As part of my February Women in Horror series, today I am featuring the fabulous actresses of American Horror Story. The most famous of these are perhaps Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange.
These three ladies did not begin, nor spend their acting careers exclusively in Horror. All three had Oscar-nominated silver screen performances in a variety of genres before they came together on the bizarre cast of AHS. Yet they make the small screen sizzle in their frightful performances. The characters they have played range from carnival freaks to asylum inmates to psychopathic killers. And of course, witches!
No season of AHS showcases women as well as Season Three: Coven.
It all begins at Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans. The resident students are modern day descendants of those who escaped Salem hundreds of years before. Current coven members include the clueless Zoe (Taiessa Farmiga) who recently discovered her dark powers cause brain hemorrhages. Zoe will uncover more talents slowly and find she can operate a chain saw well.
Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) is a descendant of Tituba. Queenie, like a human voodoo doll, has an ability to inflict pain upon others while doing herself harm which she does not feel.
Nan (Jamie Brewer) is an autistic clairvoyant who will read your every thought.
Madison (Emma Roberts) is a spoiled actress who has seen the seamier side of life. (Madison has more rough times ahead including death and resurrection. Stay tuned.)
The girls are under the care of Ms. Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulsen) owner and operator of the Academy. Cordelia will be given a very interesting “sight”…
At the academy, the girls are to learn the fine arts of sorcery and magick that will help them lead their coven into the future.
The only problem is, the academy is falling apart. Cordelia’s leadership is weak. She has always lived in the shadow of her estranged mother Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) who happens to be the Supreme Witch – the powerful queen who is able to perform the Seven Wonders.
To make matters worse, back in the bayou, a swamp witch named Misty Day (Lily Rabe) has been burned at the stake. Luckily for Misty, she is a necromancer and is able to revive herself from death.
Fiona, worried about the new persecution, heads back the academy to take matters in her own hands. A few field trips are in order for the trainees.
But it won’t be easy.
Dark and evil happenings have long occurred in New Orleans. Back in the 1800’s Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) became so sadistic toward her slaves and family members that voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) decided to bury her alive! Madame LaLaurie has been living in a casket for three hundred years.
The aging Fiona, obsessed by the notion of youth and eternal life, frees Madame LaLaurie from her coffin in hopes of discovering some longevity secrets. She also makes her way into the 9th ward where the ageless Marie LaVeau has operated the same beauty shop for some three hundred years.
Her secret? Marie has made a deal with voodoo god Papa Legba. And his terms didn’t come cheap. But Marie won’t be revealing her secrets to Fiona any time soon; the voodoo priestess has been engaged in a power war with the witches for centuries.
Excitement ensues as Fiona’s powers dwindle, while she realizes that one of the young prodigies is destined to be the next Supreme. But who?
Watch the series to find out!
Fiction and Truth: Madame LaLaurie
The truth behind some of the characters of Coven is as gory as the series itself. Take, for example, Madame LaLaurie.
The real Madame Delphine LaLaurie (1787 – 1849) was a Creole socialite who spent her time hobnobbing with the upper echelon of fashionable New Orleans.
Madame LaLaurie, a three time widow, apparently kept a respected place in society until April 10, 1834, when a fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence. Police and fire marshals arrived. There in the raging flames they found Madame LaLaurie’s cook, a seventy-year-old woman, chained to the stove by her ankle. The cook later said she herself had set the fire as a suicide attempt, as living under the confines of Madame LaLaurie had become intolerable and she was afraid she might be “punished” by being sent to the “upper chamber”. Slaves taken to this chamber never came back.
Bystanders responding to the fire attempted to enter the upper chamber to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. Upon being refused the keys by Delphine, they broke down the doors.
As you may have suspected, the “upper chamber” was a real life chamber of horrors.
According to the New Orleans Bee, they found “seven slaves, horribly mutilated … suspended by the neck, with their limbs stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.”
The slaves had been imprisoned in the chamber for several months. They were “emaciated, and showed signs of having been flogged with a whip, bound in restrictive postures, and wore spiked iron collars which kept their heads in static positions.”
When the discovery of the abused slaves became widely known, the good people of New Orleans came to attack the LaLaurie residence. According to the newspaper, this angry mob “demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands”. The sheriff intervened, but by the time the destruction was complete, “scarcely any thing remained but the walls.”
The real, restored LaLaurie Mansion can still be found on Royal Street in the French Quarter.
The real Delphine LaLaurie then reportedly high tailed it to the docks where she jumped a boat for France and was never heard from again,
In American Horror Story, Delphine does not get off so easy. Suffice it to say, she will pay for her crimes in unusual ways…
Once exhumed from her coffin, Fiona brings Delphine back to the house and decides it might be fun to make her serve as the slave of Queenie. When Marie Laveau gets involved, there is further hell to pay.
You can’t blame Marie for being angry. Among Delphine’s many crimes, perhaps the worst was when she took her houseboy Bastien – who happened to be Marie’s lover – and changed him into a real life minotaur by attaching a bull’s head to his body.
The real Marie Laveau (1801– 1881) was a highly respected Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo. Her practice included rootwork, conjuring, Native American and African spiritualism, mystic Catholicism and what is known today as “New Orleans Voodoo.”
Marie Catherine Laveau was born as a free woman of color in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Her mother, Marguerite Henry, also a free woman of color, was of Native American, African and French descent. Her father, Charles Laveau Trudeau, was a white surveyor & politician who served on the New Orleans City Council and also as an interim mayor.
On August 4, 1819, Marie married Jacques Paris, a French immigrant who had fled the Haitian Revolution in the former French territory Saint-Domingue. Their marriage certificate is preserved in the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The wedding mass was performed by Father Antonio de Sedella. They had two daughters, Felicite in 1817 and Angele in 1820. Jacques died in 1820.
Marie then entered a domestic partnership with Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion, (a white man of French descent) with whom she lived until his death in 1855. They had 7 children according to birth and baptismal records. Apparently, two of her daughters were also named Marie — and had striking resemblances to their mother. The daughters also practiced voodoo, and may have been confused with their mother. This lead to the belief that Marie could be “in two places at one time” and also had abnormal longevity — as her daughters were seen about town after her death and may have been confused with Marie Sr.
Or were they? Many superstitions are still associated with Marie’s grave. Some folk believe she still walks the earth, and have been known to petition her for favors.
Marie is, of course, most famous for her magick. Rumors state she had a pet snake, Zombi, named after an African god. She was also a devout Catholic. Her practice mixed invocations of Roman Catholic saints with African spirits. She was known to cure mysterious ailments. She could exact revenge when justice was needed.
The real Marie Laveau did indeed own a beauty parlor. She was a hair-dresser for wealthy New Orleans women. It is said she had a network of informants she developed through her beauty shop connections. She appeared to excel at “obtaining inside information” on her wealthy patrons. (She was, after all, a politician’s daughter!)
The Marie of American Horror Story is just as slick politically. However, due to her bargain with Papa Legba she will bear no children of her own (although she may have to kidnap a few from the local hospital to keep Legba happy.)
With this much historical and horrific material, you can imagine the gore that peppers this series. If you have not yet seen it, I suggest you do so immediately! Cook up a pot of jambalaya, watch by candlelight and be transported. Appreciating the performances of these amazing women is a great way to celebrate Women in Horror Month.