Dave Blass on Mark Worthington, production designer, “American Horror Story”

The production design of FX’s “American Horror Story” hits just the right notes in the right order to create the foreboding setting for a story that moves from macabre to gruesome within the first 15 minutes.

Envisioning an elegant and yet classically creepy mansion was the challenge for Mark Worthington and his talented crew. The archetype of the haunted house is as old as cinema, with as many conventions as there are examples. But Worthington breathes new life into the time-honored genre.

Layers of Victorian-era woods and stained glass windows give ominous hints of the architecture of evil, while also making the home seem inviting for its opportunistic new residents. The warmth of the house is the downfall of the characters, as you can’t help but cringe each time they walk into a space so inviting, but where doom hangs in every room like an invisible fog.

There are too many shadows, too many corners, too many dark places where things can lurk. The house tells a haunting backstory with visceral layer upon layer. Coffered ceilings loom overhead, walls of cabinets wait to spring open on their own, and enormous shadow-filled attics are all poised for a demonic story to play out.

Great production design tells a story without a word of dialogue — the environment conveys the tale to the viewer. In this show each room holds a secret waiting to be told, and suspense is expressed through architecture in an ominous way.

There’s an instant eerie sensation when a door opens to a long stairwell into a dark basement, or a figure stands in an elongated hallway with a door at the end. It’s a fear that has become part of our collective subconscious and one that Worthington uses with deft skill to paint the walls of “American Horror Story.”

In an era of reimagining classics, it’s refreshing to see an artist embrace the past rather than try to reinvent it.

Dave Blass’ credits include “Justified” and “Cold Case”

Tightening the definition
Designers on design
Production designers and art directors comment on the ADG-nominated work of their peers
John Muto on Dante Ferretti | Greg Grande on Jefferson Sage | Norm Newberry on Stuart Craig | John Sabato on Patti Podesta | Ken Averill on Christopher Glass | John Shaffner on Steve Bass | Dave Blass on Mark Worthington | John Iacovelli on James Yarnell