While Ally tries to escape the cult with Ivy and their son, things only get more devious.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 5: “Chapter 5”
Directed by Nelson Cragg
Written by Akela Cooper
* For a review of Chapter 4, click here.
* For a review of Chapter 6, click here.
Where does the nightmare go from here?
Edward Philippe Mott – undoubtedly related to Dandy Mott from Season 4 – is the one who built the Big Shaker House, the house where Shelby and Matt Miller (Lily Rabe & André Holland) experienced their personal nightmare. We get flashes of this Mott, as a historian tells us about the old property.
And who is it that plays Edward Mott? In a dramatic re-enactment (remember this well; this re-enactment business has a purpose), Evan Peters plays the man himself.
The historian tells us Mott had severe social anxiety. So he went out into the woods to build himself a home, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Even during the building process, things got strange. Like they would. Most interesting is that Mott had the house mostly to be with his homosexual lover, away from his family. He’s got lots of other things going on, though. Mott is gay; no big deal. It’s his madness I care about. Before the house starts fucking with him he’s already a bit insane.
Then the haunting begins. Poor Edward, he finds his paintings destroyed. The very things he’d only recently rambled about while in the tub with his lover. He interrogates his staff, not getting any of the answers he wanted. He locks them away like animals. That house is bringing out the worst qualities in him. “Do not judge me,” he tells his lover – a black man – who he also points out is only a servant. Harsh, dude. Fucking low.
Finally, in the night Edward hears sqeuals, noticing a fire outside. It’s Thomasin White (Kathy Bates) and her rowdy band of settlers. They do him in, stabbing a pike through his chest before setting him ablaze. Of course the poor servant gets the blame. They even find the other servants down in the cellar, only starved skeletons left. A truly, unbearably nasty history. Real estate nightmare.
With Thomasin right outside the house where we last left the Millers, Shelby and Matt (Sarah Paulson & Cuba Gooding Jr.) wait at their window, calling 9-11. Ambrose White (Wes Bentley) calls out to them about a “merciless reckoning.” The couple try to enact a plan to escape, although splitting up is never good; at least not for the victims of horror. And when Flora (Saniyya Sidney) gets snatched up by a terrifying, ghostly figure that scampers away on all fours, nothing is looking good for anybody. Then the fucking Pig Man shows up, the dead hunters. All the ghosts and ghouls come out to play, commanded by Thomasin and her power. From nowhere comes Mott, leading the Millers into a tunnel downstairs; is he on their side, or that of The Butcher? “I will keep her from killing you, no more, no less,” explains Edward. He wants solitude. Too many souls kicking around in the house. Y’know, practical ghost shit.
Side note: check out the effects on Peters’ eyes as he moves the torch around, very cool.
Out in the woods after Mott leaves them, the Millers and Flora try to find a way elsewhere, but surprise, surprise – they’re stopped, bags over their head and knocked out.Waking up, they’re at the farm where the feral boys were found. Elias Cunningham (Denis O’Hare) is on a table, bleeding, in terrible fucking shape. He tells Matt: “Mama took my leg.” He warns to leave, before she comes back. Mama Polk sounds like a real butcher in her own right. And Mama, she turns up again: it’s Frances god damn Conroy, baby! She’s as bad ass as ever, trying to serve up a bit of questionable jerky. Oh, you know what it is. A little bit of Elias. To boot, he’s bad meat. BAD MEAT! BAD MEAT!
The head smash here is one of the greatest. Ever. Some legitimately enviable practical effects work. Kudos to the technical team here because this is awesome, in the grisliest horror way possible. JUST. WOW.
Anyway, Mama’s kin made a pact with The Butcher around “200 years ago.” She needs new blood each year. Their family helps, now and then. The crops are the whole deal, so that keeps them going. But cannibals is cannibals; they like doing their thing. Problem is the hillbilly Polks are upset about their feral children being taken away. Mama keeps calling Shelby “sweet meat” and that’s pretty creepy.
Lee (Angela Bassett) got stuck talking to the police, due to Shelby cluing them into her possibly having something to do with Mason’s death, Flora gone. Of course we know the truth, but none of them know what’s been going on back at the Miller place and the Polk farm.Lots of blood tonight! As the Polks take Shelby, Matt, and Flora who knows where, Matt takes advantage, sending a shotgun blast into the cab, as his wife puts one of the men over the truck’s pan into the road. But where can they go?
