Jules and Margot struggle to try escaping No-End House for good. And John is very, very hungry.
Margot keeps trying to figure out her father. Lacey is caught between two husbands. Jules dreams of her sister.
After believing they've left the No-End House, Margot & her friends realise they may never have left.
A young girl loses her father. Then, she discovers the No-End House, a place where your deepest fears lurk.
The Invitation. 2015. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi.
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Aiden Lovekamp, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch, Toby Huss, Danielle Camastra, Trish Gates, & Karl Yune. Gamechanger Films/Lege Artis/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
I’ve long said a film can survive on atmosphere alone sometimes. Not that a movie can be perfect without story or plot, but I can love a piece of cinema for its mood and its tone above other elements. But what happens when you’ve got a strong, palpable atmosphere that deals in the strongest sort of psychological horror combined with a mysterious and thrilling drama? The Invitation from director Karyn Kusama is what happens.
Using some character actors who are off the beaten path, such as the fabulous John Carroll Lynch and Logan Marshall-Green, as well as a very interesting perspective in a screenplay from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the quiet, at times frightening thrills of this film are well-honed. This film has the right looks, the right feel, and the performances pull its effectiveness wire-tight across the throat, never letting go until the last frame. In a new Golden Age of horror that’s seeing indie film lead the charge towards better stories, better production, more focus on smart writing and practical effects rather than CGI and half-assed screenplays, The Invitation is another welcome addition to my favourite films since 2000.
Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is heading to a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). They’ve been invited by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Many tensions surround Will; not only is it the first time in a couple years he’s seen Eden, the party is in the former home which they shared.
Once there, Will starts to question exactly what is is that brought them there for the party. As the night wears on he begins wondering if Eden and David have some other intentions for gathering their former group of friends together. Some leftover trauma lingers over Will from the life he had with his ex-wife. At the same time, Eden seems to have moved on. She and David belong to some type of cult, a supposed self-help-styled community. And a little way in the evening descends into something much more wild than any of the guests ever expected.
But is it real? Or is Will just losing his mind?
The mystery of the screenplay works wonders. Slight bits and pieces of the backstory to these characters trickles out. As the scenes move forward, the characters develop through a solid pace. Some of the best parts of The Invitation have to do with the thin line it treads, tightrope walking between excitement and subtle creepiness. I dig slow burn stories, as long as they’re done properly. At the same time, when a plot moves from steady to thrilling this makes things all the much better. Kusama weaves the story from start to finish with an underlying tension, a pulse-thumping dread that nearly rattles the bones, so that once the plot breaks out full force you want to grind your teeth down to the jaw.
Part of the wonderfully effective atmosphere comes from the haunting, rhythmic, ghostly score that adorns the movie. Surprisingly, Theodore Shapiro has mostly done a lot of comedies, from Old School to more recent stuff with Paul Feig. Yet here he perfectly adds such a paranoid edge to many of the scenes with his score. It oozes out from the edges and scoops you up, pulling you in, getting under your skin. This works well in addition with cinematographer Bobby Shore’s shadowy work. Much of the film is cast in a great deal of dark, naturally lit spaces, from the living room to hallways to the candle-lit table at dinner. Shore hasn’t done a ton of notable work, but the camera here captures everything so flawlessly it is hard to believe he isn’t doing more films of this caliber. Between Shore and Shapiro’s score, these elements make The Invitation suspicious, filled with paranoid moments, it never lets you move back from the edge of your seat. And above all, these aspects together with the screenplay make for a story that will keep you guessing, one moment to the next.
There are a handful of good performances here. Everyone in the core group of friends does a nice job. Further than that, the central role of Will is perfect in the hands of Logan Marshall-Green. He’s played some great characters, from his turn in Prometheus to his portrayal of Jewel Bundren in James Franco’s film adaptation of As I Lay Dying. This role requires him, along with the screenplay, to keep us guessing. The paranoia of his character is almost evident from the very beginning. His emotion, his range and subtle acting all make Will a raw, honest, even sometimes uncomfortable character.
