John Meehan takes things to a fatal level
John is taking things to a new level in his rage against Debra.
Debra Newell meets a man online who seems perfect, only for those around her to slowly discover otherwise.
The Last Winter. 2006. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Fessenden & Robert Leaver.
Starring Ron Perlman, Connie Britton, James Le Gros, Jamie Harrold, Zach Gilford, Kevin Corrigan, Jamie Harrold, Pato Hoffmann, Joanne Shenandoah, Larry Fessenden, and Oscar Miller. Antidote Films/Glass Eye Pix/Zik Zak Kvikmyndir. Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
It’s no secret I’m a huge Larry Fessenden fan. His collection of films recently hit Blu ray, so I luckily snatched up a copy from eBay at a solid price. The entire 4-disc collection includes his films No Telling, Habit, Wendigo, and of course The Last Winter. Included are a ton of extra bits like music videos and short films Fessenden pulls out of virtual obscurity, as well as the man himself talking us into the pictures, plus the short pieces too. The commentary is great all around, everything about this collection is magic.
The Last Winter is a rare bird. While I’m not huge on certain special effects in this movie, I can’t fault it much more outside those elements. In a day and age where too many people deny climate change, not to mention its impact(s), Fessenden takes the horror genre and weaves a contemporary issue through its cliches and tropes in a unique way. The story, above all else, is what matters. Add to that some solid performances, excellent tension developed by Fessenden’s directorial style, and this is a supremely creepy effort among a ton of post-2000 horror movies which aren’t worth their weight.
American oil company KIC Corporation is drilling in the arctic, constructing an ice road into the Northern Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to find more locations in which they’ll explore for more deposits. At a station ran by corporate shill Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman), a team of environmentalists work side by side with people from KIC. James Hoffman (James Le Gros) and his assistant Elliot Jenkins (Jamie Harrold) are the most recent scientists evaluating the project. When Pollack bumps heads with Hoffman, the latter is taken away from the project permanently; no doubt due to Ed’s pull at KIC. At the same time, young crew member Maxwell McKinder (Zach Gilford) goes missing for a while. Upon his return, he seems distant, disturbed. One night, he wanders out into the wilderness, naked and mentally unstable. The rest of the crew find him dead, eyes only empty sockets. And then, they realize the environment may be starting to take back what they’ve drilled so relentlessly out of its bones.
Hoffman: “Why do we despise the world that gave us life? Why wouldn’t the world survive us, like any organism survives a virus. The world that we grew up in is changed forever. There is no way home. Is there something beyond science that is happening out here? What if the very thing we were here to pull out of the ground were to rise willingly – confront us. What would that look like? What if this is the last winter, before the collapse? And hope dies.”
The cinematography is spectacular. So many of the exterior shots in particular, they’re marvelous to look at – from the wide shots of the Arctic Circle, to the helicopter and sweeping crane shots of the camp. Every last sequence in the entire film looks gorgeous, even the dark, shadowy moments. Again, as I said earlier, there are a few shots involving special effects I don’t think come off so great. At the same time, the camerawork itself is all around fascinating. Fessenden has a great eye for unique looking shots, things which catch the eye: crane and helicopter shots, tight and wide angles, the whole spectrum alike. Here, he’s aided by cinematographer G. Magni Ágústsson.
Together with a distinctive look and feel, The Last Winter‘s atmosphere comes across so feverishly in part due to the inclusion of an eerie score by Jeff Grace (Cold in July, The House of the Devil, The Roost). Not only is there a quality score, the tone consistently set between that and the visuals, there’s incredible sound design courtesy of Abigail Savage (who many will know well from her turn as Gina Murphy on Orange is the New Black). Everything is creeping, in terms of sound: the wind in the background, the stamp of ghostly hooves across the frozen arctic plains, and later the crashing plane, all the fire which follows and so on. I’m always keeping my ear out for good sound design, as well as score. But there’s something about the background sounds and noise of a film which really elevates a film properly if accomplished well. The sound design can truly make a movie less interesting if the sounds incorporated are annoying or aggravating, instead of compelling and rich, as they certainly are in this film.
