The Retreat is full of queer fear. So don't expect tropes to go un-subverted.
The 1st Queer Gothic Lecture is here–for FREE!
The first slate of shorts we're covering from Nightstream are all LGBTQ stories to haunt and excite you.
A heavy dose of Father Gore's favourite films released in 2019
Marcus finds out the full truth, as does Kelen.
The endlessly unnerving SLEEPAWAY CAMP was more ambitious than other slashers, opting to take on psychological damage and gender roles.
Hawk tries to save Caleb from conversion therapy with help from Eddie. Sarah finds out the truth about Vera.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 5: “I Am Anne Frank: Part II”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown)
Written by Brad Falchuk
* For a review of the previous episode, “I Am Anne Frank: Part I” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” – click here
At the top of this episode, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) meets with a man named Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis) – he is a Nazi hunter, a Jew who was in the camps during the Holocaust of World War II. She’s finally caved and believed what might be the truth: Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) could possibly have been a Nazi. They talk, and Goodman warns not to do anything to make the man run.
This also brings in the real life fascinatingly disturbing Operation Paperclip – look it up.
Furthermore, the supposed Anne Frank (Franka Potente) busts in on Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) with Arden at gunpoint. Luckily for all, mostly Arden, guard Frank McCann (Fredric Lehne) saves the day. Or does he?
Probably so, once Sister Jude is met at the asylum by Anne’s husband – or that is, Charlotte Brown’s husband. Jim Brown (David Chisum) shows up to tell Jude all about how Charlotte became delusional after reading Anne Frank’s diary while she was pregnant, then went to see a play adaptation and fell into a deep spiral; even going so far as to tattoo a death camp tattoo on her arm.
What I love most about this whole section of the episode is how we get these truly creepy, eerily shot pieces of flashback like they’re being done on an old 1950s/60s era camera – scenes of the Browns at home, documenting Charlotte’s madness and her husband Jim becoming more and more frustrated trying to care for their child with an insane wife at home, raving constantly about the Holocaust and the Jewish peoples experiences during World War II and how they need her, the baby doesn’t need her like they do. It’s amazingly effective, this whole bit. Very cool and so creepy.
Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré) are awaiting sterilization now at the hands of Briarcliff Asylum and Sister Jude Martin. It’s a sick, true to life reality of many in the system during this era. Sad yet wildly true.
The twist comes as Kit is told, by the now very devilish Sister Mary Eunice, he won’t be sterilised. Good news, right? Not so much for Grace, who is likewise informed by Mary Eunice, but informed instead she’ll still be going ahead for the procedure.
Afterwards, while alone in her cell, Grace appears to see a rattling, shaky light coming in at her through the door. Could it be the aliens are about to visit Grace? Will she have some proof then to help Kit? Or do they… need her, for some reason?
Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) still has a plan for Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson). He tells her, off to the side, they’re leaving at the end of his day. She’s obviously extremely happy and there’s finally some end to the cruel tunnel through which she has been crawling at Briarcliff, a light approaches.
Thredson is also attempting to help Kit with his troubles. However, suspiciously Thredson has Kit confess to his crimes on tape, in order to hear how it sounds to him – to try and learn something about what he may have done to his wife. While Kit seems to trust him, there’s something not quite right about the doctor’s theories here, his methods. But then again, neither were his intentions with the aversion therapy he conducted on Alana in order to misguidedly cure her lesbianism; oh, the tragic state of “mental health” in the 1960s. Still not even that long ago, scarily enough. I love how this fictional show takes on very real issues such as mental health and those of the LGBTQ community.
Grace has indeed been visited by the aliens Kit saw. She’s taken – somewhere – she is greeted by Alma Walker (Britne Oldford) in a blank, vacant white space where the aliens once took Kit. Who knows what their plans for Grace are now.
She shows up later, bleeding and confused. Kit finds her in the recreation room sitting in a chair, dazed. At the same time, cops show up to arrest Kit for his supposed crimes; coincidence? Hmm. And Grace starts screaming she’s seen everything – the aliens, Alma – they’re all real, she’s alive. An INTENSE moment between these two, especially for Kit himself.
Jude calls off Mr. Goodman after discovering Anne Frank is actually Charlotte Brown.
Best of all now – for Dr. Arden – is that she’s off his case a good bit with all this fracas. Furthermore, he’s got Sister Mary Eunice, possessed and loving it, on his side. She helped dispose of Shelley (Chloë Sevigny), the now mutated beast, which Charlotte had seen in the last episode in Arden’s lab.
CRAZY SCENE as a bunch of school children and their teacher discover the deformed and ragged Shelley, a virtual monster, crawling up a stairwell. Awesome, awesome shocker scene. Loved this quick and nasty moment!
Charlotte gets tossed back into the asylum by her husband, after she tries to smother their baby at home. An amazing sequence is enacted when Jim Brown asks Sister Jude to take Charlotte back, but he wants Dr. Thredson – who was understanding of her beforehand – to treat her.
This is right as Thredson is leaving with Alan in tow. Jude sends Frank off to find the doctor, and there’s this incredibly tense, suspenseful sequence where they sort of barely slip through the fingers of Briarcliff. Really excellent writing, as well as the fact it’s directed expertly.
Instead, Charlotte is trusted to the care of Dr. Arden who plans on giving her a pre-frontal lobotomy. Y’know, to calm her down.
Sister Jude has a disappointed conversation with Frank, retelling a story of when she was a young and took in a baby squirrel, keeping him in a shoe box. She says one day she came home, realising she forgot to feed him, and he was dead. Jude, as a small girl, prayed for hours over the squirrel, but her mother came home and lost her mind, throwing it in the trash.
In the end, the rest of her story stands to show how Jude is disappointed with God. Even as a nun, even as someone who wants SO BAD to be pious and holy and wants to be a good nun, she has those doubts about God.
Frank makes a terribly poignant remark about how she “never really had a chance” because she’s a strong woman and men don’t like that. While you get the sense Frank probably isn’t, for all his faults, one of those men, it’s a big stinger for Jude to hear; even if painfully obvious anyways.
So as Charlotte is being lobotomised, just a little, Jude puts on her bright red lipstick, heads to a bar for a drink and a smoke, then picks up a man.
Back at the home of Oliver Thredson, the doctor brings Lana inside to a comfortable, safe environment for the first time in so very long for her. His house is quite the chic-looking abode, nice modern type furniture and layout.
But as the minutes wear on, Lana realizes something is not right with Oliver. He flicks on a light – you can clearly see the lampshade has nipples. When he offers up some mints, they’re sitting in a skull-shaped bowl; no, damn it if the thing ain’t an ACTUAL SKULL.
What I love about this section is not so much the surprise that Thredson is Bloody Face, it’s the fact Bloody Face takes a good deal of bits and pieces (get it?) from Leatherface, as well as the real life inspiration mostly from serial killer Ed Gein. There’s a ton of macabre stuff to mine out of Gein and I find Ryan Murphy & Co. do an excellent job starting out with doing a few things we’ve not yet seen from the serial killer’s real story.
The end of “I Am Anne Frank: Part II” hits hard like a weight in the guts.
We watch as Charlotte Brown has become the perfect little housewife for Jim. He takes most of her research on World War II, Anne Frank, et cetera, and goes for the trash. While the episode closes out with Leon Bibb, Ronnie Gilbert, and Robert De Cormier singing “It Could Be a Wonderful World”, we also zoom in on a picture of Nazi officers saluting together, and one of them we end on is ABSOLUTELY MOST POSITIVELY DR. ARTHUR FUCKING ARDEN!
Love it. No better way to close off a two-parter episode.
Can’t wait to review the next episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity” directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain, Homeland). Stay tuned, horror hounds!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 1: “Welcome to Briarcliff”
Directed by Bradley Buecker (The New Normal, Glee)
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the next episode, “Tricks and Treats” – click here
The beginning of Season 2 is a lot of fun because, as opposed to Season 1 where we’d get decades old flashbacks from 1968, 1922, and so on, the main action of Asylum is taking place in 1964. However, we get to jump forward, as well as back a bit, and the framing narrative of the season itself takes place in current day. This seems a bit confusing what I’ve said, but as the episodes wear on you’ll really get a feel of what’s happening. In fact, the present day framing device isn’t exactly very clear until a few episodes in. But once it starts to become clear, the wide and reaching sprawl of Season 2 becomes apparent and it makes the episodes all the better for it.
Beginning in present day, we see Leo and Teresa Morrison (Adam Levine/Jenna Dewan Tatum) on their horror honeymoon – they plan on visiting the twelve most haunted places in America, plus they want to have sex in all the buildings because y’know, they’re wild. Only when they arrive at the infamous Briarcliff Asylum there is more inside the walls than they’d bargained for, and certainly there is nothing sexy about the madness, the pain, the mayhem and murder that is trapped inside that building.
