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American_Horror_Story_Asylum_DVDThe AMERICAN HORROR STORY series takes the horror they developed in their first season to all new heights in their second season, entitled “Asylum”. The first season was a complete story, focusing on a haunted house that plays home to so many spirits who have had their spirits crushed when they lived there. Not to give too much of it away but there aren’t too many people left standing at the end of it so where were creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk supposed to go if they wanted to keep their success going? Their decision to tell an entirely different story while keeping the majority of the original cast in all new roles is a truly inspired choice that works better than I ever imagined it would.

“Asylum” centres around another structure, this time an asylum for the criminally insane named Briarcliffe in the 1960’s. The institution is owned by the Catholic church and run by a hardened nun named Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), who genuinely believes, like her supervising Monseigneur (Joseph Fiennes), that the power of faith and prayer can help sooth the minds and souls of the mentally ill. Unfortunately for Jude, there are a great many factors standing in the way of her success, from the former Nazi scientist (James Cromwell) performing experiments on the patients behind closed doors, to the sociopathic serial killer hiding amongst her staff, to the actual devil himself, or in this case, herself, as the devil has possessed the body of a particularly virtuous nun (Lily Rabe) under Jude’s care.


As if Jude didn’t have enough on her plate with her staff, she also has to deal with the dozens of patients at Briarcliffe. Some are clearly meant to be there (like Ian McShane as a killer with an aversion to the Christmas spirit) but then there are others who are forcefully being held there against their will and who are, more or less, actually sane (or are they?!). Returning from the first season and taking on a much bigger part is Sarah Paulson, who, along with Lange, Cromwell, and Zachary Quinto, earned an Emmy nomination for her work (Cromwell actually won), as a lesbian reporter who is committed to Briarcliffe in order to “cure” her of her homosexual perversion, but more importantly, to keep her quiet from exposing the atrocities that take place at Briarcliffe on a daily basis. She is joined on the inside by another returning player, Evan Peters, who has been wrongfully imprisoned there for killing, and subsequently skinning, a number of women, including his wife. He sees these events very differently as he believes he was the victim of an alien abduction. Hence the insane asylum.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY ASYLUM is completely addictive. The first season, while greatly imaginative, struggled at times to maintain its momentum. This is not the case here. There is never a dull moment at Briarcliffe and just when you think you know what is going on inside these dark, disturbing walls, a new twist is thrown in to keep you guessing. By the time it appears one of the more prominent patients is finally about to make her escape, the tension is so great because so many attempts have seemed promising but have failed miserably in the past. As she drove away, I was overcome with a great sense of relief and I realized how much I truly connected with the plights of these miserable souls. And then when the series actually came to a close, I was saddened to know that I too had been set free from Briarcliffe’s beautiful hold on me.


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