This edition looks at stills from American Horror Story v. movies from various genres.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 11: “Spilt Milk”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Brad Falchuk
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Name Game” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Continuum” – click here
The beginning of this aptly titled episode, “Spilt Milk”, gives us one of the more disturbing bits this season. Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott), a.k.a young Bloody Face, has a prostitute come over to his place and breastfeed him. I mean, did Oliver (Zachary Quinto) pass everything on, or did he pass everything on? God damn. To each their own, but compounded with the fact Johnny likes to murder people, particularly he’s got a problem with women, he’s also got a breast milk fetish, a fixation. All in all, he is one awfully messed up dude.
Great, nasty open to one of the final trio of episodes left in Season 2 Asylum!
Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is continually being manipulated, still, by Dr. Thredson. Kit gets to go see Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) and his newborn baby, Thomas, though it’s not long. Even more than that, poor Pepper (Naomi Grossman) gets to talk but she doesn’t get much else, ushered off at Thredson’s orders for some archaic hydrotherapy, y’know – 1960s style.
So while Kit, Grace and their boy get to have a little time together, a slight few rays of happiness, there is still darkness cast over everything. Most of that is Thredson, trying to grasp onto anything which will allow him more power.
Then there’s the fact Grace was taken away, somehow brought back to life. She saw the “bright lights” we all hear about so often. But these lights were different, they were those creatures, the alien life forms. She came back pregnant with Kit’s child.
There’s an amazingly trippy sequence where Grace floats in this empty darkness, also in a pool of water. It’s creepy and sort of has this wide, isolated feeling, like she was just lost in nowhere. Brief few shots yet highly effective and interesting.
Oh, and Kit proposed pretty suddenly. That happened. Right before Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) shows up with Sister Colette (Tacey Adams) who intends to take the baby to a home for lost children. Thredson turns up for a little gloating, just to rub it in Kit’s face.
Mother Superior Claudia (Barbara Tarbuck) surprises Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) with documentation of everything on record that happened to her while at Briarcliff. The faithful nun, listening to what Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) had told her previously, helps Lana to get out of the asylum; into a cab and speeding away.
Love the split-screen sequence here, as Thredson and Kit talk while Lana comes down the stairs on her way to escape with Mother Superior. It’s great how Kit helps Lana, in their silent understanding in passing; the double shot of Lana’s face is perfect. Nothing beats the moment when Thredson sees Lana in the cab, tape of the confessions against the window and middle finger to boot.
This leads directly to a scene between the two, back at Oliver’s place where Lana is waiting, police on the way. Brilliant acting from both Sarah Paulson and Zachary Quinto – tense and nastily fun moments abound.
There’s an amazing cut (which could’ve easily been done naturally with connected sets) taking us through to the present again where Johnny Morgan sucks on the prostitute’s milky breast, coming off with a mouthful. Another cut returns us to Thredson’s living room. Just downright excellent filmmaking on television (can I say that? you know what I fucking mean). This whole section, back and forth from past to present, it really makes the scene between Oliver and Lana become even more weighty, the intensity bearing down on us until – BAM!… I won’t ruin it for you, if you’ve yet to see it.
With Ms. Winters out, Briarcliff gets hammered with vicious criticism in the papers and comes under scrutiny for employing Bloody Face. At the same time, Monsignor Howard is having trouble keeping Jude quiet as she raves at him, stuck there rotting as a patient – better yet, inmate. She is disgusted with his refusal to accept the sin he committed, giving his flesh to the devil in (the now dead) Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe). He can’t take it anymore.
It’s terribly tragic the lengths to which Howard goes to in order to secure his job, his life, his so-called legacy. I’m not going to spoil this either, so later in the episode near the end this will play out: be prepared for sadness.
Best of all, though, in the scuffle at the asylum after Lana breaks her story: Kit is able to leave and go free. Furthermore, he uses the death certificate made out for Grace (by Arden when she’d been presumed dead) to secure her release from Briarcliff; they also manage to get their son back and find a way to be a family.
Back at the old Walker homestead, Kit and Grace bring their boy home to a messy, beat up place from long before when Kit was thrown in the asylum. Regardless, they’re happy to be away from all the madness.
Or are they? Turns out Alma Walker (Britne Oldford) is back. Even better than that: she has a baby.
Speaking of babies, Lana has tracked down a woman willing to help perform an abortion on her, to get rid of the evil spawn inside her. She explains her situation, gets herself prepared for the procedure… but just can’t do it.
“No more death,” Lana says.
Naturally we had to expect this, as Johnny Morgan – Bloody Face II – has already shown up in the present time frame. Though, it is a truly full-blooded horror scene. Great psychological stuff going on, perfect editing with quick and appropriately disorienting cuts.The end of the episode is highly fitting, returning us to Johnny Morgan’s problem with women, his longing for a breast on which to feed, as Lana begrudgingly lets baby Johnny suckle at her own for milk; all the while clenching her fists, hating each moment. So there’s an incredible cyclical movement to this episode, I love it.
The next episode is “Continuum”, the penultimate episode of Season 2 Asylum, and is directed by Craig Zisk (credits include Shameless, Nip/Tuck, NYPD Blue, Weeds, and much more).
Stay tuned for the next one back here at FatherSonHolyGore!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 9: “The Coat Hanger”
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa (True Detective, The Borgias)
Written by Jennifer Salt
* For a review of the next episode “The Name Game” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Unholy Night” – click here
In current day, we’re treated to the return of Dylan McDermott as Johnny Morgan.
He meets with Dr. Gardner (Brooke Smith) for some therapy. Johnny wants to try to get better, he has “impulses” – scary ones. Though he makes nothing perfectly clear at first, soon it’s obvious he killed animals as a young boy – it made him feel wonderful. Now he doesn’t harm animals; he grew up. But into what has he grown? There’s a very tense air between Johnny and his doctor.
Tense air which turns vicious. I’m LOVING McDermott being back. Especially in juxtaposition with his role in the first season, this is a dark, dark turn on his part. You see, his name isn’t Morgan – it’s Thredson. He is the son of Bloody Face.
Wait, what? The son? But that means….
Damn I am just all over the beginning to “The Coat Hanger.” Plus, you’ve got to imagine, what could that titular coat hanger be alluding to? Starting the episode out with the bombshell concerning Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) somehow having a son – wait to see where THAT leads – it’s interesting this episode is titled as it is— very suggesting.
Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is now with child. The news comes saucily from the devil within Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe). Are we getting how important this episode’s title is with more context?
Oh my, how vicious. Worst of all, it’s clear Satan – via Mary Eunice – is going to let that child make its way into the world. Because why not, may as well have another little antichrist running around, cutting people up, as is evidence by watching the present day opener with little grownup Johnny Morgan/Thredson.
After trying to kill Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane) in the last episode, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) wakes up in bed with Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) hovering above her. He recounts what’s happened – she’s being framed for the killing of Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne), which Sister Mary perpetrated. Furthermore, it’s all being compounded through everything from Mother Superior Claudia (Barbara Tarbuck) recounting Jude’s tale of demonic possession at Briarcliff, to Leigh Emerson’s concocted tale of what happened during the Christmas shindig, and so on.
Poor Jude. This is comeuppance for all the bad things she’s done, but far too much. She deserves a good reprimand for how she handled inmates at Briarcliff, though, Jude does not deserve being imprisoned in that hateful place under the care of Dr. Arden and Sister Mary Eunice. Even Howard has now left Jude behind, Mother Superior too it seems as of now (because of the manipulation by Arden and Mary), so she’s up shit’s creek.
Even worse, Leigh Emerson feigns remorse, wanting to repent and become a good soul in the eyes of God. Yeah, right. Can we believe this at all? Bad things shall happen again soon at the asylum.
Though I’m not religious, I do feel bad for Monsignor Howard. He’s starting to go head to head with Sister Mary Eunice – a.k.a Satan
hisher grand self. There’s nothing at all positive awaiting him at the end of this road. She’s already playing at him, teasing and poking, prodding like he’s a tiny little creature in her wake.
While Sister Jude starts to rot away already, naturally as she is being framed so heavily, Howard brings Leigh in to talk with her. A part of his repentance, I suppose. He offers her forgiveness for what she did to him.
Another flashback to ’63 when Jude doled out some corporal punishment on Emerson, who it seems had some sort of relations with one of the nuns. Then back to present day, as Leigh actually kisses Jude on the forehead. It’s unbelievable the psychological torture she’s now being subject to at the hands of EVERYONE around her. Poor, poor Jude.
Lana found the coat hanger. She went to her room, poised to do a homemade abortion. But nothing more is shown
A little later, she gets to see Kit Walker (Evan Peters). Last episode at the end, she survived her encounter with Thredson and they ended up tying him, hiding him in one of the unused rooms of Briarcliff. Now they need him in order to get Kit free from his crimes.
Lana reveals to him the pregnancy. She also tells him he won’t be a father because now? She’s performing the abortion via coat hanger right there and then. Or is she?
She makes him tell her about his crimes. Bloody Face confesses to his murders, so they can.. bond, or something. Who knows with Oliver, that sad mommy’s boy who never got to be mommy’s boy.
TOO BAD FOR OLIVER – the confession was recorded, Kit hiding out of sight with a recorder, and so sad for him the abortion was performed already! A bloody mess for the son of Bloody Face.
Yet we already know, supposedly, that Johnny Morgan/Thredson – the new Bloody Face of present day – is alive. So, we shall see what happens from now until the end of Season 2.
Kit hides the tape of Thredson’s confession, however, Dr. Arden walks in on him. It doesn’t appear he cares much about the tape, though. They go back to Arden’s office for a “special occasion“, which sees him break out some smokes and fine liquor. Very strange, seeing Dr. Arden/Hans Gruber be friendly.
He tells Kit he’s seen the “little green men“, but of course “they‘re not green, are they Mr. Walker?” Arden says slyly. What Arden believes is that the aliens are experimenting, in eugenics he says (of course he’d say that the fucking Nazi), and that the aliens are in some way protecting Kit; that if he brought Kit to the edge of death, they would come to find and protect him, “their specimen.”
This is a strange and tenuous bond between Arden and Kit. Highly weird and at the same time interesting. I can’t wait for more with them, to see where the alien subplot goes. Some didn’t find this angle of the season interesting, I do because while I’m a sceptic I would LOVE if aliens/things not of this world were actually real. Plus, the Nazi-alien dynamic is something we’ve not got a lot of good instances of in film or television. Ryan Murphy and the writers solve that.
Oh, Leigh Emerson is still trying to be saved by the Lord. He tells Monsignor Howard he wants redemption. In a ceremony with only the two in attendance, the Monsignor offers him a baptism in the name of Christ. Everything goes wonderfully, as Leigh is dunked back into the water, given new life in the arms of the church and God alike.
But, yes, you guessed it – Leigh’s got some better, more nasty ideas. He and the Monsignor have a little wrestle in the water, the latter getting his own dunk now and held under. Leigh obviously doesn’t care, as I thought, about religion. He simply wants to give Howard more of the terror which he is SO GOOD at handing down. The unfortunate man ends up crucified right up on the cross like Jesus, living yet barely hanging on.
When Lana goes down to kill Oliver, seems Dr. Bloody Face has escaped his ties. Turns out the devilish Sister Mary Eunice let him out. WHOA! Satan really plays hardball. No doubt.
Creepiest scene goes to the one between these two, as Mary puts her hand against Lana’s stomach and feels the STILL BEATING HEART of the Bloody Face child beginning to grow inside her. What a brutal shock for Lana and the audience! Doesn’t surprise me the devil can do that, but it’s a rough way for Lana to find out because it must be confusing; she has no idea Satan is creeping around inside the young, delicate nun.
Saddest scene has to be when Sister Jude shows up in the recreation room, as Lana watches her shuffle in. I just feel beyond terribly for Jude, though, she seems to feel awful about what she did to Lana, admitting nothing that was done to her wasn’t something she didn’t do in her time as head of Briarcliff. And while Lana does have her fair share of anger for Jude, they do have a bit of an understanding.
Lots of changing relationships here in this episode, which I find awesome! Switches things up in a fun way, as we can see now Lana and Jude are becoming friendlier with Jude understanding life as a patient/prisoner there at Briarcliff.
Back to Arden and Kit. The doctor plans to essentially kill Kit, then revive him with adrenaline and a sharp punch to the chest, all in order to try and bring the aliens down to save the young man. Each with their own worries and apprehensions, the experiment begins. VERY COOL AND CREPY MOMENTS! Love how the alien scenes are shot, it stays consistent throughout the various directors of Season 2; another reason this is a series that has a great overall layout and vision.
Another thing I don’t mention enough is the camerawork, in the sense of how I love the way American Horror Story has this ominous and unsettling cinematography in tons of scenes using low and high angles. It throws us off, unsettles, as well as forebodes with the skewed framing at both low/high angles and creates this very cool, unique effect other shows do not use. Amazing horror technique, in my opinion.
GRACE IS BACK! Pepper (Naomi Grossman) has also returned, having disappeared awhile back under the radar. Turns out, Grace is also pregnant and Pepper somehow talks perfectly. THE ALIENS – THEY’VE RETURNED!
Wow. This part blew me away, I was never expecting this at all. Can’t wait for more of this next episode.
Another great one, a favourite of mine in this season. Next up is “The Name Game” directed again by Michael Lehmann who last directed “Unholy Night”.
Stay tuned for more madness, aliens, horror, blood, and SAVAGERY!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 8: “Unholy Night”
Directed by Michael Lehmann (Tyrant, Dexter, Big Love, The Larry Sanders Show)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the next episode “The Coat Hanger” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Dark Cousin” – click here
One of my favourite of ALL-TIME opening scenes on this show comes in “Unholy Night”.
Starting out on a snowy Christmas eve in 1962, a Salvation Army Santa is out front of a store collecting donations, ringing the bell. All of a sudden, Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane) shows up. He shoots Santa.
Cut to Leigh, dressed up in the suit, playing with a train set in a family’s living room. A little girl meets him there, as he plays friendly; though, there’s a tell-tale stain of blood down the front of his white trimmed red coat.
The most terrifying wake up ever? Santa Leigh has the little girl bring him up to mom and dad, greeting them for an early Christmas. Downstairs he ties the mother and father up, taunting them terribly. An awfully terrifying scene as McShane just goes SAVAGE, mostly with his words. All before putting a bullet in the scared and pleading couple.
I love, love, love Ian McShane. He’s great in everything, especially on Deadwood as the surly saloon owner Al Swearengen. Here he plays a downright unsettling, shocking character who’s good for every last second he winds up in the frame.Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) changes the rules now that Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) has been dismissed. It seems Christmas is back at Briarcliff. She has all the inmates line-up, improvising ornaments for the tree; quite a macabre yet funny scene.
Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is having a bit of a hard time quelling his feelings for the devilish yet oh-so-innocent Sister Mary Eunice; something that’s been apparent from the start. Perhaps it’s because Arden has a fetish, maybe it’s something he’d rather subject the darling nun to because he feels something for her.
At the same time, Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne) is mourning the death of Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré), one which he caused inadvertently when she jumped in front of a bullet meant for Kit Walker (Evan Peters).
