FX’s American Horror Stories
1×03: “Drive In”
Directed by Eduardo Sánchez
Written by Manny Coto
* For a recap & review of 1×02, click here.
* For a recap & review of 1×04, click here.
Bob Ross is teaching painting on a computer screen while two young people make out on the bed nearby. This is Chad (Rhenzy Feliz) and Kelley (Madison Bailey). He’s pressuring her to have sex when she clearly isn’t ready yet. He says it’s “not normal” to go out for six months and not have sex. Not cool, dude! She tries to be nice about it, when he brings up a previous relationship. She decides to leave instead of sticking around to be talked to like that.
We see Chad with his friends, talking about girls. One kid says the way to get women turned on is “fear.” Chad gets the suggestion from his friends that he should go to a drive-in with Kelley, since drive-ins are coming back in style now. They also talk about a cursed film called Rabbit Rabbit that provoked audiences into attacking each other viciously. They say the film “made people crazy.” Apparently there’s a showing of the film coming up. Is the legend just an urban legend? Or, is it real?
Of course Chad goes home and watches videos about the legendary film. He sees one of Tipper Gore (Amy Grabow) giving hard to director of Rabbit Rabbit, Larry Bitterman (John Caroll Lynch). A bit too much namedropping in this episode already, like Fangoria and Dread Central. Just heavy handed in the dialogue. But, it’s a fun concept for an episode already. Especially with Bitterman attacking Tipper in the midst of their hearing. It’s always fun when there’s some pseudo-history used in American Horror Story, so it’s clear American Horror Stories is doing some of the same kind of thing.
I also love that American Horror Stories is super queer. “You‘re scared of the dick” is a fantastic, unforgettable line from Dee (Ben J. Pierce). Meanwhile, Chad apologises to Kelley for the way he acted. Again there is some TERRIBLE dialogue here with Chad saying he should “probably be cancelled for life“—hey, guys, young people don’t actually talk like this! Anyway… Chad invites Kelley to go see the showing of Rabbit Rabbit.
At the drive-in, Verna (Adrienne Barbeau) is stressed out because they don’t actually have the film print quite yet. Outside, a woman (Naomi Grossman) protests the showing, saying she was there when the film first played and she saw what happened: “This movie‘s cursed!” And it doesn’t stop anybody. Most people assume it’s a publicity stunt, and Verna lets the woman stay there because it adds a little flare and mystique to the show. People are piling into the parking lot, ready to see the supposedly cursed film. The print finally arrives, when the protester woman calls Chad over trying to tell him what happened in 1986, all the violence she witnessed.
The guy delivering the print to Verna sounds awful familiar, surely Bitterman himself. Verna name drops Kubrick to show she knows what she’s up to behind the reels. Either way, the show’s ready to begin and the crowd are prepared to see a wild horror film. Dee’s busy going down on a boy they like while the movie starts playing, though they don’t miss out from watching the screen. Same with Kelley, who makes out with Chad but takes a few looks when she’s able to get a glimpse. Verna watches the film play from the booth. And like everyone else, she’s deeply affected.
While the reels plays on, the protester lady sneaks up into the booth.
Except the violence has already started in the parking lot. Up in the booth, too. Verna stabs the protester in her remaining eye before rushing after her young co-worker. Dee proceeds to bite off their date’s dick in the car, while Chad and Kelley get attacked before she tries to drive them out of there. Dee hops on the car’s hood which sends it crashing into the drive-in’s building. Kelley and Chad make a run for it, just as hordes of insane, rabid moviegoers come after them. They manage to get inside, though they find all the violence Verna left in her wake. They also don’t have their phones.
Outside there’s nothing but carnage.
Soon, Verna’s back inside, attacking the young couple. Chad and Kelley fight her off as he beats her to death with a film reel. A brutal moment, albeit one of self defence. Chad then stops the film from playing, though he passes out after that. He’s out for several hours when he comes to, thankfully with Kelley safe and sound. Seems the crazies mostly ran off somewhere. Now Chad wants to call the cops, but Kelley doesn’t think it’s worth it, considering there’s “another screening.”
This means they’ll have to track down Bitterman to prevent that from happening.
When Chad and Kelley try to get out of there, they come upon Chad’s best buddy Quinn, transformed into a terrifying, rage-filled creature. This leads to Chad having to stab his friend, killing him. Traumatising, regardless if it had to be done. It only makes Chad resolved to hunt down Bitterman so they can prevent this from occurring again. Eventually the pair come to a trailer in the desert with a Rolls Royce parked out front. Inside, Bitterman’s watching a news report about the drive-in massacre. He’s surprised to find Chad and Kelley in his trailer. He says there’s no other print left, this was meant to be the final screening. But he loves the thought of the massacre; thrives on it, really. He’s thrilled by his “cinematic happening” and the results of its horror. He talks about William Friedkin’s use of subliminal imagery in The Exorcist as an inspiration. He wanted “the recipe” to inducing absolute fear in his audience. A legitimate mad genius. Great flashback shows us how everything started with his editor chopping off her own fingers. This was the birth of Bitterman’s hopes for true terror.
Neither Chad nor Kelley care for Bitterman’s bullshit. Kelley shoots the director in his knees and they interrogate him, looking for the original. Chad finds the original print in a canister, putting the reels on the stove’s burners to light them up. They leave Bitterman inside the trailer to burn alive with his film. He wails away about his legacy while the trailer’s consumed in flames. And what else is there to do now but go home and bang? That’s what Chad and Kelley are doing, anyway.
Meanwhile, it looks like Rabbit Rabbit has made it onto Netflix. Oh, my. Bitterman’s last hurrah.
A fun, wild episode. A few missteps in terms of dialogue, otherwise it’s awesome.
Sanchez does good stuff here; I always love seeing anything he directs.