With American Horror Story being an annual limited series, those who didn’t like the plot or characters from one season can give its next season a try with a fresh slate of people and a completely new plot. However, if the second year of the show is any indication of the formula being used by its creators, the show is pretty much falling into a certain pattern: we’re given a location with a sordid history and are taken back and forth in time to learn who and what make the place infamous. Luckily, we’re treated to some wonderful actors who appeared in the first season of the show now turn up in the second season but in roles far different from their personas in the previous incarnation.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 9 Hr. 13 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case with leaves in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 10/08/2013
In 1962, Briarcliff Manor was taken over by the Catholic Church and turned into an asylum for the criminally insane. By 1964, it’s being administered by the pious, gullibly ambitious Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) and overseen by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a starchy, demanding woman who suspects one and all are guilty of crimes against God. Whether dealing with a couple of doctors with whom she shares an uncomfortable alliance – Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) and psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) – or a series of patients (a local man Kit Walker – Evan Peters – who’s suspected of butchering and skinning a number of young women under the guise of “Bloody Face” and reporter Lana Winters – Sarah Paulson – who came looking to interview Walker and ends up being committed by her lesbian lover who signed the papers for fear of being outed), Sister Jude remains a volatile, highly agitated woman not prone to mistakes or weakness. Among those making notable appearances in the asylum are Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), a sweet-natured young nun whose persona undergoes the greatest alteration during the season, Shelley (Chloe Sevigny), a nymphomaniac who’s an inmate at the facility along with Grace (Lizzie Brochere), a disturbed young charge who Kit grows fond of but who’s especially under the watchful eye of Dr. Arden, and in the second half of the season, an unstable man played by Dylan McDermott who figures prominently in the scenes set in present day.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
But just as we learned in the first season of American Horror Story, no one is really who he appears to be, and the time frames jump around from 1949 to the present day (though most of the series is set in 1964). There are secrets all over Briarcliff, not only in the personas being hidden by its cast of characters but also in other mysterious goings-on which are gradually revealed as the thirteen episodes progress. Let it suffice to say that Nazis and aliens (who are a kind of ever-present but seldom seen entity) and mutants and serial killers are but the tip of the iceberg of hidden agendas in this nasty dwelling, and one’s devotion to the show isn’t as much based on its ability to frighten (there are some scares, but there are fewer earned frights in the second season than there were in the first) as it is to startle with its utter outrageousness. Season one was a ghost story played out with a surprising amount of finesse and invention, but Asylum veers more into melodramatic psychological horror territory and won’t be for all horror aficionados.
But the performances are dazzling. Four of the central actors earned Emmy nominations for the series with James Cromwell’s sinister Dr. Arden earning the only statuette awarded to a cast member this year. Zachary Quinto and especially Sarah Paulson are equally as good, however, and Jessica Lange, who had won the supporting award for her performance in the series’ first season, is even better in Asylum going on an incredible twenty year journey with her character from a tarty lounge singer to the pious Sister Jude to a woman stripped of all her pretensions and laid bare for all to see. Lily Rabe also offers an amazing performance this year (very surprising she wasn’t nominated along with Paulson) as an exorcism gone wrong transforms her innocent nun into one of the season’s most accomplished villains. Evan Peters also triumphs as he did in season one with a character who’s being tortured and tormented and completely manipulated by others but who somehow maintains a dignity and belief in the general good that helps him keep his head above the stagnant water.
Here are the thirteen episodes contained on three discs in this Blu-ray set:
1 – Welcome to Briarcliff
2 – Tricks and Treats
3 – Nor’Easter
4 – I Am Anne Frank Part 1
5 – I Am Anne Frank Part 2
6 – The Origins of Monstrosity
7 – Dark Cousin
8 – Unholy Night
9 – The Coat Hanger
10 – The Name Game
11 – Spilt Milk
12 – Continuum
13 – Madness Ends
The original widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is faithfully rendered in these 1080p transfers using the AVC codec. Color is generally muted throughout the thirteen episodes (a blessing sometimes when an episode is particularly bloody), but occasionally the color timing adjusts to suggest other time periods. Sharpness is outstanding except when things go deliberately soft and dreamy. Black levels, very important in a show which often uses shadows to its benefit, are excellent. Each episode has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix works its effective spell throughout the run of the series though one may find that the rear channels aren’t used quite as imaginatively as the front soundstage in many of the shows. Music plays a crucial part in several “boo” moments, and you’ll also recognize legendary composer Alfred Newman’s soundtrack music from The Diary of Anne Frank used in a key scene in one of the Anne Frank episodes. There is also a rich selection of pop music standards of the 1960s used to set the mood of key scenes in the asylum, and they're given a very effective surround treatment. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and is always clearly heard in the center channel. The LFE channel is used quite well to keep a low, rumbling bass going through various episodes to maximize tension.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Deleted Scenes (6:54, HD): two scenes each are contained on discs two and three of the set.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
The Orderly (9:00, HD): one of the orderly characters from the show offers viewers a tour of the living quarters and gives quick summaries of the persons living in those cells.
What is American Horror Story: Asylum? (21:55, HD): co-creator Brad Falchuk and many of the leading members of the cast along with selected episode directors and cinematographer Michael Goi discuss the characters and the basic premise behind this year’s installment of the series.
Welcome to Briarcliff (15:04, HD): production designer Mark Worthington, set decorator Ellen Brill along with the show’s costume designer and other key personnel take us on a tour of the asylum sets and the costume trailer for the series.
The Creatures (14:49, HD): three make-up artists including head man Christian Tinsley discuss the many special make-up requirements for the various inmates, mutants, aliens, and others needed for this year’s show.
Promo Trailers (HD): Sons of Anarchy, Homeland, The Americans.
American Horror Story: Asylum scored another seventeen Emmy nominations for this season’s installment (the most of any series on television), a testament to the respect that the industry is giving this anthology-style storytelling. Truth to tell, this season was not quite the shock provider that season one was, but the stories of the various main characters do hook one into wanting to know what happens, so in that regard, the second series was certainly another successful one.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
Support HTF when you buy this title: