Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday TV Special: American Horror Story: Asylum - 2x01 Welcome to Briarcliff

By s. Saturday, October 20, 2012 ,
One thing to know about Ryan Murphy, the creator of American Horror Story, is that he has an unusual gift of screwing up his own series. His series Nip/Tuck which was great in the beginning seasons turned into such an unwatchable mess it was actually painful to witness. I'm not talking about the level of awfulness True Blood 5 is presenting - something even worse. Fortunately, he didn't reach that point with American Horror Story yet and I hope he never will.

While last season played around with the concept of haunted house, this time we have whole new setting - Asylum, called Briarcliff, led by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes). The Asylum is the place where criminally insane are supposed to be treated, but other people who didn't seem normal in the 60's such as homosexuals are placed there too. But the Asylum hides terrible secrets - doctor Arden (James Cromwell) is experimenting on the patients, believing in superiority of science over nature. His experiments turn them into monsters, that live in the woods surrounding Briarcliff.
The first episode of season 2 was already far superior to last year's pilot episode - the whole plot is much more creepy and the series seems to be even more mysterious. We jump in time again - the season season opened with your typical moronic couple that is the common device in horror. They visit Briarcliff, now closed, in present day and they do the second worst thing you can do in horror movie - have sex. In the matter of minutes they find themselves in deep trouble - turns out the legendary serial killer Bloody Face, who was allegedly committed to Briarcliff in the 60s, is still, somehow, around.

In the 60's we meet Kit, who secretly married Alma and is now being committed to Briarcliff, believed to be Bloody Face. His wife disappeared and he himself claims that they were abducted by Aliens. Alien subplot is something that is annoying to a lot of people, but so far it is unclear whether they are real or not. Perhaps Kit's "friends" found that he married woman of color and killed her with witnessing it. Perhaps he blocked the event in his mind, replacing it with the memory of abduction? We'll just have to see how it goes. The series is so freaky and crazy that some scenes may be revealed to be just POV shots later on in the series. Cheap? Yep. But this is creepy horror anthology series - not deep, thought provoking character study.

The second season has a lot of people from first season playing different parts - Jessica Lange, who played last year's sort-of-a-villain Constance now appears to be the hero of the story, determined to stop doctor Arden. She does bad things too, but I bet by the end of the season she will be the one rescuing people. Lily Rabe who played the mother of Infantata, one of the monsters from last season is now playing Sister Eunice, naive and innocent nun who will play bigger part of the future. The main heroine is Lana, journalist and a lesbian, who wants to discover the secrets of Asylum, only to end up being committed to it. She is played by Sarah Paulson, who was the psychic in last season.

While last year Evan Peters played the villain - Tate, now he is Kit, a hero. Zachary Quino is returning, this time as progressive thinking doctor in the Asylum - we will see him for the first time next episode. Newcomers include Clea Duvall - Lana's girlfriend, Lizzie Brochere - mysterious Grace who is helping Kit and Chloe Sevigny - nymphomaniac patient. Frances Conroy, Ian McShane and Dylan McDermott will appear later on in the season.
The premiere had many good scares and creepy moments. Starting with brand new intro filled with disturbing images and yet again clues to the plot of the series, through the freaky looking patients who greets Lana in the Asylum to the chilling ending when we first saw Bloody Face, wearing a mask made out of his victims flayed skin. Good God, he looks so gross. Although is he really he? Last season's main antagonist was Rubber Man and when we found out his identity, nobody was surprised. I hope the reveal this year will be better. My main suspicion is Grace - her eyes look a lot like those of Bloody Face and she seems to be hiding something. Plus she says she was committed because she chopped off her family. Hmm...

