Across the Universe: TV Halloween Horrors
'The Walking Dead' alive and well; 'American Horror Story' up next
By Don Kaye
Special to MSN TV
If October is still supposedly the month for all things scary, it’s safe to say that some of the best horror action these days is happening on the TV front. Sure, you have the frightening “Sinister” in theaters and the fourth installment of the “Paranormal Activity” cash cow opening later this week, but on TV we’ve got the double jolt of “The Walking Dead” (which premiered this past Sunday) and “American Horror Story” (which premieres Wednesday night, Oct. 17, on FX).
Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” kicked off with one of the series’ best episodes ever, titled “Seed,” in which Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his ragtag group fought their way into an abandoned prison against a horde of walkers. Although the group is more hard-bitten and exhausted after eight months on the road, and Rick colder and more decisive than we’ve ever seen him, the character interplay was downsized in favor of a hell of a lot more action and zombie mayhem – and it all worked in gory, glorious fashion (spoilers ahead, folks).
We got to see one of the best zombie gags of all time, as Rick ripped a helmet off a prison guard turned walker and took the flesh of its face with it – just brilliant. And that’s on top of the beheadings, shootings and eviscerations that also marked the group’s incursion into the correction facility. After getting inside and securing one cell block, however, the group probed deeper into the pitch-black recesses of the labyrinthine jail, giving the series one of its most authentically terrifying sequences (masterfully handled by director Ernest Dickerson).
That scene ended in tragedy as Herschel (Scott Wilson) was bitten on the leg, forcing Rick to amputate the infected limb. Will that work? If not, and if Herschel succumbs, who will deliver Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) baby?
The existence of that baby, by the way, is perhaps the result of Lori’s affair with the now-deceased Shane (Jon Bernthal), a fact that has led Rick to freeze out his wife. Their son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), doesn’t seem to notice the estrangement – he’s too busy, growing up, participating in missions with his old man and making goo-goo eyes at Herschel’s teen daughter, Beth (Emily Kinney).
The episode also gave us the proper, long-awaited introduction of Michonne (Danai Gurira), who jumped onto the screen in spectacular fashion, decapitating a handful of walkers in efficient fashion with her katana. We also saw her tending to Andrea (Laurie Holden), who is battling some kind of infection and does not look like she is going to make it.
This Sunday’s second episode promises the introduction of the evil Governor (David Morrissey) and we’ll also find out who the five surviving prisoners are who showed up at the very end of “Seed.” We can’t wait. The third season is off to a furiously entertaining start.
Taking a different tack entirely is “American Horror Story,” which gets its second season off to a start on Wednesday night. Whereas “The Walking Dead” is one, long, serialized story, “American Horror Story” told one complete tale in its first season (about a haunted house in Los Angeles, in case you didn’t see it) and is resetting for a completely different narrative with different characters – although some of the actors are the same – in Season 2.
This time the story is set in an asylum called Briarcliff Manor in New England in the 1960s – which really wasn’t the best time for those kinds of institutions (there was probably never a good time for them, but that’s another story). The place is run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange, who was so memorably over-the-top as the next door neighbor from hell in Season 1), and the inmates and staff include other returning faces like Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Frances Conroy, as well as newcomers like James Cromwell, Adam Levine and Chloe Sevigny.
We’re not exactly sure what is going to happen in the walls of Sister Jude’s asylum, but we’ve been promised run-ins with everything from Nazis to mutants to aliens. In the first five minutes of the season opener, which have been posted online, Levine and his new bride break into the asylum and encounter what could be a serial killer named Bloody Face (the footage also includes the new title sequence).
Not too subtle, but subtlety is not one of this series’ trademarks, and in fact its absence is one of the show’s charms. Season 1 of “American Horror Story” excelled in macabre, grisly, campy Grand Guignol, with a healthy dash of twisted eroticism, and scored a lot of memorable moments that were among the most striking horror sequences ever seen on television. Can the freshness and sheer audacity of that first season be equaled or even topped in Season 2? We wouldn’t bet against a guy named Bloody Face.