Loving the first big confrontation between Sister Jude and the devil inside Sister Mary Eunice. She sneaks up behind the demon, putting a blade to the young nun’s throat. But before much else happens between them, Arden shows up. They have Jude escorted, however, there’s no doubt each of them have their own ideas about the problem now presenting itself. Arden warns not to underestimate the older Sister Jude.
Now Sister Mary Eunice goes to see Emerson in his cell; he’s now an older, bearded, lost soul in the darkness. At the same time, a flashback comes from 1963 during a Christmas event at Briarcliff. Leigh causes a bit of trouble for Sister Jude. When a photographer comes in to do some pictures, Leigh takes his chance and bites off an orderly’s face; or, parts of it.
In present day, the devil in Sister Mary presents Leigh a Santa costume. She knows all about him – how he’d been jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, there on Christmas five men, the jailers, raped him. This is what precipitated his Santa-centric killings. She wants Leigh to put the costume back on, have a little fun on that special day near the year’s end.
What’s in store is sinister.
A particularly grim scene between Dr. Arden and Sister Mary Eunice, which I can’t get enough of. He gives her a pair of ruby earrings belonging to a “jewess“, as he puts it. She would hide them, swallowing each one every day so they would not be stolen by the Nazis in the camps. Eventually she died, Arden retrieved them. He says that Sister Mary Eunice is worthy of their beauty.
Sweet? Strange? All of it?
Arden was in fact hoping for “a glimmer of that precious girl.” But the devil in Mary has no time for his sweet, saccharine lovey-dovey bullshit. In so many words, she tells the doctor to get moving or get out of the way.
Mother Superior Claudia (Barbara Tarbuck) is a trusted friend of Sister Jude. She’s not sure what to do to help, however, she is always there. Jude seems a little more clear, while certainly a bit revved up and panicked, but we know she has SEEN the devil, she knows where the devil resides. Luckily the passion in Jude convinces Mother Superior to help her.
Then out of nowhere, Arden shows up at the church where Jude is meeting Claudia. What we’re seeing is a plan slipping into action: Arden is convincing Jude to come back and help with Sister Mary Eunice, and while it seems he wishes to make amends, a little anyways, there’s no trusting a former Nazi doctor out of Auschwitz.
Back at Briarcliff, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) praises Mary Eunice for having the innovation to dress the Christmas tree with impromptu decorations. Leigh is dressed up, full Santa, whispering naughty nothings into another inmate’s ear. Even Dr. Arden seems to be having a slightly decent time.
Will it last? And for how long?
Kit is having dreams of Grace and Alma (Britne Oldford), their faces interchanging between one another in his head. He’s asleep in a bed at the asylum. Next to him – Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who finds herself adjusting once more to life back inside the horrid walls of Briarcliff Asylum. She talks to Kit as he sleeps, finally coming to understand his true situation after Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) revealed himself to be Bloody Face.
I find this part super interesting because there’s a new dynamic between Kit and Lana. She knows for sure what Thredson did and she’s prepared to fight. Luckily for Kit, Lana is a true survivor. However, soon enough she’s got to deal with more than simply being back at Briarcliff.
Oliver shows up again, without the Bloody Face mask. Uh oh!
Disturbing as his character may be, I do think Arden is one of the most interesting to me.
He’s letting Sister Jude in incognito, via the bakery. She tells him to bring Mary to her office and lock the door. Jude believes she and Arden are in cahoots.
Is this really the case? I feel as if not.
Upstairs in the recreation room, Frank McCann places the star atop the Christmas tree, but Leigh tosses him off the ladder attacking him with an ornament. McCann lays into Emerson a little and then goes to haul him off to solitary; clearly the Santa suit was not a good idea. Maybe it wasn’t… for anyone else except Arden and Mary Eunice.
Because while Frank brings the nasty Santa down to a solitary cell, Sister Mary cuts the guard’s throat while Leigh looks on with a laugh and a smile.
It’s all led to here – Jude is put in a room alone with Leigh, Santa suit to boot. He says he’s there to “open his present.” IT WAS ALL A PLOY! As I knew it, Arden merely wanted to show how he was on the devil’s side, for the that sassy demon inside the young nun.
Absolutely creepy, chilling scene between Ian McShane and Jessica Lange. Two world class actors showing off their chops. It’s a disturbing scene, as we’re sort of waiting to see what exactly is going to happen. This made me truly worry for Sister Jude – watching on in horror wondering what Leigh Emerson would do to her.
Paralleled with their confrontation, Oliver tells Lana all about how he scoured his home for any evidence, making sure it was all gone; he ‘killed’ Bloody Face, so to speak. This is another tense, suspenseful moment. There’s these two tough women in peril and I honestly could not tell what would happen next. Great writing and execution to have these scenes playing back to back!
Though I give a good scan of everything happening, I’ll leave these NASTY TASTY LITTLE BITS for you to watch on your own.
Needless to say, though, the last ten minutes of this episode are pretty damn incredible. One truly excellent and bloody moment comes quick during the scene with Lange/McShane; gnarly!
Dr. Arden finds himself in the path of the alien creatures which have visited both Kit and Grace. All of a sudden, as he brings Grace through the tunnels below, they come and take Grace into the thin air, vanishing. This is going to be something to watch closely because I love how they’re including the Nazi doctor in with the alien subplot; anyone who knows anything about Hitler and the Nazis knows they were into some weird stuff, so Arden is bound to be very intrigued, wanting to find out all he can about these creatures. Kit will play more and more into this now, especially seeing as how Grave has disappeared without a trace and the doctor will need someone in order to find out more about them.
The next episode, “The Coat Hanger” directed by Jeremy Podeswa (True Detective Season 2’s “Down Will Come”, The Pacific, The Walking Dead, The Borgias), is one of my favourites from this season, as well. Very brutal and macabre and extremely fun in a horror type way!
Stay tuned, horror fiends. Come along for the ride.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 6: “The Origins of Monstrosity”
Directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Dark Cousin” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode “I Am Anne Frank: Part II” – click here
“The Origins of Monstrosity” begins as a voice tells a 9-11 operator there are bodies at Briarcliff to be found. This may be the answer to when we saw a present day Bloody Face attack the young men in Bloody Face masks. I know the voice already, but won’t spoil it. We’ll wait and see together, shall we? Either way, it’s good to know the character of present day Bloody Face – whoever that may be as we’ve recently discovered Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) is the true original 1960s Bloody Face – will be handled by a fun actor.
Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange) meets a a woman named Mrs. Reynolds (Amy Farrington), whose daughter Jenny (Nikki Hahn) is brought in after suspicion she may have terrible, violent issues. Jenny’s mother discovered a lock of hair in daughter’s belongings: it’s the hair of a friend Jenny supposedly saw murdered; the little girl tells of a man who killed her friend, telling her to stand perfectly still or else she would be, too. Yet there’s obviously something sinister about little Jenny Reynolds. Jude tells her, there is no children’s ward at Briarcliff unfortunately.Meanwhile, back at chez Thredson, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) wakes up to croque-monsieur frying on the stove. At first it’s nice, until she realizes again where she is; chez Bloody Face. He serves up the sandwich saying it’s the “perfect mommy snack.”
What becomes clear through his discussion is the fact Oliver has mommy issues. Oh yes. He’s got problems with women. He has been searching for a woman, a mother, as the one he had at birth abandoned him to the system where only his “basic needs were met.”
Oliver “Bloody Face” Thredson dubs Lana THE ONE. He recounts his sordid history with the female body, his “breakthrough” as he calls it coming after encountering a luring woman in medical school; except this woman was dead, cold, on a colder metal slab. This is one DISTURBING scene, which I love. It’s straight up Ed Gein, but adapted Ed Gein; if he were a scholar instead of a farmboy with no education. This is Bloody Face, instead of Leatherface – a maniac, yet a calculated, intelligent, damaged maniac.
