Madison and Chablis go to Murder House looking for answers about Michael Langdon
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 11: “Birth”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Smoldering Children” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Afterbirth” – click here
The very start of this episode shows us more of the relationship between Tate (Evan Peters) and Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe). While a young Tate, very little, runs around Murder House while his mother leaves him on his own, he comes across the old child of the Montgomerys, lost and filthy and creepy in the basement. Nora shows up and tells Tate about how all he needs to do if the ghosts scare him is close his eyes, then tell them to go away. This sets up not just their relationship, which further compounds after Tate becomes a ghost himself in the house, it also goes deeper in this episode. Later, we’ll see where this comes into play even more.
Now that Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is completely aware of her living dead situation, visually we’re seeing how it affects both her and her father Ben (Dylan McDermott). He tries taking her to go and see Vivien (Connie Britton), as well as bring her home finally, but naturally Violet cannot make it off the property. When Ben pulls out of the driveway, we pan around to Violet up in her window, talking with Tate. She’s slowly accepting the situation, however, that does not make it any better for her.
Moreover, Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) are also planning for the babies. They’re hilarious together, painting the room and the cribs and the dresser, et cetera. Great scene as Tate confronts them saying they ought not mess with Violet’s mother; I thought the way Chad gets in his face and says “What are you gonna do – murder me?” was darkly hilarious yet also just bad ass at the same time. Well written scene. I always enjoy how American Horror Story as a series overall both includes and confronts gay issues. This scene and the whole subplot of Chad/Patrick in Murder House is one small example of how well the series uses gay characters. And why not? Too many people get hung up on the fact they’re gay, instead of simply the fact they’re a human, they’re a person, a character. As long as they’re written well and enjoyable, who cares if the character is gay, straight, transgender, or whatever? I’m glad the writers have the ability to write the characters of Chad and Patrick well enough, they’re a great addition to the whole mix of ghosts traipsing around Murder House.
Also, their addition ups the ante even more, as it seems each and every ghost in the house has their own plan in regards to Vivien Harmon’s babies. It’s almost like an old western where a bunch of outlaws all end up in the same place, each angling to their own ends. Very cool episode in this sense because we get a good look at all that, out in the open.
Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) shows up to help Constance and Violent. I like how Billie is truly psychic, so she can tell Violet is dead. Neat little moment between them while they connect telekinetically.
My favourite part is a brief little bit where Billie tells Constance and Violet all about the supposed story behind Roanoke – the Lost Colony in the 16th century whose citizens all up and left, seemingly. Only the word ‘croatoan’ was left carved in a tree. Of course, Billie’s story is a fabrication, using the idea of spirits lingering to explain how they might purge the spirits o the house; particularly, Constance wants to get “the gays” out.
This all plays more into how the ghosts are all vying for the Harmon babies, each with their own misguided and mental plan to sort of start over and integrate the newborns into the ghostly, haunting family of Murder House.
Vivien’s doctor at the psychiatric hospital advises her and Ben she might need an emergency C-section. This is due to the fact one of the twins seems to be growing at an abnormally fast rate, while the other is growing weaker; the ‘alpha’ is draining all the nutrients, leaving the second to essentially wither away. And we all know what’s going on there, right? That little demon baby is sucking up everything useful, hoping to spring from the womb and deploy its evil.
Once Ben gets back to the house, Violet unfortunately has to make it painfully clear for her father in order for him to accept that she is dead. All the same, Ben doesn’t believe her. Everything comes down at once – right as she’s about to make him understand, Vivien’s water breaks and the birth is upon us.
I think this might be one of my favourite sequences in the entire first season of American Horror Story, maybe even in the series as a whole. Reason being is that it’s intensely chaotic, there are a hundred things happening all at once. We even get the original twins from the Pilot, who help Murder House by smashing up the Harmon vehicle, puncturing its tires and beating it to pieces. Then ole Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) shows up, the dead 1968 nurses stab holes and all at his side to assist in the birth; they’re all present. It’s one of the most surreal group of scenes out of the season, and that is saying something.
The way it’s shot, half blurry bits as Vivien screams and prepares to give birth to her new twins, it is dark and weird, as well as absolutely beautiful. There is very sombre-like chamber music playing in the background, we get flashbacks to Vivien giving birth to Violet – a much happier time for Ben and Viv – and the whole aesthetic here is out of this world! The dark, candle lit birth is so weird. Shots here remind me of Rosemary’s Baby at times, when the titular character was experiencing those extremely strange dream-like moments (but they were no dreams); this is even more fun because I find there are other moments in Season 1 with Vivien which are definitely an homage to Roman Polanski’s classic psychological horror.
