AHS 1984 episode 1: Recapping the wildest moments of the premiere

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984 -- Pictured: Billie Lourd as Montana Duke. CR: Kurt Iswarienko FX
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984 -- Pictured: Billie Lourd as Montana Duke. CR: Kurt Iswarienko FX /

AHS: 1984 premiered last night on FX, and the star power, spooks, and spandex shorts did not disappoint. We recap the wildest moments of episode 1!

Dear reader,

I’m writing to you from the beautiful, scenic, horrifying, bloody hellscape that is Camp Redwood, the fictional setting of this year’s already ever-entertaining American Horror Story chapter. Though we’ve only just arrived, in true AHS fashion, there’s surely more to talk about in only the premiere episode than one could ever have to say in a real letter home — which may be good news, considering what Ryan Murphy and his band of campy campers reminded us just might happen to those (un)lucky enough to be sent away for the summer.

While each and every music cue, haunting phone call, too-tight outfit, bloodied knife, and slang term of the evening truly deserves its own moment in the sun, by the time I’d finish writing down the appropriate amount about Leslie Grossman’s almost-entirely-khaki ensemble, it’d be time for episode two! Instead, let’s walk (or hike!) through the inaugural episode’s wildest, most memorable moments.

The ’80s, generally

Like I said, the period-specific garb, music, language, cultural references, and even lighting are perhaps the most noteworthy (and deliciously entertaining) facets of the new season. While AHS has tackled period-specific seasons before (parts of Murder House, Asylum, and Freak Show), none have been so present, so overpowering, and so wonderfully fun to watch as 1984 promises to be. It’s already evident that the all-encompassing aura of the ’80s isn’t just going to be a playground for culture and style, but will inform our characters’ quirks, intricacies, and intentions in ways that could mean the difference between life and death.

We meet Cody Fern’s character, Xavier, as he’s teaching an aerobics class to most of our other new friends: Billie Lourd’s Montana, Emma Roberts’ Brooke, Gus Kenworthy’s Chet, and Deron Horton’s Ray. After our buddies have danced their little unitards off, they convene in the lobby of the gym to give us the exposition we need (they’re from L.A., they’re hot, they’re rich), and we learn how they know each other.

Montana and Xavier have somewhat of a past, Chet and Ray are frenemies, and Brooke is new in town, a self proclaimed “last American virgin,” and therefore infinitely interesting to the rest of the group and probably the one to be targeted first, murder-wise. In true ’80s movie fashion, they all become fast friends, likely because they are all, as mentioned, very hot.

And because we’re playing by the rules of the ’80s slasher genre, the new friends hastily and mostly without any hesitation (aside from Brooke, who is a Very Good Girl!) decide to take off the next day to become counselors at nearby Camp Redwood. It’s summer, they’re bored, they’re looking to get into a little regulated trouble, and the Olympics are coming to L.A. to ruin their lives and their commutes anyway. No time like the present to flee to a recently abandoned murder camp!

Mr. Jingles

On their way to camp, the gang is smoking pot and driving simultaneously, and so they, of course, hit a guy with their car. This guy, who is weirdly silent and definitely hurt — but not definitely from the accident — appears to already have dried blood and cuts all over his body. Nothing can deter our soon-to-be-counselors, though, and so they load him into the back of the van and keep on truckin’!

As they arrive at Camp Redwood, they meet a cast of characters who honestly belong on their own deck of gay trading cards (more on their specifics later), including Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman), owner, Chef Birdie (Tara Karsian), chef, and Nurse Rita (Angelica Ross), nurse. They drop the bloody hiker off at the infirmary, get a quick tour of the property, and soon find themselves relaxing around the fire, where they can drink more cans of beer and smoke more “funny weed!”

Nurse Rita, off the clock, joins them, and quickly spills the tea on the camp and its sordid history, which our team has already heard rumblings about, She starts to tell them the tale of the murders that had taken place 14 years ago — murders we, the loyal audience, may remember from the cold open of the episode!

She lays out the lore of one Mr. Jingles, a Vietnam vet who was wounded in the war, but enlisted for a second tour of duty because he simply loved to kill. He loved it so much, in fact, that he was known to take trophies from his victims, namely, their ears, which he strung into necklaces. Because this is the most horrifying sentence in the English language, it led to the dishonorable discharge of Mr. Jingles, which subsequently and very unfortunately led to his employment at Camp Redwood.

At this very moment in the story, not to be overshadowed or undermined, Margaret Booth comes strolling in to remind them that they aren’t allowed to smoke or drink on the property and she casually pulls back her hair to reveal that, OH YEAH, HER EAR IS MISSING BECAUSE SHE’S THE LONE SURVIVOR OF THE CAMP REDWOOD MASSACRE OF 1970!!!

