FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 9: “Spooky Little Girl”
Directed by John Scott (Nip/Tuck)
Written by Jennifer Salt
* For a review of the previous episode, “Rubber Man” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Smoldering Children” – click here
Cannot get over or stop raving about the opening 1947 sequence for Episode Nine, “Spooky Little Girl”.
Not only is there a fabulous, brief cameo by Mena Suvari, she plays the well-known murder victim Elizabeth Short – otherwise known as being associated with the Black Dahlia case. The whole thing is macabre, as yet another naughty doctor seems to be taking up residence in Murder House, even after the debacle concerning the Montgomery family (Matt Ross & Lily Rabe).
Turns out, the man who killed Short and left her with that gruesome, wide, bloody smile, cut in half in a field, is the doctor in ’47 working out of the new Harmon home. Highly creepy stuff! I love how American Horror Story incorporates a lot of real life events into its DNA, which is an essence of the show even as time stretches on – each season seems to have something linking it directly with real history, whether it’s the story of Anne Frank and Project Paperclip from Season 2 – Asylum, or the Stevie Nicks angle in Coven during Season 3, there are plenty of instances where true life horror stories come into their own in episodes of this series. Another thing to love.
Poor Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) can’t seem to catch a break. Everyone she cares about and loves seems to be slipping away. Even her beefcake boyfriend who is lured into sex by living dead Hayden (Kate Mara). She actually does more to drive him away than to keep him. Constance wants a family so badly to try and make up for how the first one was screwed up beyond belief and recognition that she lashes out and everyone around her. That’s all she needs, but it clouds her vision.
After an argument with her, the boyfriend goes back for another round with Hayden. Unfortunately for him, Hayden needs somebody to take her aggression out on and he’ll be spending the rest of eternity in Murder House with all the rest of the ghosts and demons and spiritual presences. This show has a great streak of morals concerning cheating; all the infidelity gets punished, eventually somewhere down the line.
This cheater’s body gets a Black Dahlia treatment, tossed half cut into pieces in a field somewhere. Nasty, grim business.
At the same time, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) is confronted by Hayden’s sister Marla (Tanya Clarke), who believes he has something to do with her supposed disappearance. Then, out of nowhere, the ghostly Hayden shows herself. Naturally, inside the house – in La La Land, as she puts it herself – Hayden can do what she wants. Ben still doesn’t know the true nature of Murder House, so he believes she’s stalking him or playing games. Instead, she’s just another ghostly presence, a demon or spirit wandering around inside the walls of the Harmon home.
Then, even worse than Hayden, Ms. Elizabeth Short (Suvari) shows up, non-cut in half and without a giant bloody, sliced up smile. She needs a doctor to talk to, and certainly Ben can’t say no to a pretty face. There’s so much twisted stuff revolving around Dr. Harmon, it’s unbelievable. He’s constantly being seduced, and worst of all that now it’s mostly ghosts trying to lure him in; his wife hates him, which is clear and understandable, so the poor guy is susceptible to all this sexualised spirit influence around him.
Ben receives a call from the doctor, revealing his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) is having twins from two different fathers. Meaning she must have slept with someone else during the same ovulation cycle, something extremely rare. Though, we know this is most likely not intentionally the case, Rubber Man Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) did rape Vivien, or at least had sex with her under false pretence, and so we know what has actually happened. What this will do, though, is confuse Ben and send him into a spiral, believing his wife has given him ammunition to fight back saying “Well look what you did; I can’t be so bad” and using it as a way to justify and excuse his own unfaithful behaviour.
The story between Constance and her lost son Tate deepens in this episode. After Ben’s call from the doctor, Moira (Frances Conroy) lets Constance know about what happened to Vivien – that only one child in her womb was fathered by Ben Harmon. Constance confronts Tate; it’s obvious all she wants, above anything, is for him to get help. From his beginning as a troubled young child, she only wanted to help him. However, the older Tate became the more lost he wandered along the treacherous path of life. Now, he’s not simply a ghost, an entity, he is also a killer, a savage, a rapist. While Constance is no innocent herself in the long run, she certainly is nowhere near the level of Tate. I do pity Constance, in a way, because despite her own terribleness she seems to have had a truly tragic life.
Later in the episode, we come to discover it is in fact the ghost of Charles Montgomery who comes up with the solution for a dead Elizabeth Smart. Quite eerie and further plays into the history of the house. I like how this was the further explanation, as it would’ve been a throwaway to merely have the doctor at the start be the unknown Black Dahlia murderer. To have it be Dr. Montgomery, this adds an extra level of eeriness to Murder House and its long line of history involving murder and mayhem in Los Angeles.
Furthermore, he shows up again to help Hayden and the other ghosts get rid of Constance’s now deceased boyfriend. More of a wonderfully savage touch!
For all the idiotic stuff Ben Harmon has done, he genuinely at one point wanted to piece things back together. The house has twisted him, and everyone else inside/near it, beyond recognition. He thinks his wife is actually insane, that she has cheated on him, when it has been the haunted house in which they live making her seem that way. So there’s a part of me which pities Ben. Hard as he tried, failed as he might have at certain turns, there’s no hope whatsoever for him because the spirits in the house want him to feel a certain way, want him to act in a particular sense and do things they need done. There’s an end game, a long game, the house is playing and sadly for the family dynamic of the tragic Harmons, they are not included on the winning side. All that matters to them, the spirits and the living dead inside Murder House, is that they get the baby (now babies) inside Vivien, so that the lost mothers wounded by the house might have another chance at life, at love, at giving their lives to their children. Endless tragedy, it seems. A great part of why Season 1 has been so perfectly horrific in more than a superficial way.
What I loved is that finally in this episode Ben sees Moira as her true self – the older Frances Conroy. It’s a perfect moment, as she tells him that he’s finally “seeing this as they are” and he literally sees her for her true form. Amazingly poignant bit. Not heavy handed, it works in an eerie manner.
The end of “Spooky Little Girl” is especially creepy. We’re treated to a nice dose of that apocalyptic sort of religious feeling, as Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) visits Constance and they talk about the coming of the children to Murder House. Her story about the Pope’s box is unbelievably strange in the best sort of way, she recounts a story of The Room of Tears and how the box contains the supposed End of the World, describing how everything will come to a close. This all goes to speak to how Tate, a ghost, has impregnated a flesh and blood woman; Howard says this will spawn the Antichrist.
It is a really awesome little sequence to finish the episode. Personally, The Sentinel is one of my favourite horror movies; it’s an overlooked masterpiece of the genre from the late 1970s. I found this finale reminded me of something straight out of that film, particularly its opening sequence. Also has an Omen-ish vibe. Regardless of where its inspiration comes from in the end, I found this last piece to “Spooky Little Girl” to be one of my favourite moments out of the entire first season. It’s simply spooky, all there is to it.
Next episode is “Smoldering Children”, directed by Michael Lehmann (True Blood, Californication).