What I’m thrilled so much by is how Violet tries to use the whole Roanoke spell, courtesy of psychic Billie Dean Howard, and it fails hilariously on Chad – that scene was killer. Quinto is full of charisma. The thing I enjoy about that part so much is how Quinto hammers it home that basically there’s no getting rid of the ghosts; they’re doomed for eternity. Chad is stuck with Patrick, a man who doesn’t truly love him, for the rest of time, and so on, and so on. They each have their own burden to bear eternally, there’s no end to it. The pain simply goes on endlessly and there will be no rest. With all the dark comedy on Quinto’s end during that scene, it is actually a traumatic conversation in the end. Violet faces down the fact she’ll never find any sort of peace, ever again. The afterlife is merely an abyss, there’s no closure.
Then poor Vivien – after the savage birth of one stillborn and the child of Rubber Man Tate Langdon a.k.a the offspring of a human and a ghost – bleeds out and passes on to the other side. This moment falls with such heavy impact. Everything from the way it’s shot, to the sound design and dialogue. All those elements come together to make the finale ridiculously spooky. The best shot is how when Vivien finally dies, the camera reveals Ben Harmon alone – his wife pale and dead and the bed covered in blood between her legs and everywhere else – and now all the ghosts are gone. It’s an eerie set of shots.
Furthermore, Violet has been told the truth about her love – Tate the rubber rapist. More and more, she discovers what lies behind Tate. She thought he was merely “attracted to the darkness“, but Violet tells him: “You are the darkness.”
While Tate clearly does love her, he is still an awful and terrible ghost, one who has caused havoc in the afterlife as he so horrifically acted in flesh and blood. So I find the way he and Violet end things here both sad and highly interesting. Finally, she screams at Tate to go away, which we already know is the way to dispatch the ghosts who you don’t want to bother you.
The best part is another pan around reveal – once Violet screams Tate into the mist, the camera turns and sees Vivien caressing her daughter’s head, arm around her shoulder. They’re now together, perhaps even happier in a tragic ghostly sense than ever before.
Massively impressive penultimate episode for the first season. The next episode and finale is fittingly titled “Afterbirth” and is directed by Bradley Buecker, a Ryan Murphy regular on Glee, American Horror Story, and also a producer on Nip/Tuck.
Excited to do a review for the finale, as well as to get on into the Season 2 reviews. Stay tuned for lots more horror and creepy stuff!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 10: “Smoldering Children”
Directed by Michael Lehmann (True Blood)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the previous episode, “Spooky Little Girl” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Birth” – click here
The opening scene in this episode treats us to a view of the past. Slowly, we’re unravelling the truth about Constance (Jessica Lange), her eternally troubled son Tate (Evan Peters), and both of their relationships with Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare).
This sequence shows them all together at a dinner table, nice meat and other assorted foods presented to eat, and Addie (Jamie Brewer) is also present. Another flashback to a different time. This is when Larry’s family has already burnt up, after his wife discovered the affair with Constance, and now Larry has become the stepfather of the Langdon house.
However, we’re finally drawing back the curtain on Larry and his mysterious burns. Now we see that Tate, before going in to kill his classmates, poured gasoline over his new stepfather and set him ablaze at his office building, while Larry was trying to work a regular day behind a computer. Vicious and macabre beginning to “Smoldering Children.”At the same time, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) has finally come to realize that his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) told the truth all along: the Rubber Man did something to her, he attacked and raped her. After coming to see the light, Ben is able to help get her out of the loony bin. Unfortunately, though, Vivien does not want to go back to that house. Obviously; who would?
Things are clearly messed up at Murder House. Ben’s also coming to see the full extent of how hard everything has been on his daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). She has missed 16 straight days at school, so he can see how depressed she is, how weak and fragile to the harshness of the world she can be. But there’s something else worse going on in the house, all around them at every turn.
One thing I love about American Horror Story, every season, is how there are plenty of anti-heroes. Then, there are also just not likeable characters who you also simultaneously can feel sorry for at certain times.
For instance, while Larry Harvey has done terrible things in his lifetime, he is also a tragic figure. I do think he’s awful for having an affair with Constance behind his wife’s back – but in the same breath, I feel bad because he’s been manipulated by her. She only wanted back in Murder House, that’s all she ever wanted, so from the beginning the guy has been a means to an end; never an end in and of himself. So, even with all the bad stuff in his character, there’s likability at moments. In the scene during “Smoldering Children” where Constance goes to see Larry, accusing him of killing Travis (Michael Graziadei) because of jealousy, I really did feel for him. He was cowering and looked so pathetic, it was real touching, sad stuff.
An intensely satisfying scene comes when we discover how Constance dispatched of her husband’s body: ground up into dog food. I mean, that is perfect! I wondered why his bones hadn’t turned up in the hole out in the yard where Moira (Frances Conroy/Alexandra Breckenridge) was found earlier in the season. This was just too good for words.
