American Horror Story has re-hashed urban legends, used real-life murderers as inspiration, and reimagined tropes in our favourite horror movies. Here we explore some of the movies that may have influenced the series.
Season 1 | Murder House
Murder House was influenced by Rosemary's Baby, the acclaimed 1968 film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow. Vivienne's pregnancy echoes that of Rosemary Woodhouse who was impregnated by the devil during a ritual performed by her witchcraft practicing neighbours. During Vivienne's ultrasound the nurse fainted and confirmed later that Vivienne was carrying the antichrist. Moira serving up Vivienne the "nutritious food" of brains and sweetbreads (recommended by Constance) is reminiscent of the scene where Rosemary finds herself with unusual cravings and gorges on raw liver.
The Others, is a 2001 supernatural horror film starring Nicole Kidman where the world of the living gets mixed up with the world of the dead, just like Murder House. It involves a family of ghosts that are unaware that they are dead and have to share a house with the living, thinking that the newcomers are the ghostly intruders. The mother (Nicole Kidman) has difficulty in accepting the reality. A group of dead servants still connected to the house try and guide her, just as Moira tries to guide Vivienne in the end. Violet is also unaware that she is dead, and when Tate shows her the body she becomes traumatized.
There is a small reference to Candyman, the 1992 supernatural horror adapted from a Clive Barker book. The urban legend says that to summon the spirit of the murdered slave, you have to repeat the name "Candyman" in a mirror three times. Ben Harmon treats a patient called Derrick who has an irrational fear of urban legends, especially the "Piggy Man", and is afraid to look ever in a mirror for fear of summoning him. Ben encourages him to face the mirror and repeat "Piggy Man" to overcome his fear.
Season 2 | Asylum
Asylum's spin on the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist, was represented in Episode 2 where a teenage boy exhibiting strange behaviour was brought to Briarcliffe Manor. Sister Jude argues with Dr Thredson that the boy is possessed and so Father Malachi, an exorcist, is brought in. In The Exorcist the demon jumps bodies from Regan to Father Damien, but in Asylum Sister Mary Eunice becomes the recipient. Just as the demon in The Exorcist seeks an innocent vessel in the child Regan, so does the devil find the child-like Mary Eunice a perfect receptacle to do his bidding.
Cult slasher film Texas Chainsaw Massacre released in 1974 was the basis for Zachary Quinto's character "Bloody Face" aka Dr Oliver Thredson. The film's villain is called "Leatherface," and just like Thredson was a cannibalistic mass murderer who wore a mask of human skin. The furniture made from human remains in the Massacre farmhouse is replicated in the grim décor of Oliver Thredson's home, the bowl carved from a skull and the lampshade made of human skin.
Asylum's alien abduction of Kit and Alma Walker may have been influenced by a 1975 made-for-television film called The UFO Incident. It was a biographical account about real-life interracial couple Barney and Betty Hill who were abducted by aliens and then later recalled everything under hypnosis.
There were another couple of small movie references in Asylum. The electric shock treatment scenes were reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest while the torture Dr Arden inflicted on Kit Walker was like Alex's rehabilitation scene in A Clockwork Orange - the device that forces them to keep their eyes open is almost identical.
Season 3 | Coven
The Craft, released in 1996 was a surprise hit with an enduring soundtrack that included the iconic Smiths song How Soon is Now. The movie was about four teenage girls that use witchcraft for personal gain and to take revenge on the people that wronged them - cue Maddison flipping a bus. At school the girls all wear black and are shunned by their classmates as "weirdos", similar to how the girls at Miss Robichaux's Academy feel like outsiders in the regular world.
The introduction to the "seven wonders" in Coven was done using a vintage, black and white silent film style. This may have been influenced by a 1922 Danish documentary called Haxan, Witchcraft Through the Ages which was an attempt to explain many of the superstitions surrounding witches. Most of the material for the film was taken from the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th-century German guide for inquisitors, however Coven may have taken inspiration from the book Wonders of the Invisible World, published in 1693. The book details an account by Puritan minister Cotton Mather justifying his involvement in the Salem witch hunts.
Famed horror director Wes Craven's 1988 movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow, provided the source material for a lot of the voodoo elements in Coven. Blowing dust into a victims eyes to put them in a trance, the use of voodoo dolls, rituals, and the zombie army all feature in both the film and Coven. The Papa Legba character, is a "loa", the Haitian god of death that serves as an intermediary between worlds.
