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FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 4: “Devil’s Night”
Directed by Loni Peristere
Written by Jennifer Salt
* For a review of the previous episode, “Mommy” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Room Service” – click here
Once more, another night at the Hotel Cortez – “Devil’s Night”, in fact.
In strolls Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar) for a stay. Apparently this is his third year back since perishing. Looks as if we’re going to have a savage night, aren’t we? He pops into the room of some guests and bashes in the man’s skull with a lamp. He asks the woman to “swear to Satan” she’ll be quiet, but of course that doesn’t work. A bit of cat-and-mouse until ole James March (Evan Peters) appears at the end of the hallway…
A nice slick opening sets up an obviously entertaining night ahead, especially for Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) who is still staying at the Cortez. A hotel full of dead serial killers on the move? Should get wild.
When Lowe wakes up for the day he talks with his daughter Scarlett (Shree Crooks). It seems as if there’s a bit of a divide now starting to creep between John and his family. He’s not quite right. Doesn’t help when he starts seeing a massive pool of blood forming on the ceiling, dripping down his wall.
Better yet, we get a look at the story of Miss Evers (Mare Winningham) – back in 1925, she seems quite the prissy, uptight mother. Her child is dressed up as the typical bedsheet-eye holed ghost. After taking time to blab on with some other woman, a man abducts the little ghost and speeds away. WHOA. That’s already disturbing enough, who knows what happens from there.
Zipping back to the present, Miss Evers has a bunch of bloody sheets in the bathroom trying to get the stains out, as usual. Lowe, bleary eyed and sort of ghostly looking himself, wonders what’s going on around the hotel. She’s only a blubbering mess, but he understands. They’ve both lost children.
The ghost was taken to a ranch and caged up, poor kid. Another snippet of true American Horror – the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders – plays the backdrop for Miss Evers and her personal story. A pretty horrifying story for her. Still I’m super intrigued to see how she actually ended up at the Cortez, as well as how she and Lowe will interact more given their similar loss of young children.
John’s wife, Alex (Chloë Sevigny) has brought little Holden (Lennon Henry) home from the hotel and its weird rooms, the glass coffins. She’s glad to have him. Examining him a little, finding his temperature to be very low, things are definitely in a lull before terror strikes. Holden tells mommy he’s thirsty, but is it juice he wants? Alex pours her son a big glass. I’m pretty sure he’d rather have a nice drink of blood, though. When she goes back in with the orange juice, he’s sinking teeth into the family dog and having a snack. He wants his other mommy, not Alex.
Poor John. Man, oh, man. He is being put through the ringer. His mental state keeps slipping, as he goes back to bring up the police files on Miss Evers’ story, only to discover it happened 85 years prior. I’m just waiting for something harsh to happen with him. I don’t want it to, just have the sneaking suspicion Lowe will fall further down the rabbit hole.
Alex goes back to the Cortez, where Holden giddily climbs into his coffin. The Countess (Lady Gaga) slips in unnoticed, only to invite Alex upstairs for a chat. We get a flashback to Holden’s disappearance – The Countess was standing nearby, watching them. Terrifying moment where we see her walking away with Holden and John screams out for his son. Even more terrifying is a subtle moment: Alex pulls a gun and holds it at the Countess, who only leans back in her chair, without words saying “Fuck you and your gun”. Just a real solid moment.
Love, love, love more Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare)! She serves Lowe a bit of soda, as John decides: “I‘ll have a double martini.”
“Control is an illusion”
“Tonight I surrender to the illusion”
But glory glory hallelujah, Lily Rabe is back at the bar – literally – as Aileen Wuornos. She’s on her thirteenth year at the Cortez, dead since 2002. MY GOD, Rabe is a constantly amazing piece of work! Here, Wuornos sits down with Lowe for a drink. They have a bit of casual chit chat. Rabe is fucking incredible, she doesn’t copy Charlize Theron’s performance, but absolutely embodies Wuornos. For anyone who has ever seen the two documentaries about Eileen by filmmaker Nick Broomfield, you just can’t deny Lily Rabe rocks this role out of the park. The body movements, the look, the inflections in her speech and tiny idiosyncrasies about the way she performs… it’s perfect for this episode! Ruivivar did well with Ramirez, I dug that too. But Rabe is worth the price of admission this week. So great she’s back on American Horror Story. Weird, though, how Lowe ends up heading back to a room with her.
What follows is a bit of intensity that I won’t ruin with any more. See it, dig it.
Loved seeing the Zodiac Killer, dressed in the supposed getup the living victim saw him wearing all those years ago, stroll past Lowe through the lobby. Amazing episode, cramming all these infamous serial killers into the hotel. Perfect addition for the week in which Halloween falls! I’ve got a great t-shirt with this version of the Zodiac on it, very creepy. Such a nice brief shot of him going past Dt. Lowe, the costume design worked so well.
Naturally, John is weirded out by it all. Downstairs he gets an invitation from Liz Taylor for the big Devil’s Night Ball. Should be a grand time, no?
