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American Horror Story: Coven — “Burn, Witch. Burn!”

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American Horror Story: Coven continues to wow me! This week’s episode, “Burn, Witch. Burn!,” has upped the ante on typical television (The Walking Dead) zombie gore, with an outrageous sequence of Zoe (Taissa Farminga) wielding a chainsaw. Along with the extended zombie attack, there was an initial seed of character progression with Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) who was attacked with acid in the last episode. And of course, as the title alludes to, there was a witch burning at the stake.

Synopsis

First, the episode opens on All Hallows Eve in 1833 with a reinforcement of Madam Delphine (Kathy Bates) LaLaurie’s despicability, as she shows off her chamber of horrors to the suitor of one of her daughters. He is grossed out by a dish full of eyeballs and a string of eviscerated intestines. Following this incident, LaLaurie catches her daughters plotting against her, and she has them abducted from their beds and imprisoned for a full year. These daughters are now zombies on the steps of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies where LaLaurie, Zoe, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Nan (Jamie Brewer), and neighbor boy Luke (Alexander Dreymon) are trapped.

Nan says that the people besieging the house are dead, as she cannot hear them. Luke thinks that it is all a prank, so he goes outside to tell them off. For a moment they are in a catatonic, unmoving state, and neither Luke nor some teenagers (complimenting their awesome prosthetics) can rouse them. Then Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), floating in her voodoo chamber, tells the zombies to “BEGIN.” They kill the random teens, and would have gotten Luke as well, if Nan hadn’t ran outside to save him. Zoe instructs Spalding (Denis O’Hare) to hustle the others upstairs, (but not, he silently indicates to his room), then she goes outside to find Nan and Luke trapped inside a car.

Zoe calls the zombies to pull them away from the car, but it seems to be a poorly thought-out plan, as they quickly chase her into a shed. Back inside the house, LaLaurie sees her daughter and opens the door to let her in. While LaLaurie seems to be rediscovering her humanity (unconvincingly, I might add), the living dead daughter has lost whatever remained of hers, and she attacks her mother. The shot cuts away with LaLaurie being held up off her feet, and the ghoul with a stranglehold around her neck. Unexplainably, later this same zombie is upstairs, and stalks Queenie after bludgeoning Spalding with a candle stick. Queenie uses a shard of glass and slices her own throat, transferring the effect with her human voodoo doll powers, and dusty gore sprays from the zombie’s throat. It doesn’t die though, until LaLaurie (frazzled, but seemingly unharmed) shoves a firepoker through its back and out its front.

Queenie says, “Holy shit, you killed it!” And this point proves that we aren’t in Romero zombie territory, but instead the witches are battling something more akin to the tele-fantastic zombies from The Video Dead — they have to be damaged enough to be killed again. Instead of discussing how to kill the rest of the ghouls, LaLaurie wallows, saying “She had a monster for a mother. This last act was the only kindness I ever did for her.”

Back outside, Nan and Luke make a run for the house, but Luke collapses and is too weak to move from blood loss. All seems lost as the zombies bear down on them, until Zoe appears with a MOTHERFLIPPING CHAINSAW! She does her best Bruce Campbell impression and slices and dices the dead until the chainsaw predictably sputters and dies. Instead of dismembering the last zombie, Zoe outstretches her arm and says some magic (Being of nature?) words. It collapses, as does Laveau in her voodoo chamber, who remarks, “I don’t know what that was, but they got some real power in that witchouse now.”

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Elsewhere in New Orleans, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) accompanies Cordelia to the hospital after catching a glimpse of a black-cloaked figure leaving the bar. Fiona has a breakdown after learning that her daughter is now blind. What follows are several dreamy sequences of Fiona walking down hospital corridors (complete with flickering lights and abandoned wheelchairs), pilfering pills from a storeroom, receiving a weird message from a creepy-looking (diaper-wearing) patient, and resurrecting a stillborn baby for a grieving mother. These shots are blurry, and coupled with the camera-work bouncing back and forth, give the viewer some insight into Fiona’s mental state.

Later Cordelia’s murderous, secret-life living husband Hank (Josh Hamilton) shows up to the hospital. Fiona has an angry spat with him, including the great jab “You’re one step up from the men who stand in front of Home Depot.” Ultimately Fiona leaves him alone with Cordelia, and as he holds onto her hand, Cordelia has a sudden vision of all of Hank’s secrets.

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The next day sees the witches burning a big pile of zombie corpses, which apparently nobody else in the neighborhood much minds the smell of. Fiona tells Nan that Luke can stay until he is fully healed, and she also praises Zoe for protecting the coven. Then LaLaurie tries to bond with her over their shared terrible mothering skills. While LaLaurie hopes that their tragedies will bring them closer together, Fiona puts her in her place, telling her that “I doubt it, you are after all, the maid.”

The council returns and informs Fiona that she must abdicate her Supremecy of the coven. Instead Fiona pulls a political power play that fingers (acid-burned) Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) as the one who has committed all of the recent (and past) transgressions against the coven. Fiona produces photographic proof that Snow had been spying and plotting against her, and then has Queenie put acid burns on Snow’s hand to implicate her as Cordelia’s attacker. With all of this evidence, the Council has no choice but to condemn Myrtle Snow to death by burning at the stake.

Snow takes these accusations in stride. She decides it would be better to die than to stay connected to a coven that has become so polluted and mislead by Fiona’s personal ambition and lust for power. She says, “I go proudly to the flame. Go ahead. Burn me.”

Which they do. The witches’ albino mafia-looking goons tie up Snow, douse her with gasoline, and then Fiona ignites her with a lit cigarette, all while Dr. John’s Right Place Wrong Time plays over the scene. Snow burns for several agonizing seconds until her spirit seems to fly outward. The others are all mesmerized by the flames, but Fiona calmly walks away.

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The episode is essentially over here, except for a quick scenes that indicate where the story will be going in the next week:

  • Queenie expresses guilt about her part in implicating Snow, but Fiona placates her with the idea that she’ll help her to become the next Supreme of the coven.

  • Spalding sprays a lot of aerosol to cover up the stench of Madison’s visibly rotting corpse, stuck inside a trunk. He is dressed (bonnet and nightgown) for a teaparty, but when he tries to pull Madison out, her arm snaps off.

  • The episode ends with Misty Day (Lily Rabe) finding Myrtle Snow’s burned corpse. She uses her power of resurrection to bring Snow back to life.

Some Thoughts

I reference The Video Dead earlier in this blog, but the zombies also seem a bit like those from Burial Ground in their tool use, wielding hoes and axes. Also, the sequence held a bit of Night of the Creeps for me.

This episode really had a B-movie quality that I loved. Lange wandering around a creepy looking hospital was straight out of something like Session 9, Silent Hill, or akin to Laurie Strode in the deserted hospital in Halloween 2. Also, the fact that the zombie that attacks Kathy Bates illogically ends up in another part of the house, without killing Bates adds to the B-movie lack of logic. I think it is deliberate. While a show like The Walking Dead does (and should) take itself seriously, AHS has much more leeway to have fun.

I don’t like how Kathy Bates’s character is so hard and evil in the 1830s but rather grandmotherly in the present day. I’m not saying that this shift in character can’t (or shouldn’t) happen, but I don’t believe that it could have happened so quickly. It’s not like she changed during her time underground. She goes in a racist old coot, comes out a racist old coot, and then in the span of a few days becomes a softer, more grandmotherly person. Again, I like that her character is changing, but I don’t think it has been earned yet, especially when it opens by reinforcing how much of a wretched person she used to be.

Lily Rabe is back but only in a short bit. I have a feeling that she’ll play a bigger part in the next episode by teaming up with Frances Conroy’s character. Perhaps they’ll join with the voodoo sect against the coven, or maybe it will be Misty Day that has to chose between joining the coven and betraying Myrtle Snow, or sticking with the other witchy outcast.

I’m curious now to learn more about Hank and Cordelia’s relationship. I mean, obviously he knows she is a witch, but it seems that she has no idea about his secret life until this episode. Does he possibly have some superpowers in him too? Or is he just a murderous scumbag?

Come back later in the week for more witchy woman B-movie on TV goodness when American Horror Story: Coven returns with “The Axeman Cometh.”

12 Options for Your Body once You’re Stiff

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Mary Roach‘s Stiff is a very enjoyable and often humorous read about what happens to people who’ve donated their bodies to science. It’s an interesting take on the past, present, and future of cadaverous research that also takes funny diversions towards other morbid curiosities. Given the grim subject matter (death & body disposal) one assumes that this would likewise be a grim read. But one would be wrong. Roach is deft in her lighthearted tone, and she infuses the topic with levity while maintaining a certain respect for each deceased individual she encounters. To give you an overview of each chapter, as well as a tasty morsel of Roach’s writing, I’ve highlighted each of the book’s twelve chapters in this list of things that could happen to your body once you’re stiff.

