GUEST REVIEW: 'American Horror Story: Coven'



Until recently, horror has remained on the sidelines of television guide listings. In the mid 90s shows like The X-Files made a big splash on television - but since then, much of the hype for horror disappeared. It seemed the audience simply did not have the palate for horror on TV.

That is until recently, when horror shows began accumulating a steady fan base and have now carved out a lot of territory for themselves on television: The Walking Dead, Hannibal, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries – these are front-liners on television schedules nowadays. In the midst of this, the show that's arguably the biggest and baddest horror show on television made a big entrance with its third season this past October: American Horror Story.

American Horror Story by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk is described as an anthology series, which is a unique way of screen-writing on television. Every season is brings us a different plot and setting, with the same cast being assigned new roles each time around.

We have already seen season one’s haunted house story (with themes of infidelity), season two's narrative set in an asylum (with themes of insanity), and now the third season follows a coven of witches, working in themes of racial segregation. The stories in each series are sophisticated and unexpected, and supported by an excellent cast, especially by the two-time Oscar winning actress Jessica Lange, who has appeared in all three seasons as separate characters.

Kathy Bates appears in one of the flashback scenes from the third season.

The third season's storyline involves a group of witches and voodoo-practitioners in modern-day New Orleans. As the show explains, supernatural powers of witches vary, and can include telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and resurgence (bringing souls back from the dead). There's also characters who can cause fatal haemorrhages through sex, or possess the disturbing ability to transfer pain to another person.

But perhaps what is most impressive about this season of American Horror Story is their dedication to the real history of New Orleans. Many of the characters in the series are based on historical figures, like Marie Laveau, who was a real voodoo practitioner in the 19th century, or Delphine LaLaurie, who was notorious for her sadistic torture of her slaves in 1834. And we can't forget the Axeman of New Orleans, a known serial killer in the early 1900s who was never caught.

The show’s commitment to portray certain themes every season is also worth noting. The third season focuses on racial segregation, specifically the conflict between the white population and the black population in New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, and its lasting impact on the modern-day city.

American Horror Story: Coven shows that horror is making a big comeback on television. Burning witches, supernatural powers, and a tongue-less butler – it all produces a bizarre and unsettling reality that the modern audience is appears to be consuming with delight. American Horror Story is a plateful of terror and horror that seems to be palatable not only to the modern horror audience, but also appealing to the general audience.

Jude Park is a young writer based in Seoul and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter.