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American Horror Story: Coven(TV) (2013-2014)
A school has opened in New Orleans to teach young witches how to protect themselves. The long-absent Supreme, Fiona, arrives to ensure the safety of the coven and their secrets. Fiona's daughter, Cordelia, teaches at the school. Events reveal a long-held rivalry between the witches of Salem and the Voodoo practitioners of New Orleans, as well as a historic grudge between Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and socialite serial killer Delphine LaLaurie.
For more about American Horror Story: Coven and the American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray release, see American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 7, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
» See full cast & crew
American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray Review
Where's Glinda when you really need her?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 7, 2014
Note to self: do not accept any invitations to Halloween parties from Ryan Murphy and/or Brad Falchuk. While some other (fictional) television families have celebrated Halloween with élan (Roseanne and Modern Family spring to mind), Murphy and Falchuk, the creators and (frequent) writers of American Horror Story seem to have taken everything that makes the holiday so eminently spooky and wrapped it up into one of the creepiest shows in television history. And yet—much as the way the Conners on Roseanne and the Dunphys on Modern Family play the holiday for laughs, the third season of American Horror Story, American Horror Story: Coven, doesn't quite take itself as seriously as it did in its first two seasons. Gone are some of pseudo-Gothic elements (all the more surprising since this season is set in New Orleans), as well as some of the mythic grandeur that infused the first two years. Instead, there's a fun and at times quite funny story involving a boarding school in The Big Easy that caters to young girls who just happen to be witches. In typical Murphy-Falchuk fashion, there are also ghosts, reanimated corpses and the search for eternal youth traipsing through any given episode, but from both a content and tone perspective, American Horror Story: Coven seems to be aiming at times more for camp than for chills.
Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) is an amorous young teenaged girl about to take her journey to womanhood (as the old euphemism goes) with her equally energetic boyfriend one day after school before her parents get home. Unfortunately for the boyfriend, his sexual contact with Zoe results in the kind of blood flow no young man wants—he suffers a devastating and quite gruesome cerebral hemorrhage, with blood spewing from every available orifice in his cranium. Zoe is understandably traumatized, but she's thrown into even more turmoil when her mother reveals to her that she has obviously inherited the "witch" gene that runs in her family and that it's no longer safe for Zoe to live with her family. A coterie of sunglass wearing men in black arrive to deliver Zoe to the Robichaux Academy, a New Orleans establishment that caters to a handful of young women who, like Zoe, have "special" abilities.
Already things are a bit more haphazard feeling than in the first two seasons of American Horror Story, what with the needlessly melodramatic men in black dragging Zoe off like she's about to become a resident in American Horror Story: Asylum. And once she arrives at the Robichaux Academy, the series invests in another cheap gambit, having Zoe walk into a seemingly abandoned mansion, calling out for someone (anyone?), while bizarre shadowy figures dart to and fro in the background (replete with supposedly scary sound effects). That turns out to be a singular cheat, one that feels too cheap for a show with such high standards for scares, when it's revealed the figures are simply Zoe's new "classmates" pranking her. The other girls at the Academy include former child star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a recovering addict who has a wealth of witchly powers, including telekinesis; Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), a rare black witch who is a so-called "human voodoo doll" who can poke, prod and immolate herself (with no pain) in order to inflict injuries on her intended target; and Nan (Jamie Brewer), a clairvoyant with Down Syndrome who can hear thoughts of both people and spirits.
Unfolding simultaneously to Zoe's adventures with her new cohorts at the Robichaux Academy are stories involving the Academy's headmistress, Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), a somewhat reticent witch who feels it's best to "control" (meaning suppress) witchcraft, and her harridan mother Fiona (Jessica Lange, once again chewing the scenery with relish), the so-called Supreme (meaning most powerful witch) of her generation. Both of these women have seemingly unattainable desires. Cordelia has been struggling for years to get pregnant to no avail, while Fiona is more and more concerned with the ravages of age and is seeking some sort of (ahem) magical immortality pill.
But wait, you also get—the series actually begins with a horrifying vignette involving a Marie Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates, an Emmy winner for this role), an early 19th century New Orleans doyenne with a nasty habit of torturing her slaves. It's revealed over the course of the first episode that Marie's habit of eviscerating various black males under her charge ultimately brings her into contact with a vengeful Voodoo priestess named Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who "gifts" Marie Delphine with an immortality potion before boxing her up in a coffin and burying her on the grounds of her mansion. Close to two centuries later, when Fiona takes the girls on a little field trip, Nan happens to "hear" Marie Delphine from her underground lair, and an intrigues Fiona has her dug up and delivered to the Robichaux Academy, a seemingly perfect answer to Fiona's quest for timelessness. As if that's not enough, there's also another plot thread involving a college frat boy named Kyle (Evan Peters) who initially catches Zoe's eye but soon has the misfortune of getting killed when Madison's telekinetic powers wreak havoc after a frat party gone very bad. Madison discovers a "resurrection" spell and with Zoe's help reassembles Kyle's body (his death was not a pretty one) and reanimates the young man. Kyle is a kind of lumbering albeit youthful quasi-Frankenstein, one that Zoe has deep feelings for but which the girl decides to deliver to Kyle's distraught (and incestuous) mother (played by Mare Winningham). Had enough yet?
