The American Horror Story franchise has been terrorizing audiences since its Murder House debut in 2011 and continues to haunt with each passing season. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have revitalized the careers of Academy Award winners Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates, made leading actors of Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Lady Gaga, and most importantly, unnerved viewers with every passing episode. As Halloween nears, here are nine episodes worth rewatching if you’re in the mood for something creepy.
Be aware that reading beyond this point might result in spoilers!
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Murder House, Episode 1 – “Pilot”
There cannot be a list of scariest episodes without the one that started it all, starring Dylan McDermott as the therapist who moves his family cross-country to a haunted mansion. In this pilot we witness the murder of the twins in the basement; we meet Larry, the troubled man with physical reminders of his past; and Rubber Man, the masked figure who tricks Vivien into believing he is her husband and impregnates her. This episode is what sets the tone not only for the rest of the Murder House season, but it sets a stepping stone for Murphy and Falchuk to build upon.
Murder House, Episode 6 – “Piggy Piggy”
This was a tough one. Ben (McDermott) sees new patient Derek (Eric Stonestreet) who is terrified by the half-man, half-pig urban legend Piggy Man and, when instructed to face his fear, is ironically murdered by a home burglar. Violet (Taissa Farmiga) learns how her ghostly boyfriend Tate (Evan Peters) met his end and ultimately commits suicide to be with him in the afterlife. Then, to take things even further, those details of Tate’s death are shown in their entirety as he marches through Westfield High School killing 15 people with a shotgun. From mythical to real-life headlines, AHS marries all our fears in just 60 minutes.
Asylum, Episode 2 – “Tricks and Treats”
Exorcisms are not a thing for the faint of heart and AHS undeniably played on that fact. Distraught parents bring their son Jed in to see Sister Jude (Lange) and describe his recent odd behavior. He’s disemboweled the prized family cow and eaten his heart. Time for the experts to step in, I’d say! Sister Jude joins in for the ceremony, yet Father Malachi and Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) agree that an exorcism is “no place for a woman.” She’s forced from the festivities and misses out on quite the eventful wild ride where Father Malachi is thrown against the wall, but later finds herself stuck in the room alone with him where he reveals haunting moments from her past, secrets she dare not tell anyone. Instead of helping a young boy from the demon that possesses him, the demon has unearthed haunting truths about the so-called saviors of this horrible asylum.
Asylum, Episode 5 – “I Am Anne Frank (Part I)”
After failed attempts of escaping Briarcliff, Lana Winters (Paulson) is finally awarded her freedom thanks to Dr. Thredson. He whisks her away from that wretched place and takes her back to his home. There she unearths one of the most terrifying sights of the show’s history. In his basement, she finds human remains, a skull made to be a makeshift candy bowl and a lampshade made of what looks to be skin. Lana has run from the terrors of the asylum only to find herself captive by Bloody Face himself!
Asylum, Episode 8 – “Unholy Night”
Nothing is merrier than the sighting of good old St. Nick, right? Leave it to Murphy and Falchuk to turn the jolly fellow into a thing of horror. As told to Entertainment Weekly in 2012, Murphy explained “Christmas and American Horror Story do not go together.” Most people could easily agree with this statement, but then how did the creators handle an episode celebrating the holiday? With a killer Santa, of course! Ian McShane stars as a psychotic murderer dressed as Santa Claus who undergoes a killing spree after losing his Christmas spirit. He even canes and almost rapes Sister Jude, but is stabbed before the damage is done.
Asylum, Episode 9 – “The Coat Hanger”
Possibly one of the most hauntingly executed episodes of the franchise, “The Coat Hanger” brings a controversial topic to the forefront, abortion. After being raped and impregnated by Dr. Thredson, Lana Winters discovers she is with child. There’s no way she’s going to carry a monster’s baby, so she performs a do-it-yourself abortion with a coat hanger right in front of him as he lies bound and helpless on the floor. One can only imagine that it stands as a very gruesome and gut-wrenching scene. Even more terrifying than the act itself is the devastation of learning that despite Lana’s efforts, she is still with child. All of that hard and bloody work done for nothing.
Coven, Episode 1 – “Bitchcraft”
Many may agree with me when I say that Coven was possibly the least scary of all AHS season. While there were many memorable moments, most of them were stuffed with jokes or smart Madison-esque jabs that made us chuckle, yet the history that lays as foundation for this franchise is something one cannot make light of. Kathy Bates portrays Madame Delphine LaLaurie who tortured her slaves in the basement of her New Orleans home. Seeing the horrific ways she treated these human beings is what nightmares are made of. Not to mention this season opener is also where we witness Zoe’s (Farmiga) murderous vagina and Madison’s (Emma Roberts) ability to flip a bus full of frat boys!
Freakshow, Episode 1 – “Monsters Among Us”
Clowns have always been a frontrunner for people’s greatest fear and Twisty the clown only gave these poor souls one more reason to leave their lights on at night. With the looks of a dirty, disheveled creature whose jaw has been removed, John Carrol Lynch stands toe-to-toe with Tim Curry’s Pennywise. Twisty stabs and kills a teenage girl’s boyfriend and later a young boy’s parents then holds them hostage in a broken-down bus. Amongst an ensemble of freakishly interesting characters who have yet to reveal their personifying backstories, this is quite the first look into the season.
Roanoke, Episode 4 – “Chapter 4”
Kathy Bates shines as Thomasin, an old-world leader of the Roanoke colony who comes to haunt the grounds. Cricket tells the story of their gruesome demise. Thomasin’s son Ambrose (Wes Bentley) argues against her in front of their people, claiming she has lost her way and invited dark magic into their mist by way of Scathach (Lady Gaga). Seeking revenge and listening to the suggestions of the dark witch, Thomasin prepares a meal for the people. With one bite, the whole of the colony is poisoned, including her son. They won’t follow her in this life, but they will forever be tied to the land in death. Scathach then kills Thomasin so that she may join her people and protect the surrounding area for all eternity.
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So many of Brian Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s creations leave deeply imprinted marks of horror in our minds, spanning seven seasons, the latest being AHS: Cult. These are merely a few of my personal favorites. With countless others to choose from, what are yours? Which scenes throughout the years have made it impossible to sleep through the night without a light in your room? What story will you be reliving this Halloween?
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(Imgae courtesy of FX)