American Horror Story Coven episode 4 review: Fearful Pranks Ensue

American Horror Story finds a way to get even more crazy and stylish, if that's possible. Here's Ron's review of Fearful Pranks Ensue...

This review contains spoilers.

3.4 Fearful Pranks Ensue

One of the most amazing things about American Horror Story is the way the show understands the horror genre. Every little subgenre seems to be right in the wheelhouse of the show’s creative crew, and it’s staggering to see how well they execute pretty much everything they set out to do on the scary side of entertainment. We’ve seen the show take on more or less everything from serial killers, aliens, Nazis, demonic possession, ghosts, school shootings, basement monster babies, creepy twins, witches, FrankenKyle, and of course, Dylan McDermott tear-jerking. 

One of the few horror genres we haven’t really seen the show take on is zombies. (They also haven’t done vampires, and I’m holding on hope that next season Evan Peters will play some sort of sexy mummy while Denis O’Hare plays a wisecracking werewolf.) That lack of zombies comes to an end this week, as Fearful Pranks Ensue opens with an early display of awesome zombie action and gore so brutal that The Walking Dead is jealous—it looked like a nod to Day of the Dead‘s climactic “I hope you choke” scene—and closes with a brilliant scene of zombies menacing Madame Robichaux’s in a shot that reminded me a whole lot of the homecoming dance scene in Night of the Creeps

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The incredible visual style of American Horror Story goes well beyond the level of pastiche. The show picks good bits from the genres being mined in every episode, but beyond that, cinematographer Michael Goi and director Michael Uppendahl worked together to create some really haunting visuals this week. The voodoo rituals are consistently awesome to behold, and the show’s cold opening, with the little boy on the bicycle, was brilliantly shot and edited. Lots of Dutch angle, some great shot framing, a few really cool camera sweeps, and an impressive command of pace really help to keep things lively throughout this episode. Things seemed to just speed by, yet when the show wanted to slow down to linger on uncomfortable details, like everything Denis O’Hare’s Spalding did this episode, or the many conflicts between Fiona and the Council, it created some real twitchy tension. 

Due credit for that tension goes to writer Jennifer Salt, who really topped her previous work on the show by deciding to throw just about everything possible into a single hour. Every plot gets touched on, we get an origin story, there’s plenty of intrigue and argument, Frances Conroy gets some staggeringly fun things to say and do in her role as Myrtle Snow, there are multiple flashbacks, there’s a trademark American Horror Story crazy sex scene, and Delphine gets to hand out Halloween candy and say some incredible things. It’s kind of a perfect storm, and the sort of big, full script that Jennifer Salt seems to do every time she steps up to the plate for American Horror Story (and that’s not a complaint, but praise, because she covered miles of ground in a really short time).

I’m not sure what it is about the Delphine character that works so well, but between Kathy Bates and Salt, this character steals every scene she’s in this week; they have a great grasp on how to keep the character sounding her age, without resorting to blatant racism or marvelling dumbly about modern technology. Bates remains a highlight in her role, but Frances Conroy gives her a real run for her money with some brilliant line readings tonight. Conroy and Jessica Lange are magic together during their scenes, and the scene of the Council interviewing everyone in the household in one fell swoop, with inter-cutting answers from Fiona, Cordelia, Queenie, Nan, and Zoe to the various questions, was a thing of beauty in terms of execution and creativity.

Even with all the ground covered this week, Fearful Pranks Ensue does a great job of setting up for next week’s episode. That’s the best thing about this series. Rather than making you wait all season to see what happens with the zombies, you can be sure that American Horror Story will wrap the story up next week (or the week after next). Rather than dragging things out, we get a set-up and a payoff, a new set-up and a new payoff, with consistent energy and a fearless desire to top itself with every new scenario added to the central setting.

It seems there’s nothing that American Horror Story won’t do to entertain, and no matter how crazy the show gets, it always seems to find a way to get crazier, or at least have as many crazy things happening in one hour than most shows have in a whole season. Long live the crazy.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Replacements, here.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan is practically overdosing on awesome horror television this year. Two great shows, both featuring awesome zombie action. What more could you want? Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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