Mad doctors, exorcisms, sadistic nuns, a secret tunnel known as the “death chute” and even a scary shower scene: American Horror Story is back on FX Wednesday to pay bloody homage to great and not-so-great horror movies of the past with its own contemporary flourishes and, of course, more sophisticated special effects.
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, American Horror Story: Asylum isn’t technically a series, but, rather, a mini-series, according to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, despite the fact that several cast members from last year’s freshman season are back this year and that it has as many episodes as a regular series.
Jessica Lange is among the returning cast members from last year, but this time, she plays Sister Jude, a tyrannical nun with weird sexual fantasies who oversees an insane asylum in the 1960s called Briarcliff. The asylum was originally built as a tuberculosis hospital in the early 20th century and was the scene of some 46,000 deaths.
Among the current crop of inmates are Kit Walker (Evan Peters, from season 1), who is accused of being deranged serial killer “Bloody Face,” local newspaper reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who shows up at the asylum allegedly to do a story on its bakery but really hopes to snag an interview with Bloody Face, Grace (Lizzie Brochere), a young woman who befriends Lana and Kit, and the sexually insatiable Shelley (Chloe Sevigny).
How mean is Sister Jude? In addition to cane beatings, she insists that the unlikely 1963 pop hit, Dominique, sung in French by the Belgian “Singing Nun,” Sister Luc Gabriel, be played over and over again on the day room record player. As if the poor souls at Briarcliff hadn’t suffered enough.
Wednesday’s premiere focuses largely on how “Bloody Face” and Lana Winters wind up at Briarcliff. Winters’ transgression was asking a few too many questions and, as any horror fan knows, curiosity is never advisable, especially in an asylum ruled by a wacko nun.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Ryan Murphy show if it didn’t include a thinly disguised PSA about LGBT issues and rights. The veil isn’t quite as thin as in Murphy’s other shows, like Glee and his new sitcom, The New Normal.
Murphy and Falchuk reference the classic Lillian Hellman play and 1961 film The Children’s Hour as one of the character’s’ secret lesbian lover, a school teacher, is blackmailed into betraying her. Elsewhere, the script references the fact that electroshock therapy was once used to try to “cure” homosexuals, but, in 1964, the psychological community was moving toward what it believed was more humane aversion therapy.
But Asylum is all in great and occasionally gory fun, and the cast members deliver the over-the-top dialogue with a heaping topping of relish.