So if you haven’t noticed, I have a morbid fascination with horror stories, ranging from the urban legends peddled about by Weird NJ or a full night of creepy pasta, to checking up on other horrors that sites such as the SCP Foundation archive with delicious detail. So it’s no surprise that this Fall season has got me excited for some of the latest series that deal with horror: Supernatural, The Walking Dead, and hey even 666 Park Avenue are all well and good with varying levels of “scariness” (Arguably 666 Park Avenue is shaping up to be the most vanilla of the three).
But if demon-hunters, zombies, and jump-scares aren’t enough for your weekly dose of the grotesque and the strange, look no further than American Horror Story’s second season to satisfy your need for something sinister and gory.
For those of you unfamiliar with the American Horror Story series, the premise is simple enough: an unsuspecting family going through some troubled times add more problems to their plate by moving into a haunted house. Each episode follows the way that life for the Harmons spiral out of control until they are inevitably trapped in the house (But, spoiler: Don’t worry there’s a bit of a happy ending, kind of). American Horror Story’s first run was wildly successful and well-liked by critics and fans alike so it’s no wonder that they have launched a second season, titled American Horror Story: Asylum.
Now I will be honest and say I was one of the few people who wasn’t so taken with the first season; I suppose the Harmons and their struggles didn’t do it for me, nor did the convoluted motives of some of the ghost and goulies of the house seem convincing to me at least. (There will be some future article expounding on my gripes, never fear!)
But if there is something that Season One lacked for me, I will say that Season Two’s episode premiere has dispelled any doubt that the second season of American Horror Story will be anything like its predecessor — in fact, I believe it might even prove to be better.
The first episode of Asylum does not pull any stops on the gore or the horror tropes, or the interesting cast of characters that make the already unsettling haunted mental institute, Briarcliff, all the more sinister. The first five minutes pretty much sets the tone for the show when a pair of thrill-seeking honeymooners make the unfortunate decision to visit (And have sex in — look at that horror movie trope) the abandoned Briarcliff — the institute cheerfully proves to still be deadly and, as many of the characters seem to reference, escape is of little option. Which is made the more unsettling because hey, this is a haunted mental asylum — ruled by the sadistic Sister Jude (Who is possibly my favorite character right now) who runs the Briarcliff with an iron fist and the wily cunning to threaten just about everyone and anyone. Case in point: The way she deals with undercover journalist Lana Winters and her partner (Yes, I said partner;Sister Jude isn’t above blackmail especially in a small town that won’t abide to a lesbian couple) is proof that this little nun is prepared to take drastic measures to keep a hold on her asylum and the secrets hidden within its cells.
Sister Jude also has a not-so-secret-or-celibate crush on local Monsignor Timothy Howard who strains their relationship by allowing Dr. Arthur Arden to work as the asylum’s doctor/surgeon/and suspected guy-who-experiments-on-the-in-mates because why not.
And in the midst of these stock villains we have our heroes — such as the unfortunate Kit Walker who is accused of killing several women, including his own wife, but who the audience knows is (Or maybe is not) innocent; we sit and we squirm at the horrors bestowed on Kit in his poor twist of fate. And the list of heroes, potential threats, and others — including a very frightening young woman who drowned her nephew without remorse– makes the Briarcliff a happening place for potential, potential horrors, and a potential bigger mystery that makes the show so exciting to watch.
Now,I don’t mean to knockon shows like 666 Park Avenue, but I will warn you that this series is far from “vanilla”; there are no standard jump scares here and viewer discretion is advised because the Briarcliff doesn’t pull any stops with explicit sex and violence. If you’re familiar with the lore surrounding such institutes you’ll know the common tropes–the experimentation, the rape, the mingling of people that shouldn’t be together, etc.–with a healthy dose of Christian clergy hypocrisy that made the episode sinfully delightful and horrifying to watch unfold.
Again, so far, I feel that there is a bit of a hierarchy when it comes to which of the new TV shows that deal with horror and gore– there is a stark distance between the tension in 666 in comparison to the blatant hack-and-slash of Asylum. (Not that that is a bad thing, mind you) So, if you’re in need of a horror show that has more substance–and by substance I mean gore and pain and suffering and the decidedly untriumphant falls of heroic characters–then tune in to the FX’s American Horror Story and let the good times roll.