REVIEW: American Horror Story: Hotel – ‘Checking In’

The first episode of the highly anticipated fifth installment of anthology series American Horror Story – this year dubbed Hotel after the titular Hotel Cortez – aired last night (October 7th) and did not disappoint. Between the gore, the glamour and the Gaga, Ryan Murphy has carefully crafted a world within the Hotel that feels more detached from the outside world than Elsa Mars legs.

The episode opened with two Swedish tourists checking in to the hotel to find a creature stitched into their mattress. Once moved into room 64 by Kathy Bates‘ Iris, one of the girls drifts off into a nap, and wakes to find two mysterious young boys dressed in full black and white, feasting on her friend’s blood. This is out first introduction to The Countess‘ (Lady Gaga) creepy, overly-obedient children, who she kidnaps and turns into hemophiliacs like herself.

John Lowe (played by Wes Bentley), a detective for LAPD, is investigating a series of twisted murders around the city of angels, with an adulterous couple found on a bed with an arrow impaling the girl and the man’s eyes and tongue cut out – while still painfully alive. In one of the most twisted and sickening parts of the episode, it’s revealing that something else was impaling her; the man had been dosed up with viagra and they were super glued together by their genitalia. John is not only afflicted by dealing with these murders on a daily basis and receiving threatening calls from the culprit; while visiting Santa Monica Pier for a family day out, his son Holden was snatched by what can only be assumed to be the Countess or her boyfriend-cum-henchman Donavan (Matt Bomer). With his marriage in tatters, and a string of clues leading him to the Hotel Cortez, he checks into the ominous room 64.

Donovan and The Countess’, who are a toxic couple with a bloodthirsty drive for sex and replenishment, enter into a 6-minute scene set to the music of She Wants Revenge’s Tear You Apart. They both prepare to leave their (surprisingly lavish) suite, with Countess Elizabeth ensuring she doesn’t leave without a line of cocaine, while Donavan’s perfect idea of a line rests along his eyes in black kohl makeup. One ready, they travel down to an outdoor movie theater, appropriately situated in a cemetery, and feast their eyes upon an eager young couple before The Countess beckons them by gesticulatively suggesting oral sex and they head back to the Cortez. So ensues a passionate, almost choreographed sequence in which Gaga and Bomer are fully believable as their sex drive and blood lust take over. The result? A raunchy session of dry-humping followed by a blood bath as the pair use the blades protruding from their single gloves to slit the throats of their victims. After Donovan complains about the mess, the Countess simply says – in possibly her best and most understated line so far – ‘call housekeeping.’

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Hypodermic Sally, played by American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson, is a ghost who’s soul is tied to the hotel after Iris pushed her out of a high rise window in the mid-90s, following the discovery that she was supplying her son with drugs. She is arguably one of the most disturbing characters so far introduced in the series. She appears to be working with the main monster featured in the first episode, the faceless Addiction Demon, who rapes Max Greenfield‘s character Gabriel with a rotating dildo, after he begins injecting once he checks in to the Hotel Cortez. ‘Tell me you love me,’ purrs Sally into his face as Gabriel tries to control his screams to stop the assault. Truly a horrific moment that shows how truly psychotic Sally has become in the afterlife.

And as if the episode wasn’t already packed full, we meet Will Drake, portrayed by Cheyenne Jackson, he is a hugely successful fashion designer from New York, that makes a bid on the Hotel through Marcy – the realtor from the very first episode of AHS. He and his son take a look around the hotel, and as Donovan gives him a tour that we are yet to see the result of, the Countess and Drake’s son take a stroll down the corridor, where she shows the young boy her secret room where she entertain’s her ‘children.’ In there, we see Holden (John’s son), as well as a slightly older girl and other young boys. One of the boys invite Will’s son to join him playing and he accepts – does this mean Elizabeth will now turn him into one of her obedient, vampiric slaves? Or will his fate be saved by his father’s new-found ownership of the hotel?

HQ SCREEN CAPTURES – EPISODE 1 – ‘CHECKING IN’ 

   

As far as Horror Story opening episodes go, this is, in my opinion, the best thus far. Sure – the episode may not have been the most cohesive the show has ever seen, and it may have felt disjointed and surreal from the constant moving shots and fish-eye lenses, but I feel that is because of the lead character of the series being introduced. Not the Countess, oh no. The Hotel itself. It’s clear that every plot line introduced so far is the result of this building with unease at it’s heart, and it’s exhilarating to think how this will be explored in the future. Diving straight into the plot, Ryan Murphy is taking a risk by leaving much of the set-up and explanation to next week’s episode (where The Countess‘, for example, will have scenes that exist simply of another character quizzing her on her origin, the effect of her hemophiliac virus, and a flashback to her earlier life) but it for sure adds pace that Freakshow seemed to lack.

Lady Gaga‘s acting so far is brilliant and shows that she is the modern-day definition of a triple threat. While she has seldom delivered lines thus far, her hint of a transatlantic accent creates an air of intrigue about her character’s past and prevents the character from becoming a caricature of the star’s own self and celebrity image. The next episode seems to focus a lot more on The Countess’ back story and will therefore provide more opportunity for the diva to showcase her talent for acting. Regardless, it’s safe to say that Countess Elizabeth‘s blood lust and sheer relentlessness provides a refreshing role as ‘lead’ and could well be the biggest and best part of the season, and exactly what the show needed as salvation.

Check back next week to see what we thought of the second episode of American Horror Story: Hotel, ‘Chutes & Ladders‘, which airs October 14th at 10pm on FX in the US.