Very quick and creepy scene with guest star W. Earl Brown playing Phil Critter – an exterminator whose expertise is called in by Ben Harmon. Murder House seems to be having an epidemic of flies and other bugs flittering about, so Phil gets into the crawlspace and tries to root out the problem. However, too bad for Phil, as he comes across Tate Langdon down there; the young man attacks him, claiming he has taken lives and deserves to repent for his sin, and shoves the bug repellent sprayer down Phil’s throat. SAVAGERY! Love a good, brutal horror kill like that. Just goes to show American Horror Story isn’t solely about that high aesthetic feel all the time. There is downright shocking and gory horror sometimes, along with brutish kills such as this one.
Even further with Larry, we see him reunite with the titular smoldering children, as well as his deceased wife. He promises her Constance will pay for what she’s done, however, his wife reaffirms it was only him who did anything to the family; he was the one who broke his vows. A tragic scene, as it seems to constantly roll in when Larry is concerned. I feel bad, yet don’t feel bad. Sort of a war within myself. Part of it has to do with the burns; I always feel bad if I see someone scarred so viciously by fire, it’s a truly horrific thing to have gone through. Still, it’s tough to give in totally and feel pity for Larry, as so much of his fate came by his own filthy hands.
What we’re seeing more now in the past couple episodes is how much Tate has to do with the influence of the house. It’s as if the walls have assimilated Tate into its structure, he’s become like a figurehead for Murder House and its vile intentions.
In “Smoldering Children”, it’s obvious how deceitful and misguided Tate is because we’re seeing him manipulate Violet. Instead of telling her the truth, he wants to commit suicide with her.
But then, she comes to discover something extremely tough to understand: “it’s too late for that.” Violet is already dead, she killed herself and became a part of Murder House herself. I’d suspected this ever since her long absences from school first became apparent, now it’s a confirmed fact. Violet has been wandering awhile in the house as a ghost, no different from Tate, the Montgomerys, or any of the other entities. While I did suspect this, I was still shocked by the revelation. That’s how good this series is, you can get lulled into a feeling by the way they present the story and plot/sub-plots, then out of the blue an episode will show things in a certain way that it comes to have a strong impact. Such an example comes in this episode with Violet’s revelation.
When she sees herself curled up and dead on the floor – reminding me very much of the dead bodies from The Ring – it is WHOA! Great, emotional moment between her and Tate. And while some may see this as Tate being more likeable, after trying to ease her into the realization, he’s still a dirty little bastard. He raped Violet’s mom, he has killed and maimed and tortured countless men and women. The afterlife love he has fell into with Violet does nothing to change his character, except it blinds us to his true intentions. This comes out in spades here.Being accused of killing Travis, Constance ends up saved from the predicament by Larry; he takes the fall for the murder, giving up details nobody else could’ve known. Of course it’s all because of his affiliation with Murder House. I love this scene because we get a trove of treasure out of O’Hare – from the way he talks to Constance, his shuffle and the arm held against his chest, tendons burned into that position by his fiery accident. A marvellous performance!
Also, I found this portion of the episode to be fitting. Larry decides it is high time he pays for everything he’s done, all the crimes and the death he has caused by his very own hand, so that’s why he decides to let Constance go free and take the wrap. But tragically, again with Larry, he’s too in love with Constance. He could’ve turned himself in for crimes, other ones, instead he decides to let her walk and take that punishment. It’s a sad scene when she goes to see him in jail, but it’s beyond perfect and eerie and sad and beautiful.
Next episode is titled “Birth” – the penultimate episode of Season 1, and it is directed by series regular Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.
Stay tuned for more horror and tragedy and all around weirdness.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 9: “Spooky Little Girl”
Directed by John Scott (Nip/Tuck)
Written by Jennifer Salt
* For a review of the previous episode, “Rubber Man” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Smoldering Children” – click here
Cannot get over or stop raving about the opening 1947 sequence for Episode Nine, “Spooky Little Girl”.
Not only is there a fabulous, brief cameo by Mena Suvari, she plays the well-known murder victim Elizabeth Short – otherwise known as being associated with the Black Dahlia case. The whole thing is macabre, as yet another naughty doctor seems to be taking up residence in Murder House, even after the debacle concerning the Montgomery family (Matt Ross & Lily Rabe).
Turns out, the man who killed Short and left her with that gruesome, wide, bloody smile, cut in half in a field, is the doctor in ’47 working out of the new Harmon home. Highly creepy stuff! I love how American Horror Story incorporates a lot of real life events into its DNA, which is an essence of the show even as time stretches on – each season seems to have something linking it directly with real history, whether it’s the story of Anne Frank and Project Paperclip from Season 2 – Asylum, or the Stevie Nicks angle in Coven during Season 3, there are plenty of instances where true life horror stories come into their own in episodes of this series. Another thing to love.
