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American Horror Story: 1984 Premiere Review – ‘Camp Redwood’

September 19, 2019 | Posted by Wednesday Lee Friday
American Horror Story 1984
8.5
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American Horror Story: 1984 Premiere Review – ‘Camp Redwood’  

Greetings horror fans on this, the happiest day in a horror fan’s year. The new season — NINTH season of American Horror Story is upon us. This season takes is first to 1970, then to 1984. This works out well for me since the references are easy to spot and the song are all familiar. As usual, expect spoilers for “Camp Redwood” here.

Our opening flashback takes place in 1970 as ménage a trois is about to take place. It doesn’t. A dude called Mister Jingles kills everyone in the cabin…or does he? No, he doesn’t. The survivor, we’re told, is Margaret Booth, played by a hilariously over-the-top Leslie Grossman. I’m telling you, she’s giving Piper Laurie a run for her money in the evangelical nutter Olympics. At this point, we’ve had homages to Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Sleepaway Camp. Not bad. One death mirrors that experienced by Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th.

The opening sequence this year is hilarious. They begin with super-’80s Max-Headroom-style graphics with a dash of Tron thrown in. Interspersed with what could be an old VHS copy of a workout vid (more on that) are clips of violence, blood splashing, and weaponry. A statement about how bodies were viewed in the 80s, perhaps?

Daryl Dixon fans must be wondering what the attraction of cutting off an ear is. I think I know. If you want to keep souvenir body parts (and I’m not saying you do) you want one that’s easy to get — ears don’t require cutting through a bone. You want something you can string easily that’s not full of messy blood — again, ears meet this criteria. Plus, you can always tell which ear it is. So yeah, I’m seeing how ears can be a good choice for the memento-conscious murderer.

Who is the main cast thus far? Well, let’s begin with the ones summercizing to Frank Stallone’s “Far from Over” from the blockbuster sequel to Saturday Night Fever: Stayin’ Alive. Xavier (Cody Fern — who played Michael Langdon last year) is an aerobics instructor and “serious method actor”. Montana dresses at the height of fashion while her hair has clearly suffered through a bevy of common hair treatments of the day. She’s obviously no stranger to bleach, curling irons, Dippety Doo, and Aquanet. She’s also deadpan hilarious, super horny, and loves blue eyeshadow even more than I do. Ray works as a janitor loves drugs, but differently than Chet–who’s more of a steroid guy. The Flashdance-inspired wardrobe was fun, but I also had to wonder if the movie Perfect was more influential than I realized. Then again, that movie didn’t come out until 1985.

Watch for Montana to explain that she’s not talking to Brooke because she’s “a Lez,” but merely out of friendliness. Um…thanks? But if I remember correctly, the phrase “no homo” gained considerable popularity in the ’80s. Also watch for Brooke to stop the room with her statement that serial killers are more active in the summer thanks to open windows and heat-induced-hysteria. Later that night, Brooke leaves her window open and is robbed and nearly killed by Richard Ramirez — the Night Stalker. We met Ramirez when he visited Hotel Cortez in Hotel, here, he’s played by a different actor.

This group all wants to leave Los Angeles before the Olympics start. As Ramirez has promised to return to kill Brooke (she fought back and a neighbor intervened from afar), she thought getting out of town would be smart. Someone is after Xavier — a jilted lover maybe? The equivalent of Crazy Ralph meets the group en route to Camp Redwood, helpfully letting them know they’re all gonna die. He should have warned the white dude in the Native American headband who Xavier hit with his car. In shades of I Know What You Did Last Summer and a touch of Children of the Corn, this guy has already been through something before he was hit.

When they get to the camp, we are greeted by Margaret Booth, a widow (whose husband died a mysterious death and could totally turn out to be the killer). She’s got rules that would make Wilhelmina Venable proud. No sex, no drinking, no “clove” cigarettes. You can, however dress like you’re en route to a taping of The Real World. We meet Chef Bertie, whose response to Xavier’s sarcastic “dibs!” was delightful. We meet Rita, the pot-abstaining nurse who — like everyone but Margaret — has never worked at a summer camp before. She knows the history and elected to stay, making her a major badass. She’s played by Angelica Ross, who has been on tons of TV.

Around a campfire, as you’d think, is where we hear the story of legendary killer Jaso — I mean Benjamin Richter. He’s AKA Mister Jingles, which is a little cleverer than “Bloodyface”. It’s wonderfully derivative and guess what — he makes a Michael Meyers-esque escape that very night. The first victim outside the asylum is Crazy Ed. Mister Jingles appears to kill him and steal his truck. This gave us a cat-based jump scare a’la F13 pt 2. We also get attempted-murder-as-religious-experience which actually happens in “Psycho 3.”

Other tropes include “the phone lines are down.” I’m sure young people find all the phone stuff funny. Brooke has a phone number written on her hand…you know, so she can dial it on a landline phone later on. Zavier checks his answering machine at a phone booth, which is totally something I used to do. They also fill the gas tank of a van for $10. Ha! Remember, phones are especially scary thanks to the popularity of “When a Stranger Calls.”

Later we meet a giant-penised workout king who immediately gets the interest of Montana. We get a Friday the 13th Part 2-infused sex scene in the water, which is interrupted by a motor, some funny lights, and something we can’t quite see or make out in the ostensibly bottomless lake. How do you place a bet with yourself, anyway? Across town, we meet a sheriff played by Mitch Pileggi (Skinner from X-Files) and a Doctor Hopple who is very concerned that Mister Jingles was able to escape in such a stereotypical way. Where is Jingles? Perhaps that lone newspaper clipping will give us an idea! Why are the phones at Camp Redwood back up? That brings us to our next trope: Nobody believes the nice girl when she’s the only one who has seen the killer.

Most of these characters are obviously disposable, with Brooke being the most obvious choice for the Final Girl. But you know, this is American Horror Story. They’re all about misdirects, red herrings, surprise twists, and making sure we never see what’s coming.

Let’s sum up what we have so far. Homages to Friday the 13th Part 7, Halloween and Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2. Some of those shots are straight out of Sleepaway Camp. The trailer gave us some Cape Fear (remake) imagery, but we haven’t seen it in the show yet. There were nods to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Children of the Corn. If you count ear necklaces as being a Walking Dead homage, we have that too. Phone shenanigans like When a Stranger Calls are sure to continue. We had a body hanged like a decoration, and all manner of horror tropes — some so overdone that it’s hard to tell where they originated.

The music was outstanding, including The Motels, Frank Stallone, Bananarama, Rockwell, Def Leppard, and Hall & Oates. The costuming was fantastic, Billie Lourde’s high fashion clothing in particular. I’m still not sure how deep I should expect the referential horror to go. This season takes place in the summertime, which means the Halloween shenanigans we’ve come to expect will be absent. As absent as Evan Peters? We don’t know yet… Even the pot strains were well researched. Northern Lights and Nevill’s Haze (possibly the oldest true haze and one of the best sativas) were first hybridized in the 80s. Speaking of which, does anybody really know how much cocaine one needs for them and their friends for an entire summer? That sounds far-fetched.

I don’t want to get into who is replacing who on the show, as some fans did when Lady Gaga was brought in to fill the empty space Jessica Lange left when she departed. But I do think Cody Fern helps make Peter’s absence less prominent. I’m not watching for the man-candy, but the archetypal structure must be respected — right? We’ve also got Emma Roberts playing a shyish nice girl. This is not at all what we’ve come to expect, and I have to wonder if we’re not in for a crazy twist.

My suspicions for where we’re going include: Margaret being a killer (you know there’s gonna be more than one), and/or her husband. Chef Bertie will be a prominent red herring but is unlikely to be a murderess. None of the main cast are killers, but the person killing at the camp may not be Jingles at all. In Friday the 13th Part 5 (only one of two movies in the series where Jason is not the killer) the actual killer is a paramedic. This camp will also have kids at it, which doesn’t happen until I think Friday the 13th Part 3D. Please somebody correct me if I’m wrong.

Rita will fight her ass off if anyone messes with her. But is anyone else surprised by a nurse who doesn’t help someone who has a bad cut? That might be telling us something about her character. We’ve got Mister Jingles on the loose, The Night Stalker promising to come after Brooke, and somebody mysterious and creepy wants to mess with Xavier. Plus, Chet is a bit of a hothead who might exacerbate things in a crisis.

What do you want to see this season?

See you’s next week!

8.5
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
We're off to a running start as cast members new and old find themselves at Camp Redwood. These include two survivors of mass murderers, an Olympian excluded from the Olympics, an aspiring aerobics maven, and a "serious actor." There's already a lore, some conflict, and a few hints at who the (no doubt multiple) killers will be.
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