In the forest they hide. Meanwhile, Lee knows something isn’t right. Mama and her remaining kin take the Millers out to subdue them until they can get to The Butcher. Then Mama goes ahead and nearly chops Shelby’s foot clean off. So. Brutal. This episode has really brought its A-Game in terms of gore.
They’re brought back to the house, again. The Butcher and her colony waiting for blood. Flora is being readied for sacrifice. When Lee arrives, the policeman takes off on her; what a bitch! She’s left to try saving her family on her own. From nowhere, Ambrose smashes his mother with a block of wood, grabbing hold to her and puling her into the fire with him, as they burn alive. Mott frees the Millers, as Lee flies in to save her girl from the Pig Man; to save them all.So that takes us to the end of the story at the house. The Roanoke Nightmare is over, right? Oh, I doubt that.
Shelby has recurring nightmares, long after their experience. Nothing can quite that it away. “We escaped with our lives that night, but I never completely got over it. I‘m not sure I ever will,” the real Shelby explains. And that makes a lot of sense to me.
How do you think the re-enactments will play into the overall season arc? I feel the actors playing the parts are going to be affected by their roles in the re-enactments, in how you always hear about plagued movie productions. I see the actors themselves being haunted further later on. Who knows. I hope it’s a nice surprise either way.
Excited for Chapter 6!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 4: “Chapter 4”
Directed by Marita Grabiak
Written by John J. Gray
* For a review of Chapter 3, click here.
* For a review of Chapter 5, click here.
In the talking head interviews, Matt (André Holland) relates how Shelby (Lily Rabe) was pissed after supposedly seeing him having sex with a woman in the woods. During the reenactments, Shelby (Sarah Paulson) confronts Matt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) until he breaks down: “It‘s like a part of my brain was cut out.” She comforts him, though the real Shelby affirms that she knew there was something not right, at all. What she saw was real.
That night Shelby sees the Pig Man. And he is also very real. Matt wrestles with him briefly before the couple get away. They’re saved by Dr. Elias Cunningham (Denis O’Hare), from out of nowhere. He uses the “Croatoan” spell, shouting it and dispelling the creature. But warns: “He‘ll be back.”
So Dr. Cunningham tells us about Croatoan. How it was left when Roanoke Colony disappeared. Really, it’s blood magic. Spooky. The doctor quickly relays that he’s the so-called guardian of the house, trying to make sure people know about its history. Matt’s eager to kick him out, although Shelby has seen the Pig Man before. Through the craziness, she believes Elias. In the basement, he shows them some of his work: all the “paranormal activity” that’s occurred in and around the house. Essentially, a history of horror and torture concerning various families that were unfortunate enough to have bought the house over the years. Like the Chens, who were taken by surprise once the Pig Man showed up. And once Thomasin “The Butcher” White (Kathy Bates) came by? Shit. Things got much, much worse. Cunningham tells Shelby and Matt about how even those nasty nurses were afraid of the place. The Butcher did them in good, too. Real medieval style. On and on and on the tales go. He mentions the “Dying Grass Moon” as being when the disappearances and murders take place.
Lee (Angela Bassett) is on the hook for her missing daughter, though Matt and Shelby wanted to get to the bottom of the whole Priscilla mystery. Something with which Elias can help. Lots of creepiness when Matt spies the strange woman (Lady Gaga) from afar. Shelby chases her until eventually getting lost and running into some hunters – the ones Dr. Cunningham told her about, who once stayed in the house and turned their guns on each other. Well, they’re still wearing those wounds. Quite graphically; dig it. Shelby didn’t, and tried using the Croatoan spell. Doesn’t work because of the lunar cycle, so says Elias. Then in the middle of the forest they see Flora with a bunch of ghosts (people who’ve died or disappeared in the house), the Pig Man, and of course Ms. Priscilla. A horn begins to blow soon. An arrow, or three, are plugged into the poor doctor. While the couple run off there’s no doubt we’ll see Elias again. I’d bet on it.At the house, Cricket Marlowe (Leslie Jordan) is ready to rock. They’re obviously ready to do whatever they can to get Lee’s daughter back. He tells them about talking to The Butcher. She’s pretty ready to rock, as well. Y’know, with the bloody moon rising and all. “I‘d kill for a Coke Zero right now,” Cricket says as he tries to get psyched up about what to do next. He takes off only to return hours later: “I met the bitch with the real power.” It’s that strange woods woman. She temporarily blinds him, puts a knife to his throat. Tricky lil’ Marlowe’s able to get himself out of it, after discovering a few things first. She shows him a vision. They’re in a cornfield. Hundreds of years ago. At the Lost Colony in Roanoke. This is where they came, to where the house now stands. They did terrible things, such as sacrificing little children; Cricket witnesses The Butcher smash a girl to death with a rock. Yikes. Her own son Ambrose (Wes Bentley) wasn’t pleased with the new path, under tutelage of that strange woman, the woods witch. The Butcher then pretended to repent for her wrongdoings, only to kill everyone. Even her boy. She puts a cleaver right in his chest to boot before slashing anybody not fully dead yet right into the grave. She binds them to their new land with blood. Lots of it. Her own, too. She lets the woods witch cut her throat, “bonding” the whole colony to the land “for all eternity.” Cricket says he’s got the spell to clue everything up.
