Whether scary, funny or completely mind-bending, the utterly unique American Horror Story has always been impossible to predict – and it returns to UK screens with eagerly-anticipated new series ‘Hotel’ from tomorrow (October 20), ushering its ensemble cast into another standalone story of darkly comic dread.
You’d need hundreds of items to do full justice to the sheer volume of WTF genius the drama has had to offer, but we’ve endeavoured to pick out the best. Here, from pioneering first season ‘Murder House’ to sensational fourth outing ‘Freak Show’, are 31 of our favourite American Horror Story moments.
(Warning: Major spoilers ahead)
The very first scene
A truly shocking opening that left you in no doubt that this show was going to pull no punches. Normally, creepy-ass twins are a source of fear in horror stories – not the ones on the receiving end. But after harshly bullying their neighbour with Down’s Syndrome, Addie, these two brats find much more than they bargained for when they step into the titular ‘Murder House’. Going into the basement is never a good idea boys…
The title sequence
Overhauled each season with fresh, skin-crawling imagery that offers compelling clues and insights into the creepy goings-on we can expect, the amazing intro from Prologue (who also created the titles for Se7en and The Walking Dead) had us hooked from the very first episode. That music. Those visuals. Talk about chilling.
The Rubber Man
Not since the days of Pulp Fiction has a gimp suit been so terrifying. A disorientated Vivien thinks it’s her husband Ben coupling with her, albeit in rather kinky form. How wrong she is.
Detailed in surreal, frenzied flashback, the reveal of what Tate did to his classmates is devastatingly intense.
Speaking of reveals, we can’t think of a more haunting image than the moment Violent comes across her own rotting corpse in a crawl-space of the house – and realises she’s been unknowingly existing as a ghost for days.
Zachary Quinto threatens to steal the show as the world’s most brilliantly neurotic and spiteful gay ghost.
We’d heard that Tate and Vivien’s child was destined to become the anti-christ – but seeing the little fella bathed in his murdered nanny’s blood at the end of the first series was certainly a deliciously dark and disturbingly funny moment to be left with. Move over Damien; there’s a new player in town.
Thought the second season, Asylum, was purely going to be about the horrors of mental institutions did you? Nope. Turns out extraterrestrials are in the mix too.
Lana and Clea’s prejudicial tragedy
For all its over-the-top grotesquery, American Horror Story also prides itself on exploring social issues – and injustices – with admirable aplomb. And so it is here, as Sarah Poulson’s crusading journalist ends up wrongly committed, with her female lover Clea blackmailed into silence due to the prejudices of the time. Gut-wrenching.
Sister Mary gets possessed
Watching the innocent, insecure young nun transform into a sadistic, calculating force of nature after being inhabited by the devil, is as thrilling as it is terrifying. A superb performance from Lily Rabe – who is clearly having a blast.
Dr Arden gets choppy
The ever-wonderful James Cromwell worked wonders as a top new addition to the cast – pushing boundaries as the thoroughly detestable former Nazi hiding in the US as the Asylum’s resident physician. His “treatment” of Chloe Sevigny’s nympho patient is quite simply the stuff of nightmares.
Ian McShane’s cameo
Yes, that is Lovejoy and Al Swearengen himself turning up in a sensational supporting turn as a serial killer who likes dressing up as Santa. Special props also to the scene where he crucifies Joseph Fiennes. Yep.
Dr Thredson’s deception
Just what is it with all these un-trustworthy physicians? Poor old Kit Walker can’t catch a break, as it turns out the psychiatrist assigned to ‘help’ him is in fact the very sadistic murderer who committed the crimes he was framed for. Thredson manipulates with expert ruthlessness.
Bloody Face’s basement
And his eventual showdown with Lana in his literal house of horrors is as nail-biting as it gets. He’s desperate for a mother-figure; a twisted Norman Bates character who’s both vulnerable and a figure of remorseless dread all at the same time. She’s as resilient as it gets. The resultant battle of wills is heart-pounding.
But if you thought that secret rooms packed with vile atrocities would be a thing of the past once ‘Coven’ rolled around, you’d be wrong. Kathy Bates joins the AHS team with perhaps the most jaw-dropping introduction of all as the dastardly Delphine – bestowing the most grotesque of tortures on unfortunate victims in her hellish loft.
