Evil Looks Right Back at You: Portrayals of Catholicism in American Horror Story: Asylum

  • Author(s): Mariana Colin
  • When: 2015-05
  • Where: University of Arizona
  • Religion has been a defining theme in the horror genre since the beginning of film as a medium. Horror stories with religious themes are almost always filtered through the lens of Catholicism, and as such, bring along with them a number of expectations and tropes set about the Catholic Church. One can expect to see Catholic iconography displayed in a domineering and symbolic way, with sacred icons used as physical conduits for religious power. Church clergy are often used as representations of Church suppression and the corruption and secrecy that is often suspected of the Catholic hierarchy. Throughout history, Catholicism has been used to convey a kind of occult expertise that is not present in other Christian denominations. American Horror Story (2011-) is a pastiche of American horror tropes, using horror standards of decades past with an outrageous aesthetic derived from a mashup of different horror themes. The second season, Asylum, depicts a Catholic-run insane asylum in the 1960’s. In this paper, I explore the use of Catholic horror themes within the show, first depictions of clergy, then the use of iconography and Church doctrine, finally relating its portrayal of the Church to the show’s ultimate goal of social commentary.

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