Poor Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) can’t seem to catch a break. Everyone she cares about and loves seems to be slipping away. Even her beefcake boyfriend who is lured into sex by living dead Hayden (Kate Mara). She actually does more to drive him away than to keep him. Constance wants a family so badly to try and make up for how the first one was screwed up beyond belief and recognition that she lashes out and everyone around her. That’s all she needs, but it clouds her vision.
After an argument with her, the boyfriend goes back for another round with Hayden. Unfortunately for him, Hayden needs somebody to take her aggression out on and he’ll be spending the rest of eternity in Murder House with all the rest of the ghosts and demons and spiritual presences. This show has a great streak of morals concerning cheating; all the infidelity gets punished, eventually somewhere down the line.
This cheater’s body gets a Black Dahlia treatment, tossed half cut into pieces in a field somewhere. Nasty, grim business.
At the same time, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) is confronted by Hayden’s sister Marla (Tanya Clarke), who believes he has something to do with her supposed disappearance. Then, out of nowhere, the ghostly Hayden shows herself. Naturally, inside the house – in La La Land, as she puts it herself – Hayden can do what she wants. Ben still doesn’t know the true nature of Murder House, so he believes she’s stalking him or playing games. Instead, she’s just another ghostly presence, a demon or spirit wandering around inside the walls of the Harmon home.
Then, even worse than Hayden, Ms. Elizabeth Short (Suvari) shows up, non-cut in half and without a giant bloody, sliced up smile. She needs a doctor to talk to, and certainly Ben can’t say no to a pretty face. There’s so much twisted stuff revolving around Dr. Harmon, it’s unbelievable. He’s constantly being seduced, and worst of all that now it’s mostly ghosts trying to lure him in; his wife hates him, which is clear and understandable, so the poor guy is susceptible to all this sexualised spirit influence around him.
Ben receives a call from the doctor, revealing his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) is having twins from two different fathers. Meaning she must have slept with someone else during the same ovulation cycle, something extremely rare. Though, we know this is most likely not intentionally the case, Rubber Man Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) did rape Vivien, or at least had sex with her under false pretence, and so we know what has actually happened. What this will do, though, is confuse Ben and send him into a spiral, believing his wife has given him ammunition to fight back saying “Well look what you did; I can’t be so bad” and using it as a way to justify and excuse his own unfaithful behaviour.
The story between Constance and her lost son Tate deepens in this episode. After Ben’s call from the doctor, Moira (Frances Conroy) lets Constance know about what happened to Vivien – that only one child in her womb was fathered by Ben Harmon. Constance confronts Tate; it’s obvious all she wants, above anything, is for him to get help. From his beginning as a troubled young child, she only wanted to help him. However, the older Tate became the more lost he wandered along the treacherous path of life. Now, he’s not simply a ghost, an entity, he is also a killer, a savage, a rapist. While Constance is no innocent herself in the long run, she certainly is nowhere near the level of Tate. I do pity Constance, in a way, because despite her own terribleness she seems to have had a truly tragic life.
Later in the episode, we come to discover it is in fact the ghost of Charles Montgomery who comes up with the solution for a dead Elizabeth Smart. Quite eerie and further plays into the history of the house. I like how this was the further explanation, as it would’ve been a throwaway to merely have the doctor at the start be the unknown Black Dahlia murderer. To have it be Dr. Montgomery, this adds an extra level of eeriness to Murder House and its long line of history involving murder and mayhem in Los Angeles.
Furthermore, he shows up again to help Hayden and the other ghosts get rid of Constance’s now deceased boyfriend. More of a wonderfully savage touch!
For all the idiotic stuff Ben Harmon has done, he genuinely at one point wanted to piece things back together. The house has twisted him, and everyone else inside/near it, beyond recognition. He thinks his wife is actually insane, that she has cheated on him, when it has been the haunted house in which they live making her seem that way. So there’s a part of me which pities Ben. Hard as he tried, failed as he might have at certain turns, there’s no hope whatsoever for him because the spirits in the house want him to feel a certain way, want him to act in a particular sense and do things they need done. There’s an end game, a long game, the house is playing and sadly for the family dynamic of the tragic Harmons, they are not included on the winning side. All that matters to them, the spirits and the living dead inside Murder House, is that they get the baby (now babies) inside Vivien, so that the lost mothers wounded by the house might have another chance at life, at love, at giving their lives to their children. Endless tragedy, it seems. A great part of why Season 1 has been so perfectly horrific in more than a superficial way.
What I loved is that finally in this episode Ben sees Moira as her true self – the older Frances Conroy. It’s a perfect moment, as she tells him that he’s finally “seeing this as they are” and he literally sees her for her true form. Amazingly poignant bit. Not heavy handed, it works in an eerie manner.
