Checking into ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’

One of the scariest parts of “American Horror Story’s” fifth season, “Hotel,” isn’t when a monster rips apart the seams of the bed to pull you under with him. It happens at broad daylight on any ordinary day.

You take your son to the carnival and turn your back for just a second. When you look back, he’s gone. You and your wife file police reports and send out search parties, but even after a year, there’s no trace of him. The chances he’s alive are slim, yet the lack of a body fuels your hope, which wavers with each passing day until it’s tiny and dim.

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, “American Horror Story: Hotel” is filled with the pain of existing without a purpose. That’s what the Hotel Cortez feeds off of — the pain and despair of its guests and patrons. Most of them are stuck for eternity inside the Hotel Cortez, forever destined to haunt the art deco hotel’s endless hallways.

Our entry point inside these horrors is Homicide Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley), whose working to catch a “Se7en”-style L.A. serial killer he nicknames the “Ten Commandment Killer.” After the killer calls Lowe’s cell phone from inside the Hotel Cortez, Lowe checks into the hotel to catch the killer. The hotel gives him answers, alright, but perhaps they’re more than he’s looking for.

While each season of “American Horror Story” can live solely on its own, this season of the anthology most closely resembles “Murder House.” Not only is the setting a character of its own, but the hotel’s also founded in the same city and era as the “Murder House.” Murphy and Falchuk bridge the “American Horror Story” universe further by featuring some cameos from the first season including Murder House owner Dr. Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and realtor Marcy (Christine Estabrook).

But while “Murder House” made you feel alive, “Hotel” makes you sad. Designed in the 1920s by nouveau riche oil baron James Patrick March (Evan Peters), the Hotel Cortez is a place of art deco grandeur that loses it’s luster and purpose with each passing year. Originally, it was built as “a perfectly designed torture chamber” by March, a man who killed for sport. (March is loosely based off of real-life serial killer H.H. Holmes, who built his own “Murder Castle” during the late 1800s in Chicago, Illinois.) Now, it’s fate is undetermined as designer Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson) threatens to buy it.

While its future is debated, the hotel’s experienced a ghastly past. Loosely based off of Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel, which was the home of serial killer Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar), the Hotel Cortez is the type of place where you drown yourself in the tub, accidentally overdose on heroin or blow your brains out. If that’s not morose enough, all the ghosts who died there can’t leave.

“Hotel’s” haunting and scary in the way that depression is scary. You’re not exactly afraid of it, but you’re afraid all the same. You wake up one morning feeling sad or restless or angry or not feeling anything at all, going through the motions but wondering why. Meanwhile your mind’s checked into this dark place that you’re not sure you’ll ever check out of.

‘Glee’ exists beyond ‘2009’

Kurt Hummel almost didn’t exist. He wasn’t in “Glee’s” original scripts.

After actor Chris Colfer auditioned for the role of Artie, “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy was inspired to create Hummel.

I was reminded of this when I watched “2009,” the first half of “Glee’s” two-part finale. The story airs like an alternate pilot. This time, Hummel (rather than Lea Michele’s Rachel Berry) is the helm of Murphy’s band of high school misfits.

“I feel like I could die tomorrow and I don’t think anyone would really care. I’m not sure if anyone would really notice,” Hummel says as he picks up an informational pamphlet from the guidance counselor’s office (this one’s called “Ending it All: Pros and Cons”).

It would be a shame if Kurt Hummel didn’t existed because his story’s consistently been one of the most powerful and easily identifiable ones of “Glee.”

More than one out of 20 Americans older than 12 are depressed. And according to the World Health Organization, between 10 to 20 million people attempt suicide every year. It’s also the leading cause of death for people between ages 15 and 34.

Dr. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz estimates that about 5 percent of Americans are gay and that many are still in the closet. “Glee” brought some of these social issues to the primetime screens of American households every week, and might have even inspired some teenagers to come out to their parents — or at least realize that they’re not alone.

“2009” reminds us of why we fell in love with “Glee” when it first aired six years ago. It’s stars are invisible and angry and jealous and vulnerable teenagers filled with dreams and ambitions. While we may not have been a Kurt Hummel, we may have been a Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), a Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), an Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), a Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron), a Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), or an entirely different type of Gleek.

Week after week, they’ve inspired us to keep dreaming — from the walls of McKinley High School to the streets of Broadway.

Sure after six seasons, the plot’s been “watered-down melodramatic slush” recently, but at times, it dealt with real-life issues (from coming out of the closet and peer pressure to teen pregnancies, eating disorders and school shootings). Meanwhile, it’s reminded us that even if we’re different, we’re not alone.

“Glee” was created in 2009 by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy; and produced by Ryan Murphy Television. “2009” aired on March 20, 2015. 

‘American Horror Story Coven’: addictively bewitching

The third season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s sensational television drama “American Horror Story” returns with a new haunted house, but familiar faces and friends.

There’s the evil narcissistic queen from Snow White (Jessica Lange), searching for eternal youth and beauty. There’s Romeo (Evan Peters) and Juliet (Taissa Farmiga) — only these star-crossed lovers meet at a frat party where they get only a few hours rather than three days.

Like season one and two of “American Horror Story,” Murphy and Falchuk take familiar stories and weave them into a coherent narrative. This one follows Zoe Benson (Farmiga), who finds out she’s a witch when she accidentally kills her boyfriend, Charlie (Kurt Krause). Zoe’s sent to Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans, a Hogwarts for young witches. At its helm is Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulsen), the daughter of coven leader Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange). Her young charges includes D-List movie star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer) and human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe).