1. Your head may be lopped off and used as a model for plastic surgery lessons.

Only they’ll leave the skin & flesh on.

skullsflickr / Pieter Cornelissen

The heads look like rubber Halloween masks. They also look like human heads, but my brain has no precedent for human heads on tables or in roasting pans or anywhere other than on top of human bodies . . . (p. 23)

2. While the history of using corpses for medical research is a long and sordid one, you need not worry about being snatched from the graves. Today’s researchers don’t dirty their hands with shovels, and the subdued decorum of a modern anatomy lab is much different than those of early predecessors.

Cruelty4wikimedia commons / The Reward of Cruelty by William Hogarth

Engravings by Thomas Rowlandson and William Hogarth of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century dissecting rooms show cadavers’ intestines hanging like parade streamers off the sides of tables, skulls bobbing in boiling pots, organs strewn on the floor being eaten by dogs. In the background, crowds of men gawk and leer. (p. 47)

Evidently, compassion for cadavers wasn’t discovered until sometime in the early twentieth century.

PCOM_Archives_1908_Dissection_Labwikimedia commons / Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine 1908 Dissection Lab

3. You could go to the body farm behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where corpses are kept in varying states of decay (and varying states of undress, varying burial depths, etc.) to study how different disposal methods affect the body and aid the work of criminal forensic investigators.

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wikimedia commons / Strickwerker

Scientist Grover Krantz spent part of his after life on the body farm. Clyde, his dog, however was buried in his yard.

“You want a vivid description of what’s going through my brain as I’m cutting through a liver and all these larvae are spilling out all over me and juice pops out of the intestines?” (p. 63) — forensic research professor Arpad Vass

4. Your corpse could be used in a car crash tests. While dummies are good for taking a licking and keeping on ticking, nothing demonstrates an automobile’s effect on humans like a dead human.

car-crashflickr / perthhdproductions

This never would have happened with someone living behind the wheel.

But let’s be rational. Why is it okay for someone to guide a table saw through Granddad’s thigh and then pack the leg up for shipment to a lab, where it will be suspended from a hook and impacted with a simulated car bumper, yet not okay to ship him and use him whole? What makes cutting his leg off first any less distasteful or disrespectful? (p. 105)

5. Cadavers were once thrown from planes to study the effect of plane crashes on the human body. While this wouldn’t happen to your corpse nowadays, aviation crash investigators do have a term for bodies found at a crash site — ‘human wreckage.’

plane-crashflickr / Tom (shock264)

As far as I know, there’s no special term for crop wreckage.

For unlike a wing or a piece of fuselage, a corpse will float to the water’s surface. By studying victims’ wounds — the type, the severity, which side of the body they’re on — an injury analyst can begin to piece together the horrible unfolding of events. (p. 114)

6. Perhaps you’d like to join the army! There has been a lot of work with cadavers in the field of military research. While some research is done to find more humane weapons than lead bullets (which expand on impact and destroy more flesh), most militaries want weapons with the maximum stopping power, i.e. most damaging / the least humane.

Gunshot_skull_civil_warwikimedia commons / Civil War Collection, National Museum of Health and Medicine

Ballistics studies are especially problematic. How do you decide it’s okay to cut off someone’s grandfather’s head and shoot it in the face? (p. 147)

7. Be glad that you’re not a French stiff from 80 years ago. In the 1930s, a doctor in France named Pierre Barbet crucified a corpse and several severed arms in an attempt to authenticate the Shroud of Turin.

Käsien_naulaus_copywikimedia commons / Johnny Hillerman

In the weeks that followed, Barbet went through twelve more arms in a quest to find a suitable point in the human wrist through which to hammer a ⅓-inch nail. This was not a good time for vigorous men with minor hand injuries to visit the offices of Dr. Pierre Barbet. (p. 160)

8. Despite persistent urban legends, there is no ‘cellular memory’ in the organs of the dead transplanted on or into the living. Fortunately, your personality won’t change if you get the parts of a madman. Unfortunately, your heart may still be beating in someone else, but it won’t be ‘your’ heart.

BodypartsposterParamount Pictures / poster for Body Parts

In light of recent facts, the believability of this film is further strained.

Mehmet Oz (YES, THAT DR. OZ), the transplant surgeon I spoke with, also got curious about the phenomenon of heart transplant patients’ claiming to experience memories belonging to their donors. “There was this one fellow,” he told me, “who said, ‘I know who gave me this heart.’ He gave me a detailed description of a young black woman who died in a car accident. ‘I see myself in the mirror with blood on my face and I taste French fries in my mouth. I see that I’m black and I was in this accident.’ It spooked me,” says Oz, “and so I went back and checked. The donor was an elderly white male.” Did he have other patients who claimed to experience their donors’ memories or to know something specific about their donor’s life? He did. “They’re all wrong.” (p. 191)

9. Research on just-guillotined criminals progressed to dogs and later monkeys. While a human head transplant has never been attempted, it is theoretically medically viable — although you’d still be ‘just a head on a pillow.’

the-brain-that-wouldnt-dieAmerican International Pictures / The Brain that Wouldn’t Die

By putting them — their heads — onto new bodies, you would buy them a decade or two of life, without, in their case, much altering their quality of life. High-level quadriplegics are paralyzed from the neck down and require respiration, but everything from the neck up works fine. Ditto the transplanted head. (p. 212-213)

Here is a video of neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White explaining the procedure:

10. Perhaps you’d like to be consumed upon death. Just about every part of a dead body has been used as ancient medicinal or folk remedy. Blood is especially popular, both for drinking and bathing.

bathing-in-bloodflickr / rachel a. k.

It was when the prescription called for bathing in the blood of infants, or the blood of virgins, that things began to turn ugly. The disease in question was most often leprosy, and the dosage was measured out in bathtubs rather than eyedroppers. . . . We see nothing distasteful in injections of human blood, yet the thought of soaking in it makes us cringe. (p. 226&9)

11. If burial or cremation bores you, then you may be interested in other ways a body can be disposed of after death. There is freeze-drying and composting, as well as the newly developed method of ‘water reduction,’ more grimly named ‘tissue digestion.’

coffeeflickr / Francisco Javier Argel

Just don’t accidentally drink Grandma.

In a few hours . . . [the] equipment can dissolve the tissues of a corpse and reduce it to 2 or 3 percent of its body weight. What remains is a pile of decollagenated bones that can be crumbled in one’s fingers. Everything else has been turned into . . . a sterile “coffee-colored” liquid. (p. 252-253)

12. Maybe you want your corpse to last 10,000 years. In that case plastination is the only surefire way to make sure your corpse stays fresh for millennia. All of the water in your body is sucked out during an acetone bath, which evaporates, and then is replaced by a liquid polymer.

plastinationflickr / Paul Stevenson

Is it a little chilly in here, or is it just me?

Like a guinea pig the size of a police dog, the concept of being plastinated is more unsettling than the reality. You just lie there, soaking and plastinating. Eventually, someone lifts you out and poses you, much as one poses a Gumby. A catalyst is then rubbed into your skin, and a two-day hardening process begins, working its way through your tissues, preserving you for all eternity in your freshly dead state. (p. 289)

While not everyone would like to be naked and skinless for thousands of years, perhaps you’ve found something to do with yourself after ‘yourself’ ceases to exist. In the meantime, go out and pick up a copy of Stiff by Mary Roach. This book is a fun and enlightening read filled with many more quips than I’ve excerpted here. It’s a shining bit of amusement among death’s pieces of darkness.

Links

Click for more information on Tissue Digestion.

Click for more information about The Body Farm.

Click for more information about Dr. Pierre Barbet’s corpse crucifixion experiments.

Tidbits of the Dead — “Indifference”

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The Walking Dead continued its streak of ‘I’ titles with this week’s “Indifference,” which obviously alludes to Carol’s indifference and lack of remorse about killing Karen and David. This episode was heavy on human drama and light on zombie action. It was also a roadtrip episode, which tend to be a bit better than most of the sit-and-twiddle-our-thumbs-in-the-prison episodes. Fortunately, we get the chance to have some much needed characterization for several of the newer main characters. Unfortunately, we have lost my favorite character of the season thus far, although, as you’ll see, she hasn’t left this show in typical Walking Dead fashion.