Also love how we get a dose of Psychology 1000, as Dr. Thredson talks about rhesus monkeys and their attachment to the cloth of a simulated mother monkey, the skin essentially. This relates to his love, his need, for the feel of warm skin on his surrogate mother.
Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis) calls Sister Jude, who tells him not to worry anymore, she was wrong. In direct opposition, Mr. Goodman informs her the fake Anne Frank (Franka Potente) was right: Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) was in fact, IS in fact, Dr. Hans Gruber, a former Nazi and member of the S.S. In shock, Jude asks what can be done; she must be a fingerprint in order to confirm for sure, then they can move ahead.
This will set off serious repercussions. Eventually.
As Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) goes to the hospital in order to see a dying Shelley (Chloë Sevigny), we get an incredible flashback explaining perfectly the wonderful title of this episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity”.
The first meeting between Dr. Arthur Arden and Monsignor Howard, several years prior, occurs as the latter is first moving in to the building. Arden introduces him to his ideas – he claims to be developing some kind of ultimate, super vaccine that would stave off even the most serious, deadly illness and viruses should humans be subject to them. This is a perfectly grim example – his wanting to do human trials – of the Nazi doctors and their insane ideas of eugenics, et cetera. The stuff going on between Howard and Arden, both in present day and the flashback scenes, goes to show how serious of a mess Howard has gotten himself into, allowing Arden to basically have free run of Briarcliff in order to further his “work“, if it can be called that.
Now there’s a real, palpable tension between the doctor and Monsignor Howard. Of course, there’s a terrifying aspect to Arden. Not only is he a tall and imposing figure, he is a sinister man. Furthermore, now we know through other events going on simultaneously HE IS A NAZI! He was in the death camps, just as the fake Anne Frank discovered somehow. This is scary enough. But then he has to go and show Howard more of his other work, the latest being on local tough inmate and pervert Spivey (Mark Consuelos). Savage, just as was done to Shelley. More supposedly in the name of the human race; yeah right, Nazi.
Saucy little scene between the devilish – or straight up Satan – Sister Mary Eunice McKee (Lily Rabe) and the equally devilish little girl Jenny, whose mother left her at Briarcliff and ran.
What we get here, though, is a heartbreaking flashback retro filmed scene as Mary Eunice recounts a story of when a bunch of girls tricked her into going naked under her robe then stripping, jumping into the pool; so sad and it made my heart both break and ACHE for her. At the same time, the devil is inside Mary. Right up in there. She’s both actively bad, as well as bad via extension, playing her influence over the young, impressionable, and pretty much evil little Jenny.
The tension between Monsignor Howard and Dr. Arden – more so Howard’s worry he’ll be caught out helping Arden – has led the Monsignor to removing Sister Jude from her position at Briarcliff. She knows it is Arden whose influence is turning Howard, which we know. But the childish and misguided Howard, worried for his own sake, sends her off anyways. I actually feel bad for Jude, no matter how bad she’s been on her own, because this is all out of her hands. She knows the truth about Arden above all else. Worse, Howard is being manipulated. Even more than that, the devil in Sister Mary Eunice is working full-time.
Kit Walker (Evan Peters) uses his one phone call to ring up Thredson. Naturally, it’s the worst time for Oliver; he’s got Lana downstairs, trying to escape. We can see a bit of the breaks at his seams, the little boy in Oliver escaping from time to time. Kit knows there’s something wrong with it all, he realizes now Dr. Thredson lured him into confessing on tape, falsely, then gave it to the police.
Sadly for Lana, getting all worked up has Oliver feeling crazier once he discovers her sweating, her pulse is rocketing, and she’s been trying to escape. Or as he sees it, trying to abandon him. Oh those MOMMY ISSUES! They’re a real bitch, at times. Pretty damn bad when you’re a psychopathic killer who wears the skin of women for a mask, teeth, hair, the whole she-bang-a-bang.
AMAZING SCENE with Lily Rabe. Sister Mary Eunice sings and dances in a red negligee she stole out of Jude’s dresser along to “You Don’t Own Me” performed by Lesley Gore. The best part, surprisingly, is not seeing the beautiful Rabe, but it’s the fact the devil inside is raging, singing the lyrics right at the cross on the wall.
As Sister Jude gets a useable fingerprint from an unsuspecting Arden, unfortunately Mr. Goodman reached Mary Eunice on the phone – pretending to be Jude.
At Goodman’s hotel later, Jude finds him with his throat cut, blood everywhere, now the jig is up. On the bathroom floor she pulls close to him and he tells her it was one of her nuns. BAM!
Simultaneously, Sister Mary Eunice, or Satan – whatever – brings all the research Goodman had back to Arden. She also kept some stuff for backup, in case Arthur decides to turn around and double cross her. This is the first time we see him BLOW UP, the Nazi Aryan piece of shit in him exploding in front of us as he rants to Mary about the “money grubbing Jews”. I mean, whoa, Arden! I knew you were a Nazi, but that was… direct. At least for his sake he’s got Sister Mary Eunice, whose devilish side loves the doctor and his own evil ways.
Then there’s Jenny, whose latest situation involves another dead girl. Naturally influenced by Sister Mary, as well. What a bad, bad nun she is. I love this little subplot, having a creepy little kid – pays homage greatly to some of the killer kid films from the 1950s-70s era. Lots of disturbing bits of fun in here.
Worse and worse is the situation for Lana. Dr. Bloody Face is crawling on top of her, ready to cut in and have some fun. A flashback reveals when he first saw her as fit to be MOM, back when Kit Walker – supposedly Bloody Face – had been brought into Briarcliff.
But the kicker is when Oliver says “Baby needs colostrum“, which is downright sickening and twisted. Blew me away in a terrifying way. He sucks on Lana’s breast and it trips me out. Yuck.
Very end sees the police in present day show up to Briarcliff, as they find a phone – current day Bloody Face, whomever he may be, tells them he’s up to no good.
In fact, he’s got Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) captive – Leo’s (Adam Levine) wife from the framing narrative beginning at the season’s start – and who knows where they are, or what exactly he’s doing with her.
Looking forward to reviewing the next episode, “Dark Cousin” directed by Hannibal regular Michael Rymer, an excellent television director as of late. Stay tuned for that one, should be another creepy chapter in the Briarcliff diary!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 5: “I Am Anne Frank: Part II”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown)
Written by Brad Falchuk
* For a review of the previous episode, “I Am Anne Frank: Part I” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” – click here
At the top of this episode, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) meets with a man named Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis) – he is a Nazi hunter, a Jew who was in the camps during the Holocaust of World War II. She’s finally caved and believed what might be the truth: Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) could possibly have been a Nazi. They talk, and Goodman warns not to do anything to make the man run.
This also brings in the real life fascinatingly disturbing Operation Paperclip – look it up.
Furthermore, the supposed Anne Frank (Franka Potente) busts in on Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) with Arden at gunpoint. Luckily for all, mostly Arden, guard Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne) saves the day. Or does he?
Probably so, once Sister Jude is met at the asylum by Anne’s husband – or that is, Charlotte Brown’s husband. Jim Brown (David Chisum) shows up to tell Jude all about how Charlotte became delusional after reading Anne Frank’s diary while she was pregnant, then went to see a play adaptation and fell into a deep spiral; even going so far as to tattoo a death camp tattoo on her arm.
What I love most about this whole section of the episode is how we get these truly creepy, eerily shot pieces of flashback like they’re being done on an old 1950s/60s era camera – scenes of the Browns at home, documenting Charlotte’s madness and her husband Jim becoming more and more frustrated trying to care for their child with an insane wife at home, raving constantly about the Holocaust and the Jewish peoples experiences during World War II and how they need her, the baby doesn’t need her like they do. It’s amazingly effective, this whole bit. Very cool and so creepy.
Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré) are awaiting sterilization now at the hands of Briarcliff Asylum and Sister Jude Martin. It’s a sick, true to life reality of many in the system during this era. Sad yet wildly true.
The twist comes as Kit is told, by the now very devilish Sister Mary Eunice, he won’t be sterilised. Good news, right? Not so much for Grace, who is likewise informed by Mary Eunice, but informed instead she’ll still be going ahead for the procedure.
Afterwards, while alone in her cell, Grace appears to see a rattling, shaky light coming in at her through the door. Could it be the aliens are about to visit Grace? Will she have some proof then to help Kit? Or do they… need her, for some reason?
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) still has a plan for Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson). He tells her, off to the side, they’re leaving at the end of his day. She’s obviously extremely happy and there’s finally some end to the cruel tunnel through which she has been crawling at Briarcliff, a light approaches.
Thredson is also attempting to help Kit with his troubles. However, suspiciously Thredson has Kit confess to his crimes on tape, in order to hear how it sounds to him – to try and learn something about what he may have done to his wife. While Kit seems to trust him, there’s something not quite right about the doctor’s theories here, his methods. But then again, neither were his intentions with the aversion therapy he conducted on Alana in order to misguidedly cure her lesbianism; oh, the tragic state of “mental health” in the 1960s. Still not even that long ago, scarily enough. I love how this fictional show takes on very real issues such as mental health and those of the LGBTQ community.
Grace has indeed been visited by the aliens Kit saw. She’s taken – somewhere – she is greeted by Alma Walker (Britne Oldford) in a blank, vacant white space where the aliens once took Kit. Who knows what their plans for Grace are now.
She shows up later, bleeding and confused. Kit finds her in the recreation room sitting in a chair, dazed. At the same time, cops show up to arrest Kit for his supposed crimes; coincidence? Hmm. And Grace starts screaming she’s seen everything – the aliens, Alma – they’re all real, she’s alive. An INTENSE moment between these two, especially for Kit himself.
Jude calls off Mr. Goodman after discovering Anne Frank is actually Charlotte Brown.
Best of all now – for Dr. Arden – is that she’s off his case a good bit with all this fracas. Furthermore, he’s got Sister Mary Eunice, possessed and loving it, on his side. She helped dispose of Shelley (Chloë Sevigny), the now mutated beast, which Charlotte had seen in the last episode in Arden’s lab.
CRAZY SCENE as a bunch of school children and their teacher discover the deformed and ragged Shelley, a virtual monster, crawling up a stairwell. Awesome, awesome shocker scene. Loved this quick and nasty moment!
Charlotte gets tossed back into the asylum by her husband, after she tries to smother their baby at home. An amazing sequence is enacted when Jim Brown asks Sister Jude to take Charlotte back, but he wants Dr. Thredson – who was understanding of her beforehand – to treat her.
This is right as Thredson is leaving with Alan in tow. Jude sends Frank off to find the doctor, and there’s this incredibly tense, suspenseful sequence where they sort of barely slip through the fingers of Briarcliff. Really excellent writing, as well as the fact it’s directed expertly.
Instead, Charlotte is trusted to the care of Dr. Arden who plans on giving her a pre-frontal lobotomy. Y’know, to calm her down.
Sister Jude has a disappointed conversation with Frank, retelling a story of when she was a young and took in a baby squirrel, keeping him in a shoe box. She says one day she came home, realising she forgot to feed him, and he was dead. Jude, as a small girl, prayed for hours over the squirrel, but her mother came home and lost her mind, throwing it in the trash.
In the end, the rest of her story stands to show how Jude is disappointed with God. Even as a nun, even as someone who wants SO BAD to be pious and holy and wants to be a good nun, she has those doubts about God.
Frank makes a terribly poignant remark about how she “never really had a chance” because she’s a strong woman and men don’t like that. While you get the sense Frank probably isn’t, for all his faults, one of those men, it’s a big stinger for Jude to hear; even if painfully obvious anyways.
So as Charlotte is being lobotomised, just a little, Jude puts on her bright red lipstick, heads to a bar for a drink and a smoke, then picks up a man.
Back at the home of Oliver Thredson, the doctor brings Lana inside to a comfortable, safe environment for the first time in so very long for her. His house is quite the chic-looking abode, nice modern type furniture and layout.
But as the minutes wear on, Lana realizes something is not right with Oliver. He flicks on a light – you can clearly see the lampshade has nipples. When he offers up some mints, they’re sitting in a skull-shaped bowl; no, damn it if the thing ain’t an ACTUAL SKULL.
What I love about this section is not so much the surprise that Thredson is Bloody Face, it’s the fact Bloody Face takes a good deal of bits and pieces (get it?) from Leatherface, as well as the real life inspiration mostly from serial killer Ed Gein. There’s a ton of macabre stuff to mine out of Gein and I find Ryan Murphy & Co. do an excellent job starting out with doing a few things we’ve not yet seen from the serial killer’s real story.
The end of “I Am Anne Frank: Part II” hits hard like a weight in the guts.
We watch as Charlotte Brown has become the perfect little housewife for Jim. He takes most of her research on World War II, Anne Frank, et cetera, and goes for the trash. While the episode closes out with Leon Bibb, Ronnie Gilbert, and Robert De Cormier singing “It Could Be a Wonderful World”, we also zoom in on a picture of Nazi officers saluting together, and one of them we end on is ABSOLUTELY MOST POSITIVELY DR. ARTHUR FUCKING ARDEN!
Love it. No better way to close off a two-parter episode.
Can’t wait to review the next episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain, Homeland). Stay tuned, horror hounds!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 2: “Tricks and Treats”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Glee, The New Normal)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the previous episode, “Welcome to Briarcliff” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Nor’easter” – click here
We begin “Tricks and Treats” directly after the end of the previous episode, as Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) crosses – apparently – Bloody Face in the tunnels below the asylum. Her husband Leo (Adam Levine), meanwhile, is bleeding out from a torn off arm. This part is savage, as Bloody Face stabs Leo to death in front of Teresa, who is hiding inside one of the cells.
The editing and sound design here is perfect! Bloody Face’s banging on the cell door goes from present day back to 1964, as a knock on the door from trick or treaters comes outside Wendy Peyser’s (Clea DuVall) house. Perfect little moment. Wendy has signed Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) into Briarcliff and now feels terribly about it.
Sadly for Wendy, though, another figurative knock on the door comes later. She lights up a joint, plays a record, but once she’s out and drying off there’s someone else inside with her: Bloody Face. In a tragic scene, she pleads with him because the kids she teaches “won‘t understand.” Bloody Face cares not about the plight of women, nor schoolteachers, and he hacks at her before the opening credits roll. I thought this sequence was so well-written, designed, and executed! Just one of the many instances where all the aspects of filming – the shots, the sound, the acting, the dialogue – come together to make a perfect set of scenes. Watching this over now for what might be the 3rd or 4th time around since Asylum first aired, I’m noticing so many of the little things which passed me by the first time around.
Poor Lana Winters is slowly becoming acclimated to her surroundings at Briarcliff.
We’re meeting more of everyone now from Pepper (Naomi Grossman) to Shelley the resident nymphomaniac (Chloë Sevigny). Everyone gets a little bit of time here and there.
Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) has problems with Lana; the feisty reporter has been keeping notes on the ill treatment at Briarcliff. Ms. Winters even threatens Jude by saying she doesn’t need the notes because she has a great memory. Jude plans to have Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) use the 1960s version of electroshock therapy – barbaric compared to anything used today – in order to scorch the memories out of her brain cells. The worst part is that Jude also has prejudice against Lana because of her homosexuality, so it’s disturbing enough to see her have Lana shocked as it is, but coupled with her not wanting any information to escape the walls of Briarcliff the fact she does not like lesbians/gays makes it all a bit more unsettling. This is further how Ryan Murphy and the writers of American Horror Story begin to explore issues during the 1960s surrounding homosexuality and the social stigma which then went along with it.
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) shows up in “Tricks and Treats”. There’s a ton of great stuff involving Thredson. First, there’s the immediate situation between Thredson and his new patient Kit Walker (Evan Peters), accused of the Bloody Face killings. Secondly, Thredson gives us a window further into the psychological practices of doctors in the 1960s; some of what they did under the guise of helping patients was downright primitive, uncivilized pseudoscience masquerading as scientific truth. What’s even more interesting is the fact that Quinto himself is a gay man, so I think it’s interesting what he’s able to explore through the character of Thredson, who deals significantly with Lana Winters further into the season in regards to her homosexuality. I won’t go too much into this now. I’ve seen these seasons, over and over, so I’ll wait until my review to flesh it all out.
At the same time Thredson represents a bit of misguided psychology, he also represents a more loud voice of reason than any of the clergy employed at Briarcliff. It’s still funny, though, as he rages at Sister Jude for allowing electroshock therapy to be used as treatment for homosexuality; in the same breath he points out that behaviour modification is “the current standard” versus her “barbaric” ways. Always love how period piece shows now in hindsight can dissect so many of the issues, as well as hypocrisies, surrounding the social and cultural climate of those times in which they’re set.
Another thing I love in “Tricks and Treats” is the inclusion of a patient whose parents believe something has “taken over” his body. This is a case of exorcism, which serves more than just the purpose of a brief subplot; you’ll come to see how later in this episode. When a young man named Jed Potter (Devon Graye) is brought in by his parents (Andrew Rothenberg & the fabulous Robin Weigert of Deadwood fame), Sister Jude reluctantly agrees to let Dr. Thredson sit in on a meeting. After they first meet Jed, though, Jude advises Thredson it is not medication the boy needs, but something else entirely.
Found that The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the true story behind it was absolutely an influence on the flashback to when Jed’s father found him in the barn, ripping open an animal. Not huge on that film, but I do enjoy tales of supposedly true exorcisms; I’m a sceptic, however, I do find the prospect of such things being true real exciting and dark and weird. The quick flash we see of the barn is creepy and subtle.
Lots of other stuff going on, as well.
Shelley tries to seduce Dr. Arden for privileges; I love the character Shelley because she represents another horribly misguided idea from the 1960s, which still resonates today, about the ideas men have concerning how women ought to act sexually compared to how they’re allowed to act in the eyes of society. I feel downright terrible for Shelley, and Chloë Sevigny plays her incredibly! In real life, Sevigny is a bit of a trainwreck I find, some of her interviews are madness; that doesn’t change the fact she is a terrific actor in every project I’ve seen her do.
At the same time, Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) is starting to help Lana Winters in an attempt to hopefully escape. Though, Lana does not want Kit to come, which is a stipulation imposed on her by Grace. Kit involves himself all the same; we pretty much know he’s innocent, not for sure but we think, yet Lana believes him to be Bloody Face. She doesn’t trust him, yet he tries to help her by grabbing a note she’d written in order to save her from the guards. We’ll see where that goes by episode end.
The exorcism section of “Tricks and Treats” is damn eerie, all the way home. I like the little introduction to Father Malachi (John Aylward), as he gives a classic line (seen above). Even better is the exorcism scene itself because the demon inside young Jed Potter says some WILD stuff! It’s entertaining, intense, and all at once quite disturbing.
Jed, or the demon inside, begins spewing secrets about the inner lives of the clergy present, as well as Dr. Oliver Thredson – an interesting comment about him being given up obviously foreshadows backstory elements for his character. But the best is when Sister Jude Martin steps into the room with Jed, after Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) urges her to help.
The demon knows all about Jude, about her past life before becoming a nun and a wife of Christ. It’s revealing and also sad, because we can see how clearly Jude tries to run from her past. Still, it always keeps on catching up with her. Love the red dress she wears in the flashback to her life before the convent and Briarcliff; parallels her red lingerie under the habit so well, shows how she still hangs on. Even further, the demon talks about a night when Jude hit a young girl with her car – drunk off her ass. Jude never got out, only went on over the road. It’s a wild scene that speaks volumes.
Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) has a nice dinner planned at home. Not only for himself, but a guest arrives: a young prostitute (Jenny Wade). It’s a chilly scene, as Arthur almost looms over and around her. He’s given her a fake name; she calls him Stan over and over. He clearly has ideas about what a woman ought to be. When the prostitute talks about a “big cock,” he looks utterly repulsed. He starts talking about how unsafe it must be for women on the streets such as herself with Bloody Face about. Though cheekily he says now the culprit is locked up and the girl is safe once more – all the while, he carves up some rare, bloody pot roast with a long, gleaming sharp knife. Ominous the way he handles the knife throughout the scene, especially at this point. Even the poor prostitute reads between the lines; you can just about her the GULP in her throat.
“Tricks and Treats” is one of my favourite episodes because it contains SO MUCH information and plot movement, as well as character development. Above all, I think my absolute favourite scene is when Jed Potter finally succumbs to the demon/sickness inside him and goes into cardiac arrest. Then the essence of evil inhabiting him releases – Jed eyes Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) standing in the back of the room while Dr. Thredson and Monsignor Howard try to help the boy – and she falls backwards to the floor, fainting.
The demon may have found itself a new vessel.
Creepily, Dr. Arden has his prostitute guest dress up in a nun’s habit. I mean, is it hard to tell he has a thing for Sister Mary Eunice? Earlier he fed the nun a caramel apple, he’s always around her, getting her help feeding the things in the forest.
The prostitute dressed like a nun in his room goes a little too far by picking through Arden’s things. She finds some strange pictures and a small fetish magazine. Unsettling things, of a violent nature. This sets up a moment where we’re sure Arden is going to dispatch the young lady. Luckily for her, she bites her way out and gives the naughty doctor a knee in his groin, escaping alive. Unfortunately for Dr. Arden, this might come to pose a few problems down the line somewhere.
When Sister Mary Eunice comes to, she is slightly different than before. Still the same sweet lady in a sense, but behind those eyes lies newly discovered knowledge; a deep, dark well full of it.
Love how she covers up for Dr. Arden, playing the fool, and then when he leaves she flicks the blankets off her body in an almost disgusted gesture. At the same time, the crucifix on the wall shakes. Dig that moment so hard!
Grace tries to help Kit escape with her and Lana, but the reporter pulls the plug: still believing Kit to be Bloody Face, she won’t allow him to make it out and terrorize any other women. After they’re caught, Sister Jude gives Lana a reward – of not being punished and having to watch the punishment (bare assed caning) of Kit and Grace. A twisted view into the corporal punishment ideals of Sister Jude Martin. Plus, it amps up the tension in the relationships between all these characters – Sister Jude & Alana, Kit & Sister Jude, Kit & Grace, Grace & Alana. Should be great to see all these dynamics further expand throughout the season.
Awesome episode. One of my favourites of Season 2, as well as overall in the entire series of American Horror Story. Then again, while some aren’t huge on this season, I think this is one of my top 3 overall so far.