While I could rave on about Ron Perlman, even James Le Gros or Connie Britton, most of what interests me about The Last Winter is the plot and the story. Fessenden creates an ecological horror film out of the fear of global warming/climate change. The character of Pollack (Perlman) represents those stubborn sort who think the tipping point has passed, even if they’re willing to admit the world climate is changing for the worse. His hardheaded nature is the type which got us to this point. But yet in this film, we literally see the evidence climbing up and out of the ground. The living embodiment of nature fighting back against us. I know a lot of viewers may find Fessenden’s themes here heavy handed and obvious. However, I find the presentation makes things so interesting, it’s hard to deny the thematic power at play. Fessenden uses many typical horror genre tropes to explore the sociopolitical issues inherent in the dynamic between those who quest for oil versus those who keep telling us to be wary of our reliance on fossil fuels without worrying (or caring) about the consequences.
The Last Winter, despite some of its less than stellar computer generated imagery, is a 4 out of 5 star film. For me, it is. Others may be turned away from its environmental message, buried beneath its thrills and its horrific moments. Some might not like other aspects, who knows. But I cannot tear myself away from the grim tone, the compelling cinematography, sound design and writing. Even more than that, the writing helps bring out some timely messages about us, our world, and the future that could come to be eventually. I don’t think it’ll look exactly like this portrait of madness Fessenden illustrates. All the same, I’m inclined to feel we’ve absolutely treated this planet like shit. Some day we might pay for all our transgressions against this world we claim to love.
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.
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 8: “Rubber Man”
Directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt, Chuck & Buck)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Spooky Little Girl” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Open House” – click here
In the opening of this scene, Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) bemoans the state of her modern house. Trapped in ghostland, she does not realize yet she is dead either, like Tate (Evan Peters). In the darkness behind Nora, as she weeps for her baby and wants another, Tate comforts her; he’ll help get her a child.
Then he goes out to the trash, he finds the Rubber Man suit. This is a flashback to the Pilot, when Rubber Man had sex with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton); she, of course, thought that was husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) at the time. Now we’ve confirmed for sure that Tate is the one who did the deed. Chilling and highly unsettling, I love and hate it all at once.
Vivien is still disturbed by the events at the end of last episode, “Open House”, when Violet (Taissa Farmiga) showed her an old picture of the house in the 1920s, one featuring Nora Montgomery. Naturally, Marcy (Christine Estabrook) thinks Vivien is nuts, but Moira (Frances Conroy) offers comfort; no surprise there.
One aspect I loved in “Rubber Man” is how Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) come back into the picture. Crosscut with Vivien complaining she feels as if she’s going crazy, we head back to Chad who is upset, worried about him and his better half. It appears Patrick is stepping out on the internet; he’s secretly into S&M subculture. Chad does all he can to try and please his man, but Patrick seems to not care at all. Sadly, the Rubber Man suit Chad buys for the two of them to enjoy later ends up as part of their death. In this episode, the full view of what happened to Chad and Patrick – only partly shown previously in “Halloween: Part I” – is given a nasty, brutish treatment here.
Even more interesting is how their deaths play into the overall story of the house. Turns out, the fact Patrick seemed to have lost interest in having a child/children with his partner Chad became the reason for their savage murders. The house/Nora needs a baby, so Rubber Man – a.k.a Tate Langdon – will go to any lengths required in order to secure one. Even if that means murdering, raping, torturing, terrifying until the seed is planted.
More of Hayden (Kate Mara) now, as all the ghosts are in cohabitation. She comes across Nora weeping, shedding some light on the newly discovered situation of Mrs. Montgomery for her. Sadly, Nora still does not get it yet. Slowly she is beginning to understand what’s going on. I feel really bad for Hayden; while she was banging a married man, she never deserved anything which happened to her, and definitely not being trapped for eternity in Murder House. She and Poe bond in a brief scene, rolling the ball back and forth – neither of them asked to be stuck there on that property, each murdered brutally under false pretence.
What I loved is how Hayden has afterlife sex with Constance’s (Jessica Lange) dead husband Hugo (Eric Close) – she takes out the anger inside on him, banging then stabbing him to death, only for him to keep on after-lifting. It’s a naughty cycle, I just thought that was an excellently twisted scene.