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  • Carol (Melissa McBride) — She changed more than anyone else in the original cast. From battered wife, to grieving mother, to hardened survivalist teacher, Carol has undergone a transformation unlike anyone else on this show. Perhaps she hardened too much. Rick seems to think so. It was callous to take the lives of two others without consulting the rest of the group. While, she believes what she did was the correct course of action, I doubt that she would have killed one of the children. Some say that her killing of Karen and David was too out of character for Carol. To a certain extent I agree, but it was a necessary plot device for the TV show. For one it made a bit of buzz around the show (who was the mysterious killer?), which only lasted for a single week. Secondly, it allowed for Tyreese to harness his anger, which barring the death of his sister, couldn’t have happened any other way. It is a shame that the prison group has lost one of its most valuable members. It’s more of a shame that The Walking Dead has lost one of its most valuable actresses. Fortunately with her driving out into the sunset, Melissa McBride’s character could return in the future. Although I don’t see that happening until after the prison falls, Carol could once again prove her mettle by being the link for Rick’s group into a newer, larger community.
  • Rick (Andrew Lincoln) — He did the right thing. Despite (my) loving Carol so much this season, I can see that Rick did a logically consistent thing by cutting her loose. He stayed true to himself. I think that he may be a bit disappointed to have to lose her. The others will probably second guess him, especially if he doesn’t tell them the truth, but that’s the way of Rick’s leadership. He rides the middle ground. I doubt any other killer in any other situation would get exiled, but Rick showed a bit of compassion in that.
  • Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) — Finally, the drunken combat medic’s alcoholic history comes into play! I really liked his interplay with Daryl in this episode. He proved his worth to the group by helping them find the proper medications, but he also showed how he could be detrimental to the others with the stranglehold that alcohol still has on him. They let him keep the bottle he took, so I’m hoping to see him get into more trouble because of it. It’s something to add more interest to the show, which will be necessary after losing Carol.

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    Daryl and Bob smoke in a few scenes of this episode. I doubt Farmer Rick has given any crop space to tobacco, so those cigarettes have to be nasty and stale as hell. Still, it’s a stress reliever that offers less detrimental side-effects than alcohol. Besides, all of their lives at a greater risk from the zombies, other humans, and an eye-bleeding infection, so cancer is hardly something to worry about.

  • Daryl (Norman Reedus) — He showed his caring side as well as a bit of badassery when confronting Bob about the bottle in this bag. Daryl fearlessly (recklessly?) pulled Bob’s gun out of the holster, and then kept calm even to resist the urge to push Bob off of the structure into the waiting undead hands below.
  • Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) — Anger gets you killed. He’ll get over Karen’s death, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the information that Carol was the killer. Will he personally want to get revenge and be driven to follow after her like Michonne is driven to find the governor? Will he think that Rick didn’t do enough to protect the group by letting Carol live? How would his mental state worsen if his sister dies too? In my opinion, Tyreese, angry and uncontrollable is worse to the group than a could and calculating Carol.
  • Michonne (Danai Gurira) — Maybe it is the actress, or maybe it is the character, but there is something insincere about Michonne dealing with her emotions. She always has to be hard and bitter like it would after her stature as a badass if she does anything otherwise. Daryl can be cute and goofy and a badass, but Michonne doesn’t get that pass. I’m not sure exactly why it isn’t working for me.
  • Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) — While all of the others at the prison were offscreen this week, Lizzie got a bit of screentime with Carol. I liked the interplay between the two, especially with her calling Carol mom. It’s a shame that we won’t have a psychologically-damaged child looking up to Carol in that way. I think I would have enjoyed that. Hopefully she won’t get lost in the shuffle, but I also don’t want to see her go off on her own (or with her sister) after Carol. Then the others would go traipsing off after them, and that would be too much like season 2’s search for Sophia. Only, I can see the creative types thinking that it would be a good reason for some more episodes away from the prison without having to actually go somewhere else. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear this may just happen.
  • The Newbies (Robin Lord Taylor & Brina Palencia) — Didn’t last long. Here it is a year and a half (or more) after the zombie apocalypse, and there are still lots of folks that should be hardened survivors dying like pansies. It’s interesting to note that they would have lived had they followed Rick’s orders to stay put, but instead they decided to help out like Carol wanted them to do. Seems a bit heavy-handed to me. And seriously, even if that girl had a fucked up leg, how does she get taken down by two walkers? Ugh.

Walker of the Week

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Honestly, none of them were terribly memorable this week. I’ll give the nod to this guy stuck under some wreckage though, just because he got the most screen time.

Next week’s episode continues the streak of ‘I’ titles with “Internment.” I’m guessing it’ll be another one chock-full of human drama — why do we have to stay locked up in quarantine guys? — and low on zombie violence. What do you think?

American Horror Story: Coven — “Fearful Pranks Ensue”

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“Fearful Pranks Ensue” opens up in 1961 depicting the type of racial incident that is not a prank, but does have dreadfully fearful consequences. A black youth is riding on his bicycle down a tree-lined lane when behind him a dark truck pulls up. It speeds up, getting closer and closer, so the boy pedals harder and harder. The truck’s bumper is inches away from the back tire of the bike, and finally the boy turns into a driveway, jumps off of his bike, and runs down an alley. Unfortunately, it is a dead end, and as the boy turns around he comes face-to-face with three angry looking white men. The scene cuts away to Marie Laveau’s hairshop, still in 1961, where one of the beauticians is saying that her son is starting his first day at the newly desegregated high school. Angela Bassett’s character seems to think this is a bad idea, and the viewer knows what is in store for the previously chased boy. There is a quick montage of a faraway shot of a single, desolate figure hanging from a large tree, a noose being cut down, and the mother over the lynched boy’s body, pushing the white police officer away. Laveau is in the background here looking fierce and plotting a voodoo revenge that she quickly executes with a ceremony involving slicing open snakes and drinking their flaming blood from a large chalice. Then, all of a sudden, American Horror Story turns into The Walking Dead as corpses start rising up from their graves. These living dead ain’t just hungry — they’re armed. There are some Native Americans with tomahawks, a civil war veteran carrying his bayonet mounted gun, and a big dead guy with an axe. The zombies stalk after and find the three men of the lynch mob, whose insides soon come out in a scene of bloody evisceration and dismemberment in what must be AHS’s most graphic scene to date.
Coming back from the show titles is the butler Spalding (Denis O’Hare) having a tea party with a roomful of creepy dolls. This is a very Spalding heavy episode which would circle back to this tea-party motif near the end of the episode. But first there is a quick recap of Spalding witnessing the neck-slashing scene that played out last week between Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) and Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts). He pours Fiona a drink, and rolls Madison’s body up in the bloodstained rug, while Fiona engages in what she does best — witty quips — saying, “I’ve always enjoyed our little talks together, particularly since you lost your tongue.”
Fiona goes to investigate a crash in the solarium, where she finds Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) having been gored by the minotaur. The beast rises up behind Fiona, but it is never shown how he is dealt with. Instead the next shot is a frazzled Fiona waking Cordelia (Sarah Paulson). While tending to Queenie, the mother and daughter have a spat about both of their meetings with Laveau. Queenie stops breathing, but Fiona saves her, by literally breathing life back into her. Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is roused out of hiding, and is much more appreciative of Queenie since the black girl saved her life. However, later Queenie says that she’ll have to think about the best way for LaLaurie to really thank her.
The next day, at Cornrows City, a package arrives for Laveau. In it is the severed head of the minotaur, which blinks, so is seemingly still alive. This will prompt Laveau to prepare for an all-out war. Laveau’s second (Dana Gourrier) is against rekindling the animosity against the coven, given the truce that Laveau had signed with former Supreme Leighton (Christine Ebersole), whom Fiona murdered in 1971. Whatever tenuous peace there was between the witches and the voodoo practitioners is now over. The voodoo resurrection ritual from the opening is repeated, and once again the living dead rise from their graves, including the corpses of the lynch mob and (at least one of) Madam LaLaurie’s daughters.
The main conflict that this season is building to — the voodoo sect vs. the coven — has started in earnest in this episode, but there were some other interesting developments that happened concerning Kyle (Evan Peters), Cordelia’s husband Hank (Josh Hamilton), and the backstory between Fiona, Spalding, and witch council member Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy).
Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) finds the FrankenKyle monster beating his head against a bathtub. She gets emotional about the state that this creature is in, and realizes that it was wrong to bring him back to life. He speaks, claiming not to be Kyle and this is all too much for Zoe. She decides to fix him a lunch of tuna salad laced with rat poison and put him out of his misery. There is another complication though, which is that the monster has suddenly disappeared, and when Zoe looks outside to find him, all she can see are the ghouls and goblins of children dressed for Halloween.
Cordelia, perched on the edge of the bed like a smitten schoolgirl, talks on the phone with her husband Hank. He is off on a construction consultation job and says that the foreman is at his hotel room door. Only Hank isn’t meeting with a foreman. A woman (Alexandra Breckenridge) drops into his hotel room, and they engage in some intense lovemaking that culminates with Hank screaming like a madman. This girl is in love with Hank — he has her completely wrapped around his finger. She does have a good line though, and one that strikes a beat in Hank: “I think Halloween gives people permission to be who they really want to be.” Lest we think that Hank is only a cheating scumbag, things get much more interesting when he pulls out a silenced pistol and shoots the girl in the head in a big WTF moment. So who the hell is Hank exactly? He was obviously lying to this lover when he claimed to be a USDA inspector. He is also obviously lying to his wife Cordelia as well. While ready to write off Hank since his introduction into the show, this character kink makes him an interesting addition to the web of witches.
Nan (Jamie Brewer), no longer being able to read Madison’s mind, summons the Council, three witches including Myrtle Snow, Quentin (Leslie Jordan), a small, but flamboyant fedora-clad man, and Pimbrooke (Robin Bartlett), a frumpy grey-hair whom Fiona scoffs at. They set up an official inquiry into Madison’s disappearance and interview all of the women of Miss Robichaux’s Academy to find the whereabouts of Madison. Interviewees are informed that the punishment for inflicting grievous bodily harm against a Salem descendent is death by fire.
Each woman states what they know about Madison.
Cordelia volunteers way too much information about other matters (Queenie’s attack and her consultation contact with the voodoo sect), but little of consequence about Madison. She does blurt out that is her rug (the one in which Madison was wrapped up) is missing, but fails to realize the importance of this information.
The younger women have a bit more to say. Zoe says that Madison has a movie starlet charisma. Nan informs the Council of her burgeoning pyrokinetic ability. Queenie drops the best line with: “Madison Montgomery is a stone cold bitch who loves hard drinking, big dicks, and trouble. If she’s dead it’s probably because she got wasted and offered the grim reaper a handjob or something.”
Once the Council gets Fiona in the interrogation seat AHS viewers learn much more about the past relationship between her and the red-headed Snow. It seems that when Fiona took over as the Supreme (in 1971) she blamed Marie Laveau for the death of former Supreme Leighton. However, a younger (and ambitious) Myrtle Snow suspected that Fiona had killed Leighton. To find out the truth Snow put an enchantment spell on Spalding’s tongue (whom Snow suspected was hiding Fiona’s secret). Unfortunately, before Spalding could be coerced into telling what Fiona had done, he is found on the floor with his tongue removed. In the present day Snow asks Spalding to write on a piece of paper the name of witch who was responsible for severing his tongue. On the paper he writes ‘Myrtle Snow’ as Spalding was (and presumably still is) in love with Fiona. He did not want to implicate Fiona as a murderess, and since he couldn’t deny the truth, he instead cut out his own tongue with a straight razor.
Snow then has a screaming fit and is unable to contain her rage against Fiona. She claims that Fiona has twice gotten away with murder after killing the old and future Supreme. Only Cordelia confesses that Madison had a heart murmur and couldn’t have been the future Supreme with her poor health. The scene cuts away after this, but one suspects if there is to be a death by fire next week, it will most likely be Myrtle Snow tied to the burning post.
“Fearful Pranks Ensues” wraps up with a few short scenes likely to be continued next week:
  • Spalding, wearing a nightgown and bonnet, has another dolly tea party, only this time one of the attendees is Madison’s corpse, for whom he selects a frilly dress from the closet.
  • Cordelia and Fiona share some mother-daughter bonding time at a bar with Fiona lying about not killing Madison. Later, after retching in the bar toilet, Cordelia gets acid thrown into her eyes by a figure shrouded in black.
  • Neighbor boy Luke (Alexander Dreymon) brings over some cookies for Nan, but before any of the witches can enjoy them, the house is besieged by the undead.