Stay tuned for more horrific and wild episodes. Next one is titled “Nor’easter”, directed by series regular Michael Uppendahl whose other work includes Mad Men, Shameless, Ray Donovan, and much more.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 1: “Welcome to Briarcliff”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (The New Normal, Glee)
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the next episode, “Tricks and Treats” – click here
The beginning of Season 2 is a lot of fun because, as opposed to Season 1 where we’d get decades old flashbacks from 1968, 1922, and so on, the main action of Asylum is taking place in 1964. However, we get to jump forward, as well as back a bit, and the framing narrative of the season itself takes place in current day. This seems a bit confusing what I’ve said, but as the episodes wear on you’ll really get a feel of what’s happening. In fact, the present day framing device isn’t exactly very clear until a few episodes in. But once it starts to become clear, the wide and reaching sprawl of Season 2 becomes apparent and it makes the episodes all the better for it.
Beginning in present day, we see Leo and Teresa Morrison (Adam Levine/Jenna Dewan Tatum) on their horror honeymoon – they plan on visiting the twelve most haunted places in America, plus they want to have sex in all the buildings because y’know, they’re wild. Only when they arrive at the infamous Briarcliff Asylum there is more inside the walls than they’d bargained for, and certainly there is nothing sexy about the madness, the pain, the mayhem and murder that is trapped inside that building.
Things really kick off when Leo sticks his hand into one of the cells with his cellphone, trying to get a night vision look at anything terrifying inside. Then, something comes at him and tears his arm off. Blood everywhere. INCREDIBLE! Turns out Bloody Face may actually be real, not just an old, outdated tale of murder from the haunted houses of America.
This moment kicks off Asylum incredibly well. It offers up enough of that psychosexual horror mashup we’re used to from the series, and so it’s already clear this season should follow suit with all the dark terrors of the first; maybe even more.What I really enjoy about the opener to Season 2 is how the entire aesthetic of the first season holds over. It’s more evident than even most regular tv series’ are with their style. As an anthology, there’s always a risk each season might either fall short or overshadow its predecessor. While certain seasons of American Horror Story are most certainly better than others, I think what helps them all glue together and what allows each of them to still be excellent, regardless of the others before or after, is the fact the cinematography, the editing, the score, it all compounds into a beautifully evident overall style.
So then we switch back to our main narrative of 1964.
First, we meet Kit Walker (Evan Peters). He’s a young, handsome man just getting by in the mid ’60s, working at a gas station and garage somewhere out in the boonies. At home, his wonderful wife Alma (Britne Oldford) waits for her husband. Unfortunately, in that time the Walkers had to remain underground with their relationship because interracial relationships were still frowned upon. We already get a threatening atmosphere from Kit’s friend Billy (Joe Egender) and a group of guys who show up at the station, giving Kit a very unwelcome feeling concerning his wife at home; a reference to chocolate becomes not so much racist as it feels scary.
But it’s not Billy and the boys Kit needs to worry about protecting himself, and his wife Alma, from ultimately. Lights flicker and the power goes off, on, the bedroom radio is on the fritz; things are not right. Then Kit seems to experience some kind of contact with… something. He thinks it’s Billy with some others, but it is far worse.
I thought this scene was awesome. So often the alien abduction angle is attempted in film and television, yet it’s not often things are treated correctly. Kit experiences something Other-ly. We only see it briefly, in a few flashes; sound design and visuals weave together creating an excellent moment. We know it’s aliens, but at the same time there’s none shown onscreen. Perfect.
Next we follow journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) into Briarcliff, as she heads to meet Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange) concerning the bakery at the asylum. Along the way we’re introduced to an interesting new character out of Season 2, Pepper (Naomi Grossman) – the nun, Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who accompanies Lana through her visit says that Pepper drowned her sister’s baby and sliced its ears off. Chilling, because Pepper seems so innocent; strange looking yet truly child-like and innocent looking.
Lana meets with Jude for a brief time, however, up shows the apparent newly caught Bloody Face – he is being admitted to the asylum until the lawmakers decide if he is fit to stand trial. This is the whole reason Lana Winters showed up in the beginning, under false pretences about the asylum’s bakery.
What’s most surprising is when we’re introduced to who the alleged Bloody Face killer is: Kit Walker. He’s lead in, chained from head to toe, then treated to the 1960s psychiatric hospital admittance – delousing powder, a shower by way of fire hose, then a good dose of intravenous drugs via syringe. Plus, after a bad meeting with Sister Jude, he’s even given a bit of capital punishment in the form of Jude’s favourite method – caning across the bar ass.
Already now with Kit especially, we’re treated to a look at how Briarcliff operates, and the sort of cruelty all around we’re bound to experience as Asylum wears on.
There are a ton of characters again this season. Probably even more than the first. What I like is that there are plenty characters, but the most important ones are singled out for us and we’re given a big view of them here in “Welcome to Briarcliff”. Of course, more come into play later. This is just a wonderful introduction to so many of the characters, as well as the sort of thematic elements we’re going to see come up over and over.
Kit briefly meets a woman named Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré), also an inmate at the asylum, who takes a liking to him. She helps him a little, from exposing him to the way the hospital works, to giving him a cigarette while he’s wrongly thrown into solitary confinement. This is one relationship, while brief here in the opening episode, that will expand in later episodes and eventually become a big part of the latter half of Season 2.
The character whom I find most interesting in Asylum is the ominous Dr. Arthur Arden (fantastically played by James Cromwell). First off, there’s a palpable tension between Arden and Sister Jude. I love how this second season has brought together Jessica Lange and James Crowmwell. Not enough older actors are given such incredible material as American Horror Story to explore through character; here, we get two downright iconic actors, in my opinion, chewing on luscious scenery and intense character scene after scene.
Immediately in this episode, Arden and Jude are set as complete opposites. There’s something sinister about Arden off the bat, as his scene with Jude is intercut with creepy shots of a bowl of meat being gnawed on and thrown empty into the corner of a room. It’s dark stuff and I think lets us in on his evil backstory right away without hesitation. Also, while we come to discover Jude is a little less than holy herself in more ways than one, Arden comes off quickly to us as being a foreboding presence; not only physically, as Cromwell himself is massive, but in the whole way he acts, speaks, sounds.
Now we’re already seeing how unholy Sister Jude is underneath that black habit. Preparing for her dinner with the younger Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), we can see Jude put on a blood red sex of lingerie, rubbing oil on her skin before getting dressed. She cooks dinner for the Monsignor, and even as they talk you can tell Sister Jude feels something – more – for the man. This little insight into Jude automatically makes her a conflicted character, as much as anyone else in Asylum. At first, Monsignor Howard seems on the up and up himself; we’ll see how true that holds as we move on through the season.
Great dreamy sequence here. Sister Jude imagines herself unbuttoning the habit, revealing her lingerie and sitting in the Monsignor’s lap, embracing him. Then she snaps back to their dinner and all is normal. Once more, like Season 1, that psychosexual feeling worms its way through the characters, the dialogue, the scenes.
Furthermore, Dr. Arden has his hooks in poor, fragile little Sister Mary Eunice. The bad doctor has her bringing buckets out into the woods, obviously to feed something; we don’t know what as of yet, though.
In the forest, Sister Mary is confronted by Lana Winters who is looking for a way inside the asylum. She wants an inside scoop. Scared and worried Jude may find out she was out there, Sister Mary brings Lana inside. This sets into motion something unstoppable and terrifying.
At the same time, Dr. Arden comes for Kit in his cell, injecting him in the neck with something and proclaiming: “You don‘t belong in here.” If I were Kit, I’d be awful worried. There’s nothing good about the feeling Arden produces as soon as he’s onscreen.
Kit’s story of “little green men“, as Jude calls it, comes back into play. Arden doesn’t know it right away, but he’s becoming drawn into a web of extraterrestrial technology. He believes it’s government work at first. Slowly it all will be revealed.
