American Horror Stories Episode 3 Drive-In Review- MK Ultra, Antrum, And Subliminal Messaging
American Horror Stories Episode 3 is a fun throwback with enough hidden meanings and pop culture references to satisfy everyone’s conspiracy theory itch.
There was a ton to unpack in American Horror Stories Episode 3. Between the talk of MK-Ultra, clown figurines, killer tapes ala Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, and subliminal programming in The Exorcist, there was also a fair amount of male toxicity and pro-sex rhetoric. However, the episode, which was as campy as entertaining, never took itself too seriously. It was clearly made lovingly for fans.
Adorable teens Kelley and Chad played achingly sweet by Madison Bailey(Outerbanks), and Rhenzy Feliz(Runaways) are locked in the age-old battle of trying to drop the panties. Kelley doesn’t want to give it up to soon, while Chad wants it however and whenever he can get it; the sooner, the better, though. Chad has been listening way too much to his friends and absurd Youtube videos trying to coach him through closing the deal. Unfortunately, nothing is sacred in the quest, including poor sweet Bob Ross and his “happy trees.”
When Chad’s friends suggest he try scaring Kelley’s pants off, they make plans to attend a screening of Rabbit Rabbit, a movie so evil it was banned by Tipper Gore. Gore didn’t go after movies in real life, but she did go after music deemed inappropriate for children. As a result, the Parents Music Resource Center was formed in 1985. The advisory group eventually became infamous for the Filthy 15. Included on that list were Prince’s Darling Nicky, Madonna’s, Dress You Up, Cyndi Lauper’s She Bop, and Black Sabbath’s Trashed. I’m pretty sure the group would all but have a stroke over Cake By The Ocean or Watermelon Sugar.
Rabbit Rabbit was banned after destroying an entire suburban movie theater and all the attendees. However, for one night only, or two as they later find out, the movie has been resurrected and will be shown. It’s rumored to drive anyone who watches it crazy. So, of course, our unsuspecting couple and their dopey friends buy a ticket on the crazy train. Thanks to some well-timed making-out, Kelley and Chad didn’t watch the movie and weren’t turned into homicidal maniacs. The downside is they are the only sane people in a Drive-In full of nutjobs trying to kill them.
The gore is pretty lite especially for American Horror Story, but the story is a quick, fast-paced bite of horror nostalgia that delivers more than it disappoints. The story is one we’ve heard before, but the Easter eggs and nods to movies, urban legends, and AHS seasons past make it a delicious bite of the forbidden apple that for once proves sex really can save lives. Here are all the things you might have missed.
The psychology of fear
Chad and his dopey friends are right. There is something to the psychology of the fear response and arousal. Part of it is the agreed-upon rules for dating, and part of it is hardwired into our brains. Date nights with scary movies are a right of passage. The heightened arousal caused by the fight or flight response elevates blood pressure and pumps copious amounts of adrenaline. These things combined make us very revved up. If you are a teenager, that isn’t a long trip, and just about anything, even mildly creepy, is enough to get the job done. While most of the time, fear is harmless, it can kill in extreme cases. Being scared to death is a real thing. So, before you engage in any activity, make sure you check with your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough to participate.
The forbidden movie in American Horror Stories Episode 3
In American Horror Stories Episode 3, there is a film called Rabbit Rabbit. It comes in a long list of these sorts of dangerous videos. Ringu, The Blackwell Ghost, Channel Zero. It’s a time-honored trope used so often that you would think it would get tired. It never does, though, especially when it’s done well. Some are better than others. Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made is one of the more unique angles. Legend has it the film causes anyone who sees it to become crazed and kill everyone around them. Antrum is shot like an actual found footage film mixed with a documentary. It effectively conjures scares, even if it doesn’t cause anyone to go on murder sprees.
The seventies styling and folk horror quality of the film allow the cheesier plot beats to go unnoticed. It will enable the overall eerie quality of the setting to do the heavy lifting. Even though there isn’t any curse, the film is a good time worth watching for lovers of this kind of movie. Antrum is an odd experience. It is unsettling for no reason and deeply freaky. If the demon Astaroth doesn’t get you, maybe the sigils carved into the frames will.
There have always been rumored films or shows that are so scary or extreme they cause bodily harm to the viewer. It’s part of the marketing that goes into these types of movies. They rely on word of mouth. If someone barfs, trips down the stairs, and an ambulance has to be called, you’ve hit the trifecta of advertising. Films like Raw, Exorcist, and Antichrist got additional eyes because of the movie’s buzz. But, for a horror lover, it is catnip. If there ever really were a forbidden movie like Rabbit Rabbit, all horror fans would instantly drop dead.
William Friedkin’s masterpiece of modern horror The Exorcist is one example of hype making an already great film legendary. Included with the original promos were stories about audiences leaving in panic after becoming violently ill. The sound of bees buzzing early in the film is used to create an atmosphere of dread. The sound of bees has long been identified as a specific sound that almost universally creates fear in the listener. Along with the insectile soundtrack, he layered in disturbing industrial sounds during the demonic scenes to build on the feeling that you should run. The most famous example of subliminal messaging is the white face flashed for just a fraction of a second during Father Karras’ dream sequence. This intentional image is an early makeup mock-up of Regan’s demon face.
Once John Carrol Lynch’s Larry Bitterman, the director of Rabbit Rabbit is found by Kelley and Chad, he begins a first-rate rant that includes every conspiracy theorist’s top ten list, MK-Ultra. MK-Ultra is a top-secret CIA project that conducted countless experiments, sometimes on innocent citizens who had not consented to be guinea pigs. Some were drugged with LSD and other mind-altering drugs to assess the possibility of mind control. The project continued for twenty years, finally ending in 1973, although the public didn’t learn of it until 1975 in a congressional hearing.
The project started as a response to Cold War paranoia. The US was convinced the KGB and China would gain the upper hand in interrogation and mind control of prisoners. Throughout the project, 150 subjects were tested, some with zero knowledge of what they were being given and what was happening. Between the psychotropic drugs, Electro-Shock Therapy, and dubious consent, a whole lot of shadiness happened. Unfortunately, we may never know the full extent as the paperwork was destroyed in 1973 to avoid political blowback.
One of the murkier aspects of the experiments involved Operation Midnight. The CIA employed prostitutes to lure victims to a facility where they could be dosed and watched without their consent. Frank Olson, an agent of the CIA, died after accidentally ingesting an LSD laced cocktail and fell out of a window. The death happened in 1953, but his family only got retribution in 1994 after a lengthy court battle. President Ford’s Executive Order in 1976 prohibited experimentation on unknowing participants and thus effectively ended MK-Ultra for good. Like with any government conspiracy, though, rumors persist that testing still takes place.
It was a tinfoil hat lovers’ fantasy to indulge in American Horror Story Episode 3. It proved they are not resting on their AHS laurels. This spin-off has real teeth and a trackable future. Murphy and Falchuk aren’t content simply revisiting old haunts. Instead, they breathe fresh life into the anthology format while reminding you why we loved the original so much. Find all our American Horror Stories coverage here.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.