Season 4 | Freak Show
Todd Browning's controversial 1932 film Freaks served as a blueprint for this season with many
of the characters a copy of the original freaks in the movie. John Eckhert Jnr (half-boy) was represented by Legless Suzie and Minnie Worsley (also known as Koo Koo the Bird Girl) was Meep who also wore the same feathery costume and distinctive hat. The AHS freaks even recount the plot of the film for Stanley's benefit in episode 12, just before they chase him down, attack him, then inflict the same punishment as the heroine in Freaks - to live out his life as a mutilated chicken creature.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, released in 1974 is probably an obscure influence. This movie was a classic nazisploitation film, a sub-genre of the sexploitation films typical of the 1970's depicting blood, gore, violence, gratuitous nudity, and bad acting. These films were later referred to as "video nasties" and gained a small cult following. There was inspiration here for a 1930's Elsa when she was a dominatrix in Nazi Germany, the names are also similar - Elsa and Ilsa.
Season 5 | Hotel
A creepy hotel with haunted rooms where unspeakable horrors lurk behind each closed door - sounds like The Shining, the 1980 movie adaption of Steven King's classic horror novel directed by Stanley Kubric. This movie was a major influence in the atmospherics of the Hotel Cortez, an Art Deco masterpiece trapped in time. The beautiful lighting in the Cortez's bar mimics the "ghostly bartender" scene in The Shining, then there is the endless labyrinth of corridors. Also note the design of the carpet in the Cortez is is similar to the distinctive hexagonal pattern of the carpet throughout the Overlook Hotel .
Hotel's "Ten Commandments Killer" has similarities to the "Seven Deadly Sins Killer" from the 1995 film Seven with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow. Both involve a detective that is unwittingly caught up in a homicidal mastermind's plot to finish their "great work", and both use biblical references to describe the pattern of killings. The Countess also ends up decapitated, with her head as a trophy, just as Gwyneth Paltrow's character ends up with her head in a box.
I loved the small nod to Oliver Stones 1994 movie Natural Born Killers in the Devil's Night episode with Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez dancing to the Cowboy Junkies version of Sweet Jane. It was reminiscent of the dream-like sequence of Mallory Knox dancing in the desert to the same song.
Hotel is also a very arthouse season that has a stylish 1980's gothic vibe. It pays homage to The Hunger the 1983 film starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie. The Countess is very much influenced by Catherine Deneuve's character Miriam Blaylock, a thousand year old vampire. Another similarity is that there is no weird eye colour, no vampire teeth and no biting. These vampires prefer to slit their victims' throats to feed. In The Hunger they used a bladed Ankh pendant but AHS put a nice spin on it with the Countess's bladed glittery glove. Bauhaus' 1982 Goth anthem, Bela Lugosi's Dead, features in the hunting scenes of both Hotel and The Hunger. Fans have often described Hotel as "like watching an 80's video clip" - I think this is exactly what the creators were going for.
Season 6 | Roanoke
This is when Ryan Murphy decided to really mix things up a bit, you have reality tv mixed in with the found footage genre for a terrifying dose of realism. TV shows like Paranormal Survivor started gaining popularity on Netflix and The Blair Witch Project released in 1999 was the first and best of the found footage films. The shaky camera effects added a depth of realism and because no one had seen anything like it before, the documentary style made it seem real to a lot of people. The handheld cameras and phones are used in the same way in Roanoke. The creepy stick figures hanging from the trees in Blair Witch also make an appearance in Roanoke.
The Witch, is an atmospheric 2015 horror film directed by Robert Eggers. It is set in colonial 1630s America and inspired many aspects of this season, particularly the Roanoke colony and the distinctive Yorkshire dialect of the New England Puritans. Thomasin is the name of the heroine in The Witch, and is also the name given to "the Butcher" in Raonoke. Lady Gaga's character Scathach is a wild woods witch, whose behaviour is similar to the glimpses of the witches seen in the film. The paranoia and desperation of the Puritan family in The Witch as they turn on each other trying to deal with an invisible threat, is similar to how the main characters staying in the Roanoake house all start to turn on each other as well.
