I can’t believe a whole year has passed by since the last season of American Horror Story was on our screen! After a strong start, Apocalypse quickly descended into a jumbled and rushed story that went nowhere at all much too quickly. I’ve had my fair share of issues with the last few seasons of the show and I would love to say that I’ve been super excited for 1984…but I’m really not. I think the whole ’80s slasher theme has been done to death in TV shows and movies and I genuinely can’t see AHS bringing anything new to our screens with their version of it. With a large number of the main regular cast not returning either, it feels like the show has had its day. Negativity aside, it’s time to check out the big season premiere of American Horror Story:1984 – “Camp Redwood”
The trailers had been teasing us with stories of a massacre at Camp Redwood years before the new gang had arrived so it was no surprise that the opening scenes showed us just what happened back in 1970. John Carroll Lynch rejoins the cast as serial killer Mr. Jingles (so-called because of the jingling of his keys as he limps his way around the cabins) and he’s on the hunt for sex-crazed teens to kill, so obviously a summer camp is the place to go. After the massacre Jingles takes some souvenirs from his victims. In the style of Leatherface’s nipple belt, he uses the Camp counselors ears to craft a stylish necklace.
It feels a little too predictable and dull for American Horror Story to be completely honest. Previous murderers and serial killers in the show have always been based on real people or crafted in a really interesting way. They probably don’t want to give too much away about him too soon, which is understandable, but at least give us something interesting. Back in Asylum serial killer Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane) was only in two episodes and somehow stole the show with his story and performance. At least Jingles character introduction wasn’t the worst one in the show though…
Fast forward over those cringe-inducing VHS style credits and we’re introduced to the main characters in an even more embarrassing way. Cue the ’80s music, cue the aerobics, and cue the crotch shots. As the camera pans around the room we meet Montana (Billie Lourd), Xavier (Cody Fern), Ray (Deron Horton), Chet (Gus Kenworthy), and Brooke (Emma Roberts) complete with their names flashing up on the screen. I mean, why on earth do they all keep looking at the camera? It feels like the only attempt at making any of these characters interesting.
They’re all the various character tropes that we expect in a “homage” to ’80s slasher movies with Montana being a sex-crazed woman with big dreams, Xavier presumably being the good looking one, the nice guy Ray, and then Brooke who is described by Montana as “the last American virgin”. It’s nice to finally see Emma Roberts not playing the typical bitchy, sorority style girl that we’re so used to with her now; but, was making her the plain, boring member of the gang the right choice? I’m not convinced it was yet.
After the class, Xavier tells them he’s got a gig as a Camp counselor and everyone should join him. With the Olympics coming and a serial killer known as the Night Stalker in town then L.A is not the place to be right now. Brooke declines the invitation because she just met these people. Why would she abandon her summer plans and skip town with a gang of complete strangers? Well, the Night Stalker might have something to do with that.
The Night Stalker is actually based on real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez who was convicted of 13 counts of murder back in 1989. He’s played by Zach Villa and interestingly this isn’t the first time Ramirez has appeared in AHS.
Back in Hotel, the ghost of Ramirez came to the Devil’s Night dinner party hosted by James Patrick March (Evan Peters) along with the spirits of other famed serial killers such as Aileen Wuornos and John Wayne Gacy. I suppose this does connect this Season to Hotel in some way but it feels like a bit of a cheap way to connect it. Ramirez was a guest character in that Season who (aside from being a fellow serial killer) had virtually nothing to do with the overall plot and theme. It’s a nice nod to it but I prefer stronger connections between Seasons and not just existing characters being shoehorned into other seasons for the sake of it. I’m looking at you Lana Banana in Roanoke...
Ramirez breaks into Brooke’s apartment in the middle of the night and steals what appears to be a wedding ring. It looks like Brooke is harboring a secret or two of her own. He demands more expensive loot and after insisting there is nothing else he tells her to “swear on Satan”. This was an instruction the real-life Ramirez gave to his victims due to his belief in Satanism. “You’re going to be famous,” Ramirez tells Brooke. “You’re going to die by the hands of the Night Stalker. I will find you. Satan will show me the way,” he says before fleeing her apartment. The attack prompts Brooke to skip town with the rest of the gang.
