American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired: October 17, 2012 – January 23, 2013

Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?

Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.

 

There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.

As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.

Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank,  Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.

I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters. 

To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

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Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto (and others)
Length 13 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release October 8, 2013

American Horror Story: Murder House

Halloween 2018 may be over but if you’re looking to binge a great show this weekend, check out my upcoming series of reviews of American Horror Story Seasons 1-7.

Aired: October 5 – December 21, 2011

On the precipice of divorce, Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivian (Connie Britton) relocate from Boston to a renovated mansion in Los Angeles with their daughter Violet (Tassia Farmiga) in order to start again. Little do they know that the great price that they got on the mansion is due to its dark history of violence. Will they become eternal tenants of be the rare people to leave the house alive?

 

 

I was very late to catch the American Horror Story train. Always a Ryan Murphy fan, Feud was a work of genius, horror simply isn’t a genre that I would regularly choose to watch. One night the 16-year-old and I were talking about what to watch and we landed on American Horror Story Murder House. Let’s be clear, while I know my daughter is old enough to watch shows like American Horror Story Murder House, it was a little uncomfortable at times to be watching it with her. Some of the themes are quite adult but the story is engaging and the acting is spectacular.

Ben and Vivian go to California looking for a new start after Ben cheats with one of his students and Vivian suffers a miscarriage. Ben opens his psychiatry practice from the spectacularly beautiful wood paneled library (the real house used in the show was built in 1908 and is 10,000+ square feet. For more information, click here ). He takes as a patient Tate (Evan Peters), a troubled teen who forges a bond with Violet that doesn’t especially thrill Ben. Complicating matters are the sometimes young and sometimes old maid, Moira (Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge), a somewhat overbearing neighbor played by Jessica Lange and her mischievous daughter who slips into the house at will scaring its occupants played by Jamie Brewer. As time unfolds the former occupants reveal themselves to the new owners and their motivations are very rarely innocent.

While hesitant to start this series, I have to say American Horror Story Murder House is wonderful. The stories are the former occupants are deep, complex and fully realized. Lily Rabe plays the wife of the first owner of the house. She suffered a great loss and the actress plays both her grieving an manipulative sides to perfection. Zachary Quinto gives another standout performance as a former owner trapped eternally in a relationship with someone with whom he’d rather not spend eternity. Jessica Lange perhaps, not surprisingly, gives the best performance as a woman who has a deep connection with the house and is torn in a love/hate relationship with her life and desperate need to stay nearby. She won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in the role of Constance Langdon. Truly, at many points the show is a work of art.

One of the constant characters is the man in the rubber suit. The art department deserves a lot of credit for the way he sometimes floats through the scene. There are a few really unforeseen twists that just thrilled this viewer and while not all character stories were as interesting as the others as everything came together it was clear the story was just astoundingly well done. At first I did find the show a little scary but as episodes progressed, just simply could not stop watching.

If you’re looking for a good ghost story this post-Halloween weekend, binge the 12 episodes in this season and remember, Season 8 all comes back to that gorgeous house.

American Horror Story Murder House is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Tassia Farmiga, Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Dennis O’Hare, (and others)
Length 12 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release September 25, 2012

Eloise (2017)

Release Date: February 3, 2017

Jacob Martin (Chace Crawford) is a mechanic who has been estranged from his father for many years when a lawyer contacts him to say that his father has died. Jacob travels to his hometown of Detroit for the reading of the will and discovers that his father had a sister he never knew about but who was a patient for many years at Eloise Hospital in Westland, Michigan and is assumed to have died there. The only thing standing between Jacob and the immediate transfer of his father’s wealth is proof of the sister’s death. Jacob and his friend Dell (Brandon T. Jackson), make the trip to Eloise where the administrator tells them that the file is in the “Annex” and will take time to locate. Jacob and Dell make a plan to slip into the Annex at night to find the file themselves with the help of Eloise expert and oddity collector Scott (P.J. Byrne) and his very reluctant sister, bartender Pia (Eliza Dushku). What they encounter may not be worth the money they stand to gain.

 

I had high hopes for Eloise. I grew up about 20 minutes away from the hospital. There was a teacher supply store very near that my mom liked to frequent and when I’d see the cemetery, even at a very young age, it seemed creepy and mysterious. Many years later (mid-90s) while working at the Ann Arbor library a photographer exhibited pictures he’d taken in one of the abandoned buildings and whenever I had the chance I’d look at them envisioning when they were full of life and activity and, in a sense, that’s what Eloise brings us.

