No one expected that when American Horror Story premiered in 2011 from the co-creators of the musical hit series Glee, it would turn into an iconic horror anthology. Yet, eight years later, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have us gripping the edge of our seats in anticipation for the ninth season, 1984, which based on teasers posted has an ’80s slasher film vibe to it. Think A Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday The 13th.
Each fall like clockwork, the dynamic horror duo has premiered the newest installment of the American Horror Story franchise via FX, and admittedly, not every season was exactly what we hoped it would be. From haunted houses to devils, Nazis and aliens, we’ve ranked each season of AHS from worst to best (so far) ahead of the premiere of 1984 Wednesday evening.
**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD**
An AHS season that’s easily forgotten among the other seven is undoubtedly Roanoke. Based loosely around the 1580s mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Colony, season 6 is set up as a documentary series titled My Roanoke Nightmare that’s fully equipped with “actor reenactments” as well as tall tales of a family haunted by the Roanoke Colony and fighting off the neighboring cannibal family. The first several episodes detail the Miller family’s move into the house that sits directly on the haunted land. Later, it jumps to the documentary and encounters the family’s ventures moving off the land. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The only way this season could’ve been good was if it had never been created at all.
Set in 1964, Asylum originally set up what we had hoped would be an engaging and thrilling storyline. Following the criminally institutionalized patients and staff workers of Briarcliff Manor, Murphy and Falchuk’s biggest flaw with season 2 was trying to cram too much into 13 episodes. Asylum’s central theme is hard to pinpoint as the miniseries follows an unjustly accused patient (Evan Peters) as the secrets of the institution unfold, including alien abduction, Nazi experimentation and staff members becoming possessed by the devil. The whole season is an absolute cluster fuck. It could’ve been a success had the creators stuck to one theme versus trying to tie several into one season.
One of the scariest things to think about in our modern age is the apocalypse brought on by nuclear war, and the AHS creators managed to capture that fear in season 8. Apocalypse welcomed back several anthology fan-favorite characters, including the witches of season 3 Coven and the ghosts of season 1 Murder House. The series also introduced a character who every major AHS fan would recognize by their last name alone: Michael Langdon, aka the love child of Murder House’s Tate Langdon and Vivien Harmon. Despite being an exciting season to watch, Apocalypse fell short of what we had hoped it would be.
Possibly one of the scariest real-life seasons of AHS, season 7 follows the lives of suburban characters in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. Cult emphasizes the fear and divide in America resulting from the 2016 election while also highlighting the tactics of a cult leader in a very Charles Manson-esque manner. Despite the overarching political theme, the season primarily focused on human fear.
There was absolutely no way that season 5 Hotel would disappoint with Countess Lady Gaga joining the AHS family. Season 5 may not be the best season, but it cohesively follows the paranormal and vampiric activity of Hotel Cortez. The story is loosely based around the infamous World’s Fair Hotel, aka “Murder Castle,” where serial killer H.H. Holmes is believed to have tortured and slaughtered as many as 200 victims. Similar to previous seasons, Hotel spotlighted the reality of fear and phobias and played to these strengths. This was also the first season released in the AHS anthology that didn’t include Jessica Lange.
3. Freak Show
With a title like Freak Show, how can you go wrong? The fourth season found the AHS audience facing their childhood fears of murderous clowns, bearded ladies and the overall anxiety you experience going to a carnival. Freak Show pushed the limitations and boundaries of fear while piecing together a pretty straightforward storyline and introducing series favorites in Twisty The Clown, Pepper and conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson).
Following the story of young witches learning to hone their craft while also bringing a historical aspect forward involving the Salem Witch Trials and infamous voodoo queen Marie Laveau, Coven pieced together a Frankenstein love story meets witch war, and we were entirely under this season’s spell. AHS creators Murphy and Falchuk later revived several of the characters from this season to make brief appearances throughout the anthology.
1. Murder House
It’s not often that the premiere season of any series gets it right, but American Horror Story is the exception to the rule. Murder House cohesively details the hauntings and murders of the mansion that new homeowners, the Harmons, reside in. From Violet Harmon’s relationship with Tate Langdon, a ghost that dwells in the home after being disarmed and killed for shooting several students at his high school in the ’90s, to the hauntings of the Black Dahlia murder victim who was raped and slain in the basement of the home before being dismembered and put on display in Los Angeles, season 1 avoided any hokey stereotypes of paranormal activity. If only every season of AHS could be as brilliant and captivating as Murder House.
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