[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS about Murder House, the first season of “American Horror Story,” which aired from October to December of 2011.]
Swinging baseball bats and obviously up to no good, red-headed twins Troy and Bryan (Bodhi and Kai Schulz) approach a dilapidated turn-of-the-century manse, overgrown with weeds. The bad boys pay no heed to young Addie’s (Katelyn Reed) warning, “You are going to die in there.” The boys whoop through the dusty rooms, demolishing the interior’s few remaining treasures with the bats, accompanied by the the sugary sweet voices of 14-year-old Patience and 11-year-old Prudence singing, “Tonight, You Belong to Me.” Just after, in the basement, the boys discover gruesome jars filled with monstrosities, including human infant body parts. Before they know what hit them, they meet their early ends in a grisly attack by a barely seen monster.
This opening to the pilot episode of “American Horror Story” forever enmeshes the 1956 Patience & Prudence song, representative of a decade of rosy-faced innocence, with a scene of unspeakable terror and death. Click here to watch.
In Ryan Murphy’s hit horror anthology show, crews have created creatures and sets to rival major motion pictures. Perhaps less noticed, the carefully selected music that accompanies many of its horrific (and occasionally humorous) scenes. So now that season 3 has ended, while waiting for news on next fall’s season 4, this article explores songs from the pilot episode for season 1, Murder House.
One of the most memorable “AHS” songs isn’t really a song but more a carefully orchestrated collection of mostly abrasive noises, titled “American Horror Story,” which accompanies the opening titles for all three seasons. Written by Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Charlie Clouser and sound designer Cesar Davila-Irizarry, the harsh and forbidding sounds prove perfect companions to images that tear and burn – of the aforementioned specimen jars, grim antique baby photos, broken glass and concrete – in the shadowy basement of the Murder House. Click here to watch what’s arguably the most haunting TV title sequence ever.
With ghosts of Troy and Bryan invariably popping up around the famed Murder House, psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) – oblivious to its horrid history – buys and moves into the house with his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) and their teen daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). During their first session, troubled teen Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) describes his Columbine-style murder fantasies to Ben, paired with Bernard Herrmann’s unsettling whistled tune “Twisted Nerve.” Click to watch.
Herrmann, best known for scoring Hitchcock films, including “Psycho,” composed “Twisted Nerve” for the same-titled 60’s psychological thriller starring everybody’s darling “Pollyanna” herself Hayley Mills (and also features Billie Whitelaw, who later played the Satanic nanny in “The Omen”). Click here to watch the scene. Daryl Hannah’s evil Elle whistles the portentous instrumental at the hospital in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” – click to watch – and the director also utilizes the tune as the ringtone for Rosario Dawson’s character in “Death Proof.”
The “AHS” pilot also features some lesser known but equally as evocative music. After Tate meets Violet, they compare scars to the mournful tune of Mirah’s “Special Death,” which begins with haunting music box notes (as used in many horror productions, including “Burnt Offerings,” “Candyman,” and “Samara’s Theme” from “The Ring”) and concludes with eerie vocalized, “La, la, las,” reminiscent of the “Rosemary’s Baby” theme. “Blood Gets Thin” by former British indie band Pete and the Pirates plays during Violet’s fight with Leah (Shelby Young) at Westfield High, and the elegiac “Flickers” by NYC’s Son Lux plays when Tate convinces Violet they should scare Leah.
PowerSolo’s rousing, rollicking “Baby, You Ain’t Looking Right” kicks in with the closing credits, working viewers up into a frenzy, stoked for the next episode. Just how did the previous couple die in the house? How will Ben react when he finds out his patient and his daughter have formed an alliance? What relationship do the neighbors Addie and Constance (Jessica Lange) have with the house? Is Ben the father of Vivien’s baby, or the guy in the rubber suit? Who is that guy? And just what is that monster in the basement? Just one episode and the plot’s already thicker than pea soup.
Check out tomorrow’s article, which explores more music from Murder House, the inaugural season of the fantastically imagined, technically near-perfect television experience that is “American Horror Story.”