Saturday, October 26, 2013

American Horror Story - Asylum

bleeding faceAfter the thrilling conclusion of Season 1 of American Horror Story, I couldn't wait to see the second season. I wanted to see how the show writers would incorporate familiar faces into new roles. Would they trade places? Would the sinister become the innocent, and the innocent become the deranged? How would the character's stories weave together this time? I waited for what seemed like an eternity, and finally was able to get my hands on American Horror Story - Asylum.

American-Horror-Story-poster-AsylumI have to confess, the first few episodes were extremely disappointing. While the writers put their actors to good use (look forward to strong performances by Lily Rabe, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, James Cromwell, Chloe Sevigny, and Sarah Paulson), the stories just weren't as intriguing as Season 1. I was also disappointed that the stories were isolated, they weren't interconnected. There were story arcs that began, became interesting, and died within two episodes (Anne Frank story arc in specific), which left me frustrated. Yes, bits and pieces were referenced later, but overall, the story arcs came to a dead end. Additionally, the first episode began with an alien abduction, which came back here and there, but more as a minor backstory.

The season didn't start coming together until episode 6, when the writers brought a american-horror-story-asylum-premierefew storylines to the forefront. I also got my number one wish from Season 1 - more Zachary Quinto! Rather than being a peripheral character, he was one of the main characters, alongside veteran Jessica Lange.

The writers kept the same flashback format from Season 1. This format gives valuable insight into the character's motivations and experiences. The flashback sequences were mixed with scenes in the future, depicting events at the now-defunct asylum. I can't say any more because it gives away a major plot point in episode 9, but let's just say they upped the ante significantly!

I finished the final episode last night, and I found my views totally changed. It seemed that instead of slacking, the writers were only starting a trainwreck in motion that would have horrifying outcomes for everyone involved. My earlier gripe was also resolved - they brought back the alien abduction and made it relevant.

richardsonThe attention to detail and historical accuracy surprised me. When I was in high school, I did a senior thesis on modern medicine, which included a focus on chlorpromazine and ice-pick lobotomies. (Yes - I was a strange and curious child.) During the season, such practices as aversion therapy, electroshock therapy, and hydrotherapy were also showcased. What's more, their abuses were clearly showcased. Yes, some of the asylum abuses shown were for the shock value, but some of them were actual depictions of abuses suffered by those in asylums. (For the fun of it - here's my favorite one, located in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. May I introduce you to the H.H. Richardson Complex! And yes, if you're wondering, some of the same abuses occurred there as well.)

American Horror Story Season 2 - Asylum is available in local stores now, so head out and grab your copy! (Or, if you're particularly cheap, you can wait until it hits services like Netflix, but that might be awhile.)


American Horror Story - Murder House

americanhorrorstoryseason1When American Horror Story first aired, I was living with my parents. We were channel surfing as a family one night, and found it on FX. After watching a few minutes of the show, we changed the channel because the images were pretty disturbing. (We happened upon one of the episodes with the leather suit.) All throughout the first season, my friends kept raving about it and insisting that I watch. The picture of the person dressed in the leather suit kept coming to mind, and I couldn't figure out what they saw in me that would connect me to a leather S&M suit. I'll freely admit I'm a little strange - I like to start celebrating Halloween about a month before everyone else, and I almost never wear matching socks - but I'm not THAT KIND of strange. Well, about three months ago, my friend Steve (the one I go to haunted houses with) told me that at all costs, I have to get through the show. He told me I would love it, because the story was never predictable, and the cast was top-notch.

One night, I decided to seek out American Horror Story, Season 1 on Netflix and american_horror_story_ver4_xlg1see what all the hype was about. From the first scene, all the way to the soul-rending conclusion, I couldn't tear myself away from the screen. Episode after episode, each character that was introduced was more  exciting than the last. Choosing my favorite character or storyline continues to be difficult, even today, because there are too many to choose from. There is Moira, the housekeeper, who appears as an old lady to women but a fiery-haired seductress to any man who sees her. Constance and her daughter Adelaide, the strange next-door neighbors who seem to always find their way into the house. Ben and Vivien Harmon, a troubled married couple who move into the house at the start of the season with their daughter Violet. Tate, the troubled teen who has dark and violent visions. Chad and Patrick, a couple who hope to hope that the new house will save their failing relationship. The list goes on and on, and even the minor characters are a joy to watch.

American-Horror-Story-house-wide-560x282American Horror Story is not shy with any of it's storylines. Topics include school violence, infidelity, and a very realistic portrayal of a homosexual couple. Each of these issues is treated in an unflinching manner that invites open discussion. The storyline that hit home the hardest for me was the school shooting storyline. I immediately thought of the Columbine Massacre, which happened in the spring of my last year as a middle school student. It scared me deeply, because up until then I had thought that being at school was as safe as being at home, and that tragedy had proved me wrong. Seeing the tragedy in this show from the point of view of the shooter, those shot, and someone who got close to the shooter after the tragedy was extremely interesting. It made me seriously think about the people who committed the crimes, and the emotional pain and feelings of isolation that must have led them to do what they did.