Margaret describes that fateful evening, telling them all that her survival led to her having a spiritual awakening. After he cut her ear off while she was just laying there awake, Mr. Jingles was arrested, and she served as the star witness. She vowed to put the past behind her, turn her darkest memories into something positive, and is now the proud owner of the newly reopened camp. As she wraps up the world’s heaviest campfire tale, she asks them all to never speak of the murder night again.

Meanwhile, back in the infirmary, Scabby McRoadKill the hiker wakes up in Nurse Rita’s office and guess the hell what? He’s also missing an ear!

A bit later, in the dark of night, Brooke encounters the hiker and he warns her to get out because something terrible is gonna happen. She believes him and warns the others, who think she’s just being a real pill.

Back in the cabin, the teens drinks even more beer and watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, which makes Chet angry because he could have been a contender! He freaks out and throws a crushed can at Ray, which slices his hand open, forcing he and Brooke to venture out into the woods for a bandage. As Brooke pokes around for something with which to clean up the roid-induced mess, she finds the hiker bloodied and hanging on the back of a door — and it’s a good thing she did all that aerobics because she’s now running in the rain away from the key-toting, black raincoat wearing slasher that is Mr. Jingles! He’s home!

We soon become privy to the most recent activities in Mr. Jingles’ date book, which include faking his own hanging inside his cell in a nearby mental institution, murdering a guard, stealing his keys, and heading straight back to — you guessed it — Camp Redwood! When you’re here, you’re family.

Back at the ole C.R., Brooke makes it back to their cabin, screaming and warning them of Mr. Jingles’ imminent arrival but, of course, they don’t believe her. She tells them about the hiker, but when they venture back out, like a little sexed-up, beer-drunk Scooby-Doo gang, to check her work, he’s not there. Margaret suddenly appears in a raincoat looking suspiciously like Mr. Jingles, so everyone feels pretty good about writing off Brooke’s accusations. The hiker must’ve healed and simply walked off, and she must’ve just had a crazy contact high, they deduce. That’s ’80s science for you!

The Night Stalker

As you may already know, AHS does some of its best work when dabbling in and borrowing from IRL horror stories (The Black Dahlia, The Axeman of New Orleans), and this season is looking to be no different, much to the true-crime-trend-fueled simultaneous terror and intrigue of its audience. In an early scene — Brooke’s first scene apart from the group — we watch as a man climbs onto her bed in the night, demands her valuables, and shouts at her until he’s decided he has enough. But he doesn’t leave before eerily and proudly declaring that he’d be back for her. And who is he? The damn Night Stalker! 

Reader, when I say I gasped upon realizing that Ryan Murphy was casually inserting a storyline surrounding the terrifying and deplorable Richard Ramirez (aka the Night Stalker) into the season…

And he isn’t just there for shock value. Brooke, obviously scarred and haunted by the experience, decides getting out of town at this exact moment maybe is a fine idea, and she uses the incident as the impetus to dive head first into Xavier’s pot-riddled van with the others.

She’s shaken, of course, but gradually begins to believe her new pals when they assure her that he’s not coming back — he doesn’t even know where she’s going! And because this is based on a real-life psycho killer, or because Brooke’s day/life hadn’t been terrible enough already, or maybe just because the group had refuted it out loud and with such gusto and that’s just the rules of ’80s horror, can you guess who shows up at the very end of the episode? Precisely when Brooke has already annoyed everyone to capacity with her wolf-cry of a murderer on the property to make good on his promise? A second murderer on the property!

The camp (both kinds)

Though the horror is horrible and the stories are titillating, the hallmark of a good season of AHS is undoubtedly the sometimes subtle, often specific, usually dark, and always campy humor that underscores it all. And this season is certainly not lacking in the camp department. The following is a list of singular and spectacular moments from this, the premiere episode, that could immediately and without question be inducted into the Camp Hall of Fame:

  • Gus Kenworthy, a real-life Olympian, is playing a drug-test-failing Olympian who watches the real-fake 1984 Olympics and laments.
  • There is a character named Chef Birdie, and she is a badass troll who does not care at all about male ego and makes sure they all know it literally right as they arrive.
  • Matthew Morrison, playing a character named Trevor the “activities director,” is as anti-glee-club-leader as it gets. He first appears in the doorway of the cabin with a cartoonishly gigantic bulge in his pants, carrying a six-pack, and somehow making every gender gayer at just first glance. He reveals that he had been in a Jane Fonda workout video — the very video our explicitly aroused Montana happens to be fairly obsessed with. Literally minutes after meeting, Montana and Trevor hook up in the lake, which is definitely disgusting and not advisable on several levels.
  • The aforementioned Margaret Booth, my khaki-clad, one-eared queen, having devoted her life to the Lord after surviving Mr. Jingles’ wrath, now says things about self-pleasure like “every stroke soils your soul,” and that, my friends, is worth the price of admission.

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Tune in next Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST to see how Brooke will escape the Night Stalker and Mr. Jingles, to learn what other kinds of activities Trevor can direct, and hopefully, for more trail-blazing fashion moments and ear-tearing campfire spooks!