AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
Sarah Paulson as LANA WINTERS
Jessica Lange as SISTER JUDE
Zachary Quinto as DR. OLIVER THREDSON
Joseph Fiennes as MONSIGNOR TIMOTHY HOWARD
Evan Peters as KIT WALKER
Lily Rabe as SISTER MARY EUNICE
Lizzie Brocheré as GRACE BERTRAND
James Cromwell as DR. ARTHUR ARDEN
Created by: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
BY KEVIN CARR
Growing up, I was a huge fan of horror and science fiction. My father was also a fan of these genres, but he was painfully picky about them. While he raved about loving books about galactic empires, I was always flummoxed by the fact that he didn’t care for either “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” two of the most widely known galactic empire sagas.
However, now that I find myself in a quandary with horror television, I suppose I understand his perspective. Two of the most popular horror television series are “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story,” both of which I’ve extremely lukewarm about. While I do like “American Horror Story” much more than I do “The Walking Dead,” I still have reservations.
On the surface, I respect what Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were doing with their series. It’s nice to see a bona fide horror show on television, which hasn’t really been the case since “Tales from the Crypt” aired on HBO. However, I was left cold by the first season of “American Horror Story.” That season felt like Murphy and Falchuk weren’t necessarily horror fans but had watched a bunch of horror movies over a weekend and more or less imitated them.
The second season of “American Horror Story” is a little more focused, though it suffers from many of these same problems. I do think it’s cool to present a brand new show each year rather than force characters to continue through year after year while trying to keep them interesting. The reset potential of “American Horror Story” can be a challenge for the writers, but it keeps the show fresh.
The second season is subtitled “Asylum,” and it takes place in the walls of the Briarcliff Sanitarium. A whole slew of awful things happen behind the walls, and it is mostly told from the point of view of a lesbian reporter named Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who sneaks into the asylum under false pretences but it refused release by the overbearing staff. The other focus of the story comes from suspected mass murderer Kit Walker (Evan Peters), who is having visions of alien abductions and falls in love with an axe murderer in the asylum.
There are two big problems I had with this season. The first was it was overly grim. Horror fiction can be effective in terms of its presentation and production design. However, too much nastiness tends to weight down a series, particularly if you watch it in one big chuck, which is often the case when experiencing a show on Blu-ray or DVD.
Things are just too hopeless at times for the characters. The people running the asylum are just too terrible, too naive to the evil taking place or too callous to the people they are with. This is a result of society looking back at the past (even though the early 60s, during which the bulk of the season takes place, isn’t that archaic of a time) and assuming it’s utter barbarism. Still, this grim and hopeless outlook of the series does work as a dose of horror.
The other problem I have with “American Horror Story: Asylum” is that it’s just too busy. Where the previous season focused primarily on ghosts and hauntings (with a dose of mass murder in the mix), there is nothing out of bounds for “Asylum.” We have serial killers, aliens, insane doctors, mutants, zombies, demons and Nazis. It’s like Murphy and Falchuk threw everything against the wall and kept it there, whether it stuck well or not.
Still, I respect “American Horror Story: Asylum” for how it’s helping to change the face of cable television. It has a strong cinematic look to it and really pushes the boundaries of what can be shown on FX. Additionally, there are some great performances, particularly from Jessica Lange and James Cromwell.
Disturbing and often unpleasant, “American Horror Story: Asylum” can appeal to the horror fan, even if it’s not my favorite show of its type.
The three-disc Blu-ray set includes all 13 episodes (haha, for the fortunate numbering). Bonus features include deleted scenes and three featurettes: “What Is American Horror Story: Asylum?,” “Welcome to Briarcliff Manor” and “The Creatures.” There’s also a webisode known as “The Orderly,” which summarizes the show from the point of view of one of the more marginal characters in the asylum.