The end of “Spooky Little Girl” is especially creepy. We’re treated to a nice dose of that apocalyptic sort of religious feeling, as Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) visits Constance and they talk about the coming of the children to Murder House. Her story about the Pope’s box is unbelievably strange in the best sort of way, she recounts a story of The Room of Tears and how the box contains the supposed End of the World, describing how everything will come to a close. This all goes to speak to how Tate, a ghost, has impregnated a flesh and blood woman; Howard says this will spawn the Antichrist.
It is a really awesome little sequence to finish the episode. Personally, The Sentinel is one of my favourite horror movies; it’s an overlooked masterpiece of the genre from the late 1970s. I found this finale reminded me of something straight out of that film, particularly its opening sequence. Also has an Omen-ish vibe. Regardless of where its inspiration comes from in the end, I found this last piece to “Spooky Little Girl” to be one of my favourite moments out of the entire first season. It’s simply spooky, all there is to it.
Next episode is “Smoldering Children”, directed by Michael Lehmann (True Blood, Californication).
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 7: “Open House”
Directed by Tim Hunter (River’s Edge)
Written by Brad Falchuk
* For a review of the previous episode, “Piggy Piggy” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Rubber Man” – click here
Nice open from when Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) and Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) were together, living in Murder House amongst their dark bliss. Constance tells him to do it, like he said he would. First, I thought it would be the first we know eventually burns Larry. However, he heads upstairs to their son Beau who lives in the attic. He’s terribly deformed, something is wrong with him beyond a mere disability; he looks similar to Victor Crowley in Adam Green’s modern slasher Hatchet. Then, as papa Larry tells him it’s time for bed, instead of a gentle goodnight poem for Beau, his father instead chokes/smothers him to death.
In present day, Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) is trying hard as she can to sell off Murder House. Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the real estate agent, isn’t quite cutting it, but mostly it’s the history of the house putting things into chaos. Joe Escandarian (Amir Arison) has shown up to see the place; he’s a sleazy land developer type, more interested in the young looking Moira (Alexandra Breckenridge) than the house itself. He only wants to turn it all into a block of complexes, apartments or some other such development.
Of course, any work like that might pose a problem for the ghosts of the house. As well as anyone else involved with them, attached, anyone family to the deceased who are left roaming around the property of the house. Then they’d be stuck in some big complex, forced to live with others instead of able to stay around with their own family, their own friends.
The relationship between Tate (Evan Peters) and Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is deepening. She clearly only wants to help him, but still he’s oblivious to the afterlife. He even outright asks Violet if she believes in ghosts; Tate simply believes that there must be somewhere else better than right here, right now. If only he understood.
Even more, Violet can’t stand her parents, they’re making her feel neglected. Both Vivien and Ben (Dylan McDermott) care that she does not want to leave Murder House – for reasons they know not – however, most of all Ben just wants to get it sold and try to “pick up the pieces” because he obviously feels everything slipping away, trickling out of his grasp. Unfortunately for him, Vivien is resistant. She doesn’t particularly care what Ben wants, nor should she, still – it’s in everyone’s best interest to get out of there.
We know, though, the house is not going to up and let them off without struggle.
Mr. Escandarian is being lured in by the young Moira. Reason being, she wants him to dig up the backyard for a pool. She uses her sexuality to bring him closer, like all the weak men who see her as a twenty-something. But it isn’t only a pool – she wants her bones dug up, so that maybe she might get away from the house. I feel bad for Moira because her sexuality, sadly, is what killed her; Constance punished her fatally for it. At the same time, sexuality is one of her only weapons beyond the grave – I love the angle that men, weak and frail, cannot resist her, seeing the sexy young lady while women see kind and orderly, older Frances Conroy. Great and telling twist.
More of Larry Harvey’s backstory comes out here. He had a wife, but fell in love extramaritally with Constance Langdon next door; she lived in Murder House before them. Turns out, his wife Lorraine (Rebecca Wisocky) set the fire which ultimately killed his family and left him a half-burned man.
So his love for Constance and dedication to her is what drives Larry to try and keep the house in his possession, or at the very least in some way under possession of all the souls on its grounds.On the Murder House tour, Vivien and Marcy discover more of the history.
Back to the 1920s with Charles and Nora Montgomery (Matt Ross & Lily Rabe). Now there is further macabre and grisly stuff to discover. Nora prepares herself to say goodbye and have a funeral for their murdered baby. However, Charles has pieced it back together using all that Frankenstein-like power of his he’d been perfecting in the basement.
When Nora goes upstairs to say hello to the little thing, she tries to breastfeed it. Downstairs with her husband, claw marks all over her chest make it clear the baby needs something else. As Nora says: “It wasn‘t milk he was craving.” Such a spectacularly creepy scene! Charles brought to life a half-baby, half-animal, something not entirely human. It’s more than macabre, it’s downright horrific.