Added to Marshall-Green, the casting of John Carroll Lynch was a solid choice. He is a character actor that can bring to life many different types, from gentle sort of people like his character from Fargo to the disturbed maniac like his Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show. His character in this film, a man named Pruitt also involved in the cult of which David and Eden are a part, adds an extra layer of mystery and paranoia. He is an outside force, independent of the original group of friends, and that very fact puts him on the periphery of the group. So with his unnervingly calm performance, particularly in the first half of the film, Lynch adds more tension and suspense to chew on. He keeps things off-balance much like the screenplay as a whole.
The film’s finale still has me reeling. Even if the lead-up were mediocre, which it was not – it was almost pitch perect – the last twenty minutes of The Invitation make this into a horrifying, reality-driven thriller. And it just may take your breath away. Part of the impact comes from the inability to completely guess what will happen next. However, a large portion, again, is the atmosphere. Karyn Kusama can now be considered a master o suspense, as the story sucked me into its black hole then completely chewed me up in the final act. This is another movie that, as of late, has been subject of huge hype. For good reason, too. Go into this knowing as little as you can about the actual plot. This will make for an even more deafening blow to your psyche once the movie takes hold.
AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 6, Episode 4: “Here’s Not Here”
Directed by Stephen Williams
Written by Scott M. Gimple
* For a review of the previous episode, “Thank You” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Now” – click here
This is an episode I’ve looked forward to, unlike some – a nice long look at who Morgan Jones (Lennie James) has become, where he’s been and how he got back to Alexandria.
We open with him talking to the unseen leader of the Wolves (Benedict Samuel), but then quickly it transitions from NOW to THEN. Back at the house where Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) last saw him before their reunion.
Morgan is having a fairly animated conversation with himself. He’s pissed, ranting, raving. A fire starts and burns the place down. So out into the world he goes, once more. Honestly a lot of people complained about this episode because it’s so Morgan-centric. Me, I dig it. You can’t just explain away a guy going from a lunatic to zen so easily as to re-introduce him; they had to do this episode. I think it’s actually keen of the showrunners to do it this way. Everyone is dying for answers about Glenn (Steven Yeun). Me too, I can just wait – I like the slow burn.
Also, something many people forget: Morgan is the one who saved Rick’s life, all those seasons, all those days ago. So why wouldn’t we get to see more about him? I get it, the timing is what threw people. Again I say it’s a smart move on behalf of the show. Much as people will complain and gripe, which they already did all over social media last night/today, they’re going to hang in there, they’ll talk about it constantly, until the next episode come Sunday.
For the first little bit while Morgan is out in the woods, it’s zombie effects time. A couple real nasty looking customers wander out of the trees, another right through the fire. But then we see him murder two men, who seemed to be following him. He screams at one, strangling him with bare hands: “You know, you don’t!”
Yet there’s still a reasonable aspect to him, under the madness. He builds himself a protective cocoon of trees whittled into spikes. Morgan survives somehow, on his own, all alone in the wilderness. He waves a big stick around at the voices in his head. There’s some tragic stuff happening. Lennie James is someone I’ve enjoyed long before now. He really does great stuff with the character of Morgan.
After a little while, though, Morgan comes across a cabin. Refusing to put down his gun – like you and I probably would in his situation, be honest – a man named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) whacks Morgan a good one across the back of the head. Thus begins the cruel tutelage of Eastman.
Something I wondered ever since Morgan first started to reappear, almost right at the heels of Rick & Co. – why does he all of a sudden fight with a staff, like a ninja or a samurai or whatever? Well, now we start to get some explanations.
I’ve long enjoyed John Carroll Lynch, ever since The Drew Carey Show. Always found his character on the show to be fairly progressive, in a way; say what you will. He’s been awesome in other things, most recently American Horror Story (playing Twisty the Clown in Season 4 + John Wayne Gacy in Season 5 for an episode) and he had a nice turn on Carnivale near its finish. So it’s pretty fun to have him here, if only for a one-off episode in Morgan’s storyline. Either way, he’s important, and he was absolutely the right fit for this character.
