Brilliance in 1984 Golden-Age slasher flick concept with spectacular fogset lake-camp location setting, seasoned Roberts/Lourd-led cast, & unapologetic ’80’s-isms in atmosphere – cruelly held back by a killer-problematic, contrived plot. 7.3/10.
Plot Synopsis: In the summer of 1984, five friends escape Los Angeles to work as counselors at Camp Redwood. As they adjust to their new jobs, they quickly learn that the only thing scarier than campfire tales is the past coming back to haunt you. American Horror Story: 1984 is the ninth installment of the award-winning anthology series by Ryan Murphy.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: 1984. Hollywood has been obsessed with that number and year recently – from WW to slasher camps to Black Mirror to Stranger Things to Bohemian Rhapsody to Terminator: Genisys. Is it the nostalgia of the time many directors and showrunners vividly credit as formative growing up during, wanting to pay homage to it on the big and small screens? The ominous tone the year had in Reagan-reelect & nuclear war-looming atmosphere? Storytelling possibilites opened without the ubiquity of smartphones when science was more sci-fi than fact? Birth of many enduring mega-franchises from Terminator to Friday The 13th to Halloween to Ghostbusters? Whatever the reason, it’s come off to (mostly)-grand results invoking classically-80’s transporitve fervor as an adequate backdrop to the stories being told – one that made perfect sense in the lens of American Horror Story’s new premise: Brilliance in 1984 Golden-Age slasher flick concept with spectacular fogset lake-camp location setting, seasoned Roberts/Lourd-led cast, & unapologetic ’80’s-isms in atmosphere for a serviceably-nostalgic lost tape from a simpler/campy/fun time in genre history cruelly held back by a killer-problematic, contrived plot.
Brilliance in 1984 golden-age slasher flick concept. The idea of making a slasher TV series is alone brilliant, having a proof-of-concept unparalleled in fellow-Murphy project Scream Queens (one of our favorite TV series of All-Time as a clever meta sorority-set horror/comedy with a chilling antagonist in The Red Devil), Scream: The TV Series, Netflix’s Slasher, etc. But having one set in the ultimate location setting invoking the grand-daddy of the genre and probably most famous franchise in Friday The 13th is absolutely sensational. Camp Redwood is a positively-jawdropping backdrop – might be the best set piece and location setting I’ve *ever* seen in the genre given equally-impressive cinematography for a visually-spectacular experience highlighting the rich mahogany-toned, rain-soaked street-light, axes/butcher-knives dragged across creaky old cabin floors camp for a bloody good time setting the stage for the rich intangibles its been given from a new opportunity to do a self-contained 10-ep TV series with massive budget & seasoned cast of top-tier actresses.
Strong performances by a seasoned cast. The canvas is star-studded with heavy-hitter seasoned actresses – with a couple of newcomers as well. Emma Roberts predictively steals the show as ultimate modern scream queen in CLC’s opinion, well-established across her wildly-varied filmic portfolio from the Scream movies to past seasons of AHS to Scream Queens – where Chanel Oberlin’s b*tchy stuckupedness was literally the antithesis of her innocent victimized character here wowingly displaying her chameleon-actress range and skill at such a young age. Fellow-SQ/AHS veteran and castmate Billie Lourd is phenomenal as well, as is the rest of the cast for not a weak link to be found acting-wise also nicely hitting slasher stereotype characters with all having dark, mysterious, morality-questionable backstories in nice additions too like American Crime Story-featuree Cody Fern, Matthew Morrison, and DeRon Horton alongside its recurring stable including John Carrol Lynch, Leslie Grossman, and Angelica Ross (occasionally political as the worst character of the lot but a minor nuisance). Amongst all the running and hiding in classically-slasher motifs any genre fan will absolutely love is a surprisingly-heavy theme of serial killer psychological study (what makes Jason or M. Myers do what they do?) and amusing exploration of the hypocrisy of many so-called ‘religious zealots’ often misusing divine forgiveness as an excuse/self-justification for horrific acts they would never forgive by any stretch of true benevolence.