Many people complain about jumpy and crazy editing - last season was done exactly the same way. This time Murphy was heavily influenced by Brian DePalma's work, mainly Dressed to Kill and Carrie. Some of the images in the premiere reminded me of William Friedkin's Exorcist. One of the best things in the series is that it pays homages to horror and other creepy movies - in just this episode we had references to Clockwork Orange, Freaks, The Silence of the Lambs and Carrie - the score from the movie was used prominently in Welcome to Briarcliff.
Once again the series has very strong sexual undertones - Sister Jude, from what was revealed via many articles hides kinky past. She is putting on red lingerie under her robe for her dinner with Monsignor and she fantasises about him. Shelly, nymphomaniac can be seen engaging in sexual activities with other patients and with the staff of the Asylum, punishment for which is apparently shaving off her hair, which Sister Jude attempts to do before she is interrupted by Lana. And we are still left to see what exactly Bloody Face does to his victims. I'm guessing it's not having a tea party with them.

In the world where all the new horror movies seem to be crappy, that is the series to watch. I'm more than thrilled that we will be getting new episode on Halloween. The promo for next two episodes is very creepy and I'm shivering just thinking of seeing Bloody Face again. American Horror Story:Asylum is off to a very good start.

American Horror Story: Asylum (2012, 60 min)
2x01 Welcome to Briarcliff
Plot: Welcome to Briarcliff Manor, a notorious insane asylum home to the deranged serial killer, Bloody Face. Lurking in the shadows of this "sanctuary of healing" are terrifying evils that blur the boundaries between reality and insanity.
Creators: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Stars: Evan Peters, Jessica Lange and Lily Rabe


  1. Ooh I loved the Clockwork Orange reference. Do you really think Lange will be some sort of a hero? It is in a way possible, but she freaks me out more than bloody Bloody Face.
    Also Lily Rabe was creepy. Her total submission thing was insane.

    I kind of like the weird alien abduction thing. I mean why not? Also the period where it is set is kind of cool in an alien-y way.

    Grace can be someone v. sinister. So can Joseph Fiennes.

    I liked Lana and Kit as the possible heroes. I can see me rooting for them. Last season the only one I rooted for was Violet.

    A very good pilot all in all. I was genuinely tensed by the end of it.

    1. I think I read somewhere she will be a hero this season and she will show kind heart etc. She is creepy but I like how she is standing up to the doctor.

      Yep I really like the idea, in the 60's people were paranoid about this sort of thing so I think they made the right choice with that element.

      I only rooted for Violet too. Well, older Moira as well, because she had such a sad story.

  2. I love the show! I'm not a big fan of horror but somehow ASH managed to turn me into a horror lover but I still stick with ASH because I see it as more elegant in a way. I do think that Murphy did himself a favor by allowing to have a different plot each season. It is kind of like mini-series yet for years to come..

    I liked the first episode, I actually was thrilled to see Adam Levine and Tatum's wifey in the beginning because it was cliché and typical, and yet, their sex was probably hotter than in any other horror movie. I didn't care so much about the Aliens and I wish, like you mentioned, that it would be just something he made up. Though the white scenes of freaky long green fingers probing him did make me twitch a bit.

    It is a long post to process so I apologize for my long comment but you got yourself into this. First season was groundbreaking in a way that it did bring something new to the TV screen, like The Walking Dead did, and I wish this season will improve it even more because I like the casting more now. Tate is awesome, there is nobody as amazing as Lange and Quinto is my gay-celeb-crush for sure!

    PS: I find asylums the most scariest place in the world and my biggest fear, or the thing that bothers me the most, is the situation where a sane person is put into a place like ASH showed.. yelling, I'm not insane doesn't help and there seems no escape than to just go insane....

    1. I think the idea with different stories is terrific one, as you don't really have to have elaborate mysteries lasting through seasons which series like LOST proved to be a complete trap.

      Those scenes in the beginning were so cheesy I can't believe how many people are complaining about them when it was just another play with cliche like the series does. Those aliens scenes were really creepy!

      I only saw one season of The Walking Dead, but I prefer AHS and it's wacky and bizarre style, it's definetly unlike anything else that's on TV right now.