Some random thoughts.

Lily Rabe’s Misty Day was missing from this week’s episode which is a shame.
Spalding hugged the scarecrow! (It’s little things like this that make AHS so great.)
Kathy Bates had a cute moment with the trick ‘r treaters at the door. However, I fear that her character may be progressing into a modern racial sensibility too quickly. Not that I’m advocating she be more racist, I just remain unconvinced that she would change so much in such a short time.
Apparently Nan (or any of the other witches) can’t read Spalding’s mind.
The show has reached that oh-shit-everything-is-crazy-now-point that it seems to attain every season. Already there has been the minotaur (and possible minotaur bestiality-ish sexual activity) and the FrankenKyle Monster sewed together from various body parts, but now there are zombies, a weird tongueless manchild having tea parties with his dollies, and a seemingly boring husband moonlighting as a murderous madman.
I am looking forward to next week’s episode which will have more zombie action (always a plus), although these voodoo corpses don’t seem to follow the same rules as the Romero-influenced Walking Dead geeks, so it will be interesting to see how the witches fare against them.

Horror on Stage: Daegu Theatre Troupe’s Night of the Living (& Laughing) Dead

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Zombies are alive and well — er rather, undead and sickly — in mainstream popular culture right now. That fact is evident from the immense popularity of The Walking Dead, as well as the numerous zombie walks, runs, and flash mobs across the world. This saturation of the living dead became clear to me with a recent theatrical version of Night of the Living Dead performed by the Daegu Theatre Troupe in Daegu, South Korea. This is a low-budget — made more for love than for money — theatre production put on by English speaking expatriates in the Asian country. A diverse cast of expats lent an international charm to the show, as it featured actors who were Koreans, Kiwis, South Africans, North American, and from the UK. This makes you wonder where exactly this mysterious farmhouse that shelters these seven folks could be, but this version was played more for fun than the unrelenting and depressing horror of George A. Romero’s original theatrical masterpiece. Thanks to the magic of the theatre, you can be swept away from the very intimate space (seating perhaps a few dozen audience members) to a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland.
This staged version capitalized a bit more on the inherent cheesiness of dead people trying to eat the living. The actor playing Harry, in particular, had some very sarcastic lines and a deadpan delivery that made this viewer crack-up. Also funny were the special effects. While Romero used cuts of meat from a local butcher shop, here in Korea ramen was used as guts and rice was puked up in reaction to the grisly viscera of a pregnant zombie and the protruding newborn hanging from her belly. Just like in Romero’s films, here all of the zombies seemed to be real characters. One unfortunate ghoul was on a single roller skate, and the woman next to me did a great job of loudly chomping and groaning whenever one of the human characters would come nearby. That’s right, there were zombies planted in the audience, although they were difficult to differentiate from those overzealous fans who decided to get made-up in costumes before a night of Halloween partying!
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There were some changes from the 45-year-old original film. First of all, the interior setting was split between the living room and basement areas of the house. Scenes ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ were differentiated with lighting, although (unfortunately) there was no extra exposition with the characters Harry, Helen, Tom, and Judy prior to joining Ben and Barbra upstairs. A large projection screen on the far wall played TV news reports and also recapped the beginning cemetery scene with Barbra and Johnny. Obviously, there was no truck explosion, but instead characters were graphically dispatched in a feasting of ramen guts and a plastic severed arm. This happened after a cheesy moment of love and lines (and music) mimicking Armageddon more than Night of the Living Dead. But the cheese that stole the show was the denouement of Sheriff McClelland and his posse saving the day. They still accidentally shot Ben, but they retained their lighthearted charm with their Reno 911 inspired hotpants and mirrored aviator sunglasses.
I was fortunate to sit in the splatter zone, and while there were no head squibs — ubiquitous to so many zombie films — there were catheters pumping copious amounts of red liquid onto the patrons. Another surprising bit of splatter came from the molotov cocktails — waterballoons — used to ward off the horde of the living dead. Overall, it was a very fun night of zombie chills and laughs. If you ever get a chance to see some live horror theatre, then go and watch — I highly recommend it!
(The show has finished its run, but check out this sweet trailer.)
http://vimeo.com/75975727#

Tidbits of the Dead: Isolation

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The Walking Dead’s third episode, “Isolation” features a lot of screentime for two diametrically opposed characters. While it was a bit low on zombie action, I think that the huge horde that Daryl and the others encountered more than makes up for the lack of gore this week. Also, this episode did something that hasn’t been featured in quite a while, by pulling two scenes directly from the pages of the comics. Let’s run down the trials and tribulations of these characters, starting once again with my season four favorite.

  • Carol (Melissa McBride) — If the other episodes this season haven’t proved that McBride is a certifiable star of this show, then I think that “Isolation” has boldfacedly made it clear that she is. Even more than Michonne in this season, Carol has shown that she is a zombie ass-kicker. Additionally, unlike Michonne, she is balanced enough to show genuine emotion, as evident from her tenderness with the Sophia surrogate Lizzy, and her frustration over the water situation. The revelation that she is the person who killed Karen and David adds even more nuance to her character. I mentioned last week that she is reminding me a bit more of Shane, and that fact was nailed home by her admission to taking the lives of two other characters, even if they were sentenced to die from the deadly virus spreading through the prison. Unlike Shane, Carol is a bit more rational, and doesn’t suffer from anger issues. Given that she is an admitted murderess, she probably doesn’t have much time left with the group, especially if Tyreese finds out. Also, given how much contact she has had with the sick — hugging Lizzy and killing Karen and David — I wouldn’t be surprised if she also comes down with the sickness herself.