The exchange between Eastman and Morgan, once things settle down, is fairly interesting. Eastman happens to be a doctor, specializing in mental health. Such an intriguing perspective to see out of during the zombie apocalypse. Plus, Eastman is so damn chill. Even with all the shit Morgan ends up giving him, starting a fight when the guy’s only trying to be a good man, Eastman continues to give him a chance. Essentially what this man provides Morgan is a way to recognize the humanity in himself again. Much like Rick lost a lot of his humanity, Morgan has gone off the deep end. Worse than Rick ever did; seeing the ghost of Lori, and more, Rick still held it together when it mattered most, he still retained his foundational human spirit. Morgan is a broken man. What Eastman provides is a way to start admitting that, as well as the possibility of coming back from it and living again – some way, somehow.
Eastman: “That was Aikido. That’s how I kicked your ass earlier. Well, that’s how I redirected your ass.”
Through the teachings of Aikido, slowly Morgan begins to learn “all life is precious” again. Like it was before. It’s naturally a part of the post-zombies world, to begin feeling as if life means nothing any longer. So many of the survivors still on the show and living have fallen into the despair of this line of thinking. Morgan just happens to be the epitome of that feeling, he lost himself completely after his son died.
But it’s the story Eastman tells Morgan about his family which really breaks the heart. It’s right then I feel Morgan truly switches his mindset, he sees how vicious the world was even before and remembers that it’s human beings who are the worst of all, not even the zombies. It is us. And maybe he does not want to be that us anymore. This scene between Eastman and Morgan at the dinner table, the low light, the soft spoken dialogue, it’s one of my personal favourite scenes on The Walking Dead out of its entire run; definitely at the top. There’s so much going on within this scene and the situation between these two, a great bit of writing.
Very sad to see Eastman take a bite, stepping in to try and help Morgan after he begins to trip out while a zombie shambles towards him. Then, they have a fight with their staffs, which is pretty damn bad ass. Morgan is not fully in the zen zone as of yet, after he falls in their scuffle he once more begs Eastman: “Kill me – kill me!”
Even after the bite, though, Eastman continually keeps in the zen perspective himself. Morgan heads back over the edge a bit, or totally, yet the big guy just sticks to his Aikido guns and doesn’t seem to be worried much about his current predicament. But DAMMIT – right as I was starting to love Eastman, he goes and has to get bit. Not like I expected him to be more than a one-time character, I just wanted more of him and didn’t want to see him go out like that.
However, it’s through this event Morgan finally comes back around to himself. He briefly encounters a couple, one of them wounded, and he doesn’t kill them, or attack them, as he would have before meeting Eastman. Then he rushes back to his teacher. Eastman also reveals he starved the man who killed his family to death – it gave him “no peace“, putting him Morgan was all alone and raving mad, so then he vowed not to kill again. Touching stuff, really. So many well acted scenes between these two.
The episode closes with Morgan again talking to the leader of the Wolves, who has a fairly nasty, infected wound. He believes he’ll die, but if not plans on killing Morgan, killing everyone in Alexandria even the children. So will Morgan continue with the all life is precious mantra? Or how will it work? He already let this guy live once and look what happened. If Morgan can’t break with the idea of killing another person, it could mean much more trouble than has already come down.
Very much excited to see the next episode, “Now”. We’ll get back to all the main action in Alexandria, but there’s no guarantee we’re going to immediately find out about Glenn. Though, I have a sneaking suspicion he is very much still alive.
See you again for another one next week, Walking Dead-ites!
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 4, Episode 4: “Edward Mordrake Part 2”
Directed by Howard Deutch (The Strain, Pretty in Pink)
Written by James Wong
* For a review of the previous episode, “Edward Mordrake Part 1” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Pink Cupcakes” – click here
Back to it with Part 2 of the double bill for Halloween, Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley) moves on to the other freaks – Paul (Mat Fraser), Legless Suzi (Rose Siggins), and so on – who each tell him and the devilish face their respectively sad, depressing stories. Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and Salty (Christopher Neiman) are deemed to have “no shame” by Edward.
Suzi ended up on the streets, no work for someone with no legs and lower half at all. She confesses the crime of stabbing a man in his legs, simply for spite, which actually killed the man. Though, Suzi went into performing afterwards because she had no other options and Edward deems this inspiration.