      That is a very scary scenario, they kinda used it with Vivian last season and now we have Lana and Kit, especially back in the 60's it was a possible life sentance so it's seriously messed up.

    2. The Walking Dead is amazing, I like it. I enjoy the effort the make-up and deco department put into that series. I have put myself through some info searching and the scenery is inspired by the comic as well, so the author of the comic books was actually shocked how his story was brought to life in such a way. I like that.. it raises the quality and meaning to me. Same probably with ASH, I can see a lot of effort that has put into that.

      Yet, I think that the cheesy beginning.. it suited it because it ripped the seriousness from the "present" and put the emphasis on the "past". Plus, I might be defending it because I like Levine.

      I would be horrofied if I was put into a mental institution - I would see no way out..

    3. I really need to see The Walking Dead 2 when I find the time, the make up is really amazing indeed and several scenes in season 1 were genuinely chilling, though Zombies aren't really my favorite monsters the movies/TV series that had them tend to be quite scary.

      I think Levine will be with us for entire season, perhaps not only dying on the floor ^^ He wasn't bad in that opening scenes, I don't know why so many people complain about his acting.

      Times are changing though, I don't think it's that easy to be put there nowadays, thank God :)

  3. Really enjoyed the first ep of season 2, too! Much preferred it to season 1's. It just felt a lot better put together.

    The alien thing is weird. Because what the hell was that implant that Kit and James Cromwell's weird doctor both saw?! Bizarre!

    Fingers crossed this season can be as good, or better as last. Oh and yay... Adam Levine didn't last long! Hopefully!

    1. Glad to read that! I thought it was better constructed too, less messy and all over the place.

      I know it was seriously weird, I'm hoping they will mention that event in next episode.

      I'm going to laugh so hard if he is going to lie on the floor wirh ripped off arm this whole season :)

  4. tell you what, this opening was nuts. they changed the show around so much its insane, but i love it. was seriously saying "aliens? "in the beginning but they did it well

    1. They really did, though I wasn't a fan of that chip in Kit's neck but hopefully there will be some good explanation later on.

  5. I'd not heard of this until I saw it mentioned here on your blog. There was a trailer for it before Paranormal Activity 4 yesterday and it looked seriously creepy, I'm not sure I'd be able to handle it! I'm a big fan of Quinto though so may have to check it out for his appearance :)

    1. It really is very creepy! Woah, I had no idea they even promote it before films in cinemas, that's a nice marketing. Quinto is really terrific in season 1 I'm sure he will be great in season 2 too.

  6. The cast on this show is amazing, nice to see Joseph Fiennes here. I heard Jessica Lange on MPR the other day and Murphy said she really tailored the role just for her.

    1. Yep Murphy and Lange worked really hard on both the character of Constance and Sister Jude, she really is amazing here. Glad to see Fiennes too, it's seems he really took liking to TV.

  7. Don't know if I'll ever give this show a try, but it does look quite interesting. Luther is my first priority though. Hopefully, I'll start that later this week.

    1. Luther is a bit less...crazy :) I hope you'll like the series, the performances are top notch and while the criminals tend to be sterotypical at times the main two characters are anything but.

  8. I dont know that this season opener blew me away like the Season 1 premiere did, but then again, this one had a predecessor, so I knew what to expect. :D I agree, I think it's off to a promising start, too. Its a real hit and miss concept... the whole bailing on the previous cast and setting for an entirely new one. I think it'll work well for this year, we'll see how long they can keep the high standard of quality up!

    Kudos to Jessica Lange for still being able to get her sex scene on at 64 years old! :D

    1. I hope the quality TV will last longer than Nip/Tuck did :) I really enjoy how they used many of the same actors, it's fun watching them in different roles and amazingly it didn't distract me for a second.

      She is such a beautiful woman, I'm sure we will get to see more of stuff like that considering how hot her character is for the Monsignior :P