American Horror Story: Asylum: Silent Night, Derpy Night
Do you know why they make Christmas-themed horror movies? Because they can, and for no other reason. I'm not saying that you can't make Christmas scary, I'm just saying that it is by nature a real stretch. In the end, you're trying to turn something that is inherently pure into something horrifying for no other reason than that it is a fucked up thing to do.
Even John Waters doesn't mess with Christmas. Let that sink in a bit.
Much of Asylum this week deals with a man named Leigh who went on a rampage dressed as Santa Claus. He murdered 18 people among five families in one night, including a Salvation Army Santa who he killed for the suit. Afterwards, he wound up in Briarcliff where Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) locked him away intending he never see the light of day again.
Well, now Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) is in charge and since she's gleefully possessed by a demon she let him out to start doing some bloody work. To his credit, perennial bad guy Ian McShane does wonders with Leigh, managing to make him both pitiful and Charles Manson grandiose. If anyone could force greatness from the role it's him.
But honestly, it is so forced. Leigh recounts to a trapped Sister Jude how the welts from his canings never healed, and he intended to make her lick the oozing pus form the sores after he finishes raping her. Before that, Mary Eunice uses her funky hell psychic majumbo to tap into the memory of Leigh being gangraped in prison while the guards were off caroling. It's just like Friday the 13th, but really, really stupid and desperate to be edgy.
Aside from trying to ruin Christmas continuously over a 45-minute running time, the episode is actually a really good one as far as basic plot development. Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) returns to Briarcliff to take revenge on Lana (Sarah Paulson) for not being a good victim, only to be laid low by Kit (Evan Peters) who he was trying to frame as the serial killer Bloody Face.
Meanwhile, Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) is caught in as existential a crisis as a former Nazi can have. He attempts to spark moral outrage in Mary Eunice by giving her a set of ruby earrings. He then tells her how he retrieved them from the stomach of a wealthy "Jewess" in his concentration camp. She had been continuously swallowing them and passing them in order to preserve them. In the end, the stones cut her intestines to ribbons and she died of internal bleeding. Arden kept the earrings.
That's based on a true story, by the way. Irene Zisblatt was given a set of diamond necklaces by her mother before she was taken to Birkenau camp. She, unlike Arden's patient, managed to survive the camps with her jewels intact, and even wrote a book called The Fifth Diamond in 2008. These days she wears the necklace when she talks to children about the Holocaust because fuck Nazis that's why.
Mary Eunice, however, damn nears achieves orgasm hearing the story because, you know, demon. As Arden's past comes ever more into focus, it reveals a complex and terrible character, but nonetheless is the only antagonist that has managed to achieve any depth. In a way he is scarier than the serial killer Thredson, his own deformed zombie creations, the possessed Mary Eunice, or even the mysterious alien that still haunts the edges of the story.
Of them all the Nazi remains the most terrifying because he is so close to normal humans' motivations and desires. There's a moral in that, somewhere.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events