Paul meanwhile had to turn himself into a freak because he says he could “never make the world love me.” He only decided not to tattoo his face because it was the only part of him left normal, handsome, and therefore ought to stay natural.
Mordrake does not accept any of them and so moves on through the campgrounds.
Finally, Mr. Mordrake finds himself in the tent of Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange). She’s more than happy to see him, still not under the correct impression about who he is; still thinking he’s there to make her famous, to pluck her from the obscurity of Jupiter, Florida and its muggy swamps.
Soon enough, though, Edward reveals himself and stakes his claim. He wants to hear all about Elsa Mars, her deepest fear, her darkest shame, everything and anything at all.
Turns out Elsa, during 1932 in the Weimar Republic, was doling out lots of nasty fetishism – apparently before Hitler turned it into war, the Germans were working it all out “with their cocks.” She never had sex, but worked as a dominatrix catering to plenty of rotten men. One of the more brutal moments in the entire series comes when she makes a man sit down on a toilet; its seat full of upturned nails. She did lots of shows for men she called The Watchers, becoming quite popular among the perverts of Brandenburg.
Eventually she found herself lured into a truly terrifying situation, which led to the removal of her legs – The Watchers got her nice and drunk, drugged up, for a little solo show. No co-star this time, only a chainsaw they use to chop off her legs at the knee.
And still, after all the tragedy and horror in Elsa’s past, Edward opts not to take her.
Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) is having a tough time dealing with Esmerelda (Emma Roberts) and her attitude. At the same time, he clearly enjoys her company.
They find themselves crossing paths with Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch), who chases down Bonnie (Skyler Samuels) after she escapes. Ever heroic Jimmy decides to go after the creepy clown, not wanting to let the girl he carries off into the night to suffer any more.
But things go to hell, as Dandy is about with Twisty. What happens is Esmerelda and Jimmy end up tied and trapped back at the rusty bus camp for an impromptu show. The so-called mystic finds herself in a real circus act when Dandy tries to saw her in half with a huge saw. Jimmy gets free, luckily, and knocks Dandy down while Twisty tries to get everyone clapping, madman that he is. Things devolve and Jimmy finds himself choked out by the terrifying clown. Lucky for him, Mordrake and his second face show up, green smoke curling inside the bus.
Now we get to hear all about Twisty! He’ll have to reveal his worst shame, his deepest pains and wounds. Moving backwards to 1943, Twisty reveals he was the clown for children at West Chester’s carnival. He was proud of doing a great job for the little boys and girls. The freaks hated him, jealous of his popularity and talent, so they accused him falsely of molesting children and tricked him into running off; sadly, Twisty doesn’t seem to have ever been very bright. He gave up being a clown and went back to Florida, to Jupiter, trying to make old things into toys for children. This led him into a confrontation with the store owner in town (the one whose head he lopped off earlier in this season), which changed his life forever.
Back the bus, his home, he decided to try blowing his face off. You can tell where this went. Then later on he abducted children and other people, all in order to make them laugh, to give them what they wanted when their parents gave them nothing or refused. Twisted, hey? Twisty is an appropriate name.
And so with Mordrake goes the evil clown. I honestly didn’t see that coming first time around when I watched this season as it aired. Still, though, it’s clear with Mordrake and his legions of dead, no matter in the afterlife or not we’ll probably see more of Twisty at some point or another. In a way, now he’s at peace in the beyond with all the other dead; even his face is back to normal again.
Of course, sick Dandy comes by and takes the clown’s mask for his own face. Better off, now he looks more outside like he does on the inside, anyways.
Jimmy Darling comes off as the big hero after he and Esmerelda are found when the cops show up. When a bunch of cars show up at the freak show, Elsa thinks they’re being laid siege upon. Instead, the townsfolk wanted to come and shake Jimmy’s hand – HIS HAND! – all for saving the children and the town as well. A really beautiful scene where the “normal” people come together with the “freaks”, the divide no longer so distant now that one side has proved to be capable of loving the other, being gentle with the other. Great bit out of this episode, kind of heartwarming. If only for a brief reprieve.
