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'American Horror Story' Review: The Scare Is Never as Good as the First Time

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Oct 18, 2012 | 6:59am EDT

fallTV_back_651x113_2012.jpgALTYou know when you watched The Ring for the first time and you saw Amber Tamblyn's face get all black and gunky as she died from watching the tape and you were so scared that you screamed, jumped in the air, wet yourself, or a combination of all three? Yeah, that was awful. The next time you watched it you still appreciated how creepy it was, but the impact was sort of lost on you. That is what the second season of American Horror Story is like: creepy, but not making it necessary to wear Depends when you cue it up on the DVR.

When I first heard that Ryan Murphy, the show's co-creator, decided that each season would have a new cast and a new story, I thought it was a blessing. Mr. Murphy, for all of his gifts, seems to have the showrunner equivalent of ADD, turning what is a promising program into something of an overstuffed shambles after only more than a season. What better way to stop his creative compulsions than to rebuild each year. The problem is, when rebuilding, we get a machine that operates much like the one before. The thing about horror, as we learned from The Ring, is that when we know what's coming it's not as scary.

In the second season we get Jessica Lange praying a crazy lady who may or may not be evil. There is an old, creepy doctor doing experiments in the basement. There is an older lady who likes to dress up in kinky lingerie and seduce men even though she finds them disgusting. There are nymphomaniacs, homosexuals, killers, gratuitous nude shots, a mysterious central figure whose identity is obscured by a mask, and Evan Peters playing a young man who may or may not be insane. Sound familiar? It's like instead of baking from scratch Murphy is using the same Duncan Hines mix, but only in a different flavor.

That's not to say that the hour isn't as much fun as taking a second trip through a haunted pumpkin patch. There are lots of campy goodness and plenty of mysteries to be solved. The cast is great, the setting sufficiently spooky, and the man-ass on display sufficiently perky. And just what are the creatures lurking in the woods? Just what is the beast that lies behind that door? Is Adam Levine really going to die? If he does, who is The Voice going to find to sit in his spinny chair? All of these questions will make me tune in week after week, but more to satisfy my curiosity rather than to see if my stomach will feel like it's going to fall out of my body the whole time, like it did last year.

There are some essential differences in this Asylum, and most of them are what is really troubling about this new season. The first is the framing device of "the lovers," played by the aforementioned Levine and Jenna Dewan-Tatum. Last year, each episode opened with a crime that happened in the haunted house, a good way to introduce the action in the present day while delving deeper into the house's past. This year it's the opposite. We get these two on the run from a serial killer in the modern day which sets up how he got there in the past--something that seems like it will get stale after dragged out over 12 installments. How many times can they be trapped in a corner and narrowly escape before we just want the killer to hurry up and get it over with?

The other problem is...well...it's aliens. There are aliens. Kit, the supposed Bloody Face killer (but if you really think he's Bloody Face you need to take Horror Movie Formula 101) is institutionalized after his wife disappears and is skinned. It appears that this was actually done by aliens in a ship who also captured Kit and implanted some sort of SIM card chip insect thing in his neck. Now, I'm in for all sorts of ghosts, goblins, monsters, mutants, and other psychological terrors, but this is not The X-Files. I don't think I want aliens.

Sure, this show has always touted the supernatural, but the real terror came from how those beasts were created. The real psychological torture of this show is contemplating the things that are real, like serial killers, infidelity, incarceration, losing a loved one, going insane, losing control, those you wrong seeking bloody vengeance. Thinking that you could be easily committed to a mental institution just like Lana is more terrifying than all the sado-masochistic nuns in the world. (And I went to Catholic school, so I should know!) That is what keeps you up at night, not that the things that will never happen--like, say, aliens--but the things that do happen all the time. If the show can remember this, and still manage to throw in a curveball or two, it might manage to pull off a similar machine as the last time.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

[Photo Credit: FX]

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