FX’s American Horror Story
Season 9, Episode 1: “Camp Redwood”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a recap & review of previous seasons, click here.
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Mr. Jingles” – click here
1970. A trio of young people are fooling around in bed at summer camp when they hear the jingle of keys. They dismiss it and keep going, but someone’s watching in the darkness. Soon, they’re all murdered. The killer takes an ear to add to his collection, leaving behind the slaughtered corpses of all the young people at the camp.
Note: AMAZING opening credits sequence! So perfectly 1980s for this year’s theme.
Xavier Plympton (Cody Fern) is an aerobics instructor. In his class are Montana Duke (Billie Lourd), Ray Powell (DeRon Horton), Chet Clancy (Gus Kenworthy), Brooke Thompson (Emma Roberts), and others sweating hard to the workouts while some of lust after each other. Like Brooke— she has an eye for Chet. She’s new in town. She gets a crash course about Los Angeles from Montana.
Xavier’s later heard talking about a recent murder. He’s speaking of the Night Stalker, a.k.a Richard Ramirez. He meets Brooke, as do the other guys. She starts to hear about the plight of the “serious actor” in L.A. Xavier’s going to get out of town to avoid a potential murderous rampage by the Night Stalker. He’s taken a position as a camp counsellor, suggesting his friends do the same. Brooke’s staying in the city to take classes, though they all tell her she should go.
That night, Brooke goes back to her apartment. She goes to sleep, waking up to a man on top of her asking for jewellery. She leads him to it and he asks her to “swear on Satan” that it’s all she has, which she does obediently. Yes, she’s being attacked by the Night Stalker himself. “You‘re gonna be famous,” he tells her.
But she fights back with a frying pan, alerting people next door who call the cops.
So, off Brooke goes to the camp job with her new friends. They pack up a van, along with Ray’s “blow and weed,” to head into the woods. We get more about the characters, like Chet— his drug use got him disqualified from Team USA. A nice use of “eat my shorts” comes up. Not necessarily a reference to Bart Simpson. It’s more likely Rick Dees.
On the way, Xavier pulls off the road for a pit stop. He uses a payphone to check his messages, getting an ominous one from an angry man. A guy cleaning their windshield, Roy (Don Swayze), warns against going to Camp Redwood: “You‘re all gonna die.” He’s the obligatory Crazy Ralph of this story.
And like in all proper slasher tales, these young people don’t listen. Not a great omen when they run over a hiker (Lou Taylor Pucci) on the road. Xavier tells everybody they have to make sure nobody admits to hitting him when they take him to camp. The hiker’s scared about something else entirely, though.
At Camp Redwood, the owner— Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman)— greets them. They take the hiker to the infirmary and Rita (Angelica Ross) has a look at him. Of course Xavier keeps making them all tow the line that they found him at the roadside. In the meantime, Margaret shows her counsellors around, explaining the rules. They meet Chef Bertie (Tara Karsian), who’s been there for many years. She mentions “one bad apple” ruining everything years ago. Margaret doesn’t like “the decadence of our era” and she’s quite religious, referencing Charles Keating among other things.
And thus the stage is set for sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and SLASHER MADNESS!
By the fire that night, Xavier and the group sit together. Rita joins them for a cigarette and talks of the craziness back in L.A. She goes on to mention what happened 14 years ago. She talks about Mr. Jingles, a.k.a Benjamin Richter— a Vietnam veteran who “liked to kill.” That’s where he got a penchant for lopping off ears to keep as trophies. The only job he could get after coming home was at the camp. He eventually murdered 10 people. Margaret turns up to shut down the little party. She says only 9 died, and she’s got a scar to prove she survived that very massacre. She believes God saved her. Margaret was a star witness against Mr. Jingles, helping to put him away for good.
None of them realise their wounded hiker is missing an ear, either.
“But I can’t escape him”
Brooke goes to check on the hiker. He tells her the phone lines aren’t working, and when he finds out he’s at Camp Redwood he starts to freak out. Brooke goes back to her friends and tells them what he said, warning her to leave. Then they meet Trevor Kirchner (Matthew Morrison), the camp’s activities director. He’s a dude bro type, unconcerned about the rules Margaret’s laid down. He’s in the credits of Three’s Company and some other stuff. He also has a ridiculously big dick that bulges out of his tight shorts, supposedly so much it ruined the original Jane Fonda workout video. He and Montana go swimming afterwards, when she expresses her horniness, and they get sexy in the water. She notices a truck across the lake in the shadows, and then a storm drives them inside.
At a psychiatric hospital, the storm’s knocked out power. All the inmates and patients are outside in the rain. Worse, Mr. Jingles has gotten loose from his cell. We see 3 hours prior when an orderly checked on Richter, finding him hanging from a makeshift noose in his cell. But Jingles was very much alive. He strangled the orderly to death, giving him access to keys. He unlocked all the cells, beginning a night of terror. Now, Dr. Hopple (Orla Brady) surveys the cell looking for clues. She finds a newspaper article about the camp reopening. This whole aspect is great homage to Halloween, in a season that will definitely be filled with more references to slashers, both well-known and obscure, knowing Murphy and Falchuk. Poor mechanic Roy is the first to die, crushed under a car he’s working on. Then he has his head stomped in.
Chet’s “roid rage” gets the better of him. He accidentally cuts Roy’s hand with a beer can. Roy goes looking for bandages, along with Brooke. She heads to the infirmary, discovering the hiker’s dead, pinned to the wall like a Michael Myers victim. She sees a hooded figure outside. She rushes off through the woods, perfectly cut against the others watching a Olympic relay on TV.
Slashers— American as apple pie!
When Brooke gets back, she’s a mess, yelling about Mr. Jingles. The guys go outside shining a flashlight, but nobody’s there. She tells them the hiker’s dead, missing an ear. Rita takes them over to the infirmary: no body. It makes Brooke look crazy. They assume she got a “contact high” from their weed. In the night, Brooke hears a phone ringing, even though the phone lines are supposed to be down. She goes to the payphone and answers it. She hears the jingling of keys again. Not only that, it looks like Ramirez may have actually followed her all the way to camp. Big time UH OH.
“Something bad is going to happen”
Fucking fantastic beginning episode for this season! Slashers are lots of nasty fun. Can’t wait to see not only how the plots play out, but also how many references and homages they’re going to fit into this season. There are already several. No doubt there’ll be plenty more as we go.
“Mr. Jingles” is next time.