The leaves are beginning to turn, children are rushing to pick prized pumpkins and, after weeks of provocative glimpses at teaser trailers, fans are practically clawing the skin off our faces in a media-induced frenzy awaiting the premier of Season Three of American Horror Story.
So clearly, it must be fall.
Society at large, get ready for a world of excuses as to why I can’t be out on Wednesday nights for a few weeks.
After touring Murder House in Season One and getting committed to the Asylum in Season Two, we’re off to join Coven in Season Three of the award winning anthology series. Like always, show creator Ryan Murphy isn’t revealing too much about the upcoming season but here’s a few story elements he’s let slip so far.
Coven takes place in New Orleans with a supernatural setting in the world of witchcraft. Jessica Lange plays Fiona, the headmistress of a school for “gifted” young women (i.e. witches) where Tasia Farmiga has recently been sent by her mother, fearing for the young woman’s safety. There’s been hints that a centuries old feud between the “Salem” coven (descendants of Witch Trial refugees led by Lange) and the Voodoo coven (led by Angela Basset as real life voodoo icon Marie Laveau) is put aside to face an even greater external threat to their kind. Add to that lots of shockingly beautiful (and horrible) production design, artful editing and an overall camp-meets-scares sensibility and you’ve got the makings of another only-on-cable season.
In anticipation of Wednesday night’s season debut here’s a list of some of the ingredients we’re most excited about in this cauldron of fun. Bubble, bubble…
Grand Witch Diva Goddesses
If there’s one thing Ryan Murphy has proved AHS is great for it’s showcasing powerful actresses well beyond their ingenue years (not just women over forty or fifty: women over sixty are in abundance this season). Lange and fellow returning cast members Sarah Paulson, Frances Conroy and Lily Rabe are joined this season not just by Angela Basset but also Kathy Bates, Christine Ebersole and Patti Lupone for what looks like the kind of big shouldered, Grande Dame Guignol scene-stealing and set chewing celebration of the grand bitch diva goddess (make that “grand witch”) that only a gay man could helm. Here’s hoping for plenty of ugly confrontations, backstabbing and other hallmarks of the genre. Also, we’re looking forward to seeing Lange and other cast members back in “glamour cat” mode after a season of nuns’ habits and straight jackets on Asylum.
Bewitched on Mescalin
Lange and Paulson play mother-daughter witches this season and our first thoughts were of course, to that other classic mother-daughter television witch duo, Endora and Samantha on Bewitched. We’re so excited to see Murphy’s take on the relationship, especially with fan favorites Paulson and Lange in the parts. Remember how Endora was always encouraging Samantha to have a little fun and ditch her dud human husband? Imagine that scenario told in the Ryan Murphy lexicon. Right? It sounds like Bewitched on mescalin. After the adversarial relationship the actresses portrayed onscreen together last season we can’t wait to see them go for each other’s throats as only mothers and daughters can. We’re sure though that Lange will bring a little of the Big Edie maternal warmth to the role, if only for a second.
Voodoo That You Do
If there’s one topic that makes for good horror, it’s Voodoo. The combination Afro-Haitian/Catholic(ish) religion has intrigued filmmakers since the early days of movies, and with Murphy in charge, we’re curious to see what new territory he plans to explore with the subject matter. From curses to potions to the religion’s signature dolls (hold the pins, please), there’s so much iconography at the show’s disposal. Just please, Ryan Murphy, don’t upset any real life Voodoo practitioners. We’d really like a Season Four and that’s probably not going to happen if you spend all next year living under a hex.
Fact Scarier Than Fiction
Angela Basset’s Marie Laveau isn’t the only character this season based on a historical person. Kathy Bates’ (long live Annie Wilkes, queen of Misery) character is based on real life New Orleans serial killer Delphine LaLaurie, who notoriously tortured and murdered her own slaves in the 1830s. Bates is so good when she’s bad: we’re glad her return to horror is at the hands of a storyteller who will let the Academy Award-winning actress run amock and release the psycho fury she was building up while doing Harry’s Law.
From Anne Rice to just about every show currently on television about vampires, Louisiana and New Orleans in particular are a popular locale for horror stories. Why wouldn’t they be? Between the Voodoo, the above ground cemetery “cities of the dead” and the truly frightening lack of dental care further into the bayou, the place just screams macabre. Here’s hoping for lots of grand, sweeping establishing shots, use of local landmarks and camera treks off the beaten touristy track. From the mansions of the Garden District to the reclaimed wilderness of wards as yet rehabilitated after Hurricane Katrina, there’s a lot to work with. We’re guessing the setting will also give this season just a touch of Tennessee Williams in its tone.
Season One we met that charming fetish suit clad killer Rubberman and the adorable reanimated corpse baby Infantata. Season Two gave us Dr. Arden’s Raspers and the human skin clad killer Bloody Face. Season Three promises to introduce Minotaurs to a whole new generation. Something tells us that these won’t be just any half-man/half-bull monsters: from what we’ve seen of the Minotaur so far, the half-man side is amazingly buff in the grand Murphy “male exposure” tradition. After years of the media objectifying women. isn’t it a victory that we now have a television show that has done a pretty good job of objectifying men for three season (see every naked crying scene with Dylan McDermott in Season One and the spanking scene with Evan Peters in Season Two).
From what we’ve seen of the antebellum mansion in the trailer for Coven, it looks like there’s more haunted house porn to come. Let’s be real: even with all the ghosts Murder House was still a pretty impressive homestead and the Asylum had a sort of home decor by Charenton chic to it. Part of why the show holds up to repeat viewings is the production design: not just scenery but costumes too (hello, Constance Langdon’s Pucci wardrobe in Season One).
Aside from Lange and Paulson, welcome backs go to returning cast members Frances Conroy (we’re still obsessed with your Season Two catchphrase “Are you ready for me to kiss you?”), Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Jamie Brewer, Taisa Farmiga and Alexandra Breckinridge (absent in last year’s Asylum). Not since Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater ensemble has such a troupe been assembled and reassembled with such élan. Part of the fun each season is seeing how your favorite actors return and how Murphy has them follow last season. Villains sometimes become heroes, heroes become villains, and then it’s all flipped on its head the following season just when you were getting used to the new pecking order.
The only thing better than Murphy’s returning cast is seeing who is joining the show for the first time. This year Emma Roberts, Danny Houston, Mare Winningham and Josh Hamilton all join the cast along with the aforementioned Angela Basset and Kathy Bates. Additions we’re most excited about? Musical Theater Queens Patti Lupone (the original Evita) and Christine Ebersole (Tony Award winner for Grey Gardens), although we’re guessing they won’t be signing. OR WILL THEY? We all remember last season’s “The Name Game” hallucinatory musical homage. Gabourey Sidibe also joins the cast as Queenie and we’re so happy the talented and incredibly comically gifted star of Precious is proving naysayers wrong by making a place for herself in Hollywood as a character actress.
American Horror Story: Coven premiers on Wednesay, October 9 on FX