I knew I’d love AHS: 1984, the latest season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story, from the opening minutes alone, when they introduced the new characters, whose names could not have been any more 1984. There’s Xavier (Cody Fern), who teaches the aerobics class that brings our sleepaway camp counselors together. He’s also an actor, but a “serious one. I’m method.” There’s the “fun time girl,” Montana (Billie Lourd), who will sleep with everyone but who also wants to be a competitive aerobicizer. Chet (Gus Kenworthy) is the dumb steroid-abusing meathead of the group; Ray (DeRon Horton) is Black in an 80’s inspired slasher series so is probably marked as the first to die; and then there’s Brooke (Emma Roberts), the sweet, virginal final girl trope.
The premiere episode of AHS: 1984 follows slasher conventions to a tee, though I expect the writers will use the remaining nine episodes to subvert at least some of them. In the premiere, however, our friends from the aerobics class all decide to leave Los Angeles to escape the Nightstalker, Richard Ramirez — based on the real-life serial killer, rapist, and Satanist who terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1984 and 85, murdering 13 people. There’s no better place to escape a serial killer, of course, than a sleepaway camp, the setting for 72 percent of all 1980s slasher films. They take jobs as counselors at the newly re-opened Camp Redwood, which had been shut down in the 14 years since Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) — a former Vietnam vet turned camp counselor — slaughtered a number of teenagers and cut off their ears and kept them as trophies.
The one teenager who survived — thanks to Jesus, naturally — was Margaret (the phenomenal Leslie Grossman), whose testimony put Mr. Jingles away. She decided to re-open Camp Redwood to confront her demons, so to speak. She’s anti-drug and anti-sex, so of course I immediately suspect that she’s the Mrs. Voorhees trope. Meanwhile, additional comic relief is provided Matthew Morrison’s Trevor, the camp’s activities coordinator. He has a hog in his gym shorts so floppy that he was edited out of a Jane Fonda exercise video for taking away focus (he’s also the episode’s mustachioed comic relief, bragging at one point about being in the background during the Three’s Company title sequence).
Before they drove to Camp Redwood, however, the Nightstalker broke into Brooke’s apartment and made an attempt on her life, averted when she took a frying pan to his head. Before he fled the cops, however, Richard Ramirez vowed to find and kill Brooke, so naturally she decides to join the strangers she met that day in the aerobics class and become a camp counselor along with them. En route to the sleepaway camp — IN A PANEL VAN, OF COURSE — they also find an unconscious hiker on the side of the road who we later discover is missing an ear. Not-so-coincidentally, Mr. Jingles — so known because he jingles keys before he kills — escaped from a mental asylum earlier that day.
On the first night at Camp Redwood, Montana and Trevor mess around in the camp pond like you would in an ’80s slasher film, while Mr. Jingles terrorizes Brooke and kills the hiker. However, he absconds with the hiker’s body before anyone else can see the corpse, meaning that no one believes Brooke about the presence of Mr. Jingles because obviously she’s just hysterical because the Nightstalker tried to murder her. It’s also Brooke who — at episode’s end, after having already been chased through the woods by Mr. Jingles — walks out alone into the night to answer a payphone, where she is met with the sound of jingling keys before the credits roll. If there’s any justice, the final girl trope will be the first to die because she’s too dumb to live, while the promiscuous Billie Lourd character — who sleeps with a switchblade — out-survive everyone.
We’re only an episode in, and this show has everything: A panel van; cocaine; steroids; men wearing midriff t-shirts; a gas station attendant played by Patrick Swayze’s brother who is killed by Mr. Jingles; old-school Def Leppard, a perfect Van Halen reference; the ‘84 Summer Olympics; a lunch lady ravaged by decades of cigarette smoke; and so much hairspray. I understand that my hopes will eventually be dashed, as they always are by Ryan Murphy shows, but this could be the best season of American Horror Story yet.
Header Image Source: FX