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Monday, October 20, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘American Horror Story: Coven’

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ on Blogcritics.

Last fall, FX presented the miniseries, American Horror Story: Coven, the third in the franchise. It is the tale of a group of witches at a school in New Orleans, battling to see who can be the next leader of their order while uniting to battle outside foes. Many of the cast members from previous seasons return in new roles, and some truly incredibly performers join the ensemble. This excellent, thirteen-episode run, full of humor and frights, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

American Horror Story: Coven stars Jessica Lange, playing the current Supreme Witch, Fiona Goode. She is dying, and returns to the institution her daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) runs, to seek a way to stop her demise. A new batch of youngsters have recently enrolled: Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), who kills boys she has sex with; Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a bratty young starlet; clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer); and human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe). These young women are learning the various powers of their ancestors, all trying to be head of the class so they can take over the coven, if Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) and the rest of the Council allow it.

Things are complicated for the coven by numerous outside influences. First, there’s Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), an ageless racist dug up so Fiona can learn her secrets. Then, we meet Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), Delphine’s nemesis and leader of the black witches, who don’t get along with the schoolgirls. Zoe brings a boy she likes, Kyle (Evan Peters), back from the dead. A Stevie Nicks-obsessed healer, Misty Day (Lily Rabe), considers joining the group. Cordelia’s ex-husband, Hank (Josh Hamilton), harbors a deadly secret. House servant Spalding (Denis O’Hare) tries to keep the past buried. The Axeman (Danny Huston) and Papa Legba (Lance Reddick) haunt them. They are attacked by zombies and a minotaur. Needless to say, it’s a lot for any woman to take on.

There’s plenty to like about Coven. As is typical for  American Horror Story, has some genuinely scary moments. Perhaps it’s not as bone-chilling as past seasons, but it can still make you jump. There is much danger both inside and outside the coven, and if the monsters don’t get you, their friends might. The writing is fast-paced and relatively tight, cleverly bringing numerous threads together by the end of the season. Plus, Stevie Nicks guest stars as herself (well, a witch version of herself) so that’s definitely check in the positive column.

If there is one complaint I have about Coven, it’s that characters just do not often stay dead, which leaves viewers not trusting events as they unfold. The sheer number of characters killed and then somehow re-incorporated into the story is kind of ridiculous. Until we near the very end of the season, there is just no way to know who is still in contention.

The audio quality on this Blu-ray is terrific. It’s clear, with nice mixing, and makes good use of the surround sound tracks. The dialogue stands out easily. The picture is less consistent, but that’s because of the various styles the show is filmed in. There are parts that are purposefully grainy or blurry. I do think what’s meant to look high def does, and any flaws are intended for effect, rather than mistakes the production team has made, leading to an overall nice presentation.

There are only three extras on this release, a trio of featurettes lasting between ten and fifteen minutes each. “Enter the Coven” is the expected behind-the-scenes piece about this season, with interviews from cast members. “Zombie Halloween” is about the Halloween episode that features zombies, in case you couldn’t tell by the title. “Meet Ms. Nola” is a quick look at the city of New Orleans, which is where the season was actually filmed, and the crew enjoyed it so much, they stayed there for this year’s Freak Show. None of these are all that insightful, interesting only in a very superficial way.

Still, this release is cool because of the fantastic episodes, whether or not the extras are any good.

American Horror Story: Coven is available now.

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