Unapologetic decadence in wild ’80’s stylism (with tons of meta-Easter Eggs/ References). The series literally opens with a recreation of the iconic triple-echo from Friday The 13th – and the rest of the series is a nostalgic thrill ride through the annals of slasher history from there. Weaving into its story clear references to not only F13 and Sleepaway Camp in every conceivable way down to the plot twists and concept, it also manages to invoke I Know What You Did Last Summer in covering up crimes of teenage negligence, Halloween in the asylum-escape you swear Michael Myers was just around the corner, The Exorcist in supernatural twinges, and many others for a self-aware, meta Easter-Egg filled joyride any gore or horror-junkie will adore in carefully/lovingly-placed callbacks. The same level of understanding shines through its tone getting the coke-fueled decadent romp of ’80’s-isms in sweatpants/tights/electro-pop leopard print glory wholly right for one of the best shells of a slasher series ever concocted in setting & stylism.
Now, the flaws – and there are way too many for such a masterpiece effort stylistically. First, a killer-problematic, contrived plot: WTF were they thinking in the antagonist? Anyone knows a slasher movie is only as good as its villain – there’s a reason Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, etc. have some of the most successful film franchises ever to date, despite being (mostly) awful films: scary (MASKED) evildoers who strike fear into you just by a single look at them. AHS: 1984 went.. a different route with one of the most boring, ill-advised, underwhelming antagonists in genre history: Mr. Jingles. Doomed from name alone sounding more like a kids’ show host than serial killer looking like Eggman meets Walter White meets Attack of The Middle-Aged Bloggers/Incels, he is downright unscary in every possible regard almost to the point of laughability – not exactly what a HORROR series should be going for. Beyond that, they reveal him & most of his backstory in the VERY FIRST EPISODE.. again misunderstanding on a fundamental level the biggest (and one of the only few) pros of the genre: twisty whodunits with audible-gasp inducing killer reveals. While the final twist of the mastermind of the camp-murders and overarching maven is good, it still wildly lacks the theatricality you need if you’re going to invoke that kind of year name – also almost-completely ripping off the idea from the superior original Friday The 13th in killer that was way more shocking and innovative 40 years ago.
The plot is wildly unfocused and all-over-the-place, with a dual-killer storyline no one asked for (seriously, it’s so easy to just make one great mask and have it terrorize counselors for 12 episodes; I cannot understand what happened in the writers’ room esp. when Murphy’s already delivered a masterpiece whodunit twice in Scream Queens that got right everything this got wrong far-more deserving of this setting for an S3-revival than this mess). The satanic cult member is equally as awful as Jingles, looking like a teen fashion model throwing a temper-tantrum not getting his last royalty check than someone we should get chills from. Even in death we can’t escape this Disney Channel-wannabe Depp with 1/50th the acting prowess in one of the most painfully awkward slasher choices in modern TV that damn near strips the series of any take-me-serious-ability. It’s absolutely bizarre because FX seems to understand the slasher genre in parts like location, tone, atmosphere, characters and even Easter Eggs in overall stylism you’d only be able to know if you’ve seen genre predecessors they obviously saw & wanted to imitate, but display some of the most shocking, unfocused misunderstanding imaginable in the most important part: villain, offensively misusing the Emmy-calibur intangibles served them on a silver platter in a hodgepodge of poorly-plotted mess. And that’s nothing compared to how badly squandered the 100th episode was not having even a single cameo, callback to previous season, or horror in what should’ve been a show called American Horror Story’s centential EVENT? Shameful.
Overall, AHS: 1984 is a mixed bag. Brilliance in 1984 Golden-Age slasher flick concept with spectacular fogset lake-camp location setting, seasoned Roberts/Lourd-led cast, & unapologetic ’80’s-isms in soundtrack + atmospheric stylism keep the season (barely) afloat, though some of the worst killer decisions in genre history & an unnecessarily-contrived plot make us sigh for what could have been. 1984 could have been a slasher movie on steroids, with a peacock-rare Emmy-level cast, awardable set design/backdrop, and ten-episode order to extend the high this cast & crew have every right to be murderously-mad at the writers’ room for wasting.
Official CLC Score: 7.3/10