By the end of the season, I was firmly hooked. I couldn't get enough of the 400px-Am-horror-chad-and-rubber-guy-300x212characters. I rooted for them, I cried with them, and my heart sunk with theirs. I liked both the villains and the heroes, though sometimes it was hard to tell which character fit which role. Each character acted their part so perfectly that even the minor characters came to life.

Additionally, I never saw any of the plot twists coming. Even when there were plenty of subtle clues pointing me in the right direction. Every single plot twist hit like a punch to the stomach - especially when the identity of the leather-clad person was revealed. I nearly died of surprise!

If you can push yourself past the freakier parts of the show, you will find that American Horror Story Season 1 is an enjoyable TV show. The characters are very multi-faceted, and the acting is superb. Today I will start Season 2 - I'm anxious to see if it lives up to the first season!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Slice of My Childhood

Tonight I wound up at Walmart, which in and of itself, is nothing exciting. There are many days when I am in Walmart at least once, and sometimes multiple occasions if I forget something. My mission tonight was to turn my change into money, return bottles for money, and purchase margarine so that I could make Krusteaz pumpkin bars. The last didn't happen, mostly because I decided to bake them later, possibly tomorrow. (I truly hate baking sometimes!)

Real_Monsters_title_cardAfter completing the majority of my mission, I took a detour through the electronics section. Mostly, I wanted to see what movies were for sale, and plan any forthcoming purchases for Thursday, when I get my paycheck from work. Suffice to say, the only thing of interest was Pacific Rim (can it - I liked that movie!) and a little gem from my childhood. Usually I don' t purchase series, since Netflix and Hulu are extremely good at covering what I watch. However, tonight there was a lone copy of AAAHH!!! REAL MONSTERS, which I watched with rapt attention as a child. It was $19.99, but I couldn't argue since it was all 52 episodes on 4 discs. I grabbed my copy, paid for my other merchandise, and got out of Dodge. For those of you not lucky enough to watch the show during it's original run (from October 30, 1994 to December 7, 1997), I highly suggest you get a copy of the series. This show was part of my own personal Golden Age of Nickelodeon, which varies greatly based on when you grew up. My shows were AAAHH!!! REAL MONSTERS, Doug, Rugrats, and Rocko's Modern Life, if you were wondering. Yes, Ren & Stimpy fits in there technically, but the show scared me out of my wits, so I don't list it as something I watched with any sort of regularity.

From top to bottom, the monsters are Oblina, Ickis, and Krumm. As a youngling, I watched this show on Nickelodeon. Each episode has the same basic format - the three monster students get themselves into a pickle while trying to complete assignments for their monster

aaahacademy classes. They rely on their own talents, as well as their friendship, to get them through. When I was a child, Ickis was my favorite character, mostly because he was the least scary. He was also the most normal, if any of them could be so termed. Oblina was the most scary, and I'm not sure if it was her eyes, or her pseudo-psycho approach to solving problems. I regarded poor Krumm as the smelly monster who spent the majority of the episodes tossing his eyeballs around, and as a comic relief. Reading up on the Wikipedia entry, I also see that Oblina was able to make children have nightmares by tickling their brains through their ears. No wonder she made me nervous!

I have yet to actually start watching, since I have been itching to see Alien for the last week or so. I'm hoping to start on the series tomorrow afternoon, after Chris and I get back from the local science museum. They're hosting an Aliens and Androids exhibit that features Tony Stark, Alien (from the movie I'm watching right now), and other favorites from the sci-fi world. I'm taking him on a date as part of his birthday present.



The First Haunt of the Year...

Nine years ago, I met one of my closest friends, Steve, through the Astronomy Club at my college. He was an alumnus, and I was a current student. While on a camping trip, we discovered our mutual love for all things horror: movies, music, and most of all - haunts. We decided to start going haunting every October - during which we would visit every haunted attraction in our area. (That may seem like nothing much, but here in Western New York, there's a large variety of things to do and see during Fall!) This came to the relief of our other friend, also named Steve, who was pretty much done with haunting. As our tradition is nearing it's 10th year, we decided to start spicing things up by adding an out of town haunt per season. You see, we are in a great location in New York state, since we have attractions like the Haunted Horseman Hayride in the Hudson Valley, and we're extremely close to both Pennsylvania and Canada.

