Bring out the monsters, call them forth from their closets — but, please, fasten their shackles tight. Home to the criminally insane, Briarcliff Mental Institution is the new setting of FX’s anthology series, “American Horror Story.” The twisted minds behind the show’s infamous Dylan McDermott sob-sturbing first season have made “Asylum” a hair-raising, mind-numbing (lobotomy, anyone?) thrill.

American Horror Story: Asylum

Season Two Premiere
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
FX


Dubbed the largest tuberculosis ward of 1901, the fictional Briarcliff claimed 46,000 victims, and is hungry for more. But “Asylum” introduces a fresh Briarcliff, reinvented by the Catholic Church in 1964 as a sanitarium for residents one screw loose of, well, their weapon of choice. Governed by Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes, “Shakespeare in Love”), headed by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange, “Big Fish”) and corrupted by Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell, “The Green Mile”), Briarcliff welcomes its “most famous resident,” mechanic Kit Walker, a.k.a. serial killer “Bloody Face” (Evan Peters, “Kick-Ass”). Sniffing out a sensational story — or the stench of leftover limbs — journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson, “Serenity”) sneaks through the institution in search of its secrets and the motives of a murderous lover.

A lick of lusty nun and a dose of sadistic Doc (specialty: cutting the Devil out from his patients’ occipital lobes and feeding them to cannibalistic pets) is nearly all viewers need to check in to “Asylum” for a permanent stay. Lange is mesmerizing as the complex Sister Jude, plagued by desire, driven to cruelty, yet maternal and vulnerable. Fiennes is the demurely charming gift from God, a humble reward from the heavens for tolerating Maroon 5’s Adam Levine as horny honeymooner Leo. Maybe if we pretend he’s not here, he’ll go away.

But, fresh from his role as season one’s Tate Langdon, Peters is the star as Kit Walker, the Jack Nicholson of Briarcliff’s cuckoo nest. Though slightly stiff compared to his last role as Tate, the shoot-’em-up dead boyfriend, Peters is magnetic as a traumatized country boy, swiped by aliens (yes, aliens) and delivered to a new nightmare.

Dear Horror Gods (er, Demons), more Evan Peters, please. Roll out the blood-red carpet for “I Know What Evan Peters Did Last Summer,” parts one through five of “Evan Peters on Elm Street” and let him join Jason for a slasher rampage in space. Viewers can offer Levine as a sacrifice (virgin status undetermined).

But the delectably dangerous cast would be little without the writers’ dedication to humanizing each character to depths otherwise unexplored by the horror genre. Not one (still ignoring you, Levine) is left bobbing at the surface, assigned the Unholy Nun archetype or the Nosy Journalist cliché. Sister Jude is both aroused and shamed by her fantasies; Winters struggles to hide her love for her partner, Wendy (Clea Duvall, “The Faculty”); Walker is passionately devoted to wife, Alma (Britne Oldford, “36 Saints”), despite their taboo interracial relationship. “Asylum,” by tangling the expectations of hero and villain, proves, as Sister Jude says, “All monsters are human.”

There’s something to be said about a show that makes a squeamish roommate bury his head in blankets before the title sequence can finish. It’s damn good, and a bloody success.

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