Yeah, right. In his Uber on the way home Cricket spies Flora running across the road. So he gets out of the car and now you know he’s not getting back to the Millers any time soon.
Matt and Shelby wait for him. But he never comes. Night comes, Matt’s feeling a little creeped out. Foolishly, he heads outside – though with a gun – after hearing things, seeing fleeting images. The sounds they draw him to the cellar out in the woods. He finds the witch there, waiting. “Debts must be paid,” she tells him. Oh, you know what she means! Don’t pretend. A little later Shelby wakes and can’t find her husband. He’s stuck down in the cellar, mesmerised by her story. She was a “descendant of the Druids and their Roman conquerors.” Instead of being a victim, she slaughtered the soldiers keeping her captive. Anyway, Matt was lured into the honey trap. Meanwhile Shelby’s laid siege to by The Butcher and her ghostly hordes, Flora in their grasp. When Matt finally tears himself out of the spell, they get some help from Priscilla; she manages to get Flora away from them.
But poor Flora, she’s frightened. Then outside they all see Cricket. The Butcher rips his guts open while the Millers watch from inside. The colony gets truly medieval on Mr. Marlowe. Absolute savagery.
Things aren’t looking good for Matt and Shelby. We know they survive it. Yet even in the real footage of their interviews – are so sure they’ll be safe in the near future?Love this season so much! Lots of creepiness, a bit of gore. Some strange oddities of various types. Can’t wait for more in the next chapter.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 3: “Chapter 3”
Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch (Chained, Surveillance)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of Chapter 2, click here.
* For a review of Chapter 4, click here.
With Lee’s (Adina Porter) little girl disappeared, nothing in that house is going well. In the talking head interviews, the real Lee tells us about the horrifying feeling involved with a lost child, as if it’s not hard to tell just from the tears running out of her. The dramatic reenactment shows us Lee (Angela Bassett), Matt (Cuba Gooding Jr.), and Shelby (Sarah Paulson) dealing with the aftermath. Not easy. The local police aren’t too keen about helping, though they do. But that house is getting a bad reputation, as well as those living in it. Either way, Lee does her best to help with the search, along with Matt and Shelby.
Then they come across the doll Lee’s daughter Flora had, torn to bits on the ground, with a circle of blood and pig’s head to go with it. Oh, the macabre finds in those terrible woods! Naturally they’re all terrified. A ways off they find a “skeleton of a farm” where there’s more strangeness. Such as the other portions of the doll, and a pig. When the trio go inside there’s only squalor with every turn of the head. Nobody home, either.
Out in the barn, though, they find something odd and sickly. Two mentally feeble young kids left sucking on a pig’s nipples, feeding. One of the most disturbing images yet.
So now the police believe there’s a bit of horror really going on. Finally. The two boys from the barn are useless for help. They only scream: “Croatoan!” The real Matt (André Holland) explains they now, in the present day, understand what they didn’t at the time – this was a warning. Other than that the search goes on, even if Lee and her ex-husband Mason (Charles Malik Whitfield) are losing hope, plus at odds. He is not buying what’s going on, believing it a power play on Lee’s part, a kidnapping to regain custody somehow. For her part, Shelby tries defending her sister-in-law. Matt mostly keeps quiet, not wanting to get too involved until Mason near punches his ex-wife to the ground. The real Shelby (Lily Rabe) points out the obvious: “We were all on edge.”
In the night, Matt gets a call about a body. Is it Flora’s, or no?
