Based on the season premiere, American Horror Story: 1984 is a case of “Jump” rather than “I’ll Wait.”
I will admit, I first approached the new slasher-themed season with some trepidation. I questioned whether we really needed another bloody redux, a further rehearsal of a long-familiar formula. At this late date, aren’t we well past pastiche and postmodern self-consciousness alike? (Unbelievably, it’s almost a quarter-century now since the launch of the Scream franchise–a later installment of which AHS alum Emma Roberts also starred in.) So far, though, my concerns have been quelled.
The episode (“Camp Redwood”) cold-opens with a chilling scene: a summer camp massacre perpetrated by an ear-slicing psychopath. I thought the keychain-jangling “Mr. Jingles” angle was a tad lame (I hope it turns out to be more than a sonic calling card), but it was great to see John Carroll Lynch (ol’ Twisty himself) back playing another serial killer on the show.
From there, the episode jumps forward fourteen years but steps back and takes the time to establish its cast of characters and situation and setting (the seemingly idyllic summer camp makes for an iconic horror locale). It was nice to see Roberts playing against vixen-ish type this time around, and Billie Lourd (rocking the Lita Ford look) appears to revel in the role of an aerobics-obsessed bimbo. I liked how the episode invoked the ’84 summer Olympics in Los Angeles (something I was not expecting); there’s a terrific scene where the cast watches Olympians running to light the torch while Roberts runs for her life from a raincoated slasher outside the cabin.
A typical problem for American Horror Story in seasons past has been sustainability. Character motivations have tended to be rendered chaotically, and the narrative drive has taken some dizzying turns. The slasher theme, though, seems well-suited for a season-long arc. Thus far the identity of Mr. Jingles has been clearly revealed, but I don’t doubt that further twists are in store, and the mystery of a masked killer (or killers) could bring great focus to the show’s perennial mayhem.
As evident from the premiere episode, this season will feature plenty of references to classic slasher films (e.g. Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Of course, too much of this could prove distracting, just as campy callbacks to 80’s styles and popular trends could grow tiresome after a time. But one episode in, Camp Redwood looks to be the perfect place for viewers to kick the post-summertime blues.