“American Horror Story: 1984” opens in true “American Horror Story” fashion: sex and murder. The season premiered Sept. 18 on FX, marking the beginning of the ninth season of the cult TV show.
The show begins as a few counselors prepare to have a threesome in a cabin bunk when they’re attacked by a hooded killer, who proceeds to murder everyone sleeping in the cabin, chopping off their ears and string them together in a necklace. For a show that’s had a drill-bit-dildo-wearing demon and a psychotic mutilated clown among other horrors, this is relatively tame.
“1984” follows five college students — Brooke (Emma Roberts), Montana (Billie Lourd), Xavier (Cody Fern), Chet (Gus Kenworthy) and Ray (DeRon Horton) — as they get summer jobs at Camp Redwood, which has been reopened 14 years after the aforementioned ear-murders of 1970.
That plotline is already eerily similar to the 1980 slasher film “Friday the 13th,” but the gnarly 1980s imagery doesn’t stop there. The episode was bursting with ‘80s iconography, including a new opening sequence with shots of aerobics classes and Sony Walkmans cut with shots of bloody knives.
From the synthesized background music to the grainy, undersaturated flashback sequences, Bananarama’s “Cool Summer,” Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” Def Leppard’s “Photograph” and boys in crop tops, plenty of totally tubular ‘80s culture references are snuck into every scene.
There’s even an appearance from the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez (played by Zach Villa), a real-life serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the early ‘80s. How Ramirez will come into play this season is yet to be known.
Each season of “American Horror Story” has a new theme, storyline and time period, and returning cast members will often play new characters. Notably missing from this year’s lineup are Sarah Paulson (“The Goldfinch,” “Ocean’s 8”) and Evan Peters (“Dark Phoenix,” “X-Men: Apocalypse), both of whom have starred in every season prior to “1984.”
Apart from Paulson and Peters, plenty of previous cast members returned for “1984.” Roberts (“Scream Queens,” “Unfabulous”), Lourd (“Scream Queens,” “Booksmart”) and Fern (“American Crime Story,” “House of Cards”) all starred in last season’s “Apocalypse” as witches and the spawn of Satan, respectively. “American Horror Story” is perhaps the only show where viewers can see a cast member play the Antichrist in one season and a “slimmercise” aerobics teacher in the next.
New cast members include Matthew Morrison (“Glee,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) — who’s almost unrecognizable in a mustache and mullet — and Olympic silver medalist skier Gus Kenworthy, whose character Chet was kicked out of the 1984 summer Olympics for having traces of drugs in his bloodstream.
While episode one of “1984” leaves hope for a promising season, there’s a chance the show will fall into its habit of captivating beginnings with disappointing endings and no real payoff, such as the “Apocalypse” finale, where Mallory (Billie Lourd) killed the Antichrist by hitting him with a car.
The trend of ‘80s nostalgia has reached its peak in movies and television — see “Stranger Things,” “IT,” “Black Mirror” or “Ready Player One,” to name a few — and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Whether “1984” will have an intriguing enough story to pull in viewers or become lazily reliant on its ‘80s setting — that’s the real mystery.