The bus flip
Don’t mess with a witch. After a bunch of scumbag frat boys take sexual advantage of her at a party, Emma Roberts’ vengeful telekinetic teen sends their escape vehicle flying through the air. Instant justice.
When Angela Bassett’s awesome Marie wages voodoo war on the witches, her first line of attack is an army of shambling corpses – led by Delphine’s long-dead daughters. Suddenly it all goes Buffy meets The Evil Dead as the young witches grab make-shift weapons and fight back. Gloriously schlocky.
Sly, deadly, and oh-so cool – Danny Huston’s memorable entrance as a jazz-loving psychopath fits perfectly with Coven’s evocative New Orleans setting.
Played with eerie, charismatic relish by Lance Reddick, the voodoo devil-figure is a sublime addition to the action – offering up the tantalising prospect of granted wishes to those who summon him, but just as readily plunging them into an ironic hell. His first appearance is a thing of WTF beauty.
In a series packed full of resurrections, Bates’s character is perhaps the one individual who really doesn’t want to come back from oblivion. Cursed with immortality and at the mercy of her sworn enemy (the most badass hairdresser around), Delphine finds herself torso-less and nothing more than a literal talking head – but still very much alive.
Stevie Nicks’s cameo
One of those great head-turning, bizarr-o moments that the show does so well. Yes, that really is the Fleetwood Mac legend turning up at the witch’s house to make Misty’s day. Quite the eye-widening appearance.
With the entire series building up to this moment, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the contest to find the next ‘Supreme’ – with twists and shocks aplenty along the way. Of course, the kicker turns out to be that the long-suffering Cordelia was destined for the role all along. Couldn’t have gone to a nicer witch.
One of the most striking things about ‘Freak Show’s’ opening was our introduction to this stab-happy performer; murdering people in their beds, chasing them down at picnics in broad daylight, kidnapping kids – and loitering menacingly on the edge of the frame. With that grin and those wild staring eyes, if you weren’t already scared of clowns before the episode, you certainly were by the end of it.
Life On Mars
Watching Jessica Lange launching into a David Bowie cover, during a story set decades before that song saw the light of day, is both spellbindingly surreal and oddly beautiful.
Another tremendous ‘reveal’ from the AHS crew; lending heartbreaking poignancy to a remarkable first instalment of the fourth season.
He’s polite, he scurries off the really bad eggs, and he has a terrifying face on the back of his head. What’s not to like?
Both a smart, unexpected tie-in with the events of Asylum (just how do the universes all converge exactly?), and a deeply moving side-story in its own right, you simply can’t help but feel for poor Pepper – betrayed by those meant to care for her, and tragically taking the blame for an act of unspeakable, calculated evil.
Dandy’s dastardly plan
An inspired newcomer to the AHS fold, Finn Wittrock is the perfect blend of amusing, irritating and downright creepy as murderous spoiled brat Dandy, who seeks to liven up his humdrum existence by quite literally bathing in other people’s blood. The shocking moment he turns a corrupt cop on to his payroll, and then proceeds to commit a mass killing just so he can frame someone who’s getting in his way, his shocking. He’s the main reason Freak Show’s body-count just explodes.
Did you ever think we’d see Neil Patrick Harris guest-starring as a mentally unstable magician who thinks his doll is alive and accidentally cuts someone in half? No. Neither did we.
An ode to Freaks, the notorious old-school shocker that inspired so much of last season’s madness, despicable killer Stanley finally gets his due when the carnival folk – discovering his habit of killing them off to sell their bodies to a curiosities museum – turn him into a grotesque bird-like creature through brutal butchery. Mercifully it’s all off screen – but we see the stomach-churning results.
At the end of a life that has seen her play both victim and victor; suffer and inflict suffering, Elsa finally embraces peace in the shape of a warm afterlife surrounded by all of her carnival companions. Seeing the gang back together again after all that bloodshed is a lovely, uplifting and bitter-sweet conclusion to the season – and a fitting farewell to the excellent Jessica Lange in her final AHS appearance.
American Horror Story: Hotel is on Tuesday nights at 10pm on Fox, starting tomorrow – October 20.