Furthermore, Nora is being led to the river by Hayden who believes they ought to take Vivien’s twins for themselves. Also, Hayden drops the hint for us in the audience that poor Vivien might soon be locked up in an asylum. Thus begins the true terrorising of Mrs. Harmon.
There’s so much great haunted house stuff in American Horror Story. With the ghosts actively doing poltergeist-like stuff, we get to see both sides: the family living in horror versus the ghosts trying to clue up their unfinished business/vendettas. That’s something we’re not usually treated to, even in film. More often than not, almost always, we’re seeing a family being tortured by the demons/ghosts/presences in a haunted house. Here, we get to see the motivations of the ghosts themselves and what is driving them, as well as the fact we’re watching everything happening in reality to the families and people drawn to the house. I think that’s one of the greatest things about this first season. Moreover, I think it was the best and most natural place for the series to start, as the haunted house sub-genre of horror is one almost everyone knows – even non-horror fans probably enjoy a good haunted house movie now and then. Each season has a great anthology premise, but this is most definitely the greatest starting point Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk could’ve decided on.
More concerning Violet falls out of the plot into our laps. It turns out Violet has not been to school in two weeks. Strange. Even while the family is in shambles, you’d think someone would have realized something was wrong before now. Yet everything else happening around Ben and Vivien, all the weird and unexplained and eerie events, it detracts from Violet and her issues. More every episode, we come to see there’s something else happening to Violet that her parents cannot yet see or understand.
My favourite part of “Rubber Man”, though there is a ton, is the scene between Moira (Frances Conry) and Vivien. Moira recounts the basic plot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which goes along fittingly well with the events happening to Vivien. Especially going forward through the remainder of the episode, the woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” comes as an allegory for the story of Vivien – however, in Murder House, Ben Harmon is not doing anything purposefully trying to damage his wife, but instead the house itself is making Ben and everyone else around Vivien believe she has gone completely mad.
Moira pushes her towards this, warning Vivien she must leave or else something bad might happen. This is when we start to see the house really working on Vivien, as it only works against her.
In the car with her daughter, ready to leave, Vivien sees the ghosts of the serial killer fans who broke into the house in “Home Invasion“. She runs back in, believing them to be real, and of course this further breaks down things between Vivien and Ben. Plus it makes her look absolutely nuts, even worse when Violet can’t confirm there was anything actually there.
The end of the episode is highly suspenseful, full of tension, as Vivien – believing an intruder, perhaps the sneaky undead Hayden – uses a gun she stole from real estate agent Marcy to shoot Ben. Of course, she did think it was someone else, but still. Now that gives him more ammunition to put her in a hospital, fearing her mental state is deteriorating. Which it is, yes, just not in the way anyone thinks. It’s exactly what the house has wanted. All in order to get those babies growing inside Vivien. Believing herself to be attacked by Rubber Man Tate Langdon again, with Hayden onlooking and taunting, Ben and Luke (Morris Chestnut) rush in to find Vivien rolling on the floor by herself. Even to Luke now, it’s clear something is not right.
The house is driving everyone, in their own way, off the deep end and into utter madness. It’s tragic and heartbreaking all at once and you feel for characters while also hating some of them; a big mix of hate, fear, love, and sexuality, this Season 1.
Next episode is titled “Spooky Little Girl” and is directed by John Scott (Nip/Tuck). Can’t wait to review that one, as well.
Stay tuned yet again!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 3: “Murder House”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (Nip/Tuck, The New Normal)
Written by Jennifer Salt (Nip/Tuck, Eat Pray Love)
* For a review of the previous episode, “Home Invasion” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Halloween: Part I” – click hereThe first scene we’re treated to is an explanation of how Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) and Moira O’Hara (her younger incarnation Alexandra Breckenridge) came to hate one another – and an explanation for Constance’s quip in the previous episode.