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  • Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) — He was the other character prominently featured in this episode, and he is finally starting to seem like a main character on the show. The fistfight with Rick comes straight from the comic book, and I thought that it was well executed here. Tyreese and Rick aren’t as buddy-buddy on the show as in the comic, so I’m interested to see how their relationship progresses from here, given Rick’s stronger allegiance to Carol. While I don’t expect Rick to give up that Carol is Karen’s killer, I do think that Tyreese will find out eventually, maybe around the midseason finale. “Isolation” also featured an absolutely epic zombie hammer mauling scene which echoes the comics. COMICS SPOILER: Tyreese is accidentally locked into the prison gymnasium and when the others come back to find him he has managed to kill all the walkers locked in there with a fury of hammer blows. This was thematically recreated whilst trying to escape from the car surrounded by an absolutely massive number of the undead. I have read the plans of a few armchair zombie apocalypse devotees who would intend to suit up with chainmail or some other bite-proof armor and wade into the thick of the dead wielding a chainsaw or blunt object of death. That’s a great visual, but the sad reality is that you’d more likely fall and then be trampled to death by the inhuman creatures. Either that or pass out from exhaustion before even making a dent in the mass of inhumanity. One glimpse of how Tyreese looks when he makes it back to the others, should make one see the folly attacking the dead head-on.

  • Rick (Andrew Lincoln) — What will Rick do about Carol? In season two when he had dangerous disputes with Shane, Rick tried to keep him close. Judging from the promo for next week’s episode, Rick will be taking Carol outside the prison with him in search for some medicine. Perhaps he should deal with the issue quietly and let Carol get eaten by zeds. From a character standpoint, Rick doesn’t have it in him to do that to another person, much less a valuable member of the group like Carol. Also, it is a bit hypocritical of Rick to harp on Tyreese for losing it over Karen when he broke down for weeks, if not months, after his wife died. He may still not be fully psychologically recovered from that episode — and I think that there could be another Lori cameo in the future. While it was good to see Rick do some police work, it was unconvincing how easily he came to the conclusion that Carol committed the murders. Then again, I had Sasha pegged as the culprit.

  • Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) — She will pull through the sickness, if for no other reason than Tyreese will need people on his side when it comes down to a showdown about Carol’s actions. I really did suspect that she was the killer though. When she came out of the prison she paused for a moment in front of Hershel and Glenn before having a fake-seeming coughing fit and going off to see the doctor. At first I thought it was a masterful plan for her to get quarantined and then take out the others. Instead, it was just a bit of weak acting from the actress.

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  • Hershel (Scott Wilson) — He plays doctor this episode since Caleb/Dr. S is himself sick. Perhaps there will be a changing of the guard in respect to who becomes the main caretaker of the group. Hopefully this Dr. S will get some more screentime — thus far of the new bunch, he is second to Bob the Drunken Combat Medic — and Hershel will transition into zombiehood. Maybe not though, as there have been rumors since the second season that Hershel will be killed off. The Walking Dead likes their deaths to be shocking, and I don’t think that a flu bug is that, especially since we see it coming after getting a faceful of Dr. S’s bloody spittle. Ideally, I’d like to see Hershel go out like Dale did in the comics, but that would mean him staying around until after the group moves away from the prison.

  • Glenn (Steven Yeun) — I can’t see him dying. Then again, it would be a bit more shocking since we expect him to pull through the sickness. But he’s young and there is still more to play out between him and Maggie, so I’d say that he is safe.

  • Maggie (Lauren Cohan) & Beth (Emily Kinney) & Judith (Adelaide and Eliza Cornwell) — I think that Maggie will have to deal with a death this season. Her current grief comes from both her boyfriend and dad being among the quarantined. The way that these two sisters talk, they don’t expect their father to survive. As I said before, it would be shocking if Glenn died, but I don’t think that is in the cards. Also, it would be more shocking for Hershel to stay alive at this point. That leaves Beth. It is strange to see Beth acting as the emotional rock for Maggie. That poor girl has been through a lot, but she just keeps swallowing up the pain without letting herself mourn the deaths of those close to her, saying “We don’t get to get upset.” Could doing this culminate in a disastrous break-down? She suffered through depression and attempted suicide in the second season, so there is no reason that she might not try it again, especially considering that she is psychologically worse off now (having seen more first-hand death) than on the farm. Could she harm the baby? I don’t think so — Judith’s death — if AMC has the balls to kill a baby — would happen on a midseason or season finale. If Beth doesn’t go crazy then I’m thinking that she could end up wandering outside the gates, sort of like Carol in this week’s episode. The show can only have so many times with somebody narrowly escaping death outside of the prison. Someone will finally have to eat it. That could/should be Beth.

  • Carl (Chandler Riggs) — He had a nice father-son bonding moment with Hershel, but unfortunately, he hasn’t seemed to have learned his lesson of not putting walkers down. He did that in season two and Dale ended up dying. Carl is a character walking the fine-line between being too hard and too soft, but Hershel isn’t doing him any favors. Remember, Hershel is a man who kept walkers in a barn near his house. He was clinging to the erroneous belief that they were still people and afflicted with something that could be cured. Carl is growing up and becoming a man in a different world than Hershel has known practically all of his life. The undead aren’t like wild animals, which would leave people alone if left unmolested. Zombies left alone will just have to be dealt with later on, because they are, and always will be, a relentless scourge to humanity.

  • Michonne (Danai Gurira) & Daryl (Norman Reedus) — Interchangeable badasses, black and white. Michonne keeps getting dogged about her obsessive mission to find the Governor. Everybody seems surprised that she keeps coming back instead of going off on her own. She could probably go it alone if need be, but even as emotionally closed off as she is, she must realize that it is better in a group as there is strength in numbers. Daryl is firmly entrenched as a pillar of normalcy and rationality in the prison. Just look at how he was the coolheaded one in the middle of Rick and Tyreese’s throwdown. Compare this to how hotheaded and quarrelsome he was in the first season. Nobody has had a such noble and gentlemanly character progression during the end of the world than this hillbilly bushwhacker.

  • Bob (Larry Gilliard Jr.) — Combat medics have combat experience right? He seems so uneasy in dangerous situations. That could be because he is a spy for the Governor. Or maybe he just needs a drink. I’m sure there is a lot more that Gilliard could do with the character, but thus far the creative people in charge haven’t given him much. Just let him fall off the wagon and then see what sort of mayhem ensues.

  • The Rest — Dammit The Walking Dead! You suck at showing us unnecessary extra characters. Tyreese stared down three sick people, but then later there were other different people suffering in the cells, and one had even already turned! Lizzy, one of the children, was sick and hugged Carol, but the rest of the youngins were absent. Some guy with an amputated arm was dying next to Dr. S. And there was some black woman who claimed to just have allergies. I don’t know who these people are, and the show hasn’t made me care. Hershel mentions that twelve people died in the zombie attack, as well as Karen and David who were murdered. That’s fourteen people (certainly not all from Woodbury?) who were simply meat for the grinder that is The Walking Dead. Personally, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see the rest of them go if they aren’t going to have any interesting interactions with the remainder of the group.

  • The Governor (David Morrissey) — Dammit you loveable psychopath! Where the hell are you? Could you run into the scavenging group soon?

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  • Zombie of the Week — The horde was definitely imposing and threatening as hell, but the most visually interesting zombie was the one Carl and Hershel encountered rotting away next to a tree.

Next week it appears that Rick and Carol will also be leaving the prison. I believe that means only Maggie will be left to man the prison gates. This could be the perfect time for the Governor to come sniffing back around. Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese, and Bob are all out on the road, and on the run from a huge horde of walkers. They will have to evade before going back to the prison. Perhaps Abraham(Michael Cudlitz)’s group could make the save. Anyway, the road trip episodes of this show are always a treat, and I hope that next week is no different!

American Horror Story: Coven — The Replacements

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American Horror Story has added more horror and depravity to the show’s history with an episode featuring unsavory forms of sex, coupled with its normal dose of weekly violence. “The Replacements” starts with a flashback to 1971 depicting how Fiona Goode became the ‘Supreme’ of the Coven. Some forty years ago Fiona (played by young Jessica Lange doppelganger Riley Voelkel) assumed the mantle as the most powerful witch by slitting the throat of the then ‘Supreme’ Anna-Leigh Leighton (Christine Ebersole). Director James Wong would thematically circle back to this first scene at the episode’s end when Fiona faces down would-be future ‘Supreme’ Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts). But inside this ouroboros of echoing moments across the decades, there is plenty of mischief and anguish in store of the other women of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.

Sarah Paulson’s Cordelia Foxx also shared some circular beats with her mother in this episode, as both were shown consulting doctors due to their bodies’ physical failings. Fiona is still vainly searchingfor youth, but the plastic surgeon says he cannot operate on her because her bloodwork indicates that she has cancer. Cordelia wants to have a baby, because it appears that the ritual she and Hank (Josh Hamilton) performed last episode did not induce pregnancy. In addition to her doctor, Cordelia also visits Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) at her hairshop (Cornrows City) fronted voodoo emporium. The priestess humors Cordelia for a while describing her fertility spell (a dizzying dance involving 2 ounces of ‘baby gravy’ thrown into a fire, the ingestion of a special hotter-than-Hades pepper, and a sacrificial goat’s blood being poured over the desired mother-to-be). Cordelia is prepared to rob a bank for the proffered sum of $50,000, but Laveau laughs her off, saying that she wouldn’t perform the spell for even double that price. Cordelia was born into the wrong tribe, Laveau says, and Fiona is her sworn-enemy.