Certainly not. It’s her father, Mason – strapped to a symbolic wheel and burned to a crispy bit of charcoal. Holy fuck. That’s rough. Well, what’s troubling is that last night the cameras picked up Lee heading out for several hours at quite a suspicious time. Now Shelby wonders about her sister-in-law. Matt believes something is urging them to leave, and they ought to listen. Just then a stranger turns up: Cricket Marlowe (Leslie Jordan). He claims to have been called there to help find Lee’s girl. A psychic who’s often helped the FBI in tough cases. When Shelby checks him out, he appears legitimate. Then he can hear something, guessing correctly about Flora hiding in the upstairs crawlspace. He also finds a bonnet and knows about Priscilla: “She died in the late 1500s.” You know what this leads to, a good ole fashioned seance.
Cricket gets a typical seance happening, dripping some blood into a candle, all that stuff, y’know. He calls out to Priscilla, but instead gets the response of a “horrible woman.” She speaks to him and reveals herself as The Butcher (Kathy Bates). Cricket tries to ward her off. She then splits a candle in two in front of everybody making believers out of them. “I shall stack the bodies high as cord wood,” The Butcher claims. She tells them they are but trespassers. Screaming out “CROATOAN“, Cricket sends the spirit fleeing – the same word those deformed boys screamed, the same spell Violet tried using unsuccessfully in Murder House.Except now Cricket is asking for $25K to track down Flora. So Matt doesn’t want to deal with his bullshit con artist tricks. Cricket’s telling the truth, but sadly this is not the time for greed. Game changes once Lee has enough, pulling a gun to get her answers. Matt talks her down before tossing the psychic out. Before leaving he whispers something to Lee quietly: “Emily says hello. She wonders why you quit looking for her all those years ago.” Hmm, the first daughter of Lee. Secrets. The real Lee explains about having a daughter at seventeen. When Emily was four, Lee went into a store only to come back and find her daughter gone; never to be seen again. Turns out that Lee later sprung for the $25K to pay Cricket.
We learn more about The Butcher from Cricket. Her “Christian name” was Thomason White – wife to governor of Roanoke, The Lost Colony. She was in charge until her husband came home from a journey. Things were getting scarce, people around her worried. Of course Lee doesn’t care about any of that, but Cricket advises not all the public’s been told about Roanoke is true. Seems that back in Thomason’s day she was overtaken. Even her own son Ambrose (Wes Bentley) is forced to turn his back on her. They left her in the forest by herself as they travelled inward somewhere better. There, a strange woman (Lady Gaga) saves her, killing a wild pig that tries to kill her, before feeding Thomason a beating heart and asking for her soul.
And thus began the revenge of Thomas White, The Butcher. She tracked down the men who left her to die, chopping them down one by one. Ambrose is the last left, whom she asks to “beg for a reprieve.” It’s only the fact he is her son that saves him; this time. Where does this get us? Cricket tells that the colony then moved inland, right to where the big house stands today. Dun-dun-DUNNNN!Out amongst the darkness Cricket calls out to Priscilla, only finding The Butcher and her people. She entertains Cricket’s questions about Flora. A moment later, Lee even says they’ll burn the house down as long as they get her daughter back.
But out of nowhere, Matt disappears. In present day he says he can’t remember ever leaving. When Shelby finds him he’s in the trees having sex with that strange woman who visited The Butcher, animal skull on her head, and two hillbillies watching, masturbating. Good LORD! Present day Shelby looks appropriately torn up.
When Matt shows up he has no clue about what Shelby saw. She’s obviously going crazy, and he’s clueless. No time to worry about that, though. Lee’s being hauled off by the police, and Matt believes it was Shelby, which it was likely. Oh, this is about to get very, very paranoid from here on in.
Another stunningly creepy episode for this season. Loving My Roanoke Nightmare, plenty of eerie, juicy, wild, weird stuff going down!
Excited for “Chapter 4” and whatever it brings.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 2: “Chapter 2”
Directed by Michael Goi
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of Chapter 1, click here.
* For a review of Chapter 3, click here.
Last we left Matt and Shelby Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr. & Sarah Paulson in the “dramatic re–enactment“; André Holland & Lily Rabe in the documentary-style clips), things were bad. Shelby’s lost in the woods, finding a strange torch wielding cult (including Wes Bentley) and a man whose skull has been… partially removed. The strange woman Shelby thought she’d run over chants in the darkness (Kathy Bates), a group of people surround a man having a pigtail nailed to him. Terribly creepy little cuts.