In some ways, all of the above is just the tip of the iceberg, for there are a rather large number of other characters and subplots that wend their way through this probably overstuffed season. There are the Bible thumping neighbors of the Robichaux Academy (including the truly frightening matriarch played by Patti Lupone); Spalding (Denis O'Hare), the tongue-less butler of the Academy who seems to be harboring some secrets about Fiona; Misty Day (Lily Rabe), a backwoods witch with the gift of "resurgence" who plays into the Kyle subplot; and Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), a kind of bureaucrat in the witch's council who seems to have a long standing grudge against Fiona.
It may already be obvious of one aspect to American Horror Story: Coven which some at least might see as a detriment: an absolute surplus of content. This season sprawls in so many directions simultaneously that any given element can struggle to achieve momentum. It also requires huge amounts of expository dialogue throughout the season, as in the premiere episode's really clunky voiceovers by Farmiga detailing Zoe's traumas, and (especially) Paulson, who's forced to sum up the Robichaux Academy's notorious history via a supposed "tour" given to Zoe. Similar gambits afflict detailings of Marie Delphine's 19th century existence courtesy of (yet again) a tour guide. Contrast this approach with the more organic undertakings (no pun intended) of the first two seasons. The histories of the haunted house in season one and the haunted asylum in season two tended to be revealed bit by bit through events rather than purely expository sequences where characters sound like their reciting from showrunner "books".
There are thankfully a couple of good counterweights helping to balance this equation. First, this season has a really goofy sense of humor running through it, where we're privy to scenes like a now 21st century Marie weeping inconsolably as she watches a news report featuring a (in her words, mind you) "Negro" president. As horrifying as Kyle's reanimation turns out to be, there's also an undeniably comedic aspect to the way he lurches around, needing to be carried by Zoe to and fro. Even the menacing banter between Fiona and her twin nemeses, Myrtle and Marie, has a snarky subtext that is often quite amusing.
Adding to this is the undeniable fact that the many (as in many) plot threads of American Horror Story: Coven do ultimately convene, offering a cross-generational look at various types of magic and magical practitioners. This season provides another field day for Jessica Lange, who seems to delight in skewering her once glamorous ingenue image. Farmiga is a little too wide eyed most of the time in this season, and in fact her arc with Peters is distressingly similar to the one from the first season. American Horror Story: Coven probably belongs firmly to Emmy winner Kathy Bates, who is both horrifying and hilarious as the temporally misplaced Marie.
American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray, Video Quality
American Horror Story: Coven is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Perhaps even more than the first two seasons, Coven exploits various formats, stocks and post-production techniques to create an at times hard to classify (or even adequately describe) viewing experience. Take a gander at screenshot 19, for example. Is it true to the source elements? Probably. Is it a "traditional" high definition appearance? Hardly. Working in both 16mm and 35mm, this season alternates between relatively crisp if often fairly soft looking footage (see screenshot 1) to extremely grainy, processed sequences where things devolve to the point that become almost abstract at times. The various directors and cinematographers repeatedly play with things like focus (going out of focus regularly, sometimes to the point that some may feel they're experiencing double vision), giving the series a somewhat chaotic, patchwork quilt feeling. As with previous seasons, there are numerous color grading gambits employed, as well as tweaks like added grain, distressing and other digital tools that provide variety if not always clarity. There are some occasional very slight issues with noise sprinkled throughout the season, but otherwise this is an artifact free presentation that may still strike some viewers as lacking definition and pop.
American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray, Audio Quality
From those ominous sounding thuds that dot this series' "theme" to foley effects like rattling chains panning through the sound field or even ambient environmental effects like rustling breezes blowing through trees, American Horror Story: Coven's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is consistently immersive and nuanced. This season is as full with scampering sound effects as the previous two, and the side and rear channels are regularly full of discretely placed foley elements that can either unnerve or outright startle. Dialogue is very cleanly presented, and is typically well prioritized, though in some busier sequences can sometimes be just slightly buried in the mix. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is extremely wide in this trouble free track.
American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I've spoken with a lot of fans who felt that this season of American Horror Story was the best yet. I personally felt this season took a slight but noticeable drop in quality, both in the overall elegance of the writing but even in the main setup and execution. The two previous seasons of this series were something of a slow burn themselves, but the ingredients seemed to have been added more carefully there than here, where seemingly everything in the pantry is thrown in from the get go, to be sorted out at some later date. Still, this season offers superb performances and the palpable exoticism and allure of New Orleans. The series' hyperkinetic visual style stumbles a bit on Blu-ray, but American Horror Story: Coven comes Recommended.
American Horror Story: Other Seasons
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American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray, News and Updates
• American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray - July 21, 2014
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray American Horror Story: Coven. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the country on October 7th.
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