From the very first scene of ‘Ratched’, fans of Ryan Murphy’s previous work will feel right at home. The story begins in a church in 1947, where the audience gets their first taste of what is to come with a foreshadowing message: ‘Lord have mercy on us.’
Murphy spares no mercy with the grisly murders that follow and plays to the fact that the viewer knows what will happen when a strange gentleman asks to use a telephone on a stormy night. Murphy uses almost every cliché in the book throughout the series, but they are clichés for a reason; they work.
The title character, Mildred Ratched, is based on the character of the same name from Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ In the novel, Kesey made Mildred a heartless, controlling antagonist who acts as the head of the administrative staff at the mental institution where the story takes place. Murphy’s Mildred Ratched is far more barbaric than Kesey’s. He spares no gore in this series nor has he in any of his previous work.
Clearly, this is not Murphy’s first time dealing with dark and controversial themes. He dedicated an entire season of his Emmy award-winning show ‘American Horror Story’ to the backdrop of a mental asylum. ‘Ratched’ is textbook Murphy; dark themes are presented within a nostalgic era, it is full of actors from his previous projects, there are numerous pop culture references, some unusual explicit scenes and of course his tongue-in-cheek, often bizarre characters are the icing on the cake. There is a fine line made between shining a light on the atrocities of these stories that reflect reality and glamourising or glorifying the acts. Murphy has been able to straddle this line in his career, albeit sometimes hazily.
The interest in similar grisly tales has only skyrocketed over the past decade, particularly in the case of serial killers. Netflix has been flooded with many docuseries about multiple, and sometimes the same, murder cases for years. The cases of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer and most recently the trial of the Golden Gate Killer, are more popular than ever. Murphy himself has referenced many notorious murder cases in his work, notably in the successful series ‘O.J Simpson VS The People’ and ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace.’ We can see that this new breed of notoriety is not too different to Hollywood’s obsession with the Mafia and before that, the gunslinging Cowboys craze.
As Alfred Hitchcock (a clear influence on Murphy’s work) said, “The more successful a villain, the more successful the picture.” During his time, Hitchcock was a pioneer of popularising such horrifying tales in Hollywood. It would appear that even today, the world still cannot get enough of the grim and gruesome genre.
Angelina Pierce – Film and TV Writer