Turns out that Constance caught her naughty husband Hugo (Eric Close) forcing himself on an unwilling Moira. They’d had a previous, willing engagement before, but this time Moira is apprehensive because she needs her job and won’t jeopardize it. However, Constance has other plans – she puts a bullet through Moira’s eye (explaining the older incarnation’s faded eye), then shoots her unfaithful husband.Things are getting worse and worse in the Harmon house, as Vivien (Connie Britton) is only finding her faith in husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) constantly slipping. Even more, Vivien really wants to get herself out of the house. She’s pregnant, vulnerable, and after the attack wants to distance herself from their new place. This makes things extremely stressful, as Ben isn’t particularly excited; no doubt moving in there took a bunch of money and to turn around and try to sell it, along with its history, will only take more. This ratchets up the tension in the Harmon marriage – as if it weren’t already tight enough.
Meanwhile, ole Ben can’t seem to take his eyes of the young Moira. I feel so bad for him because she isn’t really the young woman whom he sees, but at the same time regardless of how she looks Ben shouldn’t be looking, gawking, wanting. He’s a married man. Moreover, he’s a married man who already cheated once. I don’t think there’s any need on his part to make thins worse, yet it continues to happen. The house is slowly sucking him in and it shows no sign of loosening its grip.
The scenes between Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy are excellent. Two incredible actors doing their business. The history between their characters is excellent, only helps that their performances match such good writing.
Ben starts getting himself in even more trouble. Possibly worse than anything going on in his family. During a session with Sally Freeman (Adina Porter), a patient of his, Ben blacks out. Then all of a sudden he’s in the backyard, blood on his hands. Inside, a sexualized Moira – in young form – is bent over, panties and inner thighs showing, and soaking up blood on the floor. What’s happened? Who knows for sure.
Then Moira rubs up on Ben, causing a big scene as Vivien walks in and he’s shaking her, telling her to stop. This is where we truly see the difference between her older/younger self coming into play with Ben and Vivien. It’s starting to cause big problems between the husband and wife, turning up the heat more on the already rocked family dynamic happening.Poor Vivien discovers that their new home is unofficially dubbed MURDER HOUSE, and of course as is Los Angeles there’s a little tour dropping by, narrated by a gentleman over speaker. While Vivien trims the flowers in her frontyard, hovering over the bushes, up it pulls and music blasts out of the speakers, frightening her. It’s not so much a fright in the sense of being scared, mostly it’s the fact she is horrified to learn the house has so much unwanted, infamous attention thrust upon it, and in turn upon them. She even goes on the tour to learn more about what happened in the house, as she’s never ever told the true history by anyone else.
Part of what I love about “Murder House” is that we start getting lots of history about the house itself. Introduced here, we see Charles and Nora Montgomery (played respectively by the equally awesome/creepy pairing of Matt Ross & Lily Rabe). Turns out, Charles was a surgeon. Of sorts, anyways. He did things not especially unanimously approved by doctors. We see flashbacks to 1922 – Montgomery performed abortions, aided in part by his wife. This begins to setup a long line of macabre events in house’s history.
Montgomery doesn’t only perform abortions, he seems to like Frankenstein-ing creatures together – pigs with two heads, a wing. Not only that, it’s clear Charles has a problem with drugs, huffing up inhalants into his lungs before supper, as well as drinking on top of that.
Now we also see during one scene – Moira appears young only to men. A detective looking into the disappearance of Ben’s patient Sally Freeman seems to see exactly what Ben does when looking at Moira. This is tricky, tricky stuff and I like that it’s not only Ben drawn in. Moira, essentially, works on the weakness of men.
There’s a scene where we also see the supposed tale of Sal Mineo’s death at the hands of a man he’d tried to cruise, looking for gay sex. I thought it was interesting Ryan Murphy would let this urban legend surrounding Mineo into the episode. Though this one is written by Jennifer Salt, I’d have anticipated Murphy maybe not thinking it was a good idea to perpetuate a supposedly untrue rumour about Mineo and his homosexuality. Bit of a cheap thing to thrown in here. Maybe it was to make the Murder House tour look sleazy, as so many of those little exploitative businesses are, making bits of cash off the pain and suffering of murder victims. I just thought that, as a gay man, Murphy wouldn’t allow the perpetuation of unfounded rumours. Unless there’s definitive resources saying otherwise, Mineo wasn’t killed because of propositioning a man for sex— he also wasn’t stabbed near as much as the scene makes out.