Fiona though, for all her grudge-holding and murderous deeds, is a liberal woman of the 21st century who rallies against the antiquated racism of Madam Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) and the priggishness of new neighbor Joan Ramsey (Patti LaPone). Bates gave her character a moment of levity as she melodramatically bemoaned Barack Obama’s presidency. Fiona gave her a quick education on how far blacks have come since LaLaurie’s time in the early 19th century, and Fiona heaps more insults on the high society woman by forcing LaLaurie to wear a maid’s uniform as her disguise while staying at the school. When LaLaurie gets uppity about serving African American Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), Fiona again puts the madam in her place and condemns her to be Queenie’s personal slave.

Bible-thumping Joan Ramsey enters the story when she is visited by Nan (Jamie Brewer) and Madison who had been gawking at Ramsey’s shirtless son Luke as they were moving into the estate next door. Nan brings over a homemade yellow cake with butter frosting, knowing (clairvoyantly) that Luke would be unable to resist. The scantily-clad Madison is peeved when Luke rebuffs her overly forward flirtations, and then insults the Ramseys’ beliefs. The cake knife goes flying across the room, Joan demands that the witches leave; they do, but not before Madison lights the drapes afire. Later Joan confronts Fiona about what happened, and while the ‘Supreme’ verbally spars with the Christian woman, she is more concerned about Madison’s newly discovered firestarting abilities.

Fiona seemingly takes Madison under her wing, having her demonstrate her mastery over the flame, as well as teaching her some of the classic Jedi mind trick magic by coercing an unsuspecting pedestrian into traffic. They even go bar-hopping together where, if they were capitalistic witches, they’d use their powers as pool sharks. That’s not shown, but what is hinted at is Fiona’s growing resentment towards Madison as she is the one getting all the ogling stares of drunken barflies. When they return home for the night, Fiona waxes poetically about the history of various Supremes telling Madison that she will one day have her portrait up on the walls as well. Fiona confides that she is getting weaker and slowly dying, as she explains that it is the typical process of the new Supreme absorbing the powers of the old. She gives Madison the very same knife used to murder previous Supreme Leighton, but Madison is reluctant to deliver the killing blow to Fiona. A struggle over the knife ensues, and it is Madison her ends up on the ground in a pool of blood. Fiona triumphantly says, “this coven doesn’t need a new Supreme, it needs a new rug,” and tells the tongueless butler, Spalding (Denis O’Hare), who no-doubt lost that organ after witnessing Fiona’s previous murder, to clean up the mess, and “bury her deep.”

While all of this murder and mayhem is part of the main storyline of this week’s episode, all of the sexual depravity is relegated to the secondary story concerning Zoe and the FrankenKyle Monster, as well as an incident with Queenie and the angry minotaur.

The latter incident first: while Queenie and LaLaurie are alone at night, they hear some strange banging on the door and a shadowy figure outside. LaLaurie is rightfully fearful when she realizes that it is her enchanted houseboy-turned-Minotaur, back for revenge. Queenie says that she will handle things, and goes out after the beast with a rag soaked with LaLaurie’s blood. This entices the bull-headed man to follow her into Cordelia’s greenhouse. Queenie tries to connect with the minotaur claiming that they are both misunderstood and only want love. She lowers her hands down to her sides in what initially comes off as a bit of hocus pocus, but then she hikes up her dress and starts fingering herself. “Don’t you want to love me?” she asks. The beast stalks behind her, and then seems to mount her with one hooved-hand on her shoulder, before another normal hand clasps over her mouth. The shot cuts away before there is any definite depiction of bestiality — if indeed bestiality is what happens when one gets fucked by minotaur. Perhaps Queenie was killed, but she was more-likely kidnapped by the minotaur and other members of the voodoo sect.

American Horror Story may be too timid to show a depiction of potential bestiality on our TV screens, but it does not shy away from a portrayed depiction of incest. Zoe is still distraught about the state that Kyle is in. Although loner witch Misty Day (Lily Rabe) has managed to work her magic and heal most of his wounds, Kyle is still mentally more monster than man. Zoe thinks that it will help if she takes him back to his mother Alicia Spencer (Mare Winningham). Mrs. Spencer had been distraught over the loss of her son, smoking his marijuana stash and contemplating suicide. Of course, this is because Mrs. Spencer has not just lost a son, but a lover. Zoe drops Kyle off on his mother’s doorstep, and later, after barging in on him in the shower, she realizes that he is not the same person that was her son. Mrs. Spencer confirms this when she joins Kyle in bed in a tender motherly moment turned cringe-worthy under the sheets sexual escapade. As a woman who had known every contour of her son’s body, she knows that this creature, though possessing Kyle’s head, is not the same boy she had carnally known before. Her chastising about keeping Zoe a secret, as well as her continued advances reaches a breaking point and the KyleStein Creature beats in his mother’s skull.

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Well, there has been plenty of murderous mayhem and salacious sex in this third episode of American Horror Story: Coven. Next week seems to be the start of a showdown between the coven and the voodoo sect. I can’t wait, but before then, here are some random thoughts:

  • This is a school that has lost 50% of its enrollment, but I’m not sure that is too big of a concern considering everything else that has been going on. Plus, what the hell are the pupils learning anyway? Cordelia and Fiona are more concerned about their own problems, while Nan only reads all day, Queenie is stuck in the kitchen, and Madison and Zoe have man problems.

  • In this episode we learned why Spalding lost his tongue, but that bit wasn’t depicted on-screen as AHS had filled up its graphic violence quota with this shot of the dead Mrs. Spencer.

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  • We learned that it is relatively easy to kill a witch. All you have to do is slit their throat. Maybe you have to be a witch yourself to do that though, or maybe it is only so easy for a ‘Supreme’ like Fiona. Still, in measuring up the coven (youth-obsessed Fiona, baby-obsessed Cordelia, and Kyle-obsessed Zoe) against immortal Laveau’s voodoo sect, I’d give the definite advantage to the Cornrow City folk.

  • I laughed when Cordelia told her doctor that Hank was off on a consultation about a construction job. Having such an insignificant husband just makes Cordelia all the more insignificant herself.

  • When Misty Day was mounted on Kyle in the bed, with Zoe right there next to them, I played at a scene in my head where they had a weird three-way relationship, akin to Evan Peters’s two wives in last season’s Asylum. If any two witches were suited for polygamy, it would be Zoe, who’d kill the man, and Misty, who’d bring him right back. It turns out that more revolting sexual activity was in store instead.

  • Perhaps having sex with a minotaur wouldn’t be bestiality, but the whole situation brings to mind a Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live sketch mentioning centaur pornography But you’ve got to remember that, at some point, there’s gonna be a horse penis in there.

  • A friend of mine told me that he thought the dialogue in episode one “Bitchcraft” was laughable, especially concerning Kathy Bates’s speech said ancient Greek minotaur. While I’ll admit that this show does turn toward campiness, I thought that the writing in this episode was great. Bates, Bassett, and especially Lange are superb actresses, but their work is all the better when given lines like Fiona’s “I’ve lived a disreputable life, but I’ve done it in style, and I’ll die likewise.”

Tidbits of the Dead: Infected

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The Walking Dead returned this week with what I thought was a solid episode titled “Infected” and which really should have been titled “Attack D Block.” Although solid, it was not quite as good as the one from last week. It is understandable that the show would lead off with a higher caliber and then let the reigns out a bit before tightening things back up for the midseason finale. That being said, I was not disappointed by the zombies or (the majority) of the characters in this episode. I’ll run down those momentarily, but first a gripe: why in the bloody blue hell are there so many random red-shirts running around this prison? Last week, I mentioned that this bothered me. And it bothered me even more tonight. I can’t very well feel vested in the entire group when I don’t know who is in the entire group. They are just cannon-fodder. Although the gore and zombie munching was good, it remained essentially tensionless for me, as I never once felt that a main cast character would bite the bullet. However, in getting some extraneous characters out of the way, it will allow some of the other newly introduced characters to develop.

Let’s run them down.

  • Carol — She was my first mentioned last week, and I think she was the MVP of the show once again. While Rick keeps wallowing by trying to hold onto the past and be a ‘decent’ father, Carol has assumed the important role of protector and educator of the children. I really liked her interactions with Sophia replacements Lizzy & Micha. Carol is now a much more hardened and the way she acts with these girls is different now than she ever acted with her own daughter. She doesn’t coddle them, yet she also doesn’t come off as too cold to them. She playing the character with just the right amount of tenderness and firmness in my opinion. However, I didn’t like how she wanted Carl to kowtow to Rick about the weapons and children issue. Carol is embracing her inner Shane, and needing validation from the group’s ‘unofficial’ leader seems to echo back to her overbearing relationship with her deceased husband Ed. Something I’d look forward to seeing later in this season is an interaction between her and the woman who lost her child in this episode. Or, knowing AMC, they may just cut the latter out completely like the Governor’s 1st girlfriend last season.