Finally, the greasy Stanley (Denis O’Hare) – a.k.a Richard this time – shows up and flaunts the idea of Hollywood, California in front of Elsa.
The episode ends with Dandy, his new and fitting clown face on, slitting a nice rip across Dora’s throat, letting her bleed all over the floor to her death. A disgustingly satisfied and happy smile forms across Dandy’s face and he laughs himself almost to tears.
Next episode should be an incredible one! This was an awesome two-parter for Halloween, expect no less from Ryan Murphy and Co. Can’t wait to review the next episode, “Pink Cupcakes”, which is directed by Michael Uppendahl once again.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 4, Episode 2: “Massacres and Matinees”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Monsters Among Us” – click here
* For a review of the next episode “Edward Mordrake: Part 1” – click here
Some of the sweeping shots of the carnival itself, such as the opening shot of “Massacres and Matinees,” really remind me of certain scenes in HBO’s Carnivale. Great look and feel.
This episode begins with a news report of a missing policeman. Of course, he was buried, dead, by the freaks – led by Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) – at the end of the first episode. Everyone is on edge, naturally. Things get even worse once two more detectives show up poking around, they advise Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) a curfew will be put in place, which effectively poises to ruin her business.
Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson) find themselves called into the mix. The police are very interested in her, the entire band of freaks, and in plain language make it clear to Elsa they’ll be regulars around their neck of the woods.
Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) is up to more murderous fun again. In a shop full of toys, Halloween decorations, and so on, he hides as a clerk looks for his boss. When the clerk does find him, only a head, Twisty stabs him through the back of the neck, piercing his throat. A pretty unsettling scene and then it turns into a bloody, nasty little mess for a minute.
Back at the carnival, Jimmy’s having a harder time than anyone else dealing with what happened to the cop. He was the one who killed the man, after all. Back at the hole, he tells Paul (Mat Fraser) and Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin) how he feels back, worrying the man may have had a family and children. They tell him he had no choice, it had to happen. Meanwhile, they’ve got to transplant the body somewhere else with all the cops and their heat sniffing around.
Good thing, too. Eve spies the man’s badge in the dirt. That could’ve certainly caused a few problems down the line.
Worse than any of them at the show – by FAR – is rich boy Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock). I mean, the guy has a little baby’s bottle made of crystal he drinks from, it has a gold cover over the nipple. Fuck this guy. Worse than that, if you can imagine it, is the way his mother Gloria (Frances Conroy) cleans up his messes and caters to his every whim. Then their maid Dora (Patti LaBelle) tries not to lose her mind in the middle of it.
Things get thicker in the plot of Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates). Once a new performer named Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and his wife Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett) show up, everything changes a little. Elsa eventually agrees to take them on: not only is Dell a strongman, a good one at that albeit a terribly troubled one, Desiree has got lots going on under the hood with a set of male and female genitals + three breasts. It takes some convincing, but Elsa goes with their talent, despite any suspicions.
We come to discover Dell and Ethel were together at one time. In fact, Dell is a father to Jimmy. But he’s only there to capitalise. He reveals to Ethel, who is not impressed with his showing up to the carnival at all, Elsa has hired him on as security for their show and grounds. Lots of good tension already between these two, plus Bates and Chiklis in scenes together? The chemistry is there already, now let’s watch this one play out!
Dandy even ends up at the freak show asking to be taken in. He believes himself to be a freak, like them, only on the inside. Jimmy tries talking some sense into him; wouldn’t you like normal hands instead of flippers? It’s sort of offensive to someone like Jimmy if a ‘normal’ guy like Dandy walks in claiming to know what it’s like to be an outcast as they’ve been. He’s tossed aside. Spoiled little brat he is, Dandy loses his mind and smashes his face off the steering wheel in his car.
Luckily back home in the mansion, Gloria, mother dearest, has picked up a clown for Dandy, so they can play together. Best part? It’s Twisty; she’d found him wandering along the road. I’m sure those two have a lot in common. That’s not at all a joke, Dandy is clearly a budding psychopath.
