August 06, 2011 12:07pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'American Horror Story': There Will Be a Payoff
FX’s upcoming horror drama American Horror Story will not play out like The Killing.
The series from Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk revolves around Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) who move from Boston to a creepy haunted Los Angeles mansion after an affair and miscarriage. Described by Murphy as a “psycho-sexual thriller,” the series serves as a metaphor for marriage and will set up a number of mysteries in the 90-minute premiere.
“As a pilot, it has eight cliffhangers in it,” Murphy said Saturday while promoting the show at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in Beverly Hills, noting that the series has an “obligation” to explain the mysteries of the series to the audience. “By the third episode, all of those big mysteries are settled and I think the audience can just be along for the ride.”
The pilot, screened this week for critics at TCA, includes a mysterious creature with fangs and sharp claws that attacks a girl in the basement of the Victorian-era home in which the Harmons now reside, a creepy guy in a full-body rubber suit and characters including Denis O’Hare’s Larry the Burn Guy, a pseudo reformed killer who used to live at the estate.
Further deepening the mystery, Jessica Lange’s nosy neighbor Constance has an as-yet-unexplained back story with Moira, the housekeeper who comes with the house who appears as either a young sexual woman (Alexandra Breckenridge) or an older, dutiful woman (Frances Conroy) to various residents.
The big question, however, will be why the Harmons continue to stay in the house despite warnings from people like Larry the Burn Guy, questions that plague other horror fare set in equally creepy houses.
“It’s a big horror trope,” Murphy said. “That was the most important thing we worked on. We’ll explain why they’re still there and that will happen in the next episode after the pilot.”
Murphy and Falchuk noted that episodes of American Horror Story would be both fast-paced and more melodic while the series first a metaphor about marriage and second a horror series inspired by the likes of The Shining and Don’t Look Now. “We’re working on our two-part Halloween episodes, which I feel is very similar to the scares of the pilot.
“There’s an episode we’re doing right now about the haunting of the various characters that is much more slow and melodic,” Murphy said. “I think people will come for two things: For really good emotional stories that are zeitgeist-based and I hope they come because there really will be some scary stuff in there.”
The scare factor, however, will not take center stage, Murphy noted.
“The script was never really about horror,” Murphy noted. “It really was about marriage and infidelity; that’s the throughline of the season and it permeates all the characters. All of the characters are experiencing different points of view about that one topic.”
The executive producers noted that they’d been kicking around the idea for about three years because they’re “both obsessed with the genre,” Falchuk said.
“It was always in the back of our heads,” Falchuk said, noting that the West Adams in which also serves as a character in the series also has a bizarre energy. “We are both obsessed with the genre.”
STORY: 'American Horror Story': New Clips Build the Mystery
Co-star Britton, meanwhile, admitted she could never watch Murphy’s previous FX series Nip/Tuck because it was “too gory” and confessed that she’s afraid of horror movies but signed on because the character was unlike Friday Night Lights’ Tami Taylor.
“We’ll see [Vivien] fall apart in various ways,” she said, noting that it was a challenge to play the conflict that lies underneath her tightly wound character. “I was not playing infidelity, I was not playing someone who had just been through major physical and emotional trauma. The world I was in was more concise. This is a world that’s a little bit unglued. It’s interesting to find the places to become unhinged.”
American Horror Story premieres Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 10 p.m. on FX.
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