American Horror Story is an anthological horror show created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Surprisingly, the very same duo got their start with the teen musical dramedy, Glee. Differing greatly from their origins, American Horror Story tells creatively horrific stories varying from witches to serial killers. The stories in AHS are nightmare fuel. Some scares are broad like murderous clowns or aliens, but there are so many niche horrors that almost feel personal.
Each season follows a theme, central story, and cast of characters. While each season is different, AHS is notorious for crossover between the seasons. For example, in the first season, Murder House, the latex suit originated but made a cameo in Season 8, Apocalypse. Possessed by some evil of the house, it lured wearers in, sometimes even ghosts of the house, and put them into a murderous rage. The witches from the third season, Coven, have also appeared in and been referenced in other seasons. It’s not been explicitly stated, but many believe all the seasons take place in the same world at different times and locations or at least are all connected.
11 Big Daddy Sets the Bar Aflame (NYC)
NYC, the latest season of AHS centers around New York City in the ’80s where gay men are being targeted by a serial killer, ignored by the police, and getting infected with a new virus. This season was too rooted in real events considering it’s essentially a rip and replace of HIV/AIDS and Jeffrey Dahmer. If this season would’ve changed anything about the plot versus real life or made a commentary on it, NYC could’ve been great, but it wasn’t fun watching depictions of events that tore through an entire community not that long ago.
That said, the scariest moment in NYC was the moment that Big Daddy, a BDSM gear-wearing spirit meant to foreshadow the death and destruction of HIV/AIDS, locks everyone inside a gay establishment, Ascension Bar, and sets it on fire. The screams and terror in this scene are vivid, and the aftermath is graphic, but it’s not scary in a way that you want to see twice.
10 Sophie and Milo’s Deaths (Roanoke)
Roanoke is regarded as the worst season of AHS, but that is mostly about how it squandered the opportunity to do more with a topic that garners so much fascination. It definitely is not lacking on the spooks. This season is told in two parts: the first is a paranormal documentary reenactment of a couple’s experiences living in a haunted house and the second half is found footage of the doomed documentary. The supernatural aspects of this season are a result of the house being built near the lost colony of Roanoke which while it’s an interesting take, haunted house horrors have been done and everyone wanted a scary story just about Roanoke.
Despite its shortcomings, this season had some moments of true terror. The scariest moment was the death of Sophie and Milo. Both big fans of the Roanoke documentary, they decided to strap on helmet cameras and explore the site themselves, to broadcast to their followers of course. Things are weird, but not a cause to flee, until nightfall, when they discover that almost everyone from the documentary is dead, and one of the lone survivors is possessed.
The possessed survivor kills their friend and in an act of heroism, they try to stop him from killing the other survivors. They quickly realize they are being followed by the entire Roanoke colony and through the perspective of their helmet cameras, they are caught, impaled on a stake, and burned alive: all of which is being live broadcasted to their followers. The first-person perspective makes this death a sight viewers will not soon forget.
9 The Childhood of the Antichrist (Apocalypse)
Apocalypse wasn’t the stereotypical sky is falling trope, but with the way it was set up, it could’ve been more. In Murder House, a baby was born that was sired by a very disturbed ghost possibly possessed at the time of conception, resulting in the birth of the Antichrist. This season was also to Coven, where the witches are tasked with stopping the Antichrist from bringing on the end times. This season tried to engage a lot of different concepts also tying Hotel in but overall was too busy to be effective in any way other than to be scary.
The scariest moments in this season are those of the Antichrist growing up. Raised by his grandmother, Michael Langdon didn’t always know what he was, but it was apparent to everyone around him that he wasn’t normal. Everyone who upset him ended up dead, starting with his nanny when he was young. The scene of the crime is covered in blood with a young Michael playing in it after killing his nanny, unaware and unbothered by his actions and the first of many kills.