Bette and Dot are being touted as the headliners of Elsa’s show, though, she would much prefer to be deemed the star. Only problem being neither of them are particularly brimming with talent. At least not until Jimmy is able to draw out a beautiful voice from Dot.
In this moment, a zoom on Lange’s face, eyes pointed, we see how Elsa is immediately threatened by this emerging talent. It’s the start of a big dynamic between the twins and Ms. Mars. Works well because in each season from Asylum on, Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange have been setup as these very opposite characters, in strained relationships with one another. So I’m glad to see a new one, with a fresh and intriguing aspect. Great actors working together constantly in such a consistently solid manner is impressive.
Oh, Dandy. What a sick, twisted bastard this young man with too money is, and how painful yet fun it is to see his character open up with each episode. Watching him with Twisty is downright scary at times. First, I was beginning to think Twisty might hurt him, or even actually kill him; especially after Dandy goes through the clown’s bag and looks at his things. But no, Twisty just picks up and runs off leaving Dandy with a goose egg on the back of his head.
Jimmy Darling and the crew of freaks – Pepper (Naomi Grossman), Paul, Eve, and others – show up at the diner looking for a meal. Everyone is properly grossed out for the 1950s, weak minds not willing to let people be people, regardless of how they look or talk. After Paul causes a little disturbance, eating off a plate yet to be bussed with food on it, in walks Dell who gets in a confrontation with Jimmy. Outside, he pounds the boy a few good shots and really lets Jimmy have it. Bastard.
Twisty heads back to his little home sweet home, the ragged rusted bus in the woods, and greets his captives – Bonnie Lipton (Skyler Samuels) and Corey Bachman (Major Dodson). He seems pretty laid back, a bit rattled by his time at the Mott residence. Then he takes out a little wind-up toy, displaying its walk for Bonnie and Corey, trying to be an actual clown and make them smile. Hard to do when his own smile is mortifying. We get a raw look at what’s under the plastic mask over his mouth, as Bonnie manages to crank him with a piece of wood and escape.
Lucky for ole Twisty, his new friend Dandy came back to the bus and followed him. He’s able to help capture Bonnie before she makes off. Sick and twisted are not even close to the words useful in describing Dandy’s character.
Another musical number comes out of “Massacres and Matinees” with Bette and Dot performing a Fiona Apple number. Loved this sequence for several reasons.
Reason the 1st – Sarah Paulson gets to perform a bit of music, proving she has a decent voice and getting a chance at doing one of these scenes. Reason the 2nd – we get to see how savagely jealous Ms. Mars is becoming, episode after episode. So at the start, Bette/Dot were a draw for her, she was rooting and scheming to have them in her show. Yet now, after their true talent is revealed and is emerging quicker than expected, Elsa sees them as threatening. Will this lead to anything sinister? Elsa strikes me as someone who values herself above anyone else, as well as she has a delusional view of herself as a big star still poised to rise.
When the cops show up, more of the relationship between Dell and Jimmy begins to unravel and it brutally affects what will come next. Jimmy tried to place the badge in Dell’s tent, in order to get him hauled away and out of their lives, out of the carnival. Only Dell is too keen, for such a dirty bastard – he planted the badge in another tent. Instead of seeing Dell carted off to a cell someplace, little Meep (Ben Woolf) gets taken. Excruciating to see Meep falsely put in jail, a bunch of scary looking, much bigger men crowding around believing him as a killer; you can feel something terrible is about to go down.
Elsa sneaks in to see Bette while her sister sleeps. Dot wakes up midway through and spoils Elsa’s fun. Clearly she’s playing a dangerous game with the twins; divide and conquer, all within the same body, one entity. It’s hard to tell where this will take any of them because Bette is very starry-eyed, while Dot in complete opposition is so cold and rational, there’s bound to be a good measure of disconnect between them both.
It gets even more brutal when Elsa leaves Bette with a small, sharp penknife, after filling her head with pessimistic thoughts about Dot. Uh oh.
Jimmy takes the weight of Meep being carted off all on his shoulders, he starts to drink for the first time getting absolutely hammered. His mother is worried, but Jimmy only worries about Meep— “he‘s not tough… he‘s just weird.”
