I briefly struggled with the fact that Lana Winters is not a horror movie heroine. However, I realized quickly that she was perfect for this month for precisely that reason. She instead made her mark as an amazing genre heroine from an equally amazing genre television show, of which there are not many options. She stands as proof that, if given the opportunity, a talented actress given a well-scripted role can bring horror to life in astonishing ways, regardless of the size of the screen.
[Loba Tangent: I also briefly struggled with the notion of combining Lana with her adversary, the stentorian Sister Jude, played to perfection by Jessica Lange. Both deserve to be included together for the fascinating interconnectedness they shared throughout their development. Plus, Lange’s performance as Jude is yet another in a series of high-quality performances from this grand dame of Hollywood elite. However, in the end, I chose Lana to stand alone as representative of this show, difficult though that decision ultimately proved to be.]
First, for full disclosure, I have only watched the second season of American Horror Story, dubbed “Asylum,” in its entirety. I tried to watch the first season, but I found it too tedious. Thankfully, each season of the series is a different story, with different characters telling the tale. Even more thankfully, the second season proved to be one of the best pieces of horror TV I’ve seen in a very long time. By taking the entire season to reveal its story, the show took its tortuously sweet time in creating a diabolical diaspora of evil intent and insufferable cruelty. I often don’t enjoy horror that showcases humanity’s penchant for violence and abuse against its own, but I can make allowances for those offerings that are done with care and precision. I can honestly say that I felt that AHS: Asylum executed both points quite well.
Another point well in the show’s favor was the wisdom in casting Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters, the “plucky” reporter with designs on fame for cracking open the truth behind Sister Jude and her Briarcliff Mental Institution. She could not have been a better selection to portray Lana and her almost preternatural survival reflex against the horrors in store for her. With chimeric grace, Paulson has repeatedly proven throughout her career that there has yet been a character outside the reach of her acting skills. She is one of my favorite parts of modern Hollywood, never disappointing me with her performances, even when cast in lesser roles in lesser projects. It’s taken a bit of time for the rest of Hollywood to see what I’ve seen for a while, and I couldn’t be more delighted.
Paulson’s performance acumen makes Lana such a compelling character that, even when the storyline delved into genre tropes that I rarely find tolerable let alone enjoyable, I continued along. I needed to see Lana’s story through to its completion. And, I have to say, her final moments on screen are deeply satisfying, something that quite often is not the case for horror endings. It’s admittedly much more of a commitment to discover the joy of Lana Winters as a horror heroine, but I believe that she will be well worth your time.