With Halloween just around the corner there’s only one thing you should be watching if you want a full on horror fest. Forget the umpteen ‘last’ exorcism movies and tedious reimaginings of ancient monsters, because nothing beats the sheer terror and sadistic monstrosities that feature in FX’s American Horror Story. If you thought the first season was frightening, it’s not a patch on what lurks in the darkness of season two: Asylum.

Following the anthology mini-series format that proved so popular with AHS: Murder House, a season that dealt with the horrors related with infidelity and ghostly encounters, AHS: Asylum focuses on the central theme of insanity. Taking place in 1964 at Briarcliff Mental Institution, Asylum follows the patients, who are all in varying degrees of psychosis, the doctors, who kill people as much as they save them, and the nuns who run the institute and might not be as innocent as they pretend to be.

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Briarcliff isn’t just home to the criminally insane, its home to the afflicted, the tortured and the big bad itself, the devil. It’s also home to the innocent – namely journalist Lana Winters, who was caught snooping for a story and subsequently locked up for being a homosexual, and mild-mannered Kit Walker, who was wrongly accused of being the mass-murderer ‘Bloody Face’. We follow Lana and Kit in their plight for freedom, along with the nuns and doctors who are hell bent on keeping them locked away from the world. All is not well at Briarcliff and the people you think would be the least corruptible will ultimately end up being the most.

Bringing to life the most terrifying of monsters, as well as scenarios so sick they’ll make your skin crawl and themes so dark they’ll give you nightmares for weeks, Asylum is certainly not for the faint hearted. There are extra-terrestrial abductions, cannibalism, human experimentation and an overriding sexual undertone that plays havoc with the purity of the religion portrayed. It’s these juxtaposed themes that contribute to making the series so disturbing. There are moments of lightness and twisted humour that stop it from being an entirely blood-and-guts affair though and the dance scene where the cast perform the 1964 song The Name Game is a stand-out moment of the series.

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The stories are cleverly weaved, with the naive views of the ‘60s about race and sexuality playing a prominent part in the narrative. The menacing, art-house quality of the filming and editing makes for some disorientating watching, and the title sequence alone is enough to make you feel edgy. What’s most commendable about Asylum are the incredible performances from the cast – an ensemble that allows you to believe in every single character on screen. Many of the season 1 cast members remain at the forefront of the series with Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson giving emotional performances as the unstable Sister Jude and persecuted Lana Winters. Zachary Quinto provides the most unnerving performance though, switching between personas seamlessly, as if he actually were two entirely different people. You’ll hate his guts by the end!

A far cry from Ryan Murphy’s musical comedy series Glee, American Horror Story takes our worst nightmares and spins them into a story so chilling and gruesome it almost begs a higher classification than its given 18. Great viewing for any time of the year but perfect viewing for Halloween, American Horror Story: Asylum is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.

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