American Horror Stories reverses a classic Twilight Zone episode

The following contains spoilers for American Horror Stories Season 2, Episode 6, “Facelift,” which airs August 25 on Hulu.

The new season of American Horror Stories found a firmer footing than the first in the way it pays homage to earlier horror classics. Each episode proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, and while they largely find their own path to follow and their own stories to tell, they make very clear connections to the stories that inspired them. Indeed, part of the fun is seeing where they diverge from the source material. When at their best, episodes are capable of completely upending expectations.

Season 2, Episode 6, “Facelift” draws inspiration from multiple sources, including folk horror movies like Midsommar and The wicker man, for its gruesome finale. But its main focus is plastic surgery, which has formed a horror subgenre in its own right. Specifically, it focuses on a classic episode of The twilight zone and finds a great way to flip the script.

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“Facelift” deals with Virginia: a wealthy Beverly Hills widow desperate to reverse her aging features. She visits a mysterious plastic surgeon who promises to “reveal her true self”, which involves a complicated procedure for both her face and her hands. The surgeon invites him to a private retreat with his other clients for the removal of his bandages. The twist is that they are a cult. She was cared for as a sacrifice to their god – to be hunted down and murdered as part of a renewal ritual – and instead of making her beautiful, the surgery gave her the features of a pig. The cult pursues her into the woods soon after and completes their sacrifice.

The episode’s coda is a little rough — Victoria’s stepdaughter plays a pivotal role that ‘Facelift’ can’t quite fathom — but the emphasis on surgery is spot on, and so are its gruesome results. . Horror films on the subject are rare, but often quite powerful: especially the 1960s faceless eyes and 2011 The skin in which I live. But his biggest inspiration is arguably the original blurred area Season 2, Episode 6, “The Eye of the Beholder”. It depicts a woman described as horribly deformed about to undergo the latest in a series of unsuccessful plastic surgeries to repair her face. Everyone’s faces are hidden in the episode, including the medical staff treating her, until her bandages are removed: revealing that she is a beautiful woman and everyone else sporting overtly monstrous features. .

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The ironic lesson of the episode is in the title. The society she lives in—the origins of which are deliberately blurred—is openly fascist, but the doctors and nurses are portrayed as kind and sympathetic in direct opposition to their traits. A handsome man arrives – distressed at his “condition” – and takes her to a village “of their kind” far away. Beauty standards are imposed by the state, but the episode’s characters are universally compassionate and benevolent, and even the despondent heroine begins to accept the axiom that true beauty lies within her.

“Facelift” elegantly reverses both the twist and the underlying message. Victoria’s face actively resembles those of “normal” people in “Eye of the Beholder” — complete with an overtly piggy nose — while her murderers are the collected beautiful people of Beverly Hills. And unlike “Eye of the Beholder”, all of them are monsters underneath. The cult kills people in this way once a year in exchange for wealth and eternal beauty, while Virginia herself is portrayed as conceited, superficial, and cruel without thinking to those around her. His new face reflects his soul well. The irony is that his killers are just as gruesome; they simply deluded themselves into believing otherwise. Their retreat into the wilderness is a similar reversal of the village the heroine of “Eye of the Beholder” is taken to, with her implicit understanding and belonging replaced with savagery and murder.

Feminism has played a big role in american horror story from the start, and American Horror Stories has focused on that this season in its search for inspiration. “Facelift” finds a powerful target in the patriarchal standards of beauty and aging, which its villains literally revere and to which its protagonist eventually succumbs. If beauty is about the soul, then so is ugliness – giving ‘Facelift’ a wicked spin on The twilight zoneit is more benevolent message.

New episodes of American Horror Stories air every Thursday on Hulu.

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