by Steven Wandling
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Nip/Tuck, American Crime Story) brought their flagship series back last week with an homage to the 1980s horror sub-genre of the slasher to mostly good results. There were some signs that American Horror Story was going to take a perfectly good concept and run it off the rails as the show is want to do, but they were few and far between. 1984‘s second episode, “Mr. Jingles,” firmly establishes itself as, at the very least, a great standalone episode that could pave the way for a great remainder of the season.
Just like the premiere episode of 1984, “Camp Redwood,” last night’s episode started off with a brilliant kill scene that would work all on its own as a nice short. I’m hoping at this point that each episode does this and someone will create a nice little vignette of all the cool opening kills from this season. After last week’s cold-open flashback giallo inspired camp massacre, “Mr. Jingles” starts off with a nice Halloween (1978) reference. It plays just as well if not better as a woman from the mental hospital where Mr. Jingles aka Benjamin Richter (John Carroll Lynch) just escaped after 14 years in captivity, gets a “flat” tire. She is driving away from Camp Redwood, just attempting to warn Margaret (Leslie Grossman), the sole survivor of the Mr. Jingles massacre and person re-opening the camp, about Jingles’ escape. Margaret doesn’t seem that concerned, which only leads me to believe even further that she’s in on this with Mr. Jingles.
The flat tire murder sequence that kicks off the episode is eerie, quiet, quick, and visceral. It has a great grainy filter to it with that same pulsating synth score that is still working like a charm. The kill is (as all have been) very graphic for anything, let alone television. That’s one great thing about American Horror Story, is that they are always fighting what they can get away with on tv in terms of the ratings board. It always works in their favor, and “Mr. Jingles” is no exception.
After the still best damn iteration of the best damn opening credits currently on television, the episode of 1984 kicks right off with a sense of paranoia and dread befalling the camp at night as it picks up precisely where the first episode left off. Turns out that The Night Stalker himself, Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa) followed Brooke from LA to Camp Redwood to finish her off. Astute fans of the entire American Horror Story universe will realize this is a role reprisal from Hotel, tying it in to the larger universe. It works a little better for me this week than last, but all my complaints really do lie with this storyline. It just comes off ridiculous in a bad way.
“Mr. Jingles” works best throughout the majority of its runtime by sticking to an ever-escalating slasher premise (hard to stretch out past 90-120 minutes) while adding to what the audience knows about the ensemble cast of characters. Brooke (Emma Roberts) cracks me up, because she just can’t seem to catch a break in life. Not only has she had a brush with real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez, who is now stalking the campgrounds to finish her off, but she tells an even more horrific story from six months ago involving her would-be husband murdering his best man and then killing himself at the altar. The flashback is perfect in the trashiest way. I was smiling from ear to ear as blood-covered Brooke’s wedding dress as “White Wedding” kicks in on the soundtrack. It’s the type of backstory one would find in some of the more bonkers slasher films this season is emulating, and it works great here.
“Mr. Jingles” is loose on the camp and manages to start to slowly wrack up a body count on his quest to finish what he started at Camp Redwood 14 years ago. He manages to kill a sleazy porn distributor/pimp who is trying to make Xavier (Cody Fern) gay for pay or else he’ll release the one porno he has on him and out Xavier as gay, even though he isn’t. He was hooked on heroin apparently and was taken advantage of. This was a great decision because if this did come out in 1984, the plot line would have went to a female without question, so the flip and nuance make something dull and repetitive interesting. It’s little moments like this that are expertly weaved into the story that allow Mr. Jingles to build a body count and let the audience keep growing and empathizing with the characters. As stated like this, that’s what you want when AHS inevitably runs out of side characters to kill.
The use of music combined with kills works great throughout the episode, whether it’s long time score composer Mac Quayle’s 80s inspired synth fest, or classic 1980s hits by Billy Idol or the Pointer Sisters. Angelica Ross (Rita) re-teams with Murphy from his series Pose as Rita, the medical nurse of Camp Redwood. While dancing and putting things up in the infirmary, she has her own close brush with death aka Mr. Jingles.
The whole episode plays out like the moment the shit hits the fan in a slasher film, and it works great. Overall, it’s one of the best episodes of American Horror Story in recent memory, definitely better than anything from Apocalypse. Even the elements that feel like they’re ripped from a different series work in the episode: Richard Ramirez killing the ghosts of camp counselors, and his long scene of flirtation with Margaret works well enough on their own, despite my feelings about those elements in the season as a whole. If anyone has any doubts about Margaret being involved with Mr. Jingles in some way (or just as insane and murderous as he) after sending the Night Stalker knowingly out into the camp to hunt him down without then mentioning anything about it to the terrified counselors, is delusional. I’ve been wrong before, but this is a hill I’m going to die on for now.
American Horror Story: 1984 is currently airing new episodes every Wednesday night at 10PM On FX. Thanks for reading! Please share with your horror loving friends and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! If you would like to write for us, just shoot us a private messgae or DM on social media.