There’s a very quick moment between Constance (Jessica Lange) and Tate (Evan Peters). We’re sensing more and more about their relationship, though, it’s not actually clear to what extent that relationship goes. She waves to Tate, who stands in the window of the Murder House, but he only backs away into the darkness. We only get that little puzzle piece, yet it speaks volumes. Watch it and you’ll understand, absolutely.
Spooky scene as the past and present merge. I find that it sort of stands as a metaphor for the entire season, which is shaped by all the past events of the house bearing down on the people inside its walls during the present.
Connie, reluctantly, opens her door to a woman. Except it is who we know to be Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe) who comments about the house, how it has changed, modernized, and she has an eerily intense conversation with Vivien. Even scarier, we pan behind her head as she talks to Vivien, revealing Nora has a hole in the back of her skull; a nice big bloody one. Then, she disappears and Vivien is left in terror, alone.
Everything is coming to bear for Ben Harmon. While blacking out during Sally Freeman’s session, she flips out on him for not listening and then opens her wrists up right in front of him. It’s all on tape, Ben did nothing technically illegal, and as the detective tells him: “It’s not a crime to be an asshole.”
However, this disturbance is not the only nastiness Ben will face during “Murder House”. Apparently Ben has laudanum in his system; believing it to be Moira’s doing, he is angry naturally. If we’ll harken back a little, though, remember: Charles Montgomery had quite the addiction in 1922, no doubt to a bit of that soothing laudanum. Hmmmm, intriguing, no?
But the drugs in his blood stream aren’t what Ben needs to worry about most. As Hayden (Kate Mara) comes to hassle Ben at his home, the unexpected happens. Walking outside together, Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) smashes Hayden in the head with a shovel, believing himself to be helping Ben with all his latest troubles – infidelity, a pregnant mistress. Hayden dies from the blow. We see a piece of the episode earlier come into play now – after Ben woke up from one of his blackouts, he was digging in the backyard. Turns out, his halfway dug hole is perfect for Hayden’s grave, as well. Not only that, Larry helps to dig it and comes to find some bones and a skull already down in the dirt, obviously of great connection to him and the house.
Ben puts up a gazebo, a concrete pad over the hole. This is a visual metaphor for all the secrets Ben hides. It’s like the storehouse of secrets beneath the gazebo. He just covers things up, never faces the responsibility of his actions, paves it over and moves on with life. This horrible act will most definitely come into play, as the police already have wind of Ben after his patient Sally Freeman went awry.
Not only this, but now Moira – whose bones were in the hole – can never leave the property. She is concrete covered and stuck now. A very emotional scene watching the older Moira weep over her newfound destiny.The next episode is titled “Halloween: Part 1” and is directed by David Semel – his work includes the excellent episode “Takiawase” from the second season of NBC’s Hannibal, the following episode of this two-parter “Halloween: Part 2”, episodes of Legends, The Strain, Homeland, and more. Excited to review the both of these upcoming episodes, as they’re not only excellent but we see the first American Horror Story appearance of enormously talented actor Zachary Quinto.
Stay tuned my horror hound friends!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 2: “Home Invasion”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Pilot” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Murder House” – click hereThe opening sequence to Season 1’s second episode is an absolute killer. Sorry for that brutal pun, but it truly is an excellent piece.
Again, we’re already seeing the series use famous horror movie scores and nodding to a few of the greats. For instance, in a flashback to 1968, a strange man enters the house (where the Harmons now live) under false pretences. Nurses live there, and a bunch are out for the night. He attacks one and takes them both hostage. As soon as he turns rancid, the Bernard Herrmann score from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho begins to play. Further as the sequence progresses, before coming back to the present, more of the music continues, as well as a NASTY kill on one of the nurses; she is stabbed in the back, some of the shots nearly mirroring the famous murder of Marion Crane – except this one takes place on a couch instead of a shower. The whole thing has a very Ted Bundy feel.
When we’re whisked back to present day, the memories of the 1968 murders linger.