After running and running, Shelby stops a moment. Only to find more madness. “I never thought about what could be in the wilderness, hiding in the dark,” the real Shelby recounts. We see Bates’ character lead a strange ceremony involving a man put up on a cross, a pig’s head stuck on his shoulders. Shelby takes off again until passing out in the middle of the road, where Matt’s sister Lee (Angela Bassett) finds her. Of course it all sounds mad to the police and everyone else. Poor Shelby. God damn. Ultimately she too believes it’s the “mountain men” trying to drive them out of the house.
A very bad, tragic misunderstanding.
We get to see more about Lee now, she and her ex-husband Mason (Charles Malik Whitfield) exchange their daughter Flora (Saniyya Sidney) for a while. Yeah, that’s a great fucking idea. Bring a little girl into a haunted house, or at the very least a house out in the country being laid siege to by hillbillies. Anyway, things kick off real quick once Lee finds Flora talking to somebody upstairs. Who? Oh, just somebody named Priscilla. Who isn’t there. A ghost? Or something more? Lee does the smart thing and pries a bit. “She said she‘s tired of all the blood,” Flora responds when questioned about Priscilla and her bonnet. When Lee literally finds one laying around, she gets spooked.
The great thing about any haunted house film or show is that part of everything is the human, psychological drama happening. There’s Lee and her girl, as well as Matt and Shelby, everyone with their own issues, taking things in differently.
That night more pig noises come from outside. Shelby takes action and insists on tracking them down, so Matt tags along. In the dark, out amongst the trees, they get separated. As one would expect from any horror. When they find each other, they come across a large stick figure with a pig’s head on top, roasting in fire; the skin and meat hanging below dripping into the flames. “This was beyond having a cross burned on your lawn. There was something demonic about it.” the real Matt speaks through voice-over.
With a bit more evidence this time, the police reluctantly look into what’s happening around the Miller’s place. Then a phone call comes through to Matt in the night. Except the phone’s disconnected. In the shadows, he finds an apparition: mean nurses tending to an old, frail and sickly woman named Margaret (Irene Roseen). They can’t hear Matt, but he watches on as one of the nurses tells their patient “You‘ve been warned” before blowing her brains out with a revolver. Now he’s seeing terrifying things, it isn’t only Shelby anymore.This incident sets things into a frenzy. The police, as suspected, can’t find anything to backup Matt’s story. He starts questioning the integrity of his brain, literally, after the incident in the city. Problem is the cops are gradually getting less interested in helping, which isn’t all that abnormal by real world standards.
When Mason shows up for Flora, they can’t find her. It used to be a game she played with them. This time, not finding her may have something to do with the house. They find Flora in a crawlspace talking to Priscilla, who disappears quickly. Apparently Flora tried to make a trade: a doll for their lives. Seems Priscilla is homicidal. And it’s not just her. Flora warns her parents: “They‘re going to kill us all. And save me for last.” Fuck. That’s eerie. Dad hauls his daughter off and things aren’t looking any better for Lee as a mother. Especially considering she started drinking afterwards, off the wagon again. She broke a few things. Shelby’s not happy to find knives in the ceiling, although we can guess that probably wasn’t Lee. Those nurses are creeping about, too. In her drunken state Lee sees a lot of things from pigtails to pig heads and it’s one bad hangover she’s headed for in the morning.
There’s a little girl hanging around outside to boot, which sends Matt and Shelby outside. They come to a trap door with a ladder leading below ground a ways; hmm. Inside are a number of things including tapes in a camcorder. On them is a man named Dr. Elias Cunningham (Denis O’Hare). He speaks frantically saying things like “I‘m not what I am” and generally in distress over “forces that will not let me sleep.” He speaks of the house and its forces wanting to kill him. He further assures the viewer he’s not crazy. Then Cunningham tells us of his book about two nurses – Miranda and Bridget Jane. Oh yes, you guessed which nurses. Twisted bitches. They killed people with specific names to spell out MURDER. Everything got even wilder as it went on turning into one of those epic, insane tales of true crime.More craziness to set the Millers off. Peeling away wallpaper, Matt finds the unfinished word MURDE written on the wall. Everything gets more real at this point. They keep on listening to Cunningham’s rambling tape. Doesn’t help any, except to frighten the shit out of them further. Scariest yet is when the tormented doctor heads inside the house with only his camcorder, night vision on, to guide him through the silent hallways. “Show yourself,” he yells to whatever’s in the dark. Before something, someone appears and startles him. And downstairs, a butcher’s knife with blood on it is stuck in the front door.