Another movie reference is Motel Hell, a 1980 horror comedy about cannibal siblings Ida and Vincent Smith who lure victims to their motel and bury them up to their necks until they are ready to "harvest". There are a few similarities to the Poke family - Vincent's famous smoked meat made of human flesh is like Ma Poke's human jerky, they also keep victims alive slicing what they need. In one scene Vincent runs around with a pig's head worn over his own face and brandishes a chainsaw, just like Roanoake's terrifying "Piggy Man", although in Roanoke he has a machete in keeping with his colonial back story.
Season 7 | Cult
Cult was a little different with the emphasis on psychological horror rather than anything supernatural, it focused on what can mess with people's minds and how easily people can be influenced. Gaslight was a psychological thriller released in 1944 starring Ingrid Bergman as a wife who is made to think she is crazy when her husband keeps turning the gaslights up and down blaming it on her imagination, eventually trying to have her committed. It is where the term "gaslighting" comes from to describe a type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else to question their own reality. Ivy, along with the other cultists, succeeded in gaslighting Ally and triggering her phobias.
There are references to Fight Club with Kai Anderson's army taking on similarities to the 1999 Brad Pitt and Edward Norton film. Fight Club becomes a cult with men recruited to the anarchic, anti-materialistic campaign "Project Mayham." This mirrors how Kai uses fear and rage to manipulate others and gets them involved in his personal agenda and ultimately "the night of a thousand Tates". The foot soldiers all living at the dilapidated Paper Street house in Fight Club is similar to how Kai's army have taken up residence in his basement, camping out in sleeping bags and listening to their leader without question.
There are also some small, coincidental references in Cult to the 2009 neo-noir superhero film Watchmen, based off the 1980s cult comic books. The smiley face dripping with blood that is seen plastered over the neighbourhood in Cult is reminiscent of a blood-spattered pin worn by the Comedian, one of the Watchmen. Ally and Ivy name their son Ozymandias, after the 19th Century poem by Percy Shelley. Ozymandias also happens to be the name of another Watchman known as the "worlds smartest man".
Season 8 | Apocalypse
Apocalypse was the cross-over season between Murder House and Coven, so much of the source material comes from these two previous seasons. The outpost part is influenced by some of the post-apocalyptic movies to come out over the decades. The radioactive canker-puss monsters in Apocalypse echo the behaviour of the mutant cannibal zombies (also a product of radiation) in George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead released in1968. In the 2007 apocalyptic movie I Am Legend, the mutations are the result of a virus. The similarity here is that Will Smith's character keeps playing Three Little Birds on a loop, and Venable plays the Carpenters' Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft on a loop. There's something about living in a post-apocalyptic world where the days are repetitive and it feels like being in a loop.
The Omen, was a 1976 horror film that prophesized the rise of a child Antichrist and starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. The movie spawned a trilogy, Omen II in 1978 and Omen III : The Final Conflict in 1981. The latter sees Damien as a man coming into power like Michael Langdon in Apocalypse. Violent deaths happen to those around Damien that try to stop the course of his destiny, but he also has some protectors, as does Michael Langdon. Flocks of crows are a feature in both The Omen films and Apocalypse, both as a weapon to attack people and also as harbingers of doom. The line "it's all for you Damian" uttered by Damien's Nanny just before she hangs herself is echoed in Samantha Crowe's line "it's all for you Michael" in episode 6, during the Black Mass.
Season 9 | 1984
This one is very obvious with a nod to every major 80's slasher film, particularly Friday the13th, the 1980 box office hit about a group of camp councillors that try to open up an abandoned summer camp at Crystal Lake and get murdered one by one. The murderer turns out to be Pamela Vorhees, a mother seeking revenge for the death of her son Jason. He drowned, while the councillors who should have been watching him were having sex instead. Margaret Booth also has a problem with councillors having sex, which is what set off her murderous rampage at Camp Redwood. There are other similarities like Lavinia Richter working at the camp as a cook, just as Pamela did at Crystal Lake, and both women have sons that drown. In one of the most iconic scenes in horror history, final girl Alice dreams she is attacked by Jason Vorhee's corpse in the lake, just like Benji (aka Mr Jingles) is attacked by his dead brother.
Thank you, please feel free to comment on whether you agree or if you think there are any other movie references I have missed.