"American Horror Story: Hotel," 9 p.m. Wednesdays on FX
Two stars (out of four)
Anybody who travels knows what this is like: You book a room online, prepaid, then get there to discover that the website was misleading. You're nowhere near the promised attractions. the lobby is run down and shabby. and there's a bad smell in your room that no candles can eradicate. You plan a bad review on Yelp.
For the two young Swedish women who check into Los Angeles' Hotel Cortez in the Season 5 premiere of "American Horror Story" on FX, the disappointments are many. Desk clerk Iris (Kathy Bates) is rude. There's an odd child blocking the way to the ice machine. And there's ... something ... in the mattress.
Things go downhill steeply from there, both for the innocent blondes and for pretty much everyone else who has ever checked into the Cortez or even walked by on the street.
Beyond what's going on in the hotel, and it's horrific indeed, there's also a serial killer at work, with the Ten Commandments on his mind. When a couple having extramarital sex get nailed, Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) is called in. John has a tragedy in his own past; now, he's getting calls from the killer, making threats.
Meanwhile, in the Cortez penthouse, The Countess (Lady Gaga) and Donovan (Matt Bomer, wearing guyliner) get dressed up and go to an outdoor movie. It's the 1922 German silent "Nosferatu," and they make new friends, although the friendship is short-lived.
The Cortez has kept its secrets locked away until now, although some will become in-your-face clear in the course of the 90-minute premiere. But things are about to change, as Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson), a famous fashion designer, has bought the hotel and plans to throw everyone out.
Sounds like scary fun, no? But creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who co-wrote the premiere, aren't satisfied with scares. Instead, they want to horrify and disgust their audience, pushing well into the realm of slasher porn as perversions, sexual and otherwise, bleed into pleasure killings. (Especially disturbing: Children are at risk, or already beyond saving.)
Disturbing us is the point, of course, but good horror stories go beyond grotesqueries and gore. "American Horror Story: Hotel" may do that, but I won't know; I don't plan to spend another night there.