Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lana Banana vs Sister Jude, or Thoughts on American Horror Story: Asylum

The second season will be forever remembered as the alien abduction misstep, which most viewers found confusing and distracting.  I think the writers were using an Airplane/Scary Movie approach to their writing by throwing every scary idea they had up on the screen and seeing what stuck.  In addition to the little green men there were monsters in the woods and a demonic possession, not to mention the real-life horrors of Nazi War Criminals and a serial killer who served mints in a cranium (will you think less of me if I confess I want one of those) and a mid-century madhouse complete with ice baths and electro-shock therapy.
The introduction is heavy on the smart phone usage, to anchor the viewer in the present.  A hipster couple, self-diagnosed morbid erotomanics roam the abandoned Briarcliff Asylum as an audience stand-and are punished almost immediately.  The bulk of the series is set in the past, while these scenes bookend the hour as flash-forwards, instead of the more linear flashbacks of Season 1.
The opening credits feature the same haunting music but is now set in a creepy madhouse, complete with sexy nuns, stained mattresses, midnight surgery and a demonic patient crab walking upstairs, all on grainy crackled film stock and sepia tones to emphasize the series’ focus on the past.  Call it retro-horror, though the themes of interracial marriage, institutional sexism and LGBT equality are decidedly modern.
Jessica Lange is more central to this series as Sister Jude, but still serves as the antagonist to Sarah Paulson as plucky reporter Lana Winters and James Cromwell as Dr. Arden.  It’s a battle for the soul of Briarcliffe between as they debate religion vs. science and sin vs. nature.
“All monsters are human,” Sister Jude tells Evan Peters, who is back as Kit Walker, alien abductee, serial killer suspect and one half of the aforementioned interracial marriage.  There are great roles for Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice and Zachary Quinto as Dr. Thredson and the introduction of Naomi Grossman as Pepper, a classic pinhead straight out of Tod Browing’s Freaks (1932), who we would see again in Season 4.
The clever usage of the Belgian song “Dominique” from The Singing Nun (1966) playing incessantly in the asylum’s common room served three purposes; it is an insight into Sister Jude’s character, it anchors the scene in a specific time period and reinforces a common nightmare of being trapped in a madhouse and slowly driven to insanity.  Music plays a more significant role in Season Two with Sister Jude’s drug-addled musical interlude and dance routine to “The Name Game”.  It’s not exactly a misstep on the level of alien abductions, but it was charmingly confusing.
The alien abduction added an unwelcome sci-fi element, and threatened to drag the series into X-Files territory, but by the end of the series it had been balanced out by Lily Rabe’s excellent performance as a possessed nun, the consistently intense ChloĆ« Sevigny as Shelley, the legless nymphomaniac, and the omnipresent threat of lobotomy by Dr. Arden.  Who knew the kindly farmer from Babe (1995) had such a dark heart?


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.