  • Michonne — While Carol is hardening, we finally got a chance to see a softer side of Michonne! She almost ate it (or rather got eaten) after trying to return to the prison, when two walkers pounced on her, and sprained her ankle. It’s good to see that even the most badass characters are not invincible, but what really let Michonne shine was the interaction with sick baby Judith. There is so much that the viewers don’t know about this katana-wielding woman, which means more room for character development. Beyond her hatred for the Governor and her penchant for keeping armless zombies as companions, Michonne is an enigma. Perhaps a relationship later in the season . . .?

  • Darryl — He continues to be Action Jackson. Rick’s right-hand man was there to help clear the infestation in D block, then to bury the bodies, and then to drive Rick into the field when the zombies were pushing over the outer fences. While last week Darryl showed some sentimentality with Zack’s death, this week he was all work and incredibly focused on what needed to get done. His entire ethos can be summed up in this short interaction between him and Carol:

Carol: You okay?

Darryl: Uh-huh. Gotta be.

  • Rick — Man, this guy was on the verge of becoming the new Lori or Andrea. I was seething at him for part of this episode. YOU’RE LIVING IN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE AND YOU’RE A FORMER COP! WHY GIVE UP YOUR WEAPONS? Fortunately Rick has learned the error of his ways. Even inside a fortified prison, there is the need to carry constant protection against the creeping spectre of death. Rick thought fast to pull the walkers away from the fence, but I wonder if they would have followed after him and Darryl without the enticement of pork snacks. Still, if the pigs were infected, then I guess they gotta go one way or another.

  • The Grimes Children — Speaking of infected, It seems like Judith has caught the bug. I laughed when Carl ran up and hugged his dad, only for Rick to send him back towards the others. Don’t they know how disease vectors work?

  • Dr. S — Well new doctor dude, what about disease disease vectors? Probably they are all already infected, since Carl and the other kids were close with Patrick the previous day. And anyway, Rick and Carl were both around the pigs and the baby, so they’d probably been exposed to whatever virus is wreaking havoc on the prison population. We didn’t get much of this new Dr. S in the episode, but along with Bob the Alcoholic Combat Medic, the group should be well off for medical emergencies.

  • The Greene Family — Watch out Hershel! Adults age 65 years and older are more susceptible to the flu than those younger. Beth is probably safe, even though she’s been in such close contact with the baby. Maggie is safe since she sleeps in the guard tower with Glenn. I have my doubts on Hershel making it through this season, but dying from the flu would be a cruel fate after being spared from a zombie bite.

  • Tyreese & Sasha — poor Tyreese was just about to close the deal when his new lady-friend went and died. Not only that, but she was murdered! Who immolated her and the other sick guy? Sasha? Mayhaps . . . she helped clear out the cellblock, but otherwise was conspicuously absent later in the episode. I gotta say though that Tyreese probably won’t last very long if he just goes plunging into darkened hallways with only a bouquet of flowers to defend himself. Geez, I mean I understand that these folks are living in a state of normalized violence, but who just follows after a blood trail without exercising a bit of caution?

  • The Newbies — Bob was in a background shot, but really didn’t have much to do in this episode. You’d think that he would have been tending to the wounded rather than Carol, seeing as how he’s a combat medic. Goodbye bearded bald guy bit on the neck. We hardly knew you, but your death will give a bit more prominence to your daughters Lizzy and Micha. I’m interested to see where the story takes these girls. Two possibilities are based on comicbook characters absent from the TV series: 1. they represent Hershel’s twin daughters Rachel and Susie and will have an ending similar to theirs or 2. they represent the twin boys Ben and Billy and will have an ending similar to theirs. Either way would make for compelling television violence. Odds are though that they go some entirely different way. Perhaps there has been enough child killing for one season — goodbye dead nameless girl wrapped in a sheet! Hello newly grieving mother — stay a while and develop please! Goodbye sick shower boy Patrick and the guy whose neck and guts he ate! Goodbye Tyreese’s cute almost girlfriend and that other crispy, smoldering guy. Goodbye sleepwalking-locked-in-your-cell-for-your-own-good-Charlie, whoever the hell you were . . .

  • Governor — we know you’re out there somewhere. Maybe one of your people is on the inside feeding rats to the walkers. If so, you’re really in it for the long haul against Rick and company. If that is the case, then I bet Bob is the inside guy. On the other hand The Walking Dead could go all Friday the 13th on us viewers and just introduce some new crazy guy we haven’t met yet as the rat wrangler.

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Zombie of the Week — I really liked that zombie getting his face squeezed through the chainlink fence, but my favorite walker was the one spilling his guts all over the floor in a clear homage to Day of the Dead. Great work Greg Nicotero!

That’s it for this week folks. Until next week, here are some questions to ponder: who is feeding the dead at the gate? Who killed and burned the bodies of the quarantined? And, most pressingly, when will the latest model Hyundai SUV make an appearance on the show?

How “The Tell-Tale Heart” Ticks

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Although the graphic sights and sounds of the horror movies glisten more vibrantly than the written word, the Halloween season is a great time to revisit horror fiction. One of my perennial favorites to read this time of the year is Edgar Allan Poe, whom no genre fan is a stranger towards. Poe was not just a superb storyteller in the realm of horror, but his work stands as that of a master craftsman in the (relatively new for his time) art of the short story. Just as movies have tighter narratives and less lag than a serialized, weekly TV programs (see The Walking Dead’s second season), so too is a short story is able to vividly portray a terrorific jolt while remaining in the confines of a few pages. This shorter form constricts the writer to a more economical with his words than a novelist. But, while it meant that Poe’s stories would be stripped any superfluous language, the essential details would remain clear and a singular chilling moment would be distilled to haunt the reader’s imagination.

A perfect example Poe’s craftsmanship and economy of language is “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which at a mere 2000 thousand odd words, is short and to the point. Now, while the tale’s brevity may make it more appealing to modern readers, what makes this an effective horror story that has stood the test of time is Poe’s pacing and use of repetition in his writing. Although some of Poe’s other stories, such as “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Black Cat,” would also feature murderous narrators retelling their evil deeds, it is my opinion that “The Tell-Tale Heart” establishes this maniacal fiend not only the best in Poe’s body of work, but probably in the entire canon of dark fiction.

Before diving into what makes “The Tell-Tale Heart” tick, have a look at the story’s opening paragraph:

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

Again, the two key elements that make this story so effective — pacing and repetition — are both present from the opening lines. From the onset — from the very first word — the pacing is quick. This narrator’s mind and heart is racing, and the reader speeds along with him, not only because of the words that Poe chooses — “nervous/dreadfully/disease/sharpened” — but also because of the internal rhythm of the sentences he constructs. Each word is a short explosion — a hammering — punctuated only by the next. This is not some Lovecraftian lugubrious and slowly unfolding story, this is Edgar Allan Poe at his most frenetic and fanatical. Consider how the exclamation point after the first word bursts forth from the page. Consider how the next word — nervous — is not recited simply as a matter of fact, but as a condition of being. No one calmly says that they feel nervous, no, this word bounces off the page as an actor, or a murder would actually speak it. There is a stuttering in this text, but it further serves to quicken the pace. Read the next word — very — and there is a comma afterwards telling you to stop, to slow down, but that is all too much as you are already sucked in. The words move more quickly now, pausing only momentarily at the semicolon, and then racing off to the question mark, where, despite the narrator’s pleas to be considered mentally sound, the reader has likely already reached the sobering realization that he is unreliable, if not altogether off his rocker. The second sentence continues this frantic pace, all while reaffirming to the reader that this man, claiming to have been imbued with superhuman hearing following an act of murder, is certifiably insane.

It isn’t just punctuation or word order that contributes to the quickened pace, but also the very words themselves. All of them are short. In this opening paragraph there is not a single word longer than three syllables. Neither the narrator’s, nor the reader’s heart is at rest, and neither can simply plod through the text. These are hearts under stress, and although the shorter syllabic structure makes the reading more rhythmic, it also serves to speed things up. The narrator’s palpitations are palpable to the reader because of Poe’s control over the pacing of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Naturally, Poe pulls back as he eases into the rest of the story, but it is interesting to note how he starts this tale with the same heart-pounding pace as the horrific reveal at the finish.

As with pacing, repetition is something that Poe could could use very, very effectively — see “The Raven,” and especially, “The Bells.” In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the first sentence contains repetition of the words ‘very’ and ‘nervous.’ Our dear narrator isn’t just nervous — he isn’t even just very nervous — he is nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous. Poe’s repetition isn’t confined to just repeating words, as starting from the second line Poe uses a repeating sentence construction: not destroyed –not dulled and continues on with repetitious sentences: I heard all things … I heard many things. What does this repetition serve? It ties the reader closer to the subject matter as we are compelled to feel as the narrator feels. We are hearing the same thing, in our head, over and over again, just as the narrator is hearing, over and over again, incessantly, maddeningly, that beating of the dead man’s heart.

