What happens when you combine cinematic and thematic elements from Friday the 13th (1980), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and Halloween (1978)? You get the first episode of American Horror Story: 1984, the latest installment of the FX horror anthology created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk that aired September 18th, 2019. Sub out another adjective and another geographical location for Camp Crystal Lake and you’ve got Camp Redwood, the title of the episode and the site of a series of grisly murders by a killer whose many rings of keys gave him the name Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) and the setting for the cast of camp counselors looking to get away from LA for a few weeks, make some money, and do lots of drugs in the meantime. Not only that, but lead Brooke (Emma Roberts) is on the run from an attack by another killer currently stalking Los Angeles named the Night Stalker (i.e, actual serial killer Richard Ramirez, played by Zach Villa).
AHS: 1984 “Camp Redwood” delivered nostalgia, camp (both literal and figurative), and gore in epic proportions and set the stage for what’s sure to be a fast-paced and gruesome season ahead. Fans of the aforementioned trio of horror classics will be satisfied with several plot points in the first episode, including a killer returning to terrorize a campsite clearly in the vein of Jason Voorhees, a car accident in which our young camp counselors hit a pedestrian (later referred to as “the Hiker“) that runs into the street out of nowhere and proceed to lie about what really happened to him, a breakout from a maximum security insane asylum that is almost a shot for shot remake of the scene in Halloween (1978) when Dr. Loomis pulls up to find that Michael Myers has escaped and released all of the inmates with him. A mechanic also faces an untimely death before his car is stolen by said escaped inmate, again very Halloween (1978).
The first episode focuses on counselors Brooke, Montana (Billie Lourd), Xavier (Cody Fern), Chet (Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy), and Ray (DeRon Horton), as well as camp owner/director Margaret (Leslie Grossman), nurse Rita (Angelica Ross), and phys. ed. instructor Trevor (Matthew Morrison). Brooke meets the gang of edgy young adults at a classic eighties establishment: an aerobics class. They unsuccessfully try to convince her to join their summer plans, but when she is attacked in her apartment that evening by the Night Stalker who almost kills her before a neighbor intervenes and calls the police, she decides it’s time to get away from the city. On the drive up to the campsite, she remains haunted by the Night Stalker’s final threat to her life as he ran out of her apartment.
It’s revealed about halfway through the episode that Margaret, a devout Christian, was the star witness/victim when Mr. Jingles was tried because she was present and attacked during his cabin killing spree. She was the only survivor of the massacre but not without a cost- she lost an ear to the killer, who takes an ear from each of his victims as some sort of grisly trophy. Margaret has purchased the campsite, which had been abandoned after the murders, to create something good out of such a dark event. It becomes apparent very quickly that despite her holy intentions, Mr. Jingles is back with a vengeance. Brooke believes she sees Mr. Jingles after a fight breaks out between the counselors and she’s separated from the group in the middle of a dark, stormy night in the woods. She flees from the killer and the menacing sound of his key rings after encountering the bloody, mutilated body of the Hiker pinned to the back of the nurses cabin door, but when she races back into the cabin to get the group to investigate, there’s no sign of either Mr. Jingles or the body of the Hiker.
The first episode of AHS: 1984 also reminded this viewer of the real-life Keddie cabin murders. The Keddie cabin murders, much like the fictional Camp Redwood, took place on a campsite in northern California in 1981 (also tying into the eighties theme of the season). The murders took place in cabin 28 on the Keddie resort, much like the opening scene of the first episode of AHS: 1984 shows us a murderer, later identified as Mr. Jingles, killing almost all the campers in a cabin at Camp Redwood. Classified as a quadruple homicide, the murders of Glenna Susan Sharp, John Sharp, Dana Wingate, and Tina Sharp remain unsolved to this day. It’s rumored that The Strangers (2008) was inspired by these murders, and I would contend that AHS: 1984 might be drawing some inspiration from this tragic cold case as well.
As you can probably tell, episode 1 kicks off the season with a bang. So much action is packed into the episode, which wastes no time in exposition. It’s an exciting jumping off point for the rest of the action and a perfect transition from summer to spooky season. With two killers on the loose, stay tuned for next week’s installment of AHS: 1984 on September 25th at 10pm on FX.