American Horror Story Interview: “People Want To Be Scared”

Ahead of American Horror Story’s UK debut on FX, we speak to the show’s creator, Ryan “Glee” Murphy

American Horror Story starts in the UK on Monday on FX

The latest brainchild of Ryan Murphy, creator of both Glee and the far darker Nip/Tuck, is the very different American Horror Story – a slice of TV horror that promises to scare the living daylights out of us every week.

In a genre dominated by the “torture porn” likes of Saw and Hostel, or “recovered footage” films, such as Paranormal Activity, Murphy wanted to do something more original but traditional, so he looked at his own past.

“My first seminal television moment was my grandmother forcing me, even when I was sobbing and screaming, to watch Dark Shadows to toughen me up, me peeking out behind the chair and loving that feeling of being scared,” Murphy recalls. “So, when we were coming up with this, I was like, ‘Remember how good it was and how gothic it was? It had all these interwoven stories about sex and marriage and obsession?’ I felt that there wasn’t that on the air right now.”

American Horror Story (recently confirmed for a second season) follows the Harmon family as they move from Boston to Los Angeles to make a fresh start after a traumatic six months during which mother Vivien (Connie Britton) has suffered a horrific miscarriage, and discovered her husband, the baby’s father, Ben (Dylan McDermott) in bed with one of his students. Along for the ride is also their trouble teenage daughter, Violet, played by Taissa Farmiga.

Dream House Or Nightmare House?

The family thinks they have bought their dream house but their attempts at a new beginning are immediately thwarted by some of the bizarre individuals whose lives have already been affected by the house. Vivien is introduced to the maid of the house, whom she sees as an old woman, yet her philandering husband sees her as a sexy young succubus, played by Alex Breckenridge. Meanwhile Ben himself is approached by a heavily scarred man (True Blood’s brilliant Denis O’Hare), a previous occupant of the house, who claims that the house told him to burn and kill his family.

The Harmon’s hopes of a peaceful existence are further hampered by interfering neighbour Constance, played by Jessica Lange, and her Down’s Syndrome daughter, Adelaide. While Constance seems to know all about the house’s past and its potential demons, she isn’t helping the newcomers out, and Adelaide likes nothing more than to break into the creepy old house and politely inform the current residents that they “are all going to die in here”.

And all this from the man behind the saccharine, all-singing, all-dancing high school fun of Glee? Murphy has no hesitation in spelling out why he felt this change of direction was necessary.

“All of us wanted to do the opposite of what we had just done. I needed to. It’s like dating, you need to change it up a little,” says the show’s creator.

Week-by-week, we find out more about the background of the house, and what hideous events have taken place there over the years, from the original owners in the ’20s performing illegal abortions in the basement, to a litany of murders and mysterious deaths – so much so that the house is on the route of Los Angeles’ famous murder tours.

This history of death that hangs over the house haunts all three new residents, as they envisage gruesome scenes of bloodshed, all manner of unwanted guests, some alive and some very much dead, and a genetic abomination in the basement, known as the ‘Infantata’. But as much as the Harmons want to leave this house of horror, they simply can’t.

“They’re a very smart group of characters, and I thought, very early on, you have to have them say, ‘We need to get the fuck out of this house!’ They try and all these things happen to work against them. The house is an intelligence. The house knows how to screw with you.”

Rubber Suit

But American Horror Story is more than just a haunted house story. There is also the “rubber man”. While exploring the house, Vivien and Ben find an old rubber gimp suit in the loft, seemingly left there by the previous gay owners. However, shortly after the troubled couple finally seem to reconnect and have sex, the “rubber man” walks into the marital master bedroom, and Vivien, thinking it’s Ben, has sex with it. However, we see Ben sleepwalking downstairs. So when she discovers she is pregnant again, the audience is left to wonder who the father really is.

American Horror Story ticks all the boxes you could hope it would possibly check off: a spooky house, basement inhabited by genetic mutant, scary dead twins, an albino, the deceased coming back to life, plus more red-heads than are normally deemed necessary on television, but most of all, it’s just really creepy.

“It is a house of horrors,” Murphy admits, “but we are really trying to talk about fears in society and what these people are really afraid of, not just the horrors that happen in this house.”

The director is also not in any doubt over whether horror is the right way forward for him.

“I think people want to be scared and completely forget about their troubles,” he says, “and that’s an interesting thing to be tapping into. I’ve always loved being scared.”
Steve Nash

American Horror Story comes to FX at 10pm on Monday 7 November. Why not whet your appetite with the first five minutes of American Horror Story here?