But then Nora does them all a favour – she blasts her husband in the back of the head with a revolver before eating the barrel herself. WHOA! I mean, it was dark to begin with; this came on nasty, and like Gang Busters.
What I most enjoy about “Open House” is how all the ghosts, as well as the still living Constance and half-living Larry, come together in a kind of pact. In order for them all to get what they want, the house must remain in tact. Therefore, Mr. Escandarian is a bit of trouble in terms of keeping it in their possession, under their control. Constance tries to go talk with him reasonably on her own terms, however, he is not the nice businessman-type; he is arrogant and misogynistic and a real douchebag. He all but seals his own fate by brushing Constance off so rudely.
Again, reference to Peter Medak’s The Changeling, as Violet heads up to the attic where she comes across Beau; naturally, dying at the hands of his own father in the house he too is a part of its structure. Why, all of a sudden, is Violet seeing this? Tate tells her she has “evolved“, but there is more to it, I think.
Regardless, I love how the little red ball comes out of the darkness to Violet before she sees anything else. Great little reference, there’s no way it isn’t alluding to Medak’s masterpiece starring George C. Scott.
We’re seeing the veil drop for Violet now in the house. There’s something more to what’s happening with her and each episode brings us closer to whatever realization lies beyond that veil.
Pretty solid episode, once more. Particularly I love how the ghosts are coming together to try and protect the house, as well as themselves. Ultimately, family is a big theme of the season, but also survival – while the family, Ben, Vivien, Violet alike, are all trying to survive in their own rights, the ghosts and the house are trying to survive in their own ways. Their unfinished business carrying them on and on.
Also a nice little end as Violet shows her mother older pictures from her adventure in the attic with Tate. In one of them, Vivien sees the woman who came to her house recently: long since deceased Nora Montgomery.
Next episode is titled “Rubber Man”, directed by Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, Youth in Revolt) and by the name of the episode we can bet there will be revelations concerning the latex Rubber Man creeping about Murder House, the one who most likely impregnated Vivien.
Stay tuned for yet another review, moving along swiftly through Season 1!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 5: “Halloween – Part 2”
Directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain)
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Halloween: Part 1” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Piggy Piggy” – click here
This episode starts off as the last one ended, with Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien (Connie Britton) returning from the hospital. While they can’t seem to find Violet (Taissa Farmiga) – who is out on her date with Tate (Evan Peters), finally letting himself be seen outside of the Murder House – all of a sudden the living dead Hayden (Kate Mara) shows up again, bleeding, dirty on the front porch.
So I love how Ben is being driven completely mad. He’s spiralling further down a dark and dreary rabbit hole. While Hayden has risen from the dead, Vivien mentions they need to talk about Ben moving out of the house. He doesn’t want to, of course, but Vivien seems as if she’s fed up completely with his shit. Rightfully so, I mean, the man is messed up beyond repair, as far as I can tell. Either way, that damaged family dynamic pushes farther in “Halloween: Part 2”, putting more intense pressure on Ben as his issues literally rise up from the grave.Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) is back pestering Ben Harmon. He obviously knows tons more about the house than he lets on. He’s alive, but still in league with the ghosts and demons in the Murder House, at least in some manner. What I enjoy so much about Larry’s character, and the subplot involving him, is that we’re not able to tell exactly what his deal is early on. There are some aspects I can get a grasp on, slightly anyways. In opposition, I feel as if Larry’s angle keeps me on my toes. I love seeing how the suspense between Ben and Larry plays out with each passing episode.
With the newly secure premises of Murder House, the Harmons have a guard keeping close watch on them – Luke (Morris Chestnut). The house seems to be inviting further trouble, the misguided jealousy of Ben, as an alarm goes off drawing Luke to the Harmon door. Already we can see this will become a sticking point for Ben.
The relationship between Violet (Farmiga) and Tate (Peters) deepens now with their date on Halloween night – the night we’ve been told already when spirits can walk freely. As they relax on the beach, a bunch of kids with bloody bits all over them, gory-looking supposed costumes accost Tate. They say they’ve been looking for him, that he has finally shown his face.
So it’s all but confirmed in this episode: Tate is a ghost. He never leaves the house because he’s stuck there, a part of its fabric like the very wood and paint and carpet inside. Except on Halloween, he can go out. You can just tell even seeing him jump around, prancing, enjoying himself, Tate is SO HAPPY to be outside of the Murder House. Harkening back to Tate’s dream from the Pilot, we’re seeing his story come out now; the high school kids confronting Tate are all shot to pieces, much like what he imagined himself doing in the dream he described to Harmon. It’s pretty much obvious what is happening in this episode, however, I like that the writing doesn’t spell every last bit of information out excruciatingly with expository dialogue that aches the brain; as so many other shows often do. Instead, the info comes to us but mostly through slight remarks, the characters, and how we as the audience piece together all those puzzle pieces scattering around, episode after episode.
