American Horror Story has brought us to many creepy places over the past few years: a house with a murderous past, an insane asylum, a coven, and a freak show. This year, the location of the horror anthology has been changed to a hotel, which as far as horror movie history goes can be a pretty scary place. American Horror Story: Hotel begins with two girls on vacation arriving at the Hotel Cortez and, as is expected, the two girls don’t have the best of times in their vacation spot.
It’s obvious from the get go that one of Ryan Murphy’s biggest influences for this season is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. From the creepy children hanging out in hallways to the carpet throughout the building, the references are plentiful.
In way of a plot, as is always the case with AHS, the opener of Hotel has a lot to set up. The main character is John Lowe (Wes Bentley), a detective investigating a series of grisly murders in LA. He’s eventually led to the Hotel Cortez, a place that seemingly has a connection to his past.
Jessica Lange, for now, has decided not to return for this season and Ryan Murphy made an inspired choice for her replacement in Lady Gaga. Gaga plays The Countess, the beautiful woman on the top floor with a lust for blood. She has the best screen presence arguably that any actor has had on the show and is sure to be the highlight of the season. So as it stands, we can deal with the loss of the AHS veteran if Gaga keeps it up.
Rounding out the remaining cast are usual AHS stars: Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters (who doesn’t appear in the opener), Denis O’Hare, Chloë Sevigny and Angela Basset. One of the more interesting returns comes in the form of Christine Estabrook, who returns as the realtor last seen in Murder House. Murphy is continuing to show the connections between each of the seasons and has even hinted that Murder House itself will appear in this season.
There’s a use of The Eagles’ Hotel California that fits the season perfectly. The viewers are also treated to what are easily the most gruesome scenes on American Horror Story so far. Murphy seems to have dropped the campy element that was prevalent throughout the last season and channelled it into his new show, Scream Queens, which is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of filmic references from Se7en to Under the Skin, all of which are welcome.
Verdict: While the camera work may be a little off in some scenes (what is with that fish eye lens?), though this has never really been the strong suit of AHS, it is a pretty solid opener and shows a lot of potential for the rest of the season. The mesmerising performance from Lady Gaga and the eerie feel that hasn’t been present since Asylum definitely make the stay at this hotel worthwhile for now.