Worst of all, though, is the situation of Lana Winters. She’s found a way into the asylum, but in a time long before any professionalism found its way into the psychiatric world – especially the ones run by the Roman Catholic Church – she also finds herself in a terrible place once getting knocked out, poking about one of the cells. When she wakes up, Sister Jude has Lana strapped into a hospital bed, ready for treatment. Using Lana’s relationship with Wendy Peyser (Clea DuVall) – a lesbian relationship far ahead of the social times unfortunately – Sister Jude is able to have Ms. Winters officially committed, blackmailing Wendy into signing documents or else her homosexuality be revealed to the school where she teaches.
I love how American Horror Story is able to take on LGBTQ issues through a horror landscape. Something I’m a big fan of. It isn’t preachy in any way, it’s a very intriguing view and perspective into the gay issues facing us even today. But especially, with the 1964 main storyline, the whole aspect of having Lana and Wendy as a lesbian couple really goes head-on at how society treated homosexuality even just 50 years ago. Lots more where that came from! It gets better in further episodes, especially once Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) is introduced to help the patients.
Some awesome little references to other films I want to discuss briefly:
A Clockwork Orange – Kit hooked up to the eye-opening equipment of Dr. Arden with blue & red bulbs attached to a strap across his forehead. Very cool homage to Stanley Kubrick’s horrifying classic.
The Silence of the Lambs – Spivey throws semen in the face of Sister Mary Eunice just as Multiple Miggs did to Clarice Starling in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Awesome ending to this episode, as we see Teresa (Dewan Tatum) in present day trying to escape Briarcliff and get her husband Leo (Levine) some help. She runs down through the tunnels below, where Dr. Arden spends quite a bit of time this season, and then before the episode cuts she runs into – Bloody Face? It appears so, even decades after his reign of terror.
But we’ll learn much more about that later.
Next episode is titled “Tricks and Treats”, directed by Bradley Buecker again. I like that, helps keep the initial two episodes in a cohesive unit and sort of moulds everything together off the chopping block.
Stay tuned for more horror, sex, and all around savagery!!
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. 2011. Directed & Written by Declan O’Brien, based on characters by Alan McElroy. Starring Jennifer Pudavick, Tenika DAvis, Kaitlyn Leeb, Terra Vnesa, Ali Tataryn, Samantha Kendrick, Victor Zinck Jr, Dean Armstrong, Sean Skene, Blane Cypurda, Dan Skene, and Scott Johnson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
★★1/2Declan O’Brien did not impress me with the previous instalment, Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, but I’ve got to say I like this one at least a little better than that.
Bloody Beginnings doesn’t particularly pull out all the stops, it isn’t a masterpiece – not by any stretch of the imagination – but aside from the acting, and some of the dialogue, the blood and gore pleased me for a good slasher, and the kills were vicious. This is by all means a slasher movie; a little different from run-of-the-mill horror. I think slashers need to be judged a little differently than other sub-genres of horror, that’s why this one gets a little better of a rating than the previous Wrong Turn disaster under O’Brien’s care.
The premise of Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is the origin story of the inbred cannibals in the West Virginia Mountains. We start off in 1974, at the Glenville Sanatorium in W.V, where the three cannibal brothers are patients, locked away for their own safety and that of others. They manage to escape, killing anyone and everyone in their path. Cut thirty years later – a group of friends go snowmobiling in the woods, eventually ending up at the now supposedly abandoned Glenville Sanatorium. A storm rages outside. After not too long, the friends discover someone is still checked in at the old asylum, and the brothers emerge from the depths to carve themselves up a bit of fresh meat to throw on the fire: nothing like a bit of lunch on a quiet, stormy winter’s night.
Immediately, I loved the first scene when I saw it. You’ve got some great elements going on: the creepy asylum, the West Virginia deep woods, patients going wild, and then the three brothers. The use of classical music over the end of the opening scene is excellent, I love when filmmakers put classical or old style music over horror, or any intense situations on film; the juxtaposition makes for something interesting, you almost want to smile until you remember what’s going on in front of you. There’s just utter madness throughout the opening bit. When the three brothers kill the doctor it is a great, wild kill, and certainly sets the tone. It looks good, too. I was afraid O’Brien would pull out a kill like the first one in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, which looked horrible – and not in any sort of good, practical effects type way, it was cheesy and CGI’d to death. This one was gory fun.
I don’t like that O’Brien felt the need to go for nudity again right off the bat. I’m fine with sex scenes, if they serve their purpose; I don’t need to watch a movie for sex. And yeah, it’s a staple of 1980s slashers, but the 80s this ain’t, and the nudity in this was just silly. The first scene with the main characters came off needless, when O’Brien could’ve used that time to really jumpstart our emotions towards the leads – instead, you don’t really care about any of them, not at the start, not much in the end.
Furthermore, the acting in this was not good. A couple people held their own, but much of the acting came off wooden, very stilted. The only real emotions I bought from anyone of these characters was fear; development-wise, they didn’t do much for me. I honestly felt bad a little for the Daniel character [Dean Armstrong] because he was the only sensible, nice guy of the males in the film. Unfortunately Armstrong’s acting is a bit stiff, and he didn’t pull me in far enough with the empathy. The other guys I certainly did not relate to because they were foolish characters. This is the biggest problem for Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, the characters don’t catch us and make us care enough for the kills to pay off in the way they are meant to for a slasher; we should care about them, so when they die it’s either a shock or it makes us emotional. The script isn’t perfect, though, it wasn’t so bad a group of solid actors could’ve have made things work. These actors aren’t the worst, but they’re far from the best. Horror needs good acting, or else so much of the framework of a horror film will fall flat on its face.
The kills are my favourite part of this entry in the series.
When they first killed the doctor I anticipated there might be some better deaths in this movie than in the last one, which relied too much on computer generated-looking junk that ultimately does not sell itself. Here, there are some great practical style effects. Those types of kills in horror always come off more effective because it’s visceral, you can see and almost feel the skin peel off, slice open, bleed, and it makes for a better reaction.
In the auditorium of the asylum, one of the girls is killed (one of the couple pictures above), and it works so well. The blood is plenty, and the reaction of the guy trying to grab onto her feet as she hangs from a barbed wire-like noose is perfect: he screams a wild, high yell, his face getting covered in the blood running faster and faster with every second from her open wound of a neck. You almost want to laugh at the scream this guy lets out, but it is perfect. It struck me as absolute shock and terror. Plus, the blood work is incredible. Great stuff.
I hate the term “torture porn”. So silly. I understand what it means, and the intentions of such a term in trying to describe the types of films that run under that banner, but – aren’t slashers meant to be full of blood and kills and carnage? Yeah, I get that some of it is overkill, what I don’t get is how relevant that is to anything. A slasher is a slasher is a slasher. You can try to spice things up – I loved You’re Next and thought it was a fresh new slasher flick for the modern era – but a slasher will always be made up from some basic elements: one of which is gore. What else do people expect a bunch of cannibals stuck in an asylum out in the deep woods of West Virginia are going to do? You think they’re going to all of a sudden start hunting? No, they’re going to eat people, they’re going to chop them up and make new dishes out of them – stir fry and all kinds of crazy concoctions – and it’s going to be a big, bloody, rotten mess. That’s what I came here for, anyways.
People will say I’m mental, but I’ll give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. There is effort here, regardless if you can’t seem to notice right away. The horror element of this movie really works, for me at least. All the gore and the kills and the creepiness pays off. Whereas in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead there’s a lack of both good horror and any decent acting, this entry into the series gives us some worthy terror, packed with savage, bloody murder, and plenty of brutality to make things worthwhile. If that isn’t what you’re looking for, then go watch a ghost story, or a haunted house movie – or anything else than a slasher. Because if you’re looking for a slasher… there will be blood.