You want horror? You want terror? You want scary? You want eerie? You want weird? You want disturbing? You want blood? You want creepy? You want ghosts? You want insanity? You want zombies? You want witchcraft? You want gore? You want Voodoo? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, and you haven’t been watching the critically acclaimed “American Horror Story” on television, you’ve been missing one of the best thrill fests out there.
Now in its third season, “American Horror Story” is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, and it’s unique because each season is a completely different miniseries dealing with totally new characters and storylines, and each season also has its own theme.
Season 1 was titled “Murder House” and starred Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton as a psychiatrist and his wife who, along with their teenage daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga), move from Boston to Los Angeles for a fresh start after the doctor had an affair and his wife as suffered a miscarriage. They end up buying a house with a horrifying history, and the series, which is set in the present, is built around the theme of fidelity.
“Asylum” was the title of Season 2, and, as you might guess, the theme was sanity. This time the year is 1964, and the setting is Briarcliff Mental Institution for the criminally insane. The major stars are Jessica Lange as the nun who is the head nurse, Joseph Fiennes, who portrays the founder of the place, and James Cromwell in the role of a particularly nasty doctor.
For the show’s third season, Murphy and Falchuk chose witchcraft to develop the theme of minority oppression, and the story is set in modern New Orleans (There are flashbacks to the 1830s and the early 1970s.), where Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young women is dedicated to protecting young witches descended from the Salem witches of 300 years ago.
Although the school once enjoyed a large enrollment, only four young women with special powers reside there today. Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) is a human Voodoo doll who can transfer damage she does to herself to others, and Nan (Jamie Brewer) has the ability to read minds. The other two class members are Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a former movie star with awesome telekinetic powers, and Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), whose unique gift is the ability to kill people by having sex with them. Presiding over the school is Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), daughter of Fiona Foxx (Jessica Lange), the reigning Supreme (head witch), who returns after a long absence to take charge of the school and teach the young witches how to deal with their enemies.
Fiona’s unexpected arrival on the scene rekindles a longstanding feud between the witches and Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), the queen of Voodoo. She and Fiona loathe each other, and they waste no time attempting to prove it.
Although the critical praise for “American Story” has been justifiably high, be forewarned that this show is not for the faint of heart, and it probably would be rated R if it were on the big screen. The show contains just about every element of horror you can imagine, including murder, rape, incest, ghosts, torture, necrophilia, zombies, Voodoo, dismemberment, and bestiality, but as far as the horror genre is concerned, this series is superior to anything you will find on the silver screen right now. Not only is it damn frightening, but it also contains its share of black comedy.
The sets and the costumes are superb, and the storylines are consistently riveting. Among the great things about “Coven” is the inclusion of notorious real-life historical characters. Marie Laveau, portrayed by Bassett, lived from 1794 until 1881 and was famous for practicing Voodoo in New Orleans, and Kathy Bates plays Marie Delphine LaLaurie, a member of Louisiana’s high society and a serial killer who specialized in murdering and torturing slaves. She lived from approximately 1775 to 1842 and was one of Laveau’s sworn enemies. Finally the Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer who terrorized the citizens of the city and surrounding areas from 1918 to 1919, and Danny Huston portrays him in the series.
All you need to do is look at the cast list to see that you can expect consistently superb acting in “American Horror Story.” Lange, who has six Oscar nominations and two wins to her credit, has been nothing short of brilliant in all three seasons. In an online interview she spoke about where the character of Fiona was headed in “Coven.”
“Well, without giving anything away, again she goes on a big emotional roller coaster. That’s the thing that always intrigues me as an actor. That idea that you’ve lived a life to a hilt, but it’s been a selfish life and it’s been a self-centered, self-centric existence and now you’re confronted with your own mortality. What does that feel like? That kind of remorse and that regret and that sorrow that comes with it finally at this point in your life — can you stop the train and turn it around? So, those are the elements as we’ve been going along that present themselves as the most interesting part of this character.”
Also in an online interview Academy Award winner Bates, who joins the cast of the series for the first time in “Coven,” expressed her enthusiasm for the show and her part as the notorious LaLaurie.
“I think where Ryan goes with her is fascinating. One of the things we talked about in the very first interview was where this character was going, and that’s why I was so excited about it, the idea that she’s coming back to modern-day. What do you do about Rip Van Winkle waking him up 180 years later? Especially for someone who had come from the time of slavery — slavery was legal; there was not even a question of it being legal — to a world where everybody’s equal. You have (black) Supreme Court justices and U.S. Presidents and all kinds of people that she would consider anathema. She would probably consider them little more than animals. For me it’s been great, and that’s not usual. Sometimes you’ll see where characters are going and you’ll go, ‘Oh, no.’ In this case, I love every single place we’ve gone. It’s wild. The scripts are ambitious, hugely ambitious.”
Additionally Bassett is sufficiently creepy as the Voodoo queen, and Sidibe, Brewer, Roberts, Farmiga all are superb in their respective parts. And I mustn’t forget to mention the always entertaining Francis Conroy, who is predictably wonderful as the head of the Witch Council.
“American Horror Story – Coven” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX, and the two previous seasons are available both on DVD and online. Because the show is at once horrifying, funny, and campy, it earns a bewitching 10. And Edgar Allan Poe would love it.