson’s character lost and surrounded in the woods.

We also only got glimpses of Denis O’Hare (the guy in the video), Kathy Bates (the woman Paulson hit with her car) and Wes Bentley (one of the guys surrounding Paulson at the end), so there’s that to look forward to, as well as the return of Lady Gaga, among other recurring cast members.

So, was it worth the wait? And all the mystery, for that matter? Hard to say just yet, but color my interest piqued- for now. We’ll just have to wait and see where it goes from here before I make any serious judgment calls. Until then, it was okay, I suppose. Not great, but okay.

What did you think of the sixth season premiere of “American Horror Story”? Are you on board with the premise? Or, like me, do you think it will only be for a short period of time before it changes into something else? Or is that what you’re hoping, at least? What did you think of the new cast members to the show? (Adina Howard, from “True Blood,” also cropped up, as did Chaz Bono, as one of the hillbillies.)

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Sound off down below in the comments section and let me know what you thought and what you’d like to see this season on the show!