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DVD review: 'American Horror Story: Asylum'

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'American Horror Story: Asylum'

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After the success of 'American Horror Story', it was obvious that there would be another season. A completely different story is told, this time around, with much of the same cast. The second season was known as 'American Horror Story: Asylum.'

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The year is 1964. Briarcliff Mental Institution is a cruel facility that houses many psychologically disturbed patients, some more dangerous than others. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) rules with an iron fist while Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) meekly is trying to learn the ropes. Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes) oversees everything though he considers it to be a stepping stone on his path toward the papacy. Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) is the deranged doctor who is up to more than just treating routine aches and pains. That guy has some skeletons in his closet.

Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is a journalist who intends to expose the institution for it's offenses. When Sister Jude finds out about this, she has Lana wrongfully committed (by blackmailing Lana's secret girlfriend Wendy (Clea Duvall)) so she cannot write her story. Thus begins Lana's nightmare.

Also trapped at Briarcliff is Kit (Evan Peters), a young man who is accused of killing his pregnant wife. He maintains his innocence and blames it on an alien abduction. A visiting psychiatrist, Dr. Threadson (Zachary Quinto) thinks that Kit might be innocent and could be the young man's key to salvation, especially because there is a killer of women known as Bloody Face running around.

There are a ton of other characters and a lot more going on, but that is a decent way to start.

Nazis, deformed experiments, aliens, a serial killer, oh my! The stakes and scope are certainly raised in the second season. On one hand, the willingness and ability to juggle so much so well makes for a more dynamic experience. On the other hand, this season has less mystery, atmosphere and true frights. Maybe dropping the aliens angle would have lent a little more seriousness and believability to this season. Almost any wacky occurrence can be explained away by the limitless power of aliens and the unknown. That's a little lazy. There are a few instances where characters make obviously bad decisions and/or startling coincidences pop up for the benefit of the story. Also, what's up with that musical number involving Sister Jude and 'The Name Game'?

The above criticisms may or may not be legitimate, but the overall quality of the show is hard to deny. It's hard to fault a show for being overly ambitious. The sheer amount of information, ulterior motives and surprises is mindboggling. There are a ton of shocking moments in here which is exactly why we tune in. Even more than before, there is a ton of social commentary, both taking to task the concepts of homophobia and sexism that were especially prevalent back in the ‘60s.

Lange is dynamite and Cromwell is perfectly sinister. A little more ambiguity about the latter's past could have stretched the tension out a bit longer and he could have been explored a bit more but, oh well. The setting and main conflict aside, the Bloody Face saga is incredibly juicy and offers the most effective chills in the whole season.

Special features include: deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, a short film, a look at the set and a look at the makeup effects.

'American Horror Story: Asylum' is much bigger and bolder than what came before it. Whether that means 'better' is simply a matter of taste.

Either way, if you are fond of the macabre, this should be on your radar.

Not Rated 572 minutes 2013

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