8 Who Set Mr. Jingles Free (1984)
1984 imitates the classic cabin slasher trope when five friends become camp counselors for the summer in an effort to get out of the city for a bit, only to stumble right into a nightmare. This season has great ’80s slasher plots including a campfire massacre story from 14 years ago reenacting itself, the murderer escaping from a mental institution for his revenge, and plot twists you can see coming from a mile away.
Since this season garners more suspense and jump scares than other seasons, it’s hard to isolate one fright as the scariest, but there are a few that stand out. One is when everyone is running from Mr. Jingles only to discover there is a second serial killer in the woods, The Night Stalker.
The scariest moment has to be the scene where one counselor is running for her life when she starts setting off traps in the woods eventually getting caught in a net. She is discovered by the camp nurse, who reveals that she’s a psychologist who set Mr. Jingles free, so she could observe him and subsequently set the traps to see if he kills for the hunt or the pleasure of taking life.
7 Trying to Break a Record (Cult)
Cult came out during the 2017 election and depicted what life would be like if a fear-mongering cult leader abused their power for political gain (totally unrealistic, right?). This dramatization of real life in the present time was not well received because the wound was too fresh.
There was a jarring depiction of a mass shooting in this season, as well as in other seasons, which is an interesting choice for a recurring horror. There was also a gross guinea pig killing that took place in a microwave. The worst scene of all is one where cult members decide they can’t trust a man and are convinced he will either sell them out or bring them down.
Because he knows too much, their only choice is to murder him which is scary, but it’s the way they kill him that makes it the worst. They announce that the record for the number of nails to the head before death is 13 and decide that they’re not only going to kill him with a nail gun but contemplate breaking the record while they’re at it. This scene isn’t the most graphic in AHS history, but the disregard for human life and the casual nature in which they take it away is chilling.
6 Black Pills and Human Hybrids (Double Feature)
Double Feature was a season split in half with completely different stories. The first half, Red Tide, told the story of a town where talented people thrived. It’s revealed that their talents were amplified by taking mysterious black pills with the only caveat being that it only amplified true talent. If the person taking the pill wasn’t naturally gifted, they would essentially become a mindless vampire.
The scariest moment in this half of the season is horrifying in its cruelty. When the protagonist realizes his daughter is taking the black pills too, he wants to call it all off and give her a normal life, but she’s tasted greatness and won’t give it up. She convinces her mother to take a black pill, knowing she isn’t talented, and it will turn her into a pale person, but she wants her out of the way. After she sacrifices her mom, she kills her dad in pursuit of being the greatest violinist on Earth.
The second half of the season, Death Valley, takes place in Area 51. Following the lure, it does involve aliens, but it’s far more complicated than just that. The alien species is dying out, and they come to Earth to find the perfect human to breed, so they can save their race. While the story jumps between different time periods, the scariest moment is the successful breeding of the alien-human hybrid.
After college students are kidnapped to be used as test subjects, one of them is the perfect match. After watching several “unsuccessful” attempts resulting in brutal murders, it seems like she will have a different fate since her baby was finally a success. Much to the contrary, when she gives birth to the perfect hybrid, she is beheaded and her head is replaced by a machine with plans to clone her half-human half-machine body to mass-produce hybrids and take over the human race.
5 Twisty Sneaking Up on People (Freak Show)
Freak Show takes place in a sleepy 1950s town overturned by the arrival of carnies, human curiosities, and something that goes bump in the night and murders a lot of people. This season focuses heavily on the lives of these carnies including their successes, downfalls, and origins. While some of the characters might seem frightening at first glance, their backstories are the real horror.
This season’s biggest terror is a scary, heaving-breathing clown with an affinity for sneaking up on couples having some outdoor fun and brutally murdering them. Everyone hates scary clowns, so naturally these scenes are the scariest of the season. Twisty the clown greets the couples with a little juggling trick and then uses his bowling pin to knock them down, before brutally stabbing and/or slashing them. He starts with the boyfriend and then when he’s down he chases after the girlfriend, eventually catching and killing her. His character is scary to look at and scarier to run into.
