American Horror Story: Coven, Ep. 1; Grand Guignol, High Camp and the Spectacle of Black Suffering

I loved American Horror Story: Asylum. It was an excessive mess of Grand Guignol horror and over the top campyness. The new season, subtitled Coven, debuted last night. True to form,It was luridly disturbing. Race and rape and gendered tropes abounded; it is unclear whether the story is subversive or not. Catfights, and scenery-chewing competed with some really dark material. I had more than a touch of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome watching the Madame LaLaurie sequence, where the black male body was tortured. Nightmare fuel =  the grindhouse horror of seeing flayed, punctured and surgically modified black flesh. Slave torture combined with high camp gave this opening gambit some serious mood whiplash. I hope that the story does give the enslaved a voice. At its best, horror can be cathartic. I hope that the subversive elements comes in soon. Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau and the rest of the excellent cast is not enough to erase the bitter afterimages of black suffering.


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