The Ben-Hayden subplot keeps on coming hard. Vivien receives a phone call from apparently dead Hayden; a call of pure sass. Then, Ben meets dead Hayden in the basement where she chastises him, spits up blood and bits of teeth, as she’s rotting from the inside; being dead and all. It’s such a sickly intense scene.
Even further, we’re getting more of an idea about Larry’s connection to the ghosts. He pleads with a dead Hayden to let him help her take care of things, more specifically of Vivien. Larry says it’s been too long since he used his lighter. Naughty, naughty.
Ghosts are just pouring down onto Murder House. Chad (Zachary Quinto) shows up again – he trashes the decorations and pumpkins on the porch. He screams at Vivien to get out of the house, that it isn’t hers. Simultaneously, in the bathtub upstairs Hayden seems to be having a nice, steamy bath. It’s like Vivien is wedged between ghosts, unable to escape them both inside and outside.
Which leads us to fully understand that it’s the property itself, not just the physical house, holding all the supernatural entities swarming around the Harmons.
But on Halloween, it does not matter. Everywhere is fair game for spirits. This leads all those highschoolers who taunted Tate on the beach earlier up to the doors of Murder House, calling for Tate to come outside and confront them further.
Now, as everything else is tumbling down, Vivien finally discovers Hayden’s pregnancy, Ben lying even more. Not to mention that Hayden find out about Vivien and her pregnancy. What an awfully twisted moment. Such nasty business! I love how it’s part supernatural horror and part real/dark family drama. There’s a hundred things going on, yet it isn’t clogging up the story with too many subplots. Because everything comes back into play, one way or another. This show goes for the long game, it doesn’t try and throw everything together at once. Some of the ghosts play a part in making things worse, others play different roles. It’s fun to watch everything weave into a bloody, savage, and eerie tapestry of ghosts, murder, infidelity, and horror movie homage.
At the end of the episode, Constance reveals Tate is her son, to Violet; she also asks Violet to promise not to tell Tate his sister Addie has now died. He is clearly a trouble boy who cannot handle the harshness of the world, as we’re slowly seeing by discovering he most certainly committed a high school shooting. It’s incredible, we’re getting more amazing depth to the character of Constance, as well as Tate. Mostly I’m drawn to Constance who is riddled with tons and tons of emotion, so much nuance.
AGAIN THE HORROR MOVIE MUSIC REIGNS!
Bernard Herrmann’s work is back on deck again. This time, it’s a piece from 1968 and the cult film Twisted Nerve. What a classic bit! Excellent movie to reference. Again, proving Ryan Murphy is a horror fan, as well as the others involved in working on the show. Most people will probably recognize the tune from being hummed by Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill, but that’s another testament to the cinephilia of Quentin Tarantino, that awesome bastard. It actually comes from this cult horror, an unsettling little film; if you’ve not seen Twisted Nerve, do so as soon as possible.
This comes as Tate is being confronted by the high school kids, the obviously DEAD ones, and we’re finally, officially, figuring out what Tate has done while alive. Tough and tense scene, very dark. Dig it!
Final few minutes or so are perfect. The ghosts all wander back, after a successful night allowed out on Halloween, towards the Murder House. Each of them lamenting their lives as spirits, made to stick to the house like honey. Solid scenes to end off the two-parter “Halloween.” Also, it plays into how Ben sort of drags himself back home; he’s like the walking dead himself, slowly moving back there to Vivien, as if the both of them stick to their marriage in the exact way the ghosts stick to the Murder House. Nice juxtaposition to finish this off.
Next episode is “Piggy Piggy”, an excellent part to the first season. It’s directed by Michael Uppendahl, whose other work includes Ray Donovan, Shameless, Mad Men, and many other shows.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 4: “Halloween – Part 1”
Directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain)
Written by James Wong (Final Destination, The X-Files, Millenium)
* For a review of the previous episode, “Murder House” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Halloween: Part II” – click hereAnother flashback now, we open “Halloween: Part 1” with the (partial) deaths of the gay couple who previously lived in the Harmon’s latest home.
Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) are getting ready for Halloween. At least, Chad is anyways. Patrick is heading out to the gym, or he says so – turns out Chad knows that he’s unfaithful. They have an argument, but it’s clear they’re in love. The spark is simply a little light on their love life, apparently. When Patrick heads out, Chad is getting ready for more decorations when the Rubber Man shows up – y’know, the one with whom Vivien (Connie Britton) had sex at the end of Episode 1 – and proceeds to drown him in the bob-for-apples tub. Patrick shows up, an intense stare-off ensues, then the credits roll. Highly creepy. I loved this opening!