Oh my, the hits just keep on coming! John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch) talks about doing good sub-flooring with Ramirez – such an incredibly subtle way to introduce the story of Gacy, instead of having him immediately dressed as a clown or something. At the dinner table, March introduces the night with a bit of absinthe. Everyone drinks it back excitedly. Although Lowe is certainly confused. Then there’s Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel), too. Zodiac strolls in late, silent, being heckled by the other killers. JUST AN OUTRAGEOUSLY AWESOME FUCKING SCENE! Yes, there’s exposition to give us a bit of the newly introduced serial killers, but I think it comes in proper doses. Plus, Lowe eventually breaks in and starts ragging on everyone, still believing it’s all a Halloween costume party of some sort. I couldn’t get enough of this whole sequence, such a well written episode.
I won’t ruin more of the big dinner scene. There’s an excellently disturbing, grotesque sequence within it after “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies starts to play, and all the murderers get their toys out, start really enjoying themselves. So terrifying! Detective Lowe has to sit there, handcuffed due to Gacy’s saucy tricks, and watch it all go down right in front of them. Love how March gives short little explanations about how all the serial killers came to him at various periods in their lives; it gives us great context, however, it also shows us how wonderful Evan Peters is as March, he gets time to show off a bit and be “the master.” Loved this sequence with every macabre and morbid bone in my body.
John Wayne Gacy: “Johnny Depp likes my paintings!”
With a little under 10 minutes left to the episode, we see Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) having a smoke outside the hotel. Some Wall Street-looking guy wanders up to her and talks shit for a little. Turns out, he wants “whatever you’re selling“, so he says to Sally. Will this poor fella end up in one of those mattresses like the creepy skin and bones dude from “Checking In” and Gabriel (Max Greenfield), too? We’ll see how things go for this one.
Oh my, we didn’t need to wait long. Sally buys off being left alone at the hotel by bringing up a fresh carcass for the killers’ dessert. Everyone selects a knife, Gacy even gets his makeup on (nice to see Lynch as another clown; this time an arguably more sickening one), and then the fresh bloodletting begins!
Then out of nowhere, Sally seems to wake John up. He’s alone. No killers, nobody else except him in a dusty old room. What is real? What is not? He’ll never know, though, we’ve got a great idea ourselves: scary enough, it’s all too real. Once Sally has the detective out of the room, March and the others go back to business.
“Devil’s Night” finishes off with Countess bringing Alex into the fold – she’ll now be one of those carrying this “ancient virus.” With a sweet kiss, the Countess tells her to allow herself “to be ripped apart” before letting Alex feed on some of her blood. All in the name of being reunited with Holden “for all of eternity.” Or at least that’s the bullshit this particular vampire is selling. Notice how Countess weeps sort of, as we cut out on Alex’s newly opened eyes, the virus no doubt taking hold; interesting to see where this heads.
Stay tuned for next week’s “Room Service.” Cannot wait to watch it, this episode was incredible! See you then, fellow horror fans.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 12: “Afterbirth”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Glee, The New Normal)
Written by Jessica Sharzer
* For a review of the previous episode, “Birth” – click here
We start off this finale, “Afterbirth”, with a flashback to a time when there seemed to be hope for Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott/Connie Britton). They’re trying somehow to make it work, obviously after he has pissed all over their marriage vows. Ben shows her the house – dear ole Murder House – saying they ought to give it a chance, it might be the way to find their groove again. He says he could see it like a movie, they were all there, around the fire, together once more as a true family. It’s one of those excellent scenes done in hindsight; we’re able to look back at all the horrible, terrifying events of Season 1 and say “Yeah okay Ben” when he says that it feels as if there is hope for them in the house. Tragically funny.
With the baby around now, Vivien dead, Ben Harmon is left to himself. He’s trying to take care of the baby, but clearly Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) does not want the child to go back into the wretched Murder House. While I don’t necessarily think the baby is going to turn out all right no matter where it goes – being a child of Tate (Evan Peters) after all – there’s part of Constance which does care for the child. Things went so awfully wrong with Tate, she only wants another child, another chance, in order to not raise a monster; ultimately, it’s all about how she feels her child and his actions reflect on her, not how much she cares about Tate. She is a selfish woman. Many of her intentions are spot on and righteous, however, the way she goes about putting them into action leave a lot to be desired.
At the same time, Ben now becomes aware of Tate being Constance’s son. Further and further his reality is beginning to slip away and become something of a memory. All around him are the ghosts of the house, which now include his own wife and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga).
I love the smeared lens style look so many shots have, as the ghosts are around Ben and he’s sort of wandering through their garden, so to speak. This really makes things look surreal and the atmosphere takes on an eerie feel simply from the perspective itself. We feel disoriented watching all of this, but it’s meant in an effective way to produce a required feeling; not meant to make us turn away or feel uncomfortable, it’s disorienting in the way we’re drawn into that surreal world. This technique is a classic by now in the universe of American Horror Story, one of those staples of the series, so I think that’s something which works incredibly well. So many psychological horrors will use that style, yet it isn’t overplayed or anything. Used correctly, it puts us into that shaky emotional space where psychologically strange scenes often need to play out.