Steve has been talking about Pittsburgh Scarehouse for the last few years. This year, we decided to go, since we'd be closer to Pennsylvania for our bi-scarehouseannual Astronomy Camp weekend. We left camp Sunday night, and within three hours were sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Pittsburgh waiting for our arrival time. The Scarehouse organizers came up with a really great way to field their traffic without jamming the narrow street in front of the Scarehouse, and jamming the neighboring streets. Visitors can only arrive via school bus shuttle, which leaves from the Pittsburgh zoo parking lot. When you buy tickets, they come in time slots, starting at 7:00, and going every half hour. The staff  is very efficient at getting people lined up, loaded, and off to the attraction. The bus ride takes less than 10 minutes, but when we arrived, we were thankful that we didn't have to drive. It would have been awful! The Scarehouse is tucked away on the outskirts of a residential area, and the streets are narrow. The jam would have been colossal!

After leaving the shuttle, visitors walk around the building to a back entrance. While they wait in line, they are entertained by a man dressed as a woman, a man in a straightjacket, and a man in a bunny suit. Don't start laughing yet. Bunny-man carries an axe, straight-jacket man pops up when you least expect it, and the last guy, well, he just taunts the crowd and draws your attention away so the others can get to you easier. The front of the building looks like something out of a Vincent Price film, which adds effortlessly to the atmosphere. You just know you're in for it when you enter the building!

I elected not to purchase the speed pass when I purchased the tickets, because I was against the $34.99 price tag. If I'm spending that amount, I want more than a chance to be a line-skipper. In any event, we paid the standard $19.99, waited in line for a half an hour, and then were led in. (The line inside the building is a little claustrophobic, but at least there's a barker for entertainment and some interesting displays). Visitors were led into the Scarehouse in groups of four, though the groups quickly caught up with one another. Within a few moments of entering, the groups had become a conga-line of terrified lambs. One house bleeds into another, and all you can hear are sound effects and people screaming and shrieking.

THE SCAREHOUSE BUNNYScarehouse definitely lived up to the hype! Visitors went from house to interconnected house, encountering all sorts of nasty costumes and props. This year's haunts were Creepo's Christmas in 3-D, Pittsburgh Zombies, and The Foresaken. All were phenomenal! Below are brief descriptions of each house, as well as the lobby, but not in the order in which the visitor encounters them. Not afraid of Mister Bunny (pictured at left)? Meet him in person. It's terrifying!

  • The Lobby: While visitors wait to enter the house, they are treated to an old-school stage show, with a creepy barker. He handed Steve a nail to verify that it was real, and Steve did. Then, the barker stuck it into his nose through a hole that I can only assume was a pre-existing piercing. I thought Steve was going to throw up, knowing he'd touched the nail. In retrospect, we were one of the first groups, so chances are it was relatively clean. There were also all sorts of creepy showcases with old props. The whole atmosphere was Art Deco - think "Great Gatsby in Hell". Very cool!

  • Creeop's Christmas in 3-D: The only clown-house that I've ever enjoyed in a haunt. Most of the time, clown houses feel like a rubble pile covered in black light reactive paint, and built haphazardly. This house didn't have many actors, but that was alright, since there was enough detail to make it interesting. The painted scenes on the walls predominately featured gingerbread men in a variety of terrifying situations. Gingerbread as victims and murderers, and even a horde of them being consumed by crazed Christmas trees. It also contained the usual tunnel, which I almost fell out of at the end. Good ole' Creepo Claus himself is pictured below, for all of your clown-filled nightmares.

  • The Foresaken: This house was a dollhouse from hell! I don't like dolls, I don't like people dressed as dolls, and I really really don't like dark places with dolls! In short, this house was terrifying. Dolls were dismembered, watching my every move, and apparently peeling themselves off the walls and talking to me. Thank goodness the guys behind me in the conga-line had a sense of humor - that house was creepy!

  • Pittsburgh Zombies: To be fair, there were a bunch of stationary zombies, hanging out of windows, scrunched into corners, and  generally waiting around for people. However, these were some of the best zombie performers I've ever seen. In most haunted attractions, the zombies stumble around like over-sugared children playing with a pinata. These zoms, however, were of the Danny Boyle type. You could almost feel them retching up the contagion as their bodies jerked spasmodically. As a friend of mine would say, "Gold".

  • The Basement: The last house is below the other three, but you have to pay another $19.99 fee for access, and sign a waiver. The actors are allowedcreepo to push you and restrain you, which is not something I'm up for. Those who know me in real life know that I'm not too good on my feet, so I didn't like the idea of being pushed off-balance. After we left the Scarehouse, we ran into people we had met in line that went to The Basement. Steve was a little disappointed that we didn't go, but we both agreed that with not knowing total time, or the lines, we would have been hard-pressed to make it back on time. As it was, we arrived back home around 12:30 am.

At the end of the haunt, visitors can either purchase merchandise, line up for The Basement, or take a shuttle back to the parking lot. We opted for the parking lot. Pittsburgh Scarehouse was a great attraction, but I recommend that any potential visitors spend $19.99 on the ticket, arrive early, and make sure they're at the parking lot about an hour before their time slot. The attraction is great, but it's better if you can get in, get scared, and get out like Steve and I.

Have you ever been to The Scarehouse? What did you think? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below!