They just wanted to leave. Not so easy, though. No getting out of that mad house. Everything amps up a notch after Lee shows up with Flora again. When she’s clearly not supposed to have here there. More of that impulsive Lee behaviour already. Her brother tries to talk sense into her. Shelby tries talking the ex-husband down from calling the cops.
But can Mason get there to take his daughter away before anything worse happens? The little girl whom I assume to be Priscilla beckons Flora to come outside, out near the trap door in the field. Then she goes missing. The adults start to search frantically.
In a clearing, Lee finds her daughter’s yellow sweater at the top of a thin, ridiculously tall tree, its trunk looking almost stained with blood. They stand below, not sure what to do next.
And what can they do?Very pumped for “Chapter 3” next week. Some people keep complaining, and I have no idea why. I love the re-enactment stuff, it adds a fun twist to the show. I’m still feeling like there’s going to be an angle to all that. Just like My Amityville Horror had its drama, My Roanoke Nightmare is going to bring something with that faux-documentary posing as a real documentary. Mark my words.
Also, did you catch Lady Gaga in her brief appearance? She shows up a couple times early on. Very unnerving look to her character. Can’t wait for more, of everything!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 1: “Chapter 1”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of Chapter 2, click here.
This year’s theme? My Roanoke Nightmare. Delicious.
We open on a series of talking heads. Almost seems like an Amityville Horror sort of thing, too. My Amityville Horror is a documentary by the man who was a child during the supposed Lutz story, and this seems to mirror its style a bit.
Well, Shelby (Rabe) and Matt (André Holland) are a married couple. They tell us about their relationship, what they do for a living, so on. They talk about the “worst night” of the their lives when Matt is randomly knocked out by some gang of kids. He nearly died because of their foolish brutality. We see Sarah Paulson playing Shelby and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Matt, like reenactments of that night. Sadly, Shelby lost her baby on that evening. After the event they took a trip out into the wilderness: “We weren‘t city folks,” Matt says.
Out in the woods is an old farm house. A massive backwoods mansion. The house is cheap, just like the one the Lutz family fell into buying in Amityville. They snatch it up, now owning a surely haunted house. Shelby knew it from the beginning, in the back of her mind.
Strange banging in the night already starts Shelby and Matt off on a rough note. Interracial couple, rednecks kicking around. They’ve had troubles before, but were more than willing to fend any trouble off. Nothing’s too great. When Shelby’s home alone it starts raining teeth. TEETH! That’s pretty fucking unsettling. Of course no teeth are left when Matt gets back. To be expected when you live in a haunted Southern mansion. I mean, even the house, the big windows upstairs, the shape, it’s so reminiscent of The Amityville Horror. Not in a bad sense. Dig the homage.
One evening while cooking, home alone, Shelby sees two young women pass in the hallway, staring at her. Nice bit of tension, as she goes to check out where the women went. Finding nothing, only a suspenseful moment or two. Later when she relaxes in the hot tub outside until somebody holds her under. She calls Matt, who gets home quick, and the police, of course. Although the police don’t care much. Lots of paranoia swirling already. The couple aren’t sure anymore what to believe. So I LOVE the cinematography so far this season – the house especially looks ominous even in how the shadows cast over everything, big windows everywhere like eyes, darkness crowding around them.
Living in the house only gets worse, as you’d imagine. Weird noises get Matt out of bed and he finds a mutilated pig on the porch outside. He doesn’t tell his wife, he assumes it was the redneck boys who wanted to buy the house. So like a smart person, he hooks up lots of cameras and a nice security system hooked to his phone. Better yet, he gets his sister Lee (Angela Bassett) to go out there and look after Shelby. Lee was a bad ass cop, whose injury from getting shot on the job led her to taking medication a bit liberally. One day, really lit up on pills, she chased a serial rapist and her addiction was discovered. This got her fired, before wreaking absolute havoc on her personal life; she lost her husband, even her daughter. A sad, human tragedy.
Nothing changes in the house. Just because a security system’s in place and a former cop is looking after Shelby doesn’t mean whatever inhabits that house is going away. Paranoia runs mad now with another person kicking around. Only makes it easier for Shelby to confuse ghostly apparitions with Lee moving things, walking around, et cetera. An added interest is that Lee is still an addict. She asks Shelby not to drink, though I’m not sure how well that will hold up. On the other side is the fact Lee is also sceptical of her sister-in-law.
