The thing that truly makes this season of American Horror Story so much more excellent than the first season is the way it approaches horror from every direction. Whereas the first season was an almost Mayfair Witches, textbook possession and haunting scenario dabbled here and there with other facets of horror, Asylum truly seeks the shadow you're not looking for and jumps out at you from it.
Not so much last week, where the entire episode was eaten up by a fairly static exorcism storyline that, while necessary to set up Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) as a demonic agent, did little to otherwise entice the story along. All we really got out of it otherwise was a shot of Lizzie Brocheré's Grace's bare butt bent over Sister Jude's (Jessica Lange) desk as she prepared for a caning. Fun as that was, it's not really the hallmark of compelling drama.
For Halloween, though, writer Jennifer Salt and director Michael Uppendahl pulled out all the stops. Set amid a backdrop of a terrible storm approaching Briarcliff Asylum, a multi-faceted scarefest ensues like some kind of haunted house ride you didn't even really know you were on.
Sister Jude decides to try and keep the inmates calm during the storm by having a movie night, borrowing a projector to show Cecil B. DeMille's Sign of the Cross. By the by, we get enough of a glimpse of this movie for me to definitely say, "Holy shit! DeMille was insane! Go rent this flick. Murder, naked chicks staked to the ground, religious drama. It's like Martyrs except with prettier people." End aside.
Jude, unbeknownst to her, is being staked out by the possessed Mary Eunice, who has been surreptitiously dropping reminders of the night Jude drunkenly ran over a young girl and afterwards forswore her life to Christ in penance. Meanwhile, Mary Eunice uses the unholy spirit inside her to cow a highly religious Mexican inmate, murder her and dump her body out among the woods where Dr. Arden's (James Cromwell) mysterious creatures lurk.
Good old-fashioned Satanic horror? Check. What else?
Well, even as our four hero characters (Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Brocheré and Chloë Sevigny) seek an escape during the movie, Jude wanders the asylum drunk looking for the missing Mexican. In just a single cutaway shot, we meet something...otherwordly that terrifies her. In the brief glimpse we get, the creature appears to resemble a cross between Jeff Goldblum's last incarnation of the Fly and the Mezco Mothman figure. Is this what haunts the woods outside Briarcliff?
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Probably not. Paulson, Peters and Brocheré make it to freedom, only to meet Arden's creatures, meat-hungry mutant men that are clearly inspired by Hatchet's Victor Crowley. They flee for their lives back into the asylum.
Which brings us to Chloë Sevigny's Shelley the Nymphomaniac. She had tried to buy her friends some escape time blowing a guard, only to end up caught by Dr. Arden and near- raped. Look, I know women these days are probably sick of men who don't know any better weighing in on the subject of rape, but here's some advice from me to you. Should you find yourself in such a position, and the rapist turns out to have a small, barely functioning penis, mocking it is probably not going to make the situation any safer for you.
The results of Shelley's laughter are the loss of, oh, about 15 pounds of body parts that most of us take for granted. That and the knowledge that she is considered escaped and no one will come looking for her.
That was the genius of this week's Asylum. The show pulls so many twists that it is impossible to get a grip. It's like holding a tiger by the tale. One minute you're jumping from aliens and the next you're squirming in the bowels of body horror as the scalpel cuts and the flesh parts. In any other setting it would be a train wreck, but Asylum manages to play these various scares like Frank Zappa conducting weird movements. Thus far, Asylum remains spectacular.