Things really kick off when Leo sticks his hand into one of the cells with his cellphone, trying to get a night vision look at anything terrifying inside. Then, something comes at him and tears his arm off. Blood everywhere. INCREDIBLE! Turns out Bloody Face may actually be real, not just an old, outdated tale of murder from the haunted houses of America.
This moment kicks off Asylum incredibly well. It offers up enough of that psychosexual horror mashup we’re used to from the series, and so it’s already clear this season should follow suit with all the dark terrors of the first; maybe even more.What I really enjoy about the opener to Season 2 is how the entire aesthetic of the first season holds over. It’s more evident than even most regular tv series’ are with their style. As an anthology, there’s always a risk each season might either fall short or overshadow its predecessor. While certain seasons of American Horror Story are most certainly better than others, I think what helps them all glue together and what allows each of them to still be excellent, regardless of the others before or after, is the fact the cinematography, the editing, the score, it all compounds into a beautifully evident overall style.
So then we switch back to our main narrative of 1964.
First, we meet Kit Walker (Evan Peters). He’s a young, handsome man just getting by in the mid ’60s, working at a gas station and garage somewhere out in the boonies. At home, his wonderful wife Alma (Britne Oldford) waits for her husband. Unfortunately, in that time the Walkers had to remain underground with their relationship because interracial relationships were still frowned upon. We already get a threatening atmosphere from Kit’s friend Billy (Joe Egender) and a group of guys who show up at the station, giving Kit a very unwelcome feeling concerning his wife at home; a reference to chocolate becomes not so much racist as it feels scary.
But it’s not Billy and the boys Kit needs to worry about protecting himself, and his wife Alma, from ultimately. Lights flicker and the power goes off, on, the bedroom radio is on the fritz; things are not right. Then Kit seems to experience some kind of contact with… something. He thinks it’s Billy with some others, but it is far worse.
I thought this scene was awesome. So often the alien abduction angle is attempted in film and television, yet it’s not often things are treated correctly. Kit experiences something Other-ly. We only see it briefly, in a few flashes; sound design and visuals weave together creating an excellent moment. We know it’s aliens, but at the same time there’s none shown onscreen. Perfect.
Next we follow journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) into Briarcliff, as she heads to meet Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange) concerning the bakery at the asylum. Along the way we’re introduced to an interesting new character out of Season 2, Pepper (Naomi Grossman) – the nun, Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who accompanies Lana through her visit says that Pepper drowned her sister’s baby and sliced its ears off. Chilling, because Pepper seems so innocent; strange looking yet truly child-like and innocent looking.
Lana meets with Jude for a brief time, however, up shows the apparent newly caught Bloody Face – he is being admitted to the asylum until the lawmakers decide if he is fit to stand trial. This is the whole reason Lana Winters showed up in the beginning, under false pretences about the asylum’s bakery.
What’s most surprising is when we’re introduced to who the alleged Bloody Face killer is: Kit Walker. He’s lead in, chained from head to toe, then treated to the 1960s psychiatric hospital admittance – delousing powder, a shower by way of fire hose, then a good dose of intravenous drugs via syringe. Plus, after a bad meeting with Sister Jude, he’s even given a bit of capital punishment in the form of Jude’s favourite method – caning across the bar ass.
Already now with Kit especially, we’re treated to a look at how Briarcliff operates, and the sort of cruelty all around we’re bound to experience as Asylum wears on.
There are a ton of characters again this season. Probably even more than the first. What I like is that there are plenty characters, but the most important ones are singled out for us and we’re given a big view of them here in “Welcome to Briarcliff”. Of course, more come into play later. This is just a wonderful introduction to so many of the characters, as well as the sort of thematic elements we’re going to see come up over and over.
Kit briefly meets a woman named Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré), also an inmate at the asylum, who takes a liking to him. She helps him a little, from exposing him to the way the hospital works, to giving him a cigarette while he’s wrongly thrown into solitary confinement. This is one relationship, while brief here in the opening episode, that will expand in later episodes and eventually become a big part of the latter half of Season 2.
The character whom I find most interesting in Asylum is the ominous Dr. Arthur Arden (fantastically played by James Cromwell). First off, there’s a palpable tension between Arden and Sister Jude. I love how this second season has brought together Jessica Lange and James Crowmwell. Not enough older actors are given such incredible material as American Horror Story to explore through character; here, we get two downright iconic actors, in my opinion, chewing on luscious scenery and intense character scene after scene.