No sooner does he say the words and runs outside, Jimmy and Ethel see a car drive by, dropping a wrapped up lump to the dirt. Inside is the lifeless body of Meep. A bloodcurdling scream comes out of Jimmy and rings into the night as the episode closes.
Intense finish to this one! Cannot wait for the next episode, titled “Edward Mordrake: Part 1”, directed by Michael Uppendahl.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 4, Episode 1: “Monsters Among Us”
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the Season 3 Coven finale, “The Seven Wonders” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Massacres and Matinees” – click here
This season begins with Sarah Paulson narrating us, her face fades in quickly. Well, one of her faces.
Our introduction to them comes in 1952 – Jupiter, Florida – when the milkman Bill Palmer (Wilson Bradford) finds mouldy looking milk bottles outside the door. Going inside, he comes to discover there’s been something awful going on, as the food is all left out, everything in disarray, and Ms. Tattler lays in a pool of her own blood. Upstairs, he comes to discover what’s been hiding in the house all these years, tucked away in secret by the old woman. Back at the hospital, we get to see the terrified look in the eyes of a nurse as a doctor lists off the internal anomalies of the person they found at the Tattler house.
Before seeing what’s been causing all the commotion, Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) shows up asking questions of a candy striper named Penny (Grace Gummer). Turns out Elsa is poking around for business purposes, she runs a traveling carnival and show of oddities. Penny, being the naughty nurse she is, helps Elsa on her way inside. Now, we finally get to discover why the hospital is in an uproar, hell – the whole town.
Another go around sees Paulson playing the twins Bette and Dot Tattler. Not only are they identical twins, they’re conjoined – rather, they’ve got two heads on a single body. They’re both highly different, though, each with their own distinct and vibrant personality. Even better than that, we as the audience get to sit in on their internal conversations and monologues, which is damn cool and will certainly serve as a unique, important device throughout the season.
Something I love about Bette/Dot is the way the visuals have started to work in “Monsters Among Us”. At various moments in any given scene, we’re treated to a split-screen technique giving us a slightly differing perspective from each of the women. It already visually sets up the tension and different feelings they have about Elsa and her ways.
While Elsa poses as a caring person to them, underneath it all she’s selfishly interested in their life, their condition, simply so they might come and work for her at the freak show.The horror begins pretty savagely here in the first episode. Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) wanders out of the trees to a clearing where Bonnie Lipton (Skyler Samuels) and Troy Miller (Andrew Duplessie) are almost ready to make a little love together. Twisty is so unbelievably creepy. Part of his face is all skin and makeup, while the other parts seem glued on… or torn off. There’s bloody edges all over his skin almost mixing in with the makeup.
Pretty much you can bet he’s a bad, bad sort of clown once he hauls out a couple bowling pins and whacks the lovers in their heads.
Little nod to Lynch’s turn in David Fincher’s Zodiac, as Bonnie comes to and sees Troy being stabbed to death by this nasty clown.
More characters filter into our mind’s eye now.
First, introducing the chameleon going by the name of Evan Peters, this season taking up the role of Jimmy Darling. His initial scene gives us a bit about him, and some about Elsa. It seems their travelling carnival is in trouble, with only what’s between Ms. Mars’ legs keeping them in town and staving off the landlord. Meanwhile, she’s pissed with Jimmy – a freak in his own right at her carnival – because he’s out flaunting himself and looking to hook up with women. He wears big, heavy leather mitts on his hands. Only hinting at his character to come.
Next scene, the gloves come off; in more than one way.
At a little party full of 1950s-era housewives, ole Jimmy is the entertainment. At the back of the house, in one of the bedrooms, each of the women head to see Jimmy and his big, long lobster hands. Y’know – the better to make you cum with, my dear.
Throughout the rest of the episode we see a lot of weird, wonderfully grim and exciting stuff.
Twisty goes back to the abandoned rusty bus where he keeps a young boy whose family he killed and Bonnie Lipton. There, he terrorises them in their cage after his attempts to amuse them fail. Absolutely disturbing stuff, even more vile if you’re afraid of clowns!
