‘American Horror Story: 1984’ Season Premiere ‘Camp Redwood’ Review: A Predictable But Good Slasher
BY David Riley
Published 3 years ago
This is a fresh, new look for Ryan Murphy’s beloved FX show, American Horror Story. AHS: 1984 premieres with a distinct flair and a welcome return to its 2011 roots; the kind of terror that truly made the show the staple horror show an iconic piece of television. Season 9’s premiere episode, titled “Camp Redwood” takes us back to 1984 (and a little bit of the ’70s) when aerobics was all the hype and summer camps were the immediate thing one thinks of during the school break.
In genuinely Friday the 13th-ish fashion, the horrors of Camp Redwood are exposed from the get-go, with the opening scene never holding back on the vicious gore that it promised. We are then introduced to our five main teenage misfits: the timid LA newbie Brooke Thompson (Emma Roberts), Van Halen worshiper Montana Duke (Billie Lourd), fitness buff slash “serious” actor Xavier Plympton (Cody Fern), resident ’80s fuckboy Chet Clancy (Gus Kenworthy), and cool nerd hybrid Ray Powell (DeRon Horton). After a series of odd murders occur in Los Angeles, Xavier proposes a summer getaway as their ultimate escape—volunteering as camp counselors at Camp Redwood. Wow. Very fun.
Earlier in the episode, though, we see the unfortunate fate of the original campers and counselors in 1970 as mysterious killer Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) slaughters them one by one. Xavier, unaware of the camp’s history, thinks it’s a good idea to evade the unexplained killings (via the Night Stalker) in downtown LA and seek “summer sanctuary” at Camp Redwood. You’re walking right into a trap, mister!
It’s a strong season opener, with loads of predictable yet oddly satisfying plot points peppered throughout the episode. The previous two seasons had a bit of a weak falling out with its handling of world-building and character premise, but season 9 circles back to its original horror roots as it targets hardcore horror fans—this time offering a gorefest like no other.
This is your warning: spoilers follow from here on.
Prelude to a Harrowing Summer Nightmare
American Horror Story established its penchant of recreating iconic horror elements in every season. This time, AHS: 1984 delivers a slew of predictable situations but executed in a way that also feels fresh. Our initial main group has the chemistry that any ’80s slasher film would have. It has to feel like a forced friendship, in that it starts to build up their relationship along the way.
Mr. Jingles, just like any other American Horror Story villain, has a mysterious past. Formerly a military operative, he was let go with a dishonorable discharge as his murderous tendencies came to light. Ultimately, he ends up working at Camp Redwood as a utility person, letting his tendencies brew until that one fateful night in 1970. Lynch plays him with an unmistakable personality brought into the character. After playing the iconic Twisty the Clown, I won’t be surprised if Mr. Jingles becomes a villain fan favorite.
But as Jingles’ backstory is revealed a la Halloween, we find out that although he was charged for his crimes in the ’70s, evil still has a way to return to a world of peace. Jingles was committed to an asylum after his trial but broke out a couple of years later (the same time when Camp Redwood is about to reopen). After learning about the Camp’s resurrection, Jingles is once again drawn to the camp to finish what he started.
The misfits each have their own cross to bear. Brooke is the typical new-girl-struggling-to-fit-in who also has the baddest of lucks when the actual Los Angeles Night Stalker breaks into her home to rummage through her jewelry and attempt to sacrifice her to Satan. It’s this incident that prompts Brooke to leave for the camp with Xavier and the gang.
Montana, a sexually-charged teenager, has her sights on becoming an aerobics instructor herself but is often held back by her insatiable hunger to bone. Xavier, the most apathetic and aesthetically-conscious of the five, seems to be the oblivious type who’s one step closer to being the prey without even realizing it. And then we’ve got Chet and Ray, two unlikely buddies who seem to be drawn to each other as polar opposites. Chet has anger issues and rages with testosterone, while Ray is concerned with his future as a vet but feigns this desire by resorting to drugs and drinking. There’s no denying that this group is a summer disaster waiting to happen.
On the Camp’s front, Leslie Grossman is back to deliver one of her most familiar character portrayals as she plays Camp Redwood owner Margaret Booth. But that’s just the surface. It turns out that she was a former victim of Mr. Jingles who believes that the Lord saved her from dying through an out of the body experience. In an effort to purge herself from her bloody past, Margaret buys the camp and aims to turn it into a godly place where kids can reconnect with the Lord. If you ask me, that’s even creepier than Mr. Jingles.
Angelica Ross’ nurse Rita and Matthew Morrison’s big-dicked (like literally bulging!) Trevor Kirchner act as Margaret’s helping hands, although it looks like Trevor is more in it for the trouble that he can cause *wink wink* than being Redwood’s activities director.
The characters all mesh together to form a decent tapestry of what AHS: 1984 wants to achieve (that new opening title sequence is so well-done!).
A Strong Launchpad
“Camp Redwood” does a great job of laying down the groundwork for American Horror Story Season 9. The episode takes its time to flesh out the slasher narrative but also doesn’t hold back the minute details. You’ve got the typical elements of any slasher flick—a campfire horror story, eyes always watching in the woods, a random stranger who warns everyone of the impending doom, jarring jump cuts to the killer’s perspective and a hallucination that will probably turn out to be true in the end.
“Camp Redwood” sports the typical scary camp vibes. Located right in the middle of the woods, the camp also has a lake, triangular cabins that scream bloody murder, and a camp staff that don’t give a shit about anything. The first minutes of the episodes establish the theme of this season well. It paints a bloody picture of what we can all expect and siphons off of the energy of ’80s slasher cult classics like Sleepaway Camp and Evil Dead.
Lynch’s Mr. Jingles opens the season with a blood bath as he slaughters the campers and counselors of Camp Redwood. We get beautifully-sequenced scenes of head stabs and the customary creepy killer practice of severing a body part as part of his kill streak collection. No matter how others might spin the story, Camp Redwood is never a friendly place for kids to spend their summer.
‘American Horror Story: 1984’ ‘Camp Redwood’ Overall Verdict
American Horror Story is off to a good start. This time, the show refuses to leave us asking more questions like how it did in the previous seasons’ premiere episodes. “Camp Redwood” knows what it wants to be, where it wants to go, and how it will achieve things to get there. However, the jury’s still out on the overall quality of the show. But if AHS: 1984 sticks true to its established path and doesn’t digress to useless side-narratives, this season might just join the ranks of the show’s top tier seasons such as Freak Show and Asylum.
American Horror Story: 1984 continues next Thursday, September 25th, with “Mr. Jingles” at 10/9c on FX.