Then the house starts working on Lee. A lone wine bottle rolls across the floor at her, so she assumes it’s Lee being a bitch. “Why would you do something like that?” she questions Shelby. Now the accusations fly between the both of them. Meanwhile, Matt gets a text from his automated security: people in hoods carrying torches have headed through the gate up to the house. Oh, my. He tries to call the ladies, but they’re too busy arguing.
Suddenly, Shelby and Lee are interrupted by a videotape playing on the television, the strange noises from the night coming out – then on the tape appears a pig-headed man in the wilderness, squealing and bloody. Like anybody would be, the women are terrified. The hooded people with their torches get inside the house while the pair hide, and Matt rushes from a couple hours away to try getting home. When the ladies finally come out of hiding there are tons of creepy stick figures a la Blair Witch Project hanging about the house. Cops once more do nothing.
When Matt is back he watches the video, only getting angrier at the local hillbillies. He still doesn’t want to leave; Shelby takes off in the car thinking only “fight or flight.” On her way she hits somebody in the road (it’s Kathy Bates and she just walks it off). Shelby chases her into the nearby woods and gets lost. She winds up finding more of the stick figures that were hung in the house, which sends her running into a place where the earth below seems to breathe. Deeper in she comes across a man missing some of his scalp and skull, brain exposed. And in the darkness lurks a man holding a torch, among many others holding torches – Wes Bentley’s character. We’ll just have to wait and find out who he is, as well as what happens to Shelby out there.
I don’t care what any of these other horror sites are saying – they probably won’t continue watching after the first episode of the series, anyways. So fuck ’em. This was a great start to the new series. Fun references, eerie shots and sequences, a bit of character intrigue and gritty development. “Chapter Two” will likely be good fun.
Malcolm X. 1992. Directed by Spike Lee. Screenplay by Lee & Arnold Perl.
Starring Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Lonette MCKee, Tommy Hollis, James McDaniel, Ernest Thomas, Jean-Claude La Marre, O.L. Duke, & Larry McCoy. 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks/Largo International N.V./JCV Entertainment Networks/Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13. 202 minutes.
Sometimes I’m not a fan of Spike Lee as a public persona, simply because he doesn’t always think before speaking. However, I’m usually a fan of his work as a director. He has a big, wide mind and puts that to work usually tackling issues within the African American community. There are too many of his movies to talk of in an introduction, but suffice to say I do think he is a great director. One of the greatest in his generation, and certainly one of the best African American directors out there, period.
And that’s perhaps why Malcolm X is the film out of his catalogue which resonates most. It isn’t necessarily his greatest. Yet there’s such a poignancy and depth to the work Lee does to portray Malcolm X (played wonderfully by Denzel Washington), not just as a powerful black leader, but also as a human being; one not completely above judgement, one not perfect as some might idealise him. Furthermore, we’re able to get a look at the inside of the Nation of Islam, as far as fiction allows. Many prominent figures in the life of X and circling the NOI, as well as the Civil Rights movement in general, are included, from cameo roles such as Nelson Mandela, Al Sharpton and others, to the portrayals of characters like Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr.) and Thomas Hagan (Giancarlo Esposito), among more. The nearly three and a half hour runtime of Malcolm X may seem daunting. If you’re sitting down to watch a film, you’ve really got to be prepared for this one, though it’s beyond worth the effort. For me, the 202 minutes rushes by in a beautifully shot and directed, phenomenally acted story that jams a whole man’s life into one screenplay. Not everything gets covered, and there’s also plenty of story to be told after X’s assassination. Above all else, the character of X comes out, as does his struggle. For some this was a stepping stone to learning more about the Civil Rights movements that began raging during the 1960s and 1970s, and onward. I won’t ever forget my first time seeing this one. It’s a classic that stands the test of time, telling an important, crucial story about America during the early latter half of the 20th century, and examining one of the more turbulent times of race relations in the country’s history. Sadly, some of what happened back then is still much too alive and much too well in American society, and if X were still alive he’d likely still be as fiery and determined as ever.