Elsa further worms her way into the lives of the twins. She scares Bette – the more innocent of the two – while Dot is much more sceptical of Ms. Mars and her scheming ways. Because, as it turns out, Bette went a little mad and started to stab their mother, which led to them both becoming accomplice to the crime. So naturally, Elsa uses this to her advantage. She claims it’s to save them, when really it only benefits her in the end; after all, she holds all the power knowing the truth of what happened to their mother. Off the twins go, back to the freak show, ready to help draw in some paying customers.
So many different things happening in this first episode of Season 4. There are even more interesting characters than ever before, I think. With such a full and wide variety of characters – due to the vast freak show – it’s impressive how well Falchuk and Murphy fit so many pieces into the script.
We get a brief flashback scene to when Elsa meets Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), a.k.a The Bearded Lady (and Jimmy’s mama). Man – just have to say it, Bates is a powerhouse of a performer. Her accent is awesome, the whole bearded look goes well, and she embodies the character like always; quality actor.
There’s also Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser), Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin), tiny little Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge), the familiar face from Season 2 Asylum Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and another awfully termed pinhead named Salty (Christopher Neiman), and more. Very rich tapestry of characters going on already from the start.
Funny enough, the candy striper from earlier named Penny wakes up after her time with the freaks and seems to have a problem with what happened to her, saying she was “drugged and ravaged.” Although, Elsa hauls out a film of all that went on the previous night, which pretty clearly shows how much fun Penny actually had. In this scene, we get a good look at how fed up Elsa is with how she and the freaks are treated – she calls them “beautiful” and “heroic,” chastising Penny for her and her kind’s way of looking down on them and at them.
At the same time, Jimmy Darling wants to have a normal life outside of their freak show, he wants to take him and his mother away, all of them. He even expresses the desire to help the freaks get away from drowning their sorrows in alcohol, telling Ethel how there are meetings and support groups for those types of issues now. He’s obviously a caring person, more than just a guy to be labelled ‘freak’, just like the rest of them. Loving this season’s themes already beginning to branch out from this first instalment.
But a dark side comes out of Jimmy’s hopes to look after the freaks. When a cop comes poking around for Bette and Dot, wanting to take them in under arrest for murdering their mother, Jimmy cuts his throat after he continually uses the F-word (no not that one: freak).Finally we’re introduced to the sickly stuck-up Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) and his doting mother Gloria (Frances Conroy). They’re a hilarious pair, decadently dressed while taking in the local show Elsa and her carnival of freaks offer up. Our initial view of them is not overly long, however, within these moments we’re also treated to Elsa and the freaks putting off their show.
Some found it strange the way Murphy incorporated music into this season. I love his explanation, though, as every artist’s music they use is someone who has identified as a type of ‘freak’ over the years. For instance, we continually get Elsa singing Bowie, so it’s not hard to see his outsider status; later we’ll get other musicians like that, even a bit of Nirvana. Great sequence in this episode with seeing/hearing Jessica Lange performing David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”, as the freaks play instruments in the background. Amazing stuff to kick this season into full gear.
My favourite part is the end of the episode when Elsa takes off her wooden legs for the night, slowly rolling down her socks, undressing. Very powerful scene. Now we understand a little more perhaps why Elsa is hardened and vicious and ruthless at times. As “Auf Weidersehn, Sweetheart” by Vera Lynn plays, the episode finishes on Elsa’s sad, tragic face. We’ll see where she and the rest of these characters take us in the second episode.
Dig the music in this season even more than any other before it. There’s a great quality to it with an almost 1950s sci-fi sound at certain points. It’s full of strings that sweep from one end of the spectrum to the next, so beautifully and at the same time in an eerie sense. I also can’t shake the weird electronic heartbeat-type sound, it comes out with the strings and it’s like a pulse beneath all the other sounds. At first you almost think it sounds out of place, then after some time the noise grows on you and morphs into the rest of the sonic wall. Score and soundtrack have been a big thing since the first season, but Season 4 in particular really has it down pat. Can’t wait to see how the aesthetic overall works in this season as the episodes go on.
Next episode is titled “Massacres and Matinees”, directed by series regular Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.