There is a ton of tragedy in “Afterbirth”. While Vivien and Violet make their own amends with Ben, and decides not to kill himself to be with his family as originally planned, Hayden (Kate Mara) has other plans. Along with Dallas (Kyle Davis) and Fiona (Azura Skye) – the serial killer enthusiasts from “Home Invasion” – she strings Ben up via noose and hangs him until dead from the chandelier.
Just as everything seemed to be going right for Ben, maybe a turning point in his life somehow, there come the ghosts to keep him stuck within the walls.
It’s funny because I’d honestly thought after “Birth”, the season could’ve ended with a bit more time; maybe add another 15 minutes to that penultimate episode and there was the season finale.
But then in “Afterbirth”, we get a really great episode. A new family comes to move in as Marcy (Christine Estabrook), the sly real estate agent she is, doesn’t disclose the ENTIRE history of Murder House; only the recent tragedy of the Harmons. This gives us an interesting chapter for the season’s close.
Super cool aspect to this finale is how we’re seeing the crowded ghosts bumping up against one another. While Violet meets the new teenage boy in the house, Gabriel Ramos (Brennan Mejia), in the background we see Tate – jealous and hateful as ever – watching her with him, no doubt probably plotting whatever his next murderous move might be in the depths of Murder House.
Then there’s a chilling moment where Miguel and Stacy Ramos (Anthony Ruivivar/Lisa Vidal) say they may want a baby, to make the place less lonely after their teenage son moves off to college. Ben and Vivien watch on, unnoticed by the living, and realize this nice couple ought not to have a child in that place. AMAZING SCENE! So visually excellent, as the Ramos couple begins to heavy pet and makeout, almost near sex, and Moira (Frances Conroy) stands over them in the kitchen to tell the Harmons they’ll need some help in getting the Ramos family out of there; other ghosts are vengeful, hateful entities.
Before, the house was trying hard to get a baby, now that the Harmons are newly ghosted on the property they’re more concerned with trying to help another family get away from Murder House.
The spirits are all trying to drive this new family out. Even Tate – he’s no longer concerned with impregnating the wife of the house, he wants to get the teenage boy out so Violet won’t stray away. Although Violet wants nothing to do with Tate, he is constantly misguided in the afterlife.
Even Beau (Sam Kinsey) gets in on the action, scaring Mrs. Ramos in the hallway, as Ben Harmon suits up in the Rubber Man outfit and tries to crawl on top of her in the bedroom. Incredibly well executed sequence, as almost every one of the Murder House ghosts appears to the Ramos family in an attempt to scare them away forever. Elizabeth Short (Mena Suvari) also materializes, Glasgow Smile and all, cut in half and bleeding all over the place. Macabre bunch of nastiness! Phil Critter (W. Earl Brown) bumps into the Ramos husband in the hallway. In the basement, Vivien tears Ben’s guts out in front of the Ramos family, before Ben shoots his deceased wife in the forehead, each exclaiming “You don‘t know how long I‘ve been waiting to do that.”
Another thing about the finale that hit me right in the excellent horror nerve is how they circled back to the Pilot, using that initial song the saucy twins were prancing around to at the beginning. I always love those circular motions in films and television shows. Especially with a series, because we’re harkening back a good ways to revisit things that sometimes we might even forget. Such is the case with the scene where the Ramos family speedily runs out of the house, not worried about their belongings, and the Harmons stand on the porch, lamenting that another family will only move on in eventually; the whole we’re listening to that strange, eerily unsettling song from the Pilot directed by Ryan Murphy, it’s called “Tonight, You Belong To Me” by Patience and Prudence. Effective moment that always gets me when I watch it.
Still, above all else in this episode, I think the best moment of “Afterbirth” is the very finish. Obviously nobody thought the baby – Michael – was going to turn out all right in the end, but what we’re able to see is how as he grows up he becomes more and more like his evil father Tate.
When Constance goes to check on Michael in the final scene, the boy is now slightly older. We’ve flashed forward three years. He is also now starting to grow into his skin, as the true son of his father. The bloody handprints on the rocking chair, Constance’s face as she sees the dead woman on the bedroom floor – it’s so creepy and shocking at once. Really nice horror movie reveal and it works incredibly for the last thing we see in Season 1.
So much of what happened in the house boils down to Constance and Tate, and so I find it’s only fitting she is the last character we see before the season closes. A great way to show how the violence and madness and depravity of Murder House will never fade, as long as there is a child or offspring of some sort related to the house still breathing and living. Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve score, previously played as Tate massacred his high school classmates, comes in eerily just as the scene comes to a close and it’s like echoes of Michael’s father are literally in our ears. Beautifully macabre piece to finish.