SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “American Horror Stories” Season 1, Episode 3, “Drive In,” streaming now on FX on Hulu.
After a fun and scary two-part premiere that took viewers back to “American Horror Story’s” “Murder House” from its first season, “American Horror Stories” went a different way for Episode 3, “Drive In.”
The action stayed in Los Angeles, kicking things off with a couple of teenagers fooling around while Bob Ross painted happy little trees in the background on TV. The boy, Chad (Rhenzy Feliz), thought they should be “normal” and have sex because they’ve been together for six months, while the girl, Kelly (Madison Bailey), was not ready. When Chad threw a previous relationship in her face, Kelly stormed off and he lamented he was going to die a virgin. Well, knowing this show… maybe!
The next day, Chad’s friend Quinn (Kyle Red Silverstein) suggested that he take Kelly to a scary movie because being scared will make her “an oyster ready for shucking,” which — find some better friends, Chad. But Chad, obviously a “Scream” fan, showed his disdain for horror movies with the meta-comment, “Horror films suck now. They’re either low-rent shit to fill up a streaming menu or pretentious crap that puts you to sleep. What’s left?”
But, as in real-life (here in great part because of the pandemic), it turned out that drive-in movie theaters were making a comeback and a local one was showing a “cursed” movie called “Rabbit Rabbit,” which was only shown once because, at the 1986 screening, the audience went crazy and started attacking each other. Six people were dead by the time the movie was over. The director, Larry Bitterman (John Carroll Lynch), ended up being hauled in front of Congress — including Mrs. Tipper Gore (Amy Grabow) herself — and all prints of the film were destroyed. Or so they thought.
The Tipper Gore “cameo” was a nice touch because in the 1980s she famously advocated for artists to be more transparent about the content of their music if it wasn’t suitable for children. Her grilling a horror movie director about his film was right on brand. When Gore informed Bitterman that the studio agreed to destroy every copy of “Rabbit Rabbit,” he lept over the desk and choked her, thereby kind of proving her point.
The testimony footage was enough to convince Chad to get tickets to “Rabbit Rabbit” for himself and Kelly, while Kelly’s friend Dee (Ben J. Pierce) advised her to stop being “afraid of the dick” and just go for it with Chad. That would turn out to be very, very good advice.
At the drive-in, a woman (Naomi Grossman) who claimed to have been at the original screening was protesting the showing, screaming at the cars that they were all going to die if they watched the film. Meanwhile, the owner, Verna (Adrienne Barbeau) was freaking out because no one had actually delivered the print of the movie yet.
When the director finally showed up with it, the protestor yelled at Chad to kill the film by throwing the fuse box. She claimed that at the original showing before her boyfriend was killed in the frenzy, he ripped out her eyeball with his teeth and swallowed it. Ew.
But the movie started and predictably, all hell broke loose at the drive-in. As they watched, the movie-goers’ eyes turned bloodshot, then the pupils expanded to full black and veins popped out along their necks and across their faces. The protester tried to stop the film, but the drive-in owner attacked her with a pair of scissors. Suddenly, it was total chaos down in the lot, as people started attacking each other, and Chad and Kelly tried to drive away. They were safe from the film because they had been so busy making out that they didn’t watch any of the show.
Chad’s friend Milo (Leonardo Cecchi) who was hooking up with Kelly’s friend Dee was… not as lucky, and Kelly had to run zombie-Dee down as they tried to escape. But he kept her from being able to see where she was going, so they crashed into the concession stand and had to take shelter in the projector booth with the dead bodies of the owner’s victims as a mob of angry zombie-like creatures beat on the door outside.
Chad almost got sucked into turning into these film zombies himself, transfixed by the film and the bloody chaos below, but the owner attacking Kelly snapped him out of it and he killed the owner in a violent rage, then shut off the film.
In the morning, Chad wanted to call the police, but Kelly said no way — the cops would question them all day and they had to stop the second screening before more people died. Kelly found a shotgun, which she hilariously said she could use because her dad’s a Marine like that has anything to do with anything. But they took off, armed with a shotgun and the scissors Chad grabbed out of the protester’s eye socket — which Chad immediately had to use on his friend zombie-Quinn.
Kelly and Chad managed to track down Bitterman at his trailer, who was reveling in the carnage on the news. Kelly demanded the other print and Bitterman insisted there was no other print. But he was gleeful at hearing that “everyone” who watched was affected because his experiment was successful — turned out he was the second assistant cutter on “The Exorcist” and took that film’s subliminals to the next level for “Rabbit Rabbit.”
The show flashed back to Bitterman visiting his editor after she watched “Rabbit Rabbit” — he found her cutting her own fingers off and she was committed to a mental hospital. He claimed it was a combination of overwork and drug use and managed to run one showing of “Rabbit Rabbit” at a regional theater before Tipper Gore got every print destroyed and Bitterman served 15 years for assaulting her.
Kelly and Chad were understandably disgusted with Bitterman, so Kelly shot him in the knees to get him to tell them where the other copy was. They lit it on fire on the stove and left him there to die.
“You think this is the end of the movie?” he shouted as the trailer went up in flames. “This is only Act I!”
Kelly and Chad walked away from the burning trailer like they were the heroes in a Quentin Tarantino movie and then they went home and had sex. But Bitterman’s dying declaration, of course, proved to be true for the world within the show. After all, he had a Rolls Royce parked in front of that trailer — indicating he had recently come into some money. As Kelly and Chad were having sex, the camera once again panned to a screen they had on in the background, only this time it was Netflix, where “Rabbit Rabbit” turned up as a new release. Outside their window, explosions began across the city.
(That it was streaming giant Netflix makes sense for the story in its global reach, but given that it is also where “American Horror Stories” Ryan Murphy has his overall deal, rather than where this show streams, has a bit of an extra punch.)
This episode didn’t revisit any seasons of “American Horror Story,” though Lynch and Grossman are definitely familiar faces in the Ryan Murphy-verse. Instead, “Drive In” provided one really decent, scary beat in the middle of the episode… and that was about it. It left things a little open-ended the same way the two-part premiere did. We don’t really know what became of Scarlett (Sierra McCormick) from that story, neither in the present as she adventures out in the world without her dead love, nor in the past: There was the weird detail in Episode 1 about Scarlett having been kidnapped as a baby and what really happened there that was never revisited.
Could it possibly be that by the end of the season, all the seemingly standalone episodes of “American Horror Stories” will tie together? Amazon Prime Video’s “Modern Love” did that in its Season 1 finale episode, but admittedly an anthology about romance and an anthology about horror are very different things.
“American Horror Stories” drops new episodes Thursdays on FX on Hulu.