This isn’t the last we see of Ramirez though and it looks like he’ll be a much larger part of the plot with Zach Villa being credited for all ten episodes.
At this point in the show, I was starting to wish I had a horror movie checklist that I could tick off as I watched as I’m more than sure every box would be ticked. Creepy gas station attendant who tells the gang that bad things have happened where they’re going? Check! A hiker who suddenly appears in the middle of the road just in time for the gang to mow him down? Check! All that was missing was the oath to never tell anyone about what they did.
Instead, they take the injured hiker with them to Camp Redwood and are greeted by Camp manager Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman) who wants the newcomers follow the teachings of Jesus and reject Van Halen. Margaret may be one of the only interesting characters in this season which is odd as usually, I’m not a fan of Grossman’s characters. I can’t help hoping that she’ll go full-on crazy Christian and become a homage to Piper Laurie’s Margaret White from Carrie. But why would a true Christian reopen the site of one of histories biggest massacres though?
Well, it’s because she’s the sole survivor of that massacre. After surviving being stabbed—a surreal experience in which she saw Jesus help her play dead as Jingles cut off her ear—she goes on to tell the group how Jingles doesn’t have any real motivations for killing people and instead he just enjoys it after his experiences in Vietnam. Interestingly Richard Ramirez has a link to Vietnam too!
When Ramirez was a young boy his cousin who served in Vietnam would tell stories of his gruesome exploits. He showed him photos of the women he had raped and even posed with the severed head of one of the women he abused. The two bonded over the stories and Ramirez was taught by his cousin how to kill someone using stealth. Perhaps Jingles will be Ramirez’s cousin? There’s definitely some sort of connection there for sure.
In another brief flashback, we see Jingles escape from the mental institution after faking his own death and releasing all the other inmates. We could very well have been watching Halloween at this point especially as the car approached the institution. Hopefully, Mitch Pileggi will be the Sam Loomis-style character who wants to take down Jingles. Jingles knows Margaret survived and he apparently wants her dead.
I think we’re being led to believe that Jingles is obsessed with Margaret but I already think the obsession maybe goes both ways. There’s a scene in which she turns up unexpectedly wearing a similar raincoat to his, so the clues are definitely there for something more. Has she opened the Camp again to purposefully lure him here so she can have her revenge and kill him? Is she in love with him? There are a few possibilities here and I really do hope there’s more to it than him just coming to kill her.
Later that night Brooke finds the injured hiker slaughtered with an ear missing so it looks like Jingles has arrived already. Or was it Margaret? Brooke is chased by the killer through the rain (more for the horror checklist there) and she spends a good few minutes slipping and falling over nothing (more checks). When she finally gets to safety the hiker’s body is gone and it appears to everyone else that she made the whole thing up, obviously.
As they head to bed the payphone outside starts to ring and as Brooke answers it the only sound to be heard on the other end is the jingling of keys. But that’s not all. There’s someone in the distance watching her. It’s Ramirez! Why have one serial killer on the show when you can have two? Or is it three?
I would love to say I enjoyed this episode but I just didn’t. It no longer feels like AHS and instead feels more like a Ryan Murphy spin-off like Scream Queens. He’s handed the reigns of the show to the younger generation of cast members and it really shows. Even Jessica Lange recently aired her upset that people like Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, and Kathy Bates were nowhere to be seen and I agree with her.
We’ve known for some time that this season would be a straight-up homage to the slasher horror genre and that’s fine if you’re into that sort of thing. But for me this has reached a point where the line of homage has been well and truly passed, this is just a direct copy of all those movies. There is no homage. Even Gus Kenworthy spent the episode hating the fact he was in AHS and not the Olympics. I suspect that this season will go down well with the younger viewers of the show (that makes me sound old) but even Matthew Morrison’s giant penis did nothing for me. I can just pray for an interesting improvement which I already sadly feel won’t happen.