Welcome to the 80s, kids! Which, if you’re basing your knowledge of the decade solely on American Horror Story: 1984, was full of synth-pop, spandex, just, like, so much hairspray, and ah, yes, groups of hot co-eds being terrorized at a summer camp. What a time! When I first heard AHS was going full slasher film for Season 9, I was pumped. I mean, the camp! The gore! The weird sex stuff! What show is better equipped to do an homage to 80s slasher flicks than American Horror Story? None, I say! But remembering that every season of AHS is like a regular horror show on steroids, that excitement was almost immediately followed by crippling fear. AHS going full slasher flick? Think of all the blood.
We’re one episode in and it turns out I wasn’t wrong about either of those immediate reactions. The whole thing opens with our serial killer Mr. Jingles murdering an entire cabin of teenagers–one via knife through the eye–and collecting their ears as trophies, so, uh, no they aren’t messing around with the gore this season. As much as I would love to sit here and talk about the glorious spandex choices made in this hour (seriously, I could talk about spandex for much longer than is probably appropriate), or Olympic Medalist Gus Kenworthy portraying a man named Chet who wears crop tops (!!), we should get to some of the major developments of the premiere.
Meet Brooke (Emma Roberts), a seemingly innocent college student who has just moved to Los Angeles and is having the straight-up worst time. First, Montana (Billie Lourd), a girl with dreams of being a world-class aerobics competitor, calls Brooke out for “ogling [her] friend Chet’s mound” during aerobics class. Montana is already a national treasure. Then, Brooke goes home to her sad, lonely apartment and looks at a sad, lonely, engagement ring sitting in her jewelry box (we’ll get backstory on this, no?), and then promptly gets attacked by the very same serial killer the gang at the aerobics class was chatting about that afternoon–the Night Stalker (the Night Stalker is both a real person and someone we’ve met in the AHS universe–he was a guest during Hotel’s serial killer dinner).
Brooke manages to fight the Night Stalker, aka Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa), by way of frying pan to the head, but he promises he’ll find her and kill her before he runs off toe escape the cops. Then, because Brooke is your classic “Girl Who Makes Terrible Decisions in Horror Movies,” she decides that the best thing to do post-attack is to hop in a van with the aerobics gang–WHO SHE JUST MET–and head up to a creepy summer camp in the woods to be camp counselors. Oh Brooke, you dummy.
She probably realizes she made a terrible decision around the time everyone in the van–Montana (who is still the best), the aforementioned owner of the mound, Chet, who is raging after being disqualified from the 1984 Olympics, Xavier (Cody Fern), a wannabe actor and your basic dick, and Ray (DeRon Horton) an orderly with higher aspirations in the medical field–does a bunch of cocaine and then hit a hiker running across the road. I’d say it all goes downhill from there, but we started pretty far down the hill, you know?
Once the group–plus the injured hiker, who looks incredibly spooked– gets to Camp Redwood, they meet the owner, Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman), a lover of God and hater of fun, and Nurse Rita (Angelica Ross), and the story of the massacre at Camp Redwood is told. According to Margaret, Mr. Jingles was a Vietnam War vet with a thirst for blood (he started making his ear necklace trophies over there), who was dishonorably discharged and worked at Camp Redwood until he snapped. Margaret knows all of this because yes, folks, she is the lone survivor of that slaughter in 1970–and she has the missing ear to prove it. The camp closed down after Mr. Jingles’s attack and he was placed in prison thanks to Margaret’s testimony. Margaret, believing her survival a miracle, dedicated her life to the lord. That’s why she is reopening the camp. It sounds like a terrible idea and also Margaret seems super shady, but today is not the day to unpack that!
Meanwhile, we learn a few things that the counselors don’t. First, Mr. Jingles has just escaped from the insane asylum and while searching his cell, they find a newspaper clipping about the camp reopening and Margaret’s face circled in red. Definitely not great. We also learn that the hiker, resting in the camp infirmary, had injuries before getting slammed by Xavier in the van–he’s missing an ear. Also, objectively, not great — especially because that means there’s someone else out there cutting off ears since the hiker was attacked prior to Mr. Jingles’s escape.
Now, as much as I would like to stay in the moment in which Montana tells Activities Director Trevor (Matthew Morrison) that the first thing she ever masturbated to was a bootleg of the original version of the Jane Fonda Workout video that Trevor got cut from because his giant bulge was too distracting, we have to get to the creepy stuff. Okay, the creepier stuff.
Brooke ends up in the infirmary alone. Of course, it is dark and stormy, like any good 80s horror movie should be, and finds the hiker dead and hanging from the door. She’s then chased through the woods by Mr. Jingles himself, still jingling after all these years. Brooke manages to make it back to the cabin where her friends are watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics and gets them to go check it out, but they find no Mr. Jingles in the woods nor any dead hiker hanging on the door in the infirmary. They think Brooke’s imagination has gotten the best of her. They are not very good friends.
The thing is, I want to feel bad for Brooke, but when she does things like goes outside alone in the middle of the night to answer a randomly ringing pay phone, how can I? GIRL. Help me, help you! She’s especially going to need some help because who do we see hiding out in the woods? The Night Stalker. He’s made good on the first half of his promise.
So the premiere episode of 1984 has played out exactly like a 1980s slasher film would–it’s a perfect homage to the genre — but I’m wondering when it’s going to go all American Horror Story on us. You know, aliens, the antichrist, that Lady Gaga blood orgy. I’m here for the 80s horror of it all, but I can’t help but feel like something else is coming. As long as it isn’t the clowns. Please, no more clowns.
American Horror Story: 1984 airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.