New Orleans is the perfect tapestry, full of creole culture and history. Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is part of that history, a wealthy bigoted slaveowner who allegedly tortured 150 slaves. Cursed by Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), Madame LaLaurie’s immortal and buried alive in an unmarked grave. That is, until Fiona digs up LaLaurie, reviving a feudal war between her coven and Marie’s witches.

Once again, Murphy and Falchuk brew a powerfully addictive potion. They fill their dialogue with witch references (and there are a lot of them) from “Sabrina: the Teenaged Witch” to “Charmed.” They draw from a vast amount of sources from historical ones like the Salem witch hunts and Hurricane Katrina to fictional ones like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Natalie Babbitt’s “Tuck Everlasting” and Josh Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

This makes “American Horror Story Coven” read like a YA novel — punctuated with the tried-and-true formula of love triangles, betrayal and cliffhangers — while dosed in mature themes and images (a lot of sex and blood). When you wake up from Murphy and Falchuk’s spell, you’ll wonder how you binged-watched all 13 episodes in one sitting. If anything “AHS: Coven” will make you lose track of time.

Staring into the abyss of ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’

It’s “The Blair Witch Project” meets “The X-Files” meets “The Poltergeist” meets “A Clockwork Orange” meets “One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest” meets “The Exorcist” meets “I Know What You Did Last Summer” meets “Saw,” with lots of blood and fortification in between. And that’s just the first couple episodes of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s second season of their macabre freak show, “American Horror Story: Asylum.”

This time, we’re guests at Briarcliff Manor, a mid-1960s Massachusetts insane asylum.

Like season one, “Asylum” is told through flashbacks and multiple interconnected narratives. Present-day couple Leo (Adam Levine) and Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) are celebrating their honeymoon with a self-guided tour of every haunted happening across America. Their stumble through the Manor’s steps awaken monsters from its past.

Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), a anti-semitic doctor who believes in electroshock therapy; Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto), a removed state psychiatrist assigned to diagnose Bloody Face’s mental condition; and Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), a weak-willed nun who enjoys little sins, used to roam the sanitarium’s halls.

But the warden of this prison was Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), who plays Briarcliff Manor’s Nurse Ratched.

When Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is admitted into Briarcliff as the infamous local serial killer, “Bloody Face” during the mid-1960s, investigative reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who fancies herself after Nellie Bly, sneaks into the mental ward to profile him; what she uncovers there is more horrific than her nightmares, especially when she finds herself admitted as a homosexual.

Murphy and Falchuk’s amalgamation of slasher flicks is a bloody mess. At times, it feels like they’re squeezing as many horror film allusions into an episode as possible. (“Nightmare Before Christmas” is even referenced more than halfway through the season in the “Unholy Night” episode). At other times, it’s like we’ve stepped into an episode of “Glee” (during a hallucination, Lange’s character sings “The Name Game” as the cast performs a choreographed musical number).

That doesn’t mean “American Horror Story” isn’t addictive. In fact, we can’t look away from this sensational and deliciously sacrilegious train wreck.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

As Sister Jude warns in the show’s finale, paraphrasing Nietzsche: “If you look into the face of Evil, Evil is going to look right back at you.”

Moving into an ‘American Horror Story’: season one review

Ryan Murphy is known for creating freaks. His melodramatic hit television dramedy “Glee” stars the teenaged rejects of the McKinley High School show choir.

His newest Frankensteins are even better. I’m talking about the revolving cast of characters in FX’s “American Horror Story” (2011).

At the center of its 12-episode pilot season is troubled couple Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton). After Ben cheated on his wife with his student Hayden McClaine (played by the wonderful Kate Mara of “House of Cards”), Ben, Vivien and their teenaged daughter Violet (played by Vera Farmiga’s younger sister Taissa) decide to literally “move on” from the affair, taking up residence in a beautiful 1920s Victorian-style Los Angeles mansion.

Of course, the Harmons aren’t the only ones residing in what’s dubbed the “Murder House.” Its tenants include the house’s founders and former residents including surgeon Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) and his wife Nora (Lily Rabe); housekeeper Moira O’Hara (played by Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge); gay couple Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears); and next-door neighbors Constance (Jessica Lange) and Addie Langdon (Jamie Brewer).

“American Horror Story” is a culmination of spooky ghost stories from campfire tales like Bloody Mary to scary film creations including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk also draw inspiration from real-life murders including the unsolved Black Dahlia case and the Columbine massacre.

Evan Peters, who plays a deeply disturbed teenager who falls in love with Violet, channels a young Christian Slater from Michael Lehmann’s dark comedy “Heathers.” Constance’s a southern Sue Sylvester — biting, racist and cruel, but also a little sad.

“One of the many comforts of having children is knowing one’s youth has not fled but merely been passed down to a new generation,” she says. “They say when a parent dies, a child feels his own mortality. But when a child dies, it’s immortality that a parent loses.”

“American Horror Story” is chilling and creepy, feeding off our insecurities. But that’s what makes it so addictive. We want to see who or what’s behind that door or under that floorboard if only to ease our pounding hearts and racing minds.

While “American Horror Story” is an exaggerated and perverse reflection of humanity, we see bits of ourselves in murderers and psychopaths. We begin to understand their wants and motives. And how easy it is to lose one’s mind. That’s perhaps the scariest thing of all.

But like stumbling through a “haunted” attraction on Halloween, “American Horror Story” is scary good fun. Because in the back of our minds, we know these actors can’t reach beyond your tiny television or laptop screens. They can’t grab you and take you into their world. This mirror into death only makes you feel alive.