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When American Horror Story first aired in 2011, it was widely received with enthusiasm. For fans of the horror genre it became a must-watch event, cleverly mixing the gruesome and the supernatural with original plot twists. Plus interestingly, every season the same actors (Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson etc) would return in alternate roles. Originally after that initial series – now dubbed Murder House – the quality of each entry in the anthology steadily climbed. The second series Asylum became the most popular, followed by the third Coven.
However, since season five Hotel (starring Lady Gaga as a vampire), the show has become highly uneven – sliding downhill and delivering only moments of brilliance rather than full episodes. It did attempt to claw back with the overtly spooky Roanoke and the timely if hit-and-miss Cult (although the latter does deserve praise for introducing the sublime Billie Lourd to the AHS universe). However, it was really only last season’s Apocalypse which got the wheels in motion again, the reason being a both figurative and literal return to the horror of Murder House and Coven.
Hoping AHS would continue its return to form, with speculation, we waited for the new season titled 1984. While that may sound Orwellian, in reality, it’s like an X-rated version of Stranger Things minus the other dimensions and psychic powers. Playfully set in the same decade as the Netflix hit, it too feels over-nostalgic. This can be seen even from the show’s new opening credit sequence with its boxy frame and era appropriate graphics. Those of a certain age will feel right at home.
For my money, this is, however, the goriest opening to an AHS season yet and definitely not for the faint hearted. More slasher-orientated than previous entries, 1984 acts as a tribute to 80’s horror and the slasher genre as a whole. If you were to take Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Evil Dead, Children of The Corn and the later I Know What You Did Last Summer and put them into a melting pot, the result would be this season’s premiere episode ‘Camp Redwood’. This is not a bad thing, being both enjoyable and horrific in the same breath.
One flaw apparent in the first ep of 1984 is that the returning actor list seems slightly light, with only Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman and Cody Fern making up the main clique so far. Unfortunately, AHS highlight Evan Peters will be a no-show this year and we’re unclear if alum Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates will make an appearance at some point (thankfully Paulson is confirmed back later on down the line).
Also slightly worrying is that each episode looks like it will be directed and written by a different team, with original series creator Ryan Murphy only acting as co-writer on this first episode. This could result in both something new and fresh or another uneven season, spiraling in quality as it continues.
Whatever way it pans out though, 1984 has started promisingly. One thing to watch for is the stabs at 80’s salutes. When you see the crusty gas attendant telling the kids to “stay away from that place” in typical Scooby Doo fashion, the character is actually played by Don Swayze (brother of the late Patrick). Meanwhile, with future episodes titled Red Dawn and Slashdance, the promise of tongue-in-cheek humor and all out gore may prove a winner.