The story opens with Pia, a lone survivor, sitting on a bed while she’s questioned by an investigator who tells her that the three men have been confirmed dead and Scott could only be identified with dental records. What happened during what seems like it should be a quite straightforward night in the abandoned hospital? Eloise, as a story, raises a few questions. Are we supposed to be afraid? The evil doctor H.H. Greiss (Robert Patrick) rules the hospital like a sadistic tyrant and according to the movie is well known for his “fear therapy.” The idea is that in order to conquer ones fears a person must be placed in an extreme confrontation with them. If a person is claustrophobic an appropriate “cure” is to stuff them in a body bag and then a locker in the morgue. There are several examples of the fear therapy shown and as awful and misguided as they are, they read as a distraction from the real story-line which involves parallel timelines existing in Eloise. The hospital comes to life little by little. Pia walks down a hallway and sees babies in newborn cots and then looks down a hallway to see a little girl holding a box. Jacob sees patients, doctors and nurses bustling around. While there are several “idiot viewer” signs (LOOK AT THIS! This is going to be IMPORTANT), ultimately the story is a very simple one that is neither frightening or thrilling. Jacob is taken to the day his aunt (played by Nicole Forrester) dies and, coincidentally, a devastating (wholly fictional) fire that destroyed several of the buildings on the Eloise campus happened.

The actors weren’t given much to work with but their acting can’t be faulted. Jacob is the stereotypical brooding anti-hero, Dell is a wild child mixed up in drugs and hard living, Pia is a sardonic bartender with a hard life and a heart of gold who has sacrificed her life for her developmentally disabled brother. Griess is psychotic and seems to half believe in fear therapy and half get a kick out of how horrible it can be. He’s the standout in the cast leading a public display like a cult leader selling his followers on their own demise.

So did I like this movie. No. It had a lot of promise but never really carried through. Everything seemed disconnected and leading to a predetermined result without really giving any thought to making sense or engaging the viewer. I turned off Eloise several times during it’s 89 minute run. Ultimately I was left disappointed because given the promise of the location, I’d expected so much more.

To cap this review, I’d like to highlight the danger of a good story. Looking online I see a lot of people who claim Greiss as fact. From what I’ve read, he’s entirely fictional and the actual Eloise in its day was a lovely and progressive place to live out your remaining years. Elijah McCoy, the African-Canadian inventor and engineer, spent the last year of his life there. There were community gardens and bakeries and by all account, Eloise was a lively and lovely place. Recently the Friends of Eloise led ghost tours that sold out in a matter of minutes from ticket release. The cemetery is said to be haunted and the former asylum did experience deaths credited to medications of the day like opium but there was no Greiss and quite the contrary to the assertion that patients never left, they did and they lived happy lives.

If you’d like to see a movie about Eloise, this is the only one I’ve heard of and if you’re interested, check it out. Let me know what you thought.

Eloise is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title Eloise
Director Robert Legato
Actors Chace Crawford, Brandon T. Jackson, Eliza Dushku
Length 89 minutes
Rating R
DVD Release March 21, 2017

 

 

Cult of Chucky (2017)

Release Date: October 3, 2017

Cult of Chucky movie

In Cult of Chucky, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) has been sent to a medium security asylum for the criminally insane after extensive therapy to accept the idea that she killed her family and not a Good Guy doll named Chucky, as she’d claimed. When people at the asylum start dying, is she to blame or is Chucky back? Continue reading Cult of Chucky (2017)

Doctor Who Special: Christmas 2017

Release Date: February 13, 2018

 

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Twice Upon a Time (Doctor Who Special: Christmas 2017)

In an episode entitled Twice Upon a Time (Doctor Who Special: Christmas 2017), the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) encounters the First (David Bradley) who is fighting regeneration. The Doctor duo encounters a World War I soldier (Mark Gatiss), who was temporarily saved from death by the disruption of the timeline when the Doctors met, but who is being pursued by a new threat known as Testimony.    Continue reading Doctor Who Special: Christmas 2017

A Wish For Christmas (2016)

Release Date: October 26, 2016 | DVD Release Date:  January 3, 2017

 

A Wish For Christmas (2016)In A Wish For Christmas (2016), Sara Thomas (Party of Five’s and Mean Girl’s Lacey Chabert) is the workplace doormat. Everyone from her boss to her best friend takes advantage of her and she never stands up for herself. When a man she assumes to be the office Santa gives her a wish lasting 48 hours for Christmas, she wishes to be able to stand up for herself. The results make for a business trip away with the young and handsome CEO of the company for which she works for a pitch that just might save the company. Will her Christmas wish better or ruin Sara’s life?    Continue reading A Wish For Christmas (2016)

A Christmas Story (1983)

Release Date: November 18, 1983 | DVD Release Date: October 29, 1997

 

A Christmas Story (1983)A Christmas Story (1983) is based on an autobiographical story by Jean Shepard. Set in the 1940s, nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun and goes to great lengths to convince everyone that it would be the Christmas gift to end all Christmas gifts.    Continue reading A Christmas Story (1983)

All American Christmas Carol (2013)

Movie Released: November 2013 | DVD Release Date: August 22, 2016

 

All American Christmas Carol (2013)In All American Christmas Carol (2013), Cindy Wegman (Taryn Manning) is a single mother with multiple kids from different fathers and has adopted the attitude that working is for suckers. She quit working as a hairdresser when her mom died and has been floundering, taking advantage of anyone who will either look the other way or fall for her charms. She’s visited by three ghosts who try to show her the error of her outlook and put her back on a positive path.    Continue reading All American Christmas Carol (2013)