Poe’s language heightens the reader’s sense of awareness as one falls in line with the narrator’s speech pattern. This is deliberate, to make your heart speed up and to make you short of breath with the heavy H sounds in the last few lines of the opening. Speak them out loud yourself. These are heavy, breathy sounds — hearken, how healthily, whole story — and they serve to slow the pace as the narrator, and you the reader catch your breath from the fantastic opening of the story.

And what a story it is! “The Tell-Tale Heart” is as archetypal and influential as any other in the genre of horror. This horrific Halloween holiday season, I would urge you to get back the roots of horror and rediscover one of the monumental pillars of the genre (and all of fiction). Go and pull your Poe off of your bookshelf (any self-respecting horror fan ought to own a tome!) and revisit “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Or you can read a copy of it online here.

Finally, check out this wonderful animated version of the story narrated by James Mason. His rendition of the madman is strikingly similar to the one in my head! Be warned though, that even though it is excellently rendered and recited, this story is slightly abridged from Poe’s original masterpiece.

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American Horror Story: Coven — Boy Parts

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American Horror Story: Coven‘s second entry, “Boy Parts,” has assuaged any fears of losing actors Lily Rabe or Evan Peters, while raising deeper concerns about the magical laws of this narrative universe. The opening sequence of the episode brings back Rabe, as Misty Day, previously burned at the stake, but now alive and well, and wandering around the Louisiana bayou. She encounters two alligator poachers, who react threateningly to her intrusion on their camp. But these rough and ready pistol-toting swamp men are no match for Misty. She uses her power of necromancy to revive several strung up gator corpses that haven’t taken too kindly to being baited and brained by the hunters. In the end, the hunters don’t take too kindly to being munched on by alligators either.


Later in the episode, Evan Peters’s frat boy character Kyle is also returned to life as a Frankenstein Monster-esque shade of his former self. Zoe and Madison break into the morgue, and with parchment scroll in hand, perform a resurrection ceremony over the cobbled together Kyle stitched from the corpses of his fraternity brothers. While he remains docile towards Zoe, the Kyle Monster displays anger and malice when beating down the morgue security guard.


These two scenes are weird and disturbingly interesting, but they illustrate a problem that AHS has about free-wheeling the line between life and death. Murder House had deceased characters who returned as ghosts without any limitation to what they could do in the physical world. Then in Asylum, characters presumed dead (by other characters as well as the viewers) would return in later episodes, without much of a reason beyond aliens did it (or maybe demons, I’m still uncertain).


This trend of the fuzzy finality of death borders on camp, but there are other things (good acting and great editing) that keep American Horror Story on the right side of the dividing line between A-list TV and B-list genre films. However, it still seems a bit bothersome that resurrection is portrayed as such an easy accomplishment. Zoe and Madison sew together some rotting limbs, inhale a special smoke, recite some Latin, and then a few minutes later Kyle sits up from the mortuary table. Misty Day is even more powerful in that she can revive dead things with a mere nod of the head. One imagines that Jessica Lange, as the ‘Supreme,’ Fiona Goode, can manage to bring the dead back to life, since she has been established as the coven’s most powerful witch. And that’s without even mentioning the coven-opposing voodoo sect that theoretically (as voodoo practitioners) has control over the dead, and demonstrably holds the power of immortality.


While Kathy Bates’s Madam LaLaurie character is vexed by wanting to die, but being unable to, I fear that the cheapness of life and death will stretch the believability later on in the season. The emotional impact of the death of a main character, like Lange’s or Angela Bassett’s, would be lost since the viewer knows that these characters can easily be brought back to life. If being shot in the head (the alligators), burned at the stake (Misty Day), and drawn & quartered (Kyle), is reversible, then what method of death is absolutely and irrevocably final?


Yes, I realize how silly it seems to put so much thought into the fictional powers of a television show that features a minotaur. But AHS: Coven is making these characters out to be more like demigods than witches.


There were some other interesting and confusing aspects of the episode, and that includes Queenie’s origin story. She was recruited by Cordelia after an altercation at her fried chicken restaurant. After a spat with a disgruntled customer, Queenie plunged her arm into the fryer and used her human voodoo doll power to transfer the pain and damage to the other’s arm. There are two things that I wonder about Queenie.


One: will she feel a greater affinity towards the voodoo practitioners rather than the members of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies? My reasoning for this isn’t simply because she is black, but stems from the fact that Queenie has an antagonistic relationship with Madison. Additionally, she can’t feel too comfortable about staying under them same roof as the unapologetically racist Madam LaLaurie, especially after being struck by her with a candlestick.


Two: despite the fact that the show has demonstrated that Queenie doesn’t feel pain when she uses her power, it is less consistent with showing the damage that is or isn’t done to her. While in this episode the boiling hot oil did nothing to her arm, in the previous episode she was shown to have a fork wound after stabbing herself in the arm. This ambiguity and ill-defined nature of the witch’s powers is a bit confusing, and leaves me questioning, why did a blow from a candlestick knock her out? Why didn’t LaLaurie feel that pain in the back of her skull instead? Does Queenie’s ability only work if the damage is self-inflicted?


Strangely enough, an instance of witch magic that I didn’t have a question about was Fiona’s forced amnesia of the two police detectives. Zoe cracks under pressure while being questioned by the officers about her and Madison’s involvement in the bus crash and hospital incidents of the previous episode. While she confesses and then gushes hysterically about them all being witches, Fiona calmly pours out two glasses of water, spits in them, and makes the officers drink the memory-erasing concoction. That the Supreme should have this sort of power over mere mortals is tempered by one officer resisting, but ultimately giving in to Fiona’s commands. Her use of Jedi mind-tricks is contrasted with her daughter’s reluctance to use magic any time it suits her needs.


Cordelia, the bland ‘good’ witch of the coven wants to have a baby. Unlike her mother, she first tries the natural alternative of visiting a doctor with her (husband? boyfriend?) Hank. His introduction into the show seems a bit odd, as he seems to be just a normal dude – a regular Darrin Stephens – somehow married (or attached) to the headmistress of a school for witches. There should be an interesting, but-as-of-yet unexplained and unexplored reason why Cordelia and Hank are together. While I had initially hoped that Sarah Paulson’s character would primarily face off with Jessica Lange’s, it seems that the show will focus on Cordelia’s desire to become a mother (versus her derision about that same issue last season). Anyway, Cordelia relents to Hank’s wish to magically conceive a baby and there is a steamy love scene inside a circle of fire and exploding snake eggs. It was moody and strange, but again, with the way this was edited together, it was on the correct side of camp.


I’m guessing that the baby will come sooner than nine months from now, but how will the baby be? Would it necessarily be magical? AHS has stated that witchcraft is (usually) genetic, but I assume that a baby conceived by magical means would have an even greater propensity towards magic. Just like last season, I bet we are going to be treated to a child that quickly gestates, pops out, and starts maturing. And also acts weirdly. Unlike Judith in The Walking Dead (whom the producers should wisely keep as a mostly off-screen infant for as long as possible) AHS’s witch baby will probably play a bigger role in the overall narrative.


So, where does the show go from here? I think that the biggest enigma this season will be Kathy Bates’s Madam LaLaurie. When Nan freed LaLaurie, I thought she’d go about witch-hunting, but it appears that she is reluctantly on the side of Fiona and the coven stemming from the grudge between her and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). Laveau has cursed the madam to suffer a fate worse than death. First she killed LaLaurie’s husband (whom she wasn’t upset about, as she confesses she was plotting to murder him) and daughters (but these girls, even the ugly one, strike a little closer to LaLaurie’s heart). Then, instead of killing LaLaurie, Laveau has her imprisoned and buried alive, saying that she wants LaLaurie stuck underground for the rest of eternity while the world passes by without her. This is diabolic torture that rivals the worst body modification experiments of the madam. One can only imagine the hatred she holds in her heart, to be stuck in a casket for 180 years, with only the thought of your hanged daughters to keep you company. Then again, one can only imagine one’s husband being turned into a minotaur, as Laveau has had happen to her. Although it seems that LaLaurie has no power of her own (besides immortality), she has kept mentally well enough for a woman who has endured the longest solitary confinement ever. It’s a credit to the LaLaurie’s tenacity that she still has her sanity, if indeed she ever actually was sane. In “Boy Parts” Bates plays the character despondent about waking up into a world has changed and no longer holds a station for a woman such as her. However, I look forward to this despondency changing into anger and violence as LaLaurie seeks her revenge against Laveau. She may even have a change of heart about the sweet release of death that Fiona has promised in exchange for the secret of immortality. And even if she does go forward into the darkness of death, who’s to say that Laveau couldn’t simply bring her back and continue the physical and psychological torture? These bitch witches be holding grudges that not even centuries can dissolve!