Ben, his wife Vivien and their daughter Violet make a cross-country move for a fresh start. Vivien is fragile from a miscarriage and from her husband’s infidelity. They move to Los Angeles, buying a beautiful mansion to strengthen their bond as a family. It’s the kind of house you might lose a kid in for 45 minutes because it’s so big. Ben Harmon, a psychiatrist, is over eager to get a new start since it’s his infidelity that has toppled the family. Typical man, thinking if he puts a thousand miles between his family and the affair everything will come up roses.
Ben runs his office out of the new home and he’s a real “How did your father dressing up as a woman make you feel?” kind of shrink. Having his office inside the house means that his family is eventually going to run into a patient, which is weird because hey, what if you’re going through some bitch of a healing session and you go to use the rest room because you used up all the Kleenex and you walk in on Ben’s 15 year old daughter slicing up her skin with a razor blade? Awkward.
Living next door to the Harmons is Constance (Jessica Lange) and her Down syndrome daughter, Addy. Addy is forever finding ways to get into her neighbor's house. Every time Violet or Vivien turn around, Addy has somehow made her way into the house, hiding under beds and talking about the formerly living people who occupied the house. I adore Jessica Lange’s roles in all three of the American Horror Story anthology (there’s American Horror Story: Murder House, American Horror Story: Asylum, and the most recent American Horror Story: Coven). Before, I saw her only as that ditsy broad in the King Kong remake. But in American Horror Story she plays an aging Southern belle who came to Los Angeles years ago to be a movie star. When that didn’t happen she remained in La La Land and had children. Lang plays Constance as a real "As God is my witness I’m making a dress out of curtains!" type of gal. And a real cuckoo-ca-choo, if you get my drift.
Apparitions start popping up in the house and you don’t know if they’re really ghosts or just people who have wandered in, curious to see the house where so many deaths have occurred. There’s even a Hollywood tour bus that rolls through the neighborhood, all the seats filled as the guide points at the house and calls it the Murder House because some baaaad stuff went down inside. Cameras and cell phones are whipped out as tourists take pictures of the house that witnessed so much brutality.
I have one word of advice to anyone going near that house: don’t go into the basement. I have no idea why people insist on going into the basement. It’s dark down there. When you reach up to pull the lamp cord there’s always a snap and a burst of light as the light bulb dies. But instead of racing upstairs to get a flashlight you decide it’s a good idea to feel your way through the dark. Touch the sweaty walls; drag your feet through the dirt floor. Get a face full of cobwebs and try not to think of the spiders setting up camp in your hair. Eyes really do adjust to a lack of light. But why are there jars of deformed babies on shelves? Why aren’t there any jars of preserved peaches and raspberry jam? And just what exactly is that thing in the dark that’s been stalking you since it came out of hiding from beneath the basement stairs?
What was I talking about? Oh yeah. The basement is terrifying.
Eventually, the Harmons start to figure out that there’s something REALLY wrong with the house. Duh. Sometimes there’s a dream-like quality to the scenes so you don’t know if something’s really happening or if someone’s having a really bad dream. There’s a huge reveal at the end, something that sent me face down into the couch cushions.
You like originality? You like screaming at the television, maybe even stomping out of the room because those idiots on TV didn’t listen to you and now they’re stumbling down to the basement? You don’t mind sleeping with the lights on? Good. Watch this series. And for God’s sake, stay out of the basement.
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