This American Horror Story: Hotel review contains spoilers.
American Horror Story Season 5 Episode 1
The first thing you will notice about season five of American Horror Story is that creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy really like The Shining. It’s not just that this season is set in a hotel but that it is set in a hotel with the same carpet as the Overlook and has creepy children who stand ominously at the end of hallways. I kept expecting an ocean of blood to come pouring out of the elevator. Alas, that never happens in the premiere, although I am still optimistic about later episodes.
Instead, all of the blood in episode one comes courtesy of American Horror Story’s new star attraction, Lady Gaga. Gaga appears to be a vampire, one of several that reside at the Hotel Cortez, the others being the above mentioned creepy children and Gaga’s boy-toy played by Matt Bomer. The first episode does a good job of setting up these vampires as an “are they supernatural or are they just weirdos that drink blood” kind of deal. On one hand, Gaga and Bomer lack fangs and slice open the necks of their victims (a couple that the two picked up a screening of Nosferatu by the way) in order to drink their blood. Also Bomer fails to burst into flames when exposed to sunlight. On the other hand they are really pale. I’m sure the ambiguity was intentional and that we’ll find out more in later episodes.
With the inclusion of vampires, arguably the most sexual of horror archetypes (look I went to high school when Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles were a big deal so I may be biased on the whole “sexy vampire” thing), this season seems to be moving away from the blunt grotesqueries of Freak Show in favor of a more sensual atmosphere. That’s not to say that there isn’t gore, there’s a guy with a strap-on drill bit that sodomizes Schmidt from New Girl (Max Greenfield playing his best strung out junkie) to death, it’s just that drill-dick aside everything just plays a little sexier than past seasons.
The Hotel Cortez itself may end up being the most interesting character as there is clearly a lot going on that is only hinted at in the first episode. The Hotel’s aesthetic is a juxtaposition of neon and art deco and it makes for an interesting look. Sometimes it feels swanky, and glamorous and other times it looks rundown and cheap. Overall the use of fisheye lenses and interesting camera angles gives the whole place a sinister feeling befitting of the setting for a show called American Horror Story. The one place that didn’t look sinister though and that I just have to mention was the creepy children’s room. You expect it to be as eerie as the little ragamuffins that dwell there but it’s far from it. The room looks like Willy Wonka had a one night stand with a Nintendo and out came a room with huge gumball machines built into one wall and the remaining three walls taken up entirely by giant monitors playing Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Tetris.
The big shake-up to the usual AHS formula this year was of course the loss of Jessica Lange. Easily one of the best parts of the show was tuning in and seeing her really dig her teeth into her role be it a cruel nun, the witch equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson, or the German star of a snuff film.
FX has really been pushing Lady Gaga in all of its promotions for this season in an attempt to fill the Jessica Lange sized hole in most fans hearts. Sadly she’s a bad fit. Lady Gaga, who doesn’t even appear until halfway through the episode, is fine. To be fair, she may get better as the season goes and she gets more screen time, but she’s no Jessica Lange. In fact Gaga, who’s only real acting experience before Hotel was Machete Kills and Sin City 2, seems like an odd choice follow up Lange. She’s hardly carrying the show though thankfully, as all the other usual suspects are back. American Horror Story may have—even without Jessica Lange—one of the strongest ensemble casts on TV right now and so far Hotel uses them well, some better than last season. Wes Bentley for instance was wasted last year as the two-faced Edward Mordrake and gets a much better role this year in detective John Lowe.
If Freak Show’s stop motion opening startled you out as much as it did me, you’ll be happy to know that Hotel dials it back a bit. It’s still creepy but at least it’s not the Claymation hell that haunted my dreams all last season. Seriously, I hated that opening. Hotel brings it back to live action, interspersed with flashes of—I kid you not—the ten commandments. It actually looks kind of cool and if the particular order that the commandments are listed during the opening has any significance I didn’t catch it yet.
All in all Hotel is off to a strong start with the only weak link (so far) being Lady Gaga, which is a shame since FX is pushing her addition to the show so hard. Hopefully episode two will change my mind.
Random thoughts about and during the episode:
– It’s a hotel in California, so naturally I was thinking while I was watching it that I’d make some kind of “You can check out any time you like but you can never leave” joke. Then in the last five minutes of the show they start playing Hotel California. Well played American Horror Story, well played.
– American Horror Story isn’t complete without flashbacks and the first episode had two, one to 2010 and one to 1994. Am I the only one who feels old thinking about how 2010 is far enough back to flashback to?
– I did like one part with Lady Gaga: during the 1994 flashback she tells Kathy Bates “Your boy has a jawline for days.” and her delivery is just perfect.
– Were people saying “for days” back in ‘94?
– I want to live in a world where you can go to the park and watch Nosferatu projected on a brick wall.