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Gory October TV

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | OCTOBER 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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I wouldn’t consider myself a dark or bloodthirsty person, but there are few things that thrill me more than watching a zombie take a nice stringy bite out of a squalling teenager’s leg or seeing a witch telepathically flip a bus full of rapist frat boys.

It’s hard to say what twisted part of my mind is attracted to such grisly scenes. It might be the thrill of suspense and fear or the satisfaction of seeing hideous villains brought to bloody justice. But whatever the draw is, I’m far from the only one subject to it. Zombies and voodoo are no longer reserved for campy horror films or Michael Jackson music videos. In fact, they produce record-breaking, Emmy-award-winning television.

AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the most popular drama on television, kicked off its fourth season on Sunday, while “American Horror Story: Coven” premièred on Oct. 10 and will air its third episode at 9 p.m. Oct. 23 on FX. I happily ate up past seasons of these horror dramas, and last week’s new episodes suggest the thrills and chills of these series have only just begun.

‘The Walking Dead’

For those new to the groaning, blood-soaked world of “The Walking Dead” (based on the comic-book series of the same name), the AMC drama takes place in a gritty post-zombie-apocalypse world. Led by former Georgia Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a band of survivors wage a continual war with the undead “walkers” — and often the living as well — in the hope of recovering the security and humanity of yesteryear.

Despite the famous suspense of “The Walking Dead,”its season four first episode “30 Days Without an Accident” began almost as tamely as its title suggests. Besides the addition of some new characters and on-screen couples — who made me fear that my favorite thriller might be turning into, as the character Daryl Dixon put it, “a damn romance novel” — the walker fence-stabbing and Carl angst were all pretty typical “Walking Dead” filler.

Later, a surprise walker ambush, the killing of some spare characters, and Rick’s encounter with the realities of zombie head collection and suicide added well-worn, though exciting, action to the episode. A revolutionary new concept introduced this season was the idea of walkers falling through the ceiling to attack people or else splatter to the ground à la Sharknado. New show-runner Scott M. Gimple knows how to orchestrate a proper gore fest.

I have high hopes for season four. Last season’s villain, the power-happy and homicidal Governor, is still on the loose, there are plenty of walker heads left to shoot and characters yet to kill, and the human conflicts of the show — particularly, how far one will go in order to protect himself and his family — remains enrapturing. The numbers don’t lie: Sunday’s episode garnered 16.1 million viewers, a new basic-cable record. There’s no telling how many new fans will turn this season.

Tune in to AMC at 8 p.m. Oct. 20 for episode two, “Infected.”

‘American Horror Story: Coven’

In today’s television world, the miniseries style “American Horror Story” is really in a category of its own. Each season offers a new, eerie story and setting, from a house haunted by vindictive ghosts to an oppressive 1960s asylum surrounded by murderers, former Nazis, and aliens.

Season three has its all-star cast in the heart of New Orleans’ mystical history and culture, examining the tumultuous lives of modern witches with flashbacks to the Salem Witch Trials.

As an avid fan of Zachary Quinto, I found his absence this season regrettable. However, the show’s other recurring cast members — Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters — reminded me how many actors there are left to celebrate. The addition of Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett as two feuding, time-jumping women also adds significant star power to the show, which has won more than 19 awards in three years, including four Emmy awards this season out of its 17 nominations.

The season’s first episode, titled “Bitchcraft,” was full of just that. After young witch Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) loses her virginity and accidentally kills her boyfriend in the process, she is sent to a veritable witch finishing school in New Orleans. There, she meets Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), an almost intolerably snobbish movie star with Jedi-like force powers, as well as other supernatural teenagers, their instructor, and the youth-obsessed supreme witch played by Lange.

Hermione Granger these witches are not. Their powers are just plain freaky — from “human voodoo doll” pain transference to Zoe’s femme fatal ability — and are often used maliciously. And Bates’ character, based on the real-life Madame LaLaurie, has a knack for torturing her slaves in sadistic fashion.

With its chilling premise and beautifully spooky French Quarter setting, “Coven”has the potential to be the most compelling and creepy “American Horror Story” yet. Between the guts and gore of “The Walking Dead” and the dark complexity of “American Horror Story: Coven,” the October TV schedule is sure to satisfy our culture’s inexplicable bloodlust.

Tune in to FX at 9 p.m. Oct. 23 for episode three, “The Replacements.”


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