The best aspect of Malcolm X is the fact Lee doesn’t attempt to make him above reproach. As a person, X was not perfect. Nobody is, so Lee never tries to make him out to be anything else. Some worried that he would include X’s life before he converted to Islam, and that’s exactly part of what makes this story interesting and intriguing. There’s no sense in ignoring that part of his existence. X himself never did ignore it, he always kept himself open and honest and raw. That’s a huge part of why many did, and still do(/always will), admire him. He was not like most other leaders. He didn’t admit every one of his faults – again, he is only human. But on the whole, he never shied away from his once criminal past, as that in a way led him to where he went after and helped him attain the enlightenment of Islam.
One of my favourite moments happens between Malcolm X’s speeches. A young white woman approaches him, admiring his work, and wondering what a white person without prejudice might do to help further his cause: “Nothing,” he says smiling before walking on. This is such a brief, powerful moment. I’m reminded of watching a recent documentary about the KKK, where they also spotlighted the Black Lives Matter movement and the shooting in Charleston; one scene shows a white woman, with a mixed race child, trying to march in solidarity, who’s told by a black woman to go home – she does in fact leave after, though the black lady gives her a hug and seemingly explains this is just not the time or place for her presence. There’s a stand-off element to X and his feelings for white people. Again, that changed once he went to Mecca on his Hajj, and then essentially transformed into a full blown humanitarian. Yet Lee never strays away from that inflammatory perspective X held towards white American society, and makes clear it’s simply about black people gaining back their power, or retaining what they have, not so much about hating white people. So in that scene where X shrugs the white woman off, it represents the idea that white people may want to help, but black people don’t need their help. They sometimes just need white people to stand back, let them do their thing and settle the issues on their own. That’s not always the case. Particularly in the time of X, there were tough things happening (not that there still aren’t in this day and age), so this was a stance he felt black society needed to take in those times of near racial war. Not long after X, once Elijah Muhammad was out of his life, he made clear the black community had to unite first, then they could work more on white-black relations. That scene with the white girl epitomises this concept.
I love the inclusion of the conk hairstyle at the beginning with Malcolm and his buddy Shorty. Not simply because African American culture at the time saw a lot of young black men styling their hair that way. What’s most interesting is that Malcolm X later spoke about conk and its double edged sword-like effect on the black community. On the one hand, conk – because of its threat of chemical burns and scarring, hair loss, et cetera – was seen as a ritual of manhood, going from a boy to a grown adult. On the other hand, he and other African American scholars came to see conk also as a way of erasing oneself in order to become more white. This latter idea is presented in the screenplay after the conk is put in, washed out, then Malcolm admires his new hair in the mirror and says to the men in the barbershop: “Looks white, don‘t it?” The whole concept of the conk plays into how we see Malcolm ultimately reject everything white. And yes, he said incredibly inflammatory things about white people. But things can change, people can. He didn’t turn into who he was later because of a hate for white people. Effectively, he hated injustice. The white man, the white culture, the white HAIR, it all comes down to representing the white world that he lived in and found himself subject to at every turn, on a daily, minute-to-minute basis. So the conk is simply one element of the white superstructure that Malcolm came to reject. A great inclusion on Lee’s part to show that. It could’ve been a basic scene that shows us where he came from, his beginnings. Instead the scene represents a microcosm of that influence white culture had (/still has) on black people that are brainwashed into feeling as if ‘white is right’ or any of that other sadness. Later when Malcolm is in jail, the conk becomes a sticking point when he’s confronted by an inmate who tries to help him, out of the life of a gangster and moving towards something better, which is the Nation of Islam; a huge influence in his life during prison, as well as afterwards. It may seem a superficial, brief moment in the 202 minute runtime of this epic biography. And it’s a drop in the pond, really. Although, it is highly significant to the overall themes surrounding the film and X himself as a Civil Rights leader.
This is one of the best movies of the 1990s, certainly one of Spike Lee’s best, too. Malcolm X is a dissection of a cult of personality. It is a film that attempts to get to the core of what X and his struggle represented. Without all the denial some insist on upholding in regards to X’s personal history, who he was, who he became. The movie is not totally perfect, though it is perfect where it counts. Likewise, Lee concentrates on not inflating X as a leader. Rather he takes an inclusive look at the man, not ignoring the good and the bad alike. He dives into the an era where things were different, and somehow not enough has changed as of this writing in 2016. Watching this movie again now, 24 years after its release and concerning a subject decades older, it’s almost sad to watch and think how hard X would roll over in his grave were he able to witness some of the scary racist madness that’s still going on in the streets of America. Love this movie, love Denzel, and Spike is near his best here. A positively entertaining piece of biography, history, all combining to make a well executed film in every respect.