The house is not selling, which obviously makes Vivien nervous. She keeps hounding her real estate agent, who in turn suggests they bring in a fluffer – did they intentionally reappropriate this word, or is it to show how little this woman knows about sex culture? I don’t know, either way it was hilarious.
Of course, this all plays into what will happen later in the episode. Look out.
Then Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) keeps finding himself stuck with Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare). The melted man is demanding a little pay cheque for handling the body and disposal of Hayden (Kate Mara) whom he killed in the finale of the previous episode. I can all but literally feel the noose tightening, slowly with each episode, around Ben’s neck. On one hand I feel slightly bad. On the other, he only keeps on compounding his infidelity with stupid move after stupid move. All that being said, the house is manipulating every last one of them, the entire family, in the most cruel of ways.
More this episode between nasty, resenting mama Constance (Jessica Lange) and her sweet but troubled daughter Addie (Jamie Brewer). You can see how insecure Constance is in general, as she somehow believes Addie is going to steal her young, hot boyfriend. It’s sad really, however, I think it’s wonderful writing. We’re seeing that sad side of L.A through this first season. While there are so many typical failed actress angles in film and television, I find Constance and Addie truly moving, while at the same time finding Constance’s behaviour towards her disabled daughter awful and deplorable. It’s simply excellently written work.
Chad and Patrick show up once more. Only Chad is somehow alive, as last we left him his dead eyes were floating in the tub of water and apples.
What I enjoy is how the gay couple’s issues with infidelity mirror those of the Harmons. Fascinatingly morbid scenes between them all. Not only that, Patrick comes onto Ben while they’re alone. Of course Ben turns it down, he’s not gay. All the same there’s this unsettling moment where Patrick tells him “we’re alike” in the sense of their infidelities, and it rings true.
Moreover, Chad seems to play the devil’s advocate by dropping very subtle suggestions for Vivien in regards to her husband’s cheating.
Jessica Lange and Jamie Brewer work so well together, it is unreal. What I find intriguing is how Brewer, a girl with down syndrome herself, plays a young woman just like herself. For her to have to act out some of those scenes between Addie and Constance, it must’ve been difficult. So to see these two actors working in intense scenes off one another, the subject matter tough and unflinching, it’s a testament to their abilities, as well as the writers who are tackling these situations head-on.
More bits of 1922, as the subplot of Charles and Nora Montgomery (Matt Ross & Lily Rabe) unfolds further into the darkness. Their baby, stolen by someone obviously hating the Montgomerys for their work in abortions, turns up cut to pieces; stored in jars much like Montgomery kept fetuses and other macabre things. To Nora’s surprise, her husband tries to Frankenstein their child back together with bits of his tiny, broken body and the amputated pieces of animals. It is real horrifying and nasty stuff.
Vivien has found out about Ben being in contact once again with Hayden. The tension further boils up between them and Ben scrambles to try and fix things. While he knows the truth – Hayden is dead and gone – Vivien of course does not and worries more will happen. Somehow, Ben is almost able to convince her, but then Hayden’s phone starts ringing Ben on his cell. Somehow. The look on Ben’s face says it all; incredible work.
More horror movie score working its way into the series – a bit of music from Wojciech Kilar from Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola. That movie is one I absolute love, so to hear a piece of music from it used here again excites me. Glad to see Murphy & Co. know the quality stuff, despite what anyone says about that film. It was an incredible movie with awesome music and an overall well-crafted aesthetic, so I’m glad it’s receiving homage in some form here.
The most tragic thing happens in “Halloween: Part 1”, as Addie – pretty girl mask on and all – runs into the road after a bunch of young girls she wants to trick-or-treat alongside. She’s promptly smashed by a car, something I never once expected. I didn’t realize when I first saw this season, as it originally aired, that Addie made her way out so quickly. On second viewing, I’m amazed that it’s only the fourth episode and already Addie dies. Crazy how you sometimes forget things like that when watching a television show. Just goes to show how much is going on in one season of American Horror Story, that such an important, sorrowful event happened early on and I thought it was much later.
BEST SCENE: a doctor at the hospital faints after viewing Vivien’s sonogram, obviously seeing something which affected her. It’s quick, effective, and spooked me. Nice horror movie moment right there.The finale of “Halloween: Part 1” is incredibly wild, weird, and creepy. The house is surrounded by people, both past and present – and otherwise – as even a living dead Hayden shows back up at the door. All the while, Larry Harvey is looking for his money, screaming, raving out on the porch, as Violet is left to fend for herself. Then there’s also Rubber Man, standing in the background silent as ever, right behind Violet. There’s seemingly no escape; for any of them.