American Horror Story (2011) Review
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
American Horror works acceptably (until the end) because it keeps so many things in motion--- plots and timelines and things that go bump in the night. Sort of like Heroes (also a 5)-- and no scarier-- the show relentlessly churns and twists to surprising reveal after surprising reveal all delivered with maximum pathos, though a fair share of the performances are good. There is never once a scary moment--- quick cuts and lots of goofy canted shots pretty much guarantee there is never any atmosphere, unless you think music videos are atmospheric. The heavy handed music choices don't help, excepting the cool whistling bit and the piece that sounds stolen from Wojciech Kilar's superb score for (the otherwise crappy) Coppola-directed Dracula (I don't like to put Bram Stoker's name at the front of that one.)
So AHS functions as a fast moving and surprising soap opera with a big budget, some good make up fx and some decent acting, which is why it gets a 5. Actually had the last double length episode not been the series nadir--- really bad dialogue and spacious melodrama that fails utterly--- the show would be slightly north of mediocre, but 'afterbirth' is pretty stinky, and the penultimate episode 'birth' not much better.
Like most Stephen King stuff that I don't like*, it is essentially modern day fantasy with too much explanation of everything so it barely even functions as suspense, much less horror. Ghosts as lead characters who can appear and disappear at will puts this in a camp with things like Ghost (yes, the Swayze one) and Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit. If you think Ghost and Blithe Spirit are horror, then American Horror Story is horror, but I don't (and you shouldn't) even if AHS has occasional gore and burn make up.
Overall, American Horror Story is a mildly engaging soap with better than average acting for a soap and a lot more blood than the average soap, but actually less creepy than the original Dark Shadows show, which actually had atmosphere and let the scenes breathe (and had better music as well).
*Horror guys I dig are the old school of Lovecraft, Blackwood and Machen, and also the visceral and immediate books of high tension storyteller Richard Laymon.