As we go into the summer months, many people look not to the pools, warmth, popsicles, and long days- but start getting excited for fall, Halloween, and all things horror. As the popularity of the genre continues to grow, there is a significant online presence always wanting more things spooky and scary. As I’ve got the itch as well even though the sun is shining most days, sadly we missed out on some upcoming horror films that were postponed for now, (i.e. A Quiet Place Part II, The New Mutants, Spiral, etc).
Instead of dwelling on that, for now we’ll talk about one of my favorite horror TV shows! American Horror Story (AHS) has certainly shaken up the horror genre as a whole when it first debuted in 2011 on FX. Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, this anthology series is not for the faint of heart. Some compare it to The Twilight Zone (1959-64), as that was a huge critical and popular success at the time and introduced many in the United States to the horror, suspense, and psychological thriller genres. As much as the show helped push horror to be more mainstream, I would tend to say that Netflix’s Black Mirror feels more like a Twilight Zone homage than AHS, as each season of American Horror Story is one whole story versus each episode. In addition, the Netflix series has a wider variety of topics within the broad “horror” genre, but you can certainly see comparisons with all of them. As a huge horror fan, Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone are some of my all-time favorites, but I’ll save those for another time!
Without trying to go into too may spoilers, *potential spoiler alerts ahead* AHS as a whole is bizarre but excellent. Again, if you don’t like the horror genre very much or scare easy, you likely DO NOT want to put yourself through the series. It is rated MA for very good reason; as the blood, gore, violence, sexuality, and shock factors are turned up to the max. Though this is not for everyone, if you do watch it; the production value, complex stories, tackling taboo subjects several times over, and especially the cast are phenomenal. The creators took the typical rules of horror and twisted them, broke barriers, and turned it inside out and scared the whole country as they did. As much as it has been refreshing to see new takes on classic tropes, the show also has a big respect for the past and honors it well as they march into the unknown realm. Overall, the show has been received well by critics and viewers, slightly dependent on what season you are talking about, and the cast has won several awards over the years for their performances. In recent years however, the popularity has faltered as the show seemed to hit just right early on, but has slowly been stumbling through their more recent seasons. Let’s dive in!
This season is brilliant from start to finish, and I get chills just thinking about how well crafted the multi-faceted story was. It is without a doubt, the perfect season for this series, and if you take my recommendation, you could just watch this season and be fully satisfied. Asylum won the most awards out of the whole series, and has some of the best acting from some fan favorites like Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Evan Peters. I’m a sucker for horror being set in an asylum; but taking it up a notch by placing the season in the ’60s at the peak of institutionalization of mentally ill patients, having shocking horror elements from both people and from the mind, exploring conversion therapy, racism, homophobia, sacrilegious tendencies… the list goes on and on, but you feel the impending doom and dread constantly, which is challenging to achieve in all 13 episodes! This season also gave way to one of the lines that AHS fans love to use, “All monsters are human;” there is truly hardly anything to criticize about this masterpiece.
Best – Playing The Name Game was genius and appalling all at once, you can never listen to the song again without thinking of how manipulative the staff is at Briarcliff.
Worst – Um, aliens? Why do we need aliens?
This lands the number two spot for me because of a few reasons: the immensely powerful almost all female cast, the introduction of Angela Bassett who played a beautiful voodoo witch, and Kathy Bates who played a terrifying and disgusting torture-happy racist (who was based on a real person), the costuming, and the phenomenal interpretation of modern day witches and how they connect to historical events and relate to the “real” world. Coven is debated however, because it isn’t so much horror filled as other seasons, as it is more of a dark comedy; and has prompted many to love it, and others to hate it. The originality and diversity of the story is compelling however, and for me, horror isn’t all about the gore and jump scares, it is a hugely complex genre and more of a state of mind. Also, who doesn’t love the idea of becoming the Supreme?
Best- We all love Misty, and her demise is one worse than death and changed the mindset of the whole coven.
Worst- It isn’t really emotionally jarring for us as an audience if everyone who dies can just come back to life, whether or not they have a body.
The season that started it all, and boy did it hit the ground running. Though it isn’t my favorite season mainly because of the many overused tropes it had with being a legitimate murder house, I cannot downplay how this was a great ensemble piece with some stunning twists. This set the bar for rest of the show having solid characters arcs, production value, and gruesome deaths. Having a family torn to shreds once they move to a mysterious house is what we’ve seen over and over; but the added intricacy of fully fleshed out ghosts, neighbors with way more baggage than you can handle, and a school shooting hits a little too close to home, and that is the true horror behind Murder House.
Best- The love/hate relationships with all the residents around the house and the chemistry between them all is riveting to watch.
