A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The early ’80s sleepover camp setting proves to be a charming vehicle for some entertaining performances and classic horror tropes on the American Horror Stories: 1984 season premier, Camp Redwood!
Summer, 1984. Los Angeles prepares to host the Summer Olympics. Jazzercise was all the craze. Richard Ramirez, aka “The Night Stalker” was just ramping up his reign of terror, gripping L.A. in a panic.
This sultry, sweating summer is the framework for American Horror Story: 1984, the ninth season of the popular anthology horror series. 1984 has all the lavish design and attention to detail as AHS’ period-specific settings, making for an immersive experience that is both a loving homage to ’80s horror as well as surpassing the original material in some ways.
The American Horror Story: 1984 season premier, “Camp Redwood”, opens in the summer of 1970 in the summer camp of the same name. It begins with three camp counselors ignoring the co-ed rules of the camp – and the rules of a Slasher Film of course, as well, unfortunately for these counselors. Right on cue, the trio are brutally murdered by “Mr. Jingles,” the resident boogeyman. The shot pans back to find the whole cabin slaughtered.
Fast forward to 1984. We find ourselves in an aerobics class, so authentic it seems ripped straight from Jane Fonda’s workout tape. Here we meet our protagonists, prescribing to the traditional genre roles. You’ve got Xavier (Cody Fern), the blonde-haired Adonis. Montana (Billie Lourd), the aerobics fanatic and resident ‘slut’. Ray (Deron Horton), resident “nice guy.” Chet (Gus Kenworthy), the embittered jock who lost his shot at the Olympics. Finally, Brooke (Emma Roberts), the “good girl,” “The Last American Virgin” to quote Montana.
The ensemble discuss their plans to work as camp counsellors for the summer, to escape the insanity of the Olympics and The Night Stalker’s reign of terror. They invite Brooke, as well, who declines as she’s scheduled for summer classes. That evening, however, The Night Stalker breaks into Brooke’s apartment, whom she wards off with a cast iron skillet. He vows to come back, to find her wherever she is. “I will find you. Satan will show me the way!”
En route to Camp Redwood, the horror tropes really get underway. There’s the ominous gas station attendant, “You’re all going to die!”, and a hiker that they hit with their van, dragging them back with them to the camp for first aid.
They are greeted by Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman), the puritanical camp owner, who re-opened Camp Redwood to save at-risk youth from the temptations of pornography and Van Halen. She reveals a secret, herself, that she was a survivor of the Camp Redwood Massacre 14 years ago, with the missing ear to show for it.
The counselors settle in and we meet one final character, Trevor (Matthew Morrison), the activities director and axed extra from Jane Fonda’s workout video. Montana’s a fan, to put it mildly, and the pair retreat to consummate the mutual interest, only to get spooked when Montana hears a car door slam. Could this be the killer?
They manage to survive this horror trope transgression. They’ll want to watch out for that, going forward, if they hope to survive!
The news, re: the killer is: YES! We get one final flashback where we find Mr. Jingles, the killer from the Camp Redwood Massacre, escapes the mental hospital, in a nod to the original Halloween. He returns to finish what he begins.
As he begins his rampage, we meet an unexpected the guest. Satan has shown The Night Stalker how to finish his business. So we’ve got not one but two serial killers! Twice the fun!
So far, we’re off to a good start with this new season of American Horror Story! The performances seem particularly strong, particularly Emma Roberts, despite some claiming her talents are wasted. It’s nice to seeing her playing more of a “girl next door” type instead of her usual bratty valley girl role.
The period details are entirely on-point, as is usually the case with American Horror Story. But 1984 feels particularly immersive, probably just because i grew up in that era.
For those that love spandex, legwarmers, Madonna, pastel, and Hall & Oates, you’re going to love this season of AHS. It’s nice to see Ryan Murphy and co. delving into the same realms as shows like Glow or Stranger Things, to show the darkness lurking behind that pastel exterior.
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