Even while Tate (Evan Peters) and his trusty psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) conduct their latest session, it’s still hard to shake the savagery of the opening scene.Big shocker, as a woman – obviously the one Ben cheated on Vivien (Connie Britton) with – calls Ben and tells him that she’s pregnant. So quick into the season and we’re already really past the tipping point with Ben and his infidelity. Which is interesting, because while the house is obviously twisting their lives up and we want to feel bad for them, it’s tough to make Ben, in any way, out to be the victim.
A reference to Peter Medak’s The Changeling, after Ben finds Addie (Jamie Brewer) playing in the basement, laughing seemingly to herself. Once he clears her out of there, we watch the ball she’d been rolling around come rolling back out of the darkness by itself. I mean, the colour of the ball and everything resembles that scene, I can’t help but feel as if it was definitely a reference to the Medak haunted house classic.
Ben has a young lady coming to see him now as a patient, Bianca (Mageina Tovah), who is having dreams about trying to escape a stalled elevator and then being cut in half. She clearly has another fascination with being there other than psychiatry, there’s something about her totally affected by the house, as if she knows all about it, the history and such.
There’s so much perfectness between Addie (Jamie Brewer) and her doting yet also hateful mother Constance (Jessica Lange). While at times Constance is an outright bitch in the way she talks to Addie, there are so many instances of how much she does care for her daughter. I love that Falchuk and Murphy aren’t afraid to bring characters to life here who are complicated. Aside from all the infidelity stuff, we’ve got a wonderful actress like Brewer playing a character whose own mother is resentful of her disabilities. It’s tough stuff, however, I find it incredibly intriguing, especially in a horror-based show. Their relationship, obviously, will flesh out more and more with every episode, and it’s something I end up enjoying a great deal about Season 1.Ben is in trouble. Hayden McClaine (Kate Mara) his supposed one time mistake is back in his life, full-time now, with the prospect of a child. Unfortunately, Ben is not only keeping secrets, he now has the horror of the house and the insanity of Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) being pumped into him. It’s dark stuff where this will all be headed.
Another dynamic I enjoy is the one between Vivien and her daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Britton and Farmiga are both great. Their acting here is on point and I found their relationship, the whole season, to be extremely believable. Violet is beyond spiteful, as she tells her mother “I think you’re weak,” and we can see that she’s as much hurt by her mother’s inability to walk away from her cheating father as she is by his unfaithfulness. Probably not fair, however, ultimately I think it’s mostly because Violet is sad. She only lashes out because, as we all once were, she is a teenager and believes her knowledge – supposed knowledge – is the right kind. Britton and Farmiga do well together in their scenes, really have a family feel going on, which doesn’t come off as forced.
Sneaky Ben has snuck off to see Hayden (Kate Mara). She’s supposed to be having an abortion, which they’ve both determined is best for them in the long run. While some might look at Hayden, believing her to be in the wrong or that she is clinging to Ben, I see the character as a girl who was duped into thinking there could be more eventually between them. Ben tries to avoid responsibility, much as he possibly can, but eventually things will catch up with him.Back at home, Vivien begins to experience something similar to – or exactly a copy of – what the nurses in 1968 went through on that fateful night at the hands of a strange and murderous man. Bianca (Tovah) was merely casing the house in her session with Ben, and along with Fiona (Azura Skye) and Dallas (Kyle Davis) they plan to recreate the murders. I mean – WILD! Love it, plus today in the sick society we’ve developed, I can totally see a twisted copycat style murder like this happening. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. This trio is like a deplorable serial killer cult, worshipping the man who killed those nurses in the ’60s; they’ve even got one of the objects used in the crime, bought off E-Bay, in order to bring further authentic and ritualized sense to their present day murders.
I won’t spoil any more of what happens, but we see so many things come to play – one of the cupcakes Addie and Constance made earlier, the ghosts lurking in the basement, as well as the tenacity of both Vivien and her sassy daughter Violet. Amazing scenes here. Tense, suspenseful moments. What’s even worse is the fact Ben is off with Hayden, as his wife and daughter have to deal with the titular home invasion.