Worst- We’re sick of angsty teenagers! It is not a personality trait, and Violet’s character may be why this season isn’t higher on the list. (To be fair, her twist in episode 10 does make it easier to deal with.)
The fourth installment is ranked by some as one of the worst seasons due to its muddled storytelling with too many villains and songs, but I think this is one of the most creative stories with in-depth character arcs. The first episode of the season is arguably one of the best single episodes in AHS history with Twisty the Clown making your fear of clowns become fully realized. I also love the exploration of a dying circus trying to figure out what a “normal” life might look like. The real-life horror in this season is people struggling to find their place in the world, to which I think we all relate.
Best- Many of the actors in this season were cast solely because they were real people with the physical attributes that could be historically displayed at a circus. The chemistry they had with the rest of the cast was wholesome and warm, and perhaps the happiest part of this season.
Worst- Way too many villains. So many in fact, it felt like each episode was a Scooby-Doo villain of the week that we had to unmask.
This was *almost* the best season of AHS, and they could have pulled it off if it was one or two episodes shorter! The end fell so incredibly flat however, that it ended up in the middle of the list. Going meta with the season was very well done, with the twists so well placed and terrifying, as well as the cast pulling off multiple characters that you were on your toes the whole time. Taking a stab at the biggest mystery of the United States is a tough one, and framing it around a reality show was brilliant; well, until it wasn’t. The end just fell apart as everyone died, then had such an odd epilogue that wasn’t needed that the season lost all of its momentum.
Best- You want horror? How about missing colonies appearing just to burn you alive? This season truly had moments of pure terror.
Worst- I’ll say it here, and it won’t be the last time- if this is an anthology series, stop having crossovers! The epilogue including people from season two was a big misstep.
While incredibly glamorous with set and costuming, this season felt like it was lost. Many of the characters were intriguing, but there were so many stories happening simultaneously it hard to know who was what and who we were supposed to root for- making all the twists and turns have no emotional weight. Each story line by itself had the makings for a good season; you had vampires, seven deadly sins killer, various historical serial killers, the residents of the hotel… But the only reason why they were related was because it happened to take place all in this same hotel. This season didn’t quite hit the mark for many, but it did look good either way.
Best- The story of James March building the hotel (based on true stories), and then gathering all of Americas notorious serial killers together was killer (pun intended).
Worst- Vampire…. children….?
While this season is praised by critics and the leads Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson are flawless in their characters, this season isn’t so much horror, but what life is like these days in real life. Taking place in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, which was a big risk to begin with, this season hasn’t aged well- especially in 2020. Many fans peg this as the worst season mainly because it mirrors what has actually been happening in the country. While still polarizing and having its moments of not being afraid to go to extremes, I think a great season about cults would have been better set in a different timeline. It isn’t exciting to watch our own lives just turned up a little.
Best- Here we go with the clowns again, and we’ll go ahead and cry ourselves to sleep now because they’re still CREEPY.
Worst- Not a specific moment per say, but it’s a shame that these two had to hold up the whole season alone.
There are so many ways to take the apocalypse, from zombies to natural disasters to war to pandemics to aliens, how could you get it wrong?! By trying to make Coven: Part II. This season was so frustrating to watch because they took an anthology series and brought back characters from Murder House and more notably Coven. Sure, there were a couple of Easter Eggs here and there throughout the show, and I didn’t like it then either. If your own show establishes a rule don’t break it! But this season went from maybe the Antichrist happening and nuclear fallout to a witch/warlock war. Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters from Coven, but just make a sequel to it instead of throwing it all away on half of a different season. This really felt like three separate seasons of the show all trying to upstage each other, and it was messy.
Best- When we *almost* got a real apocalypse, it was certainly scary for a fleeting moment.
Worst- Poor Michael Langdon. Even with his golden locks, he couldn’t quite make up for the poor storytelling.
Perhaps this season will be better in hindsight, but for now it gets the bottom. An homage to ’80s slasher films, it was disappointing to say the least. Filled with self-referencing to the “glory days” of the ’80s, tons of serial killers (again), and no relatable characters, it was hard to finish. The first half of the season the audience truly thought that it was just a double length slasher film. Gore, sex, summer camp- that’s all it was. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for horror, but it is for almost FIVE hours. Once it finally switched gears, it kept on swapping around so often it was a relief once it was over.
Best- John Carroll Lynch stole the season by playing a serial killer finding redemption in family. His character was the only one we cared about at the end.
Worst- Everything else. Where do we even start? (Sorry, Billie Lourd, we still like you)
As we look to the future, season 10 of American Horror Story has been postponed to potentially 2021 (originally slotted for later this year), but long time fans are still excited for what’s to come. Though recent seasons have faltered they still pack a punch with quality overall, and the debate of which seasons are the best and worst will continue long after the show is finished.