Immediately in this episode, Arden and Jude are set as complete opposites. There’s something sinister about Arden off the bat, as his scene with Jude is intercut with creepy shots of a bowl of meat being gnawed on and thrown empty into the corner of a room. It’s dark stuff and I think lets us in on his evil backstory right away without hesitation. Also, while we come to discover Jude is a little less than holy herself in more ways than one, Arden comes off quickly to us as being a foreboding presence; not only physically, as Cromwell himself is massive, but in the whole way he acts, speaks, sounds.
Now we’re already seeing how unholy Sister Jude is underneath that black habit. Preparing for her dinner with the younger Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), we can see Jude put on a blood red sex of lingerie, rubbing oil on her skin before getting dressed. She cooks dinner for the Monsignor, and even as they talk you can tell Sister Jude feels something – more – for the man. This little insight into Jude automatically makes her a conflicted character, as much as anyone else in Asylum. At first, Monsignor Howard seems on the up and up himself; we’ll see how true that holds as we move on through the season.
Great dreamy sequence here. Sister Jude imagines herself unbuttoning the habit, revealing her lingerie and sitting in the Monsignor’s lap, embracing him. Then she snaps back to their dinner and all is normal. Once more, like Season 1, that psychosexual feeling worms its way through the characters, the dialogue, the scenes.
Furthermore, Dr. Arden has his hooks in poor, fragile little Sister Mary Eunice. The bad doctor has her bringing buckets out into the woods, obviously to feed something; we don’t know what as of yet, though.
In the forest, Sister Mary is confronted by Lana Winters who is looking for a way inside the asylum. She wants an inside scoop. Scared and worried Jude may find out she was out there, Sister Mary brings Lana inside. This sets into motion something unstoppable and terrifying.
At the same time, Dr. Arden comes for Kit in his cell, injecting him in the neck with something and proclaiming: “You don‘t belong in here.” If I were Kit, I’d be awful worried. There’s nothing good about the feeling Arden produces as soon as he’s onscreen.
Kit’s story of “little green men“, as Jude calls it, comes back into play. Arden doesn’t know it right away, but he’s becoming drawn into a web of extraterrestrial technology. He believes it’s government work at first. Slowly it all will be revealed.
Worst of all, though, is the situation of Lana Winters. She’s found a way into the asylum, but in a time long before any professionalism found its way into the psychiatric world – especially the ones run by the Roman Catholic Church – she also finds herself in a terrible place once getting knocked out, poking about one of the cells. When she wakes up, Sister Jude has Lana strapped into a hospital bed, ready for treatment. Using Lana’s relationship with Wendy Peyser (Clea DuVall) – a lesbian relationship far ahead of the social times unfortunately – Sister Jude is able to have Ms. Winters officially committed, blackmailing Wendy into signing documents or else her homosexuality be revealed to the school where she teaches.
I love how American Horror Story is able to take on LGBTQ issues through a horror landscape. Something I’m a big fan of. It isn’t preachy in any way, it’s a very intriguing view and perspective into the gay issues facing us even today. But especially, with the 1964 main storyline, the whole aspect of having Lana and Wendy as a lesbian couple really goes head-on at how society treated homosexuality even just 50 years ago. Lots more where that came from! It gets better in further episodes, especially once Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) is introduced to help the patients.
Some awesome little references to other films I want to discuss briefly:
A Clockwork Orange – Kit hooked up to the eye-opening equipment of Dr. Arden with blue & red bulbs attached to a strap across his forehead. Very cool homage to Stanley Kubrick’s horrifying classic.
The Silence of the Lambs – Spivey throws semen in the face of Sister Mary Eunice just as Multiple Miggs did to Clarice Starling in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Awesome ending to this episode, as we see Teresa (Dewan Tatum) in present day trying to escape Briarcliff and get her husband Leo (Levine) some help. She runs down through the tunnels below, where Dr. Arden spends quite a bit of time this season, and then before the episode cuts she runs into – Bloody Face? It appears so, even decades after his reign of terror.
But we’ll learn much more about that later.
Next episode is titled “Tricks and Treats”, directed by Bradley Buecker again. I like that, helps keep the initial two episodes in a cohesive unit and sort of moulds everything together off the chopping block.
Stay tuned for more horror, sex, and all around savagery!!