Wildly shocking scene between Addie and Constance later in the episode. I mean, I couldn’t get over how witchy Constance comes off at this point. Locking Addie in a closet so she can have peace and quiet with her hunky, young boyfriend, Constance puts her in there – only surrounding the poor girl are mirrors, tons of them, reflecting her appearance right back into her eyes. Obviously Addie doesn’t like looking at herself much, which Constance knows. This part broke my heart – Constance walking away, Addie screaming bloody murder in the closet. Terrifying and sad all at once.
Again, the horrors of the house, from top floor to basement, come out in fine fashion for “Home Invasion.” The murderer hopefuls who broke into the Harmon house in order to reenact those 1968 killings experience the worst of what creeps amongst the shadows. In an act of retribution, the murdered nurses – victims of the serial killer they were there to worship and to whom they wished to pay tribute – are the ones who come back, ghostly and grisly, to take fresh souls for the house to keep.
Furthermore, we also get to start seeing how Constance, Tate, and Moira are all linked to the house. Not in the sense we’re given a ton of expository dialogue, or any exposition beyond what we’ve already started to think ourselves. Merely an effort on their parts, together, to clean up the basement after the would-be killers are dispatched by the living dead nurses. I thought that was a nice, slight touch. Instead of spelling things out too easily for everyone, it’s a brief nod for us to understand – okay, this is going somewhere, these three are up to something. What? We’ll find out.Next episode is “Murder House” (what this first season has been retroactively dubbed after each season seems to be given a subtitled name), which is directed by Bradley Buecker whose work includes other work later with American Horror Story, as well as Nip/Tuck and more.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Running With Scissors, The Normal Heart)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Home Invasion” – click hereYou’ve got to admire a series that opens things up in the way Ryan Murphy introduces us to his world with this pilot episode. Not only is it creepy, Murphy lays out the familiar pattern we see running through the entire series: flashbacks which speak to the present day events. Plenty of shows and films use flashbacks, but the way American Horror Story overall as a series uses them is such an intriguing technique, which the writers and directors pull of elegantly, as well as quite horrifically. What I love so much about this aspect is the fact that Murphy has only directed 3 episodes of the series – including the first episode of the newest season, Hotel. So, although he is a creator of the show along with Brad Falchuck, it’s still amazing to see how much influence he has had over the entirety of the series. It’s a continual thing we see in each season, how the flashbacks all come to bear on current day events we’re seeing.
With the opening of Murphy’s pilot we get to see a young Adelaide Langdon watching a creepy, and no doubt haunted, house all by herself; we’ll get to know Addie plenty as the season wears on. Up come a couple redheaded little shits, twins, who are mean to Addie and head inside to cause havoc.Immediately, there’s this eerie sense about the house. Of course, once inside the redhead twins find much more than they bargained for upon entering. There’s this absolutely horrific, brief image of a figure in the dark – awful hands and terrible looking teeth, gnarled, vicious coming at them. I thought that was an excellent start to the horror.
Then there’s an amazing tonal shift. We meet up with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) who has recently miscarried, as is expected the experience was horrible. After a doctor’s appointment, Vivien heads home to her beautiful home. But in the kitchen she thinks there’s a noise from upstairs. Calling 911 and taking a knife from a block in the kitchen, she heads upstairs only to find her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) obviously in bed with another woman. Though, we never see her. Outside the room, pleading for forgiveness, Ben gets cut on the arm by the knife Vivien is holding. More words from little Addie echo out of the past, words she’d spoken earlier to the twins: “You’re gonna regret it.”
Love the opening theme; quite creepy. Also, as we go on through these reviews just know I’m all the way caught up – I watch the episodes as they come on, it’s only now I’ve started to review them. So, what I really dig is how Murphy has another opening done for each one to go with the theme of every season. Anthologies, when done effectively, are so much fun in so many ways! American Horror Story is at the top of the anthology heap, as far as I’m concerned.
Lots of fun characters introduced here in the Pilot. Soon, we see the family move into a new home – the creepy house from the episode’s opening scene. Vivien and Ben, along with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), move on in and then we get to meet more of the cast.
