American Horror Story has reinvented and reinvigorated the idea of horror on TV. Each season of the show takes a new form. Many of the actors stay the same but their characters are different. We’ve seen it based in haunted houses, mental hospitals, a school for witches, a carnival, and a hotel that must be really struggling with its Yelp reviews (live-in serial killers tend to be a downer).
The show has been a huge critical success. It has had Emmys, Golden Globes, and other awards showered on it. Many of its stars have been shot into the big leagues. Jessica Lange’s star turns in the first four seasons introduced her to a new generation as well as earning her all sorts of trophies. Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Lady Gaga have all won huge followings for their roles as bearded ladies, hermaphrodites, and vampires. Those aren’t the usual characters that get such big names interested. But American Horror Story is anything but usual.
Horror films work because they only have to surprise us for the duration of our time in the cinema. Horror on TV has to keep the scares and tension coming week after week. American Horror Story never fails to pop at least one WTF moment into each episode. Now in its sixth season here are 15 of the most shocking moments that made you wish you’d not watched it with your parents.
And, obviously, if you want to genuinely shout WTF while watching American Horror Story then stop reading here: SPOILERS!
15 Gimp Suit
American Horror Story starts hot straight of the gate in its first season. AHS: Murder House is appropriately named as the dead bodies come thick and fast. But one of the first WTF moments comes thanks to a latex gimp suit.
A couple having marital problems move in to the titular murder house in an attempt at a fresh start. Finding the gimp suit hanging in the attic they have a good laugh. Later when the gimp suit gets worn it does spice things up. Unfortunately it becomes clear that underneath the suit it is not the husband. Oops. Just who it is in there is one of the central mysteries of the series.
14 Breastfeeding a Serial Killer
The second season of AHS is called Asylum. When you see the horrors going on in the Catholic-run mental institute you might be begging for asylum yourself. The series flashes between the past (in the hospital) and the present (a serial killer somehow related to the past events).
This killer has some serious mommy-issues. Hiring a prostitute he is able to… er… fill the void. Having been raised in an orphanage, the killer is missing that maternal touch. He manages to find a prostitute able to feed his needs. She is still able to produce breast milk and the killer goes to town on her.
13 The Addiction Demon
AHS: Hotel is the fifth season of the show and set in an LA hotel well past its glory days. Each room seems to be populated by things worse than bedbugs. Perhaps the most horrifying is the Addiction Demon – more memorably named Drilldo by fans.
Drilldo was created by the desperation of the various addicts that have come to stay in the hotel over the years. The Addiction Demon is not jonesing for narcotics. To fulfil its needs it unleashes its most devastating tool. Attached to the demon’s crotch is a dildo made from a drill bit which he uses to rape his victims. Drilldo indeed.
12 Killer Santa
Life in a mental asylum can’t be all doom and gloom. Even the criminally insane enjoy Christmas. One inmate seems to take just a little too much from it. Leigh Emmerson, played with murderous glee by Ian McShane, is a madman who killed a street Santa for disappointing a little boy and then killed others who crushed his ‘Christmas Spirit.’
By the time he is locked up in the asylum he is kept chained to protect the others. Despite this he manages to bite off an orderly’s nose. For this he is put in isolation. Charitably let out for another Christmas he goes on a rampage that includes slicing off a man’s face with a Christmas tree decoration. Given yet another chance for redemption he crucifies a senior churchman in the asylum chapel.
11 Singing Racist Head
AHS: Coven takes place in a New Orleans school for witchcraft – Hogwarts it is not. The witches of the school have skills as varied as mind-reading, pyromancy, and lethal vaginas. The education of the witches takes place against the backdrop of a centuries long feud between witches, voodoo practitioners, and witch hunters.
Caught in the fight is Madame Delphine Lalaurie, a slave torturing racist punished with immortality so that she can suffer eternally. When it seems that she is not learning sufficiently quickly enough she is dismembered and decapitated. Her disembodied head is set in front of a TV playing Roots and Civil Rights documentaries to learn the error of her ways. She cannot block her ears but she can sing loudly to drown out the messages of equality.
10 Nazi Suicide
When hiring doctors for your mental asylum you should probably check their CVs for service in concentration camps. Dr. Arden (AKA Hans Gruber – no, not that one) of AHS: Asylum is a scientist, doctor, and Nazi. Someone in human resources needs to be fired.
Over the course of the series it is revealed that he performs surgery without anaesthetic, infects patients with terrible diseases, and keeps his mutated human creations living feral in the woods. Obsessed with a nun serving the asylum when he finds her corpse ready for cremation he climbs on top of her, feels her hair, and pulls himself and his love into the oven.
The history of the Murder House in the first season AHS goes back to the Montgomerys, a wealthy socialite and her doctor husband. The couple fall on hard times when the doctor becomes hopelessly addicted to ether. To make ends meet he ‘helps girls who get in trouble.’ When a boyfriend of one of the girls he gives an abortion to finds out he kidnaps the Montgomery baby son Thaddeus. Thaddeus later is discovered in pieces.
Dr. Montgomery has another habit beyond inhaling ether. He also enjoys stitching animal parts together. Using his taxidermy skills he reassembles his son, with a few added parts including a baby’s still-beating heart. This brings Thaddeus back, in a way. The new Frankenbaby does not feed on his mother’s milk but prefers blood from her gnawed breasts.
8 Lizard Tattoo
The character of Penny goes on quite the transformation over the course of AHS’s fourth season – Freak Show. She starts as a callow and insensitive