4 Vampires Establish Their New Home (Hotel)
Hotel centers the Hotel Cortez based on the Cecil Hotel, a notoriously haunted and spooky spot in Los Angeles. This season more or less dramatizes Cecil Hotel lore, while adding more layers of terror. The haunts and backstories are bone-chilling combining all the scariest hotel stories you’ve heard.
The scariest moment in Hotel features two vampires who have taken up residence at the Hotel Cortez as they effortlessly seduce a young couple and bring them back to their room. After playing with their food and lots of foreplay, the two vampires lock eyes and simultaneously slash their throats, sensually drinking their blood as they panic. The vampiric nature of the scene isn’t necessarily what makes it so terrifying, but more the pleasure and ritual it clearly is to the vampires.
3 Madam LaLaurie’s House of Horrors (Coven)
The third season of AHS, Coven, is sometimes thought to be the last really good season, which is a little sad considering it’s only the third out of eleven. This season follows a coven of Salem-descended witches living in New Orleans. Throughout the season, the young witches at Miss Robichaux’s Academy navigate how to use their powers in real time as evil threatens their existence from inside and outside the house. Due to the witchy nature of this season, it’s more sci-fi at times than horror, but it wouldn’t be AHS without some gut-wrenching moments.
This season features flashbacks including those of Madame Delphine LaLaurie’s house of horrors where she mutilates and tortures those whom she enslaves. Scenes from her flashbacks are definitely the most gruesome, but the scenes are so inhumane, it is more disgusting and heartbreaking than scary.
The scariest moment in Coven takes place when Miss Robichaux’s Academy is under attack from Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen. In an attempt to exterminate these witches, she summons the dead to descend upon the house and tear them apart. It’s not graphic, suspenseful, and the characters attacking them are straight out of a nightmare.
2 A Child Death (Murder House)
The first season of AHS is a fan-favorite and has a very classic horror feeling. It follows the story of the Harmon family after they move into the infamous Murder House as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage and family. This quickly has the opposite effect when the ghosts of the house’s past began haunting and hurting the family.
This season has a lot of smaller plot lines, most of which provide backstory on the home’s spectral predecessors, all these plots competing for the scariest. While the Black Dahlia killer’s origin story or the Piggy Piggy legend coming to life make viewers’ arm hairs stand on end, the creation of a Frankenstein baby Infantata and subsequent terror is the scariest moment in Murder House.
The beginning of the story is heartbreakingly sad. A doctor and his wife live in the Murder House and one night their infant son is kidnapped. After praying for his return, they get what they ask for, in the worst way. They discover their infant son’s chopped-up remains on their front doorstep.
While this is horrifying enough, AHS always takes it a step further. The doctor is known for performing abortions and decides to piece his beloved son, Thaddeus back together with the still-beating heart of an aborted baby. In a normal house, this would’ve been a grief-filled failure, but with the dark magic within the house, this pieced-together baby comes to life as Infantata, a clawed, fanged creature who terrorizes the house.
1 A Fake Santa (Asylum)
Like Murder House, Asylum is a beloved season of AHS. Just when it seems like there can’t be any more plot twists, scares, and subplots another one is layered on top. Asylum revolves around the happenings in Briarcliffe Manor, a fictional mental hospital.
Throughout the season, there is a serial killer on the loose, a possessed nun, an alien invasion, and a reporter wrongfully committed to the institution, not to mention horrific backstories for many patients of Briarcliffe. Many moments rival for the most frightening in the season, like seeing Bloody Face’s grotesque lair or the discarded gory aftermath of one doctor’s volatile experiments crawling up the stairs of an elementary school.
Scariest of all, the backstory of one patient who lands himself at Briarcliffe after he’s deemed mentally unstable at his trial cakes the cake. Leigh Emerson murders a charity Santa and after stealing his costume ruins Christmas. In one night, Emerson violently murders 18 people after coming into their homes pretending to be Saint Nick. The horror on-screen seeing a jolly holiday icon covered in blood killing entire families is one that will not soon be forgotten.
The newest season of American Horror Story: Delicate, will premiere on Hulu on August 1st.