The always amazing Jessica Lange plays Constance Langdon – a Southern belle living in Los Angeles. Not only that, she is the mother of Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who just so happens to barge on into the kitchen and frighten an unsuspecting Vivian with more prophetic creepiness: “You’re going to die in here.” From these two, expect tons of craziness throughout Season 1.
Evan Peters is Tate, a troubled kid sent by his mother to see the new therapist in the city, Ben Harmon. They talk about death, dreams and visions of death and blood and murder. Sick things Tate has inside him. Meanwhile, Tate sees pictures of himself with blood running down his face – other shots show him walking down the hallway, just as the dream he has described, with a macabrely painted face, skull art, and a black trench coat. Very cool and disturbing stuff already! Tate, from the get-go, was always one of my favourites in Season 1.
I love the imagery right off the bat, all the visions going on every which way. Also, the scene where Ben all of a sudden goes downstairs, lighting the fire, only to have Vivien interrupt him wondering what he’s up to. It’s such a weird, dreamy scene, and even Ben doesn’t realize if he’s awake or dreaming. This begins more weirdness to follow.
Furthermore, there’s the fact Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy) shows up – she was the maid of the house. It seems she pretty much comes along with the house. But there’s something else about Moira, she’s a shapeshifter.. of sorts. While Vivien Harmon sees an older Frances Conroy, Ben Harmon sees Moira as Alexandra Breckenridge – a young, taut, sexified girl in a French maid’s outfit, legs up to her throat in fishnets. So I love the duality here and the dynamic this introduces into the Harmons’ lives.
It’s as if the house is pushing them all, further and further. With every single turn.
Certainly, the tension between husband-wife duo Vivien and Ben Harmon sets up so much of what we’ll see going on throughout Season 1. What I enjoy about this whole angle is that, similar to a movie like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, not only is the family inside the house contending with the house’s evil, they’re battling their own demons.
While I love Dylan McDermott, his character Ben is the type you hate to love. He’s obviously flawed, as he cheated on his wife in her weakest moment. Then he tries to blame her saying that it was him in his weakest moment, that “you got a dog” when she ought to have been cuddling up with him at night.
So the intensity of their family situation, the anger Vivien has towards Ben and the perceived hostility he has in his head towards his own wife, it all adds to the already supernatural forces so obviously at work in the house.
The creepiest, of course, is when Vivien has sex with who she believes to be Ben, dressed up in the latex-looking suit they’d found hanging earlier in the attic; a weird S&M, tight black getup. All the while, thought she sees visions of Ben, her husband is downstairs holding his hand over the oven’s burner. Immediately we know that American Horror Story means to get up to some awfully strange, intense business.
As well, we get views of the evil looking person/thing from earlier in the episode’s opening sequence. Tate has Violet bring a girl over – the one who slighted her hardcore during her first day of school – and in the basement he intends to scare her. However, Violent sees it all, too. Something horrible, ugly, fierce. It’s balding, stringy hair, and the teeth in its mouth look yellow, jagged. I LOVE THIS! So terrifying.
Denis O’Hare plays Larry Harvey, a man who has obviously been in a terrible fire – half of his face is burned, better yet it’s melted. He warns Ben about the house, after lurking around, skulking at the edges of Harmon’s peripheral vision. Larry claims he killed his family and burned down the house, all due to the house, the voices of the house inside his head – he said he was like “an obedient child.”
We’ll watch how his character plays further into the plot of Season 1 as it moves along. Nice introduction to this character.
Two fantastic actresses – Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy – have the chance to go head to head. However, it’s brief. Yet within those few moments they share a great scene, as Constance (Lange) tells Moira (Conroy): “Don‘t make me kill you again.” This is another relationship we’ll see more of once the episodes roll on. Intriguing to say the least.
One other thing I love in this first episode is the use of the music from James Wan’s Insidious. A neat little touch. This technique is employed time and time again in Season 1, which I find is a nice nod to the genre fans out there. It says that Murphy not only understands the horror genre, he is also a fan.
Great episode. We’ve seen so much setup in less than an hour, it’s almost overwhelming. But not quite!
Stay tuned for the next episode, “Home Invasion”.