“American Horror Story” is the first series in the horror genre to deliver a kind of cinematic quality in the television medium and the level of psychological terror it sustains across a thirteen episode seasonal arc is unmatched among its peers.
In comparing iconic anthology predecessors like “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery,” which featured different episodes each week that were resolved within a thirty minute or sixty minute time span, AHS accomplishes a rather unique and awesome feat: One complete horror story is told, across thirteen one-hour episodes and we are reeled in and utterly captivated from the beginning to the end.
Even more remarkable, though, is the fact that the level of horror and heart-pounding, palm sweating suspense does not subside until the very last frame has played. There is no lull or break in tension. The terror is always looming; a beating, pulsing undercurrent to every passage of dialogue or random character action.
Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) smoking a cigarette, for instance, in season one, is just utterly creepy and ominous.
The writing, the lighting, the FX makeup, the costumes and the dialogue are designed to invoke one primary human emotion: Fear.
With an impressive 17 Emmy nominations AHS’ freshman season proved the series did its job, did it well, and did it in a way that’s never been done before on television.
More simply put: “American Horror Story” corners the market on delivering fright in a fresh and original way.
Let’s face it: We are tense, anxious and scared from the creepy title sequence till the end credits roll.
Last season, “American Horror Story” justifiably earned my rank as the “Scariest TV Show of All Time.”
Season 2, subtitled “Asylum” takes a stark and terrifying look into the dark abyss of madness. Sanity versus insanity is explored (largely in 1964) at Briarcliff Manor, a mental institution for the criminally insane.
With just two episodes under its belt heading into Halloween, “Asylum” has already delivered multiple, unforgettable frightening moments. Following is a list of my Top 5 Scariest “Asylum” scenes so far, in reverse ranking order:
#5 LEO’S ATTACK
Adam Levine makes an amazing acting debut as Leo, newlywed with Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum). Its present day and they make their last stop on a haunted honeymoon tour to the rubble of what-used-to-be Briarcliff.
Briarcliff 2012 is in ruins. Debris covers the floor – remnants of what used to be– and all kinds of weird graffiti covers the walls (including a cartoon drawing of Bloody Face).
Teresa fakes a seizure on an electric shock table and they proceed to have sex while she is strapped down to it. Nothing seems more vulnerable than grinding away in the cavernous shell of a former crazy house….
They investigate a sound and Teresa coaxes Leo into taking a picture through what appears to be a food slot in a patient cell door. The minute the camera flashes Leo screams in horror as something severs his arm.
He staggers back, screaming and collapses to the floor in a pool of rapidly expanding blood.
This whole sequence is “Urban Legends” freaky and it’s only the first 5 minutes of the season premiere episode…
#4 DR ARDEN’S DINNER DATE
James Cromwell as Dr. Arden is one of the creepiest mad scientists ever portrayed on the big or small screen.
After calling Shelley (Chloe Sevigny) the resident nymphomaniac a whore several times during a verbal spat at Briarcliff, Dr. Arden has a call girl over for dinner. The whole nail-biting sequence is utterly terrifying.
Dr. Arden chatters on about how “safe” this girl should feel now that the killer of women is locked up. As he talks, he is carving some sort of meat with a huge knife and we can’t help but wonder if he’s serving “roast human.” (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?)
When Dr. Arden yells at her to sit down he transforms into something very, very ugly and potentially dangerous. His cold stare cuts us to the bone. We sense this girl is doomed and so does she.
The girl dresses like a nun for him and finds a box of photos of women who are tied up in compromising positions and some photos look like skinless faces.
What kind of monster are we dealing with?
The worst part is when he catches her with the photos. He orders her onto the bed and we’re sure he’s going to rape or kill her or both.
Luckily, she bites him, kicks him in the crotch and runs away (although we’re not sure if she makes it out alive!)
If we weren’t totally certain just how deranged Dr. Arden really is, we have a much clearer idea now and we are even more scared to think about the kind of sick torture he may be capable of…
#3 DR. ARDEN PROBES KIT’S MIND
There is nothing more terrifying than being locked up for a crime you didn’t commit. Probably worse than that, though, is being carted off beyond your will to be experimented on by a mad doctor.
Point blank, one of the scariest images I have ever seen on television is Evan Peters as Kit Walker, lying strapped to Dr. Arden’s exam table, with his head also strapped down and his eyes held open with those metal clamps. I kept thinking Arden was going to point sharp objects into his eyes and waiting for it was maddening (no pun intended!).
Kit is completely and utterly at this deranged man’s mercy.
He lays there, helpless and then Dr. Arden says “I hope you don’t mind that I’m not using anesthetic.”
We get more freaky flashbacks of Kit’s alien encounter and then Dr. Arden slices Kit’s neck open and extracts some kind of electronic device. (This part is most likely a hallucination. But, it’s not clear which person is imagining it.)
I’ll admit I have a very weak stomach when it comes to torture of any kind. I had to literally peer between cracks in my fingers to get through the sequence.
Cromwell and Peters have us completely sucked into this scene and we are completely held on the edge of our seats…
#2 THE EXORCISM
I’ll be the first to admit that I saw “The Exorcist” with Linda Blair when I was much too young for the graphic nature and content of the story.
I thought I’d be scarred for life…that is, until Jed appears on AHS and they perform an exorcism on him.
The special effects used here are incredible! His freaky yellow eyes, the lacerations all over his face, that demonic voice. Jed makes Regan look like Shirley Temple in “Bright Eyes.”
The way he spews demonic language and then reels Sister Jude in with fake anguish, only to spell out her darkest secrets in a very taunting, evil way is: Frightening. As. Hell!
When Jed goes into cardiac arrest and dies, the demon enters the otherwise soft-spoken young nun Sister Mary Eunice.
What, I ask, is scarier than a demon-possessed woman of God?
#1 Lana’s Electroshock Therapy
Poor, innocent (albeit snoopy) Lana will do anything to get an exclusive interview with Bloody Face. She ends up getting attacked by a Briarcliff inmate and Sister Jude finds her and commits her to “cure” her of her homosexuality.
The most psychologically terrifying sequence in “Asylum” for me so far, is when Sister Jude asks Dr. Arden to perform electroshock therapy on Lana and we watch the procedure while she assists.
Sister Jude loathes Dr. Arden and is suspicious of his treatments. But, she actually uses him to carry out her own twisted plan for Lana (in the name of protecting Briarcliff and herself from exposure or investigation).
The sight of Lana writhing around pleading for mercy is completely unnerving and the worst part is when they shove the bit into her mouth to keep her from swallowing her own tongue.
The fact that the end goal here is to erase her memory is bone-chilling and when we see her sort of stupor-like gaze in the common room afterward, a knot of dread forms in our stomach.
Most of all, the fact that Lana is being punished and dubbed insane for being homosexual is the most horrifying element, I feel, in the subject matter so far this season.
Overall, as Evan Peters said in a behind-the-scenes video clip, “This season is completely insane. Everything, every frickin’ thing that you can be scared of they’re throwin’ in there.”
Well said, Evan! We can’t really sum up the scare factor any better than that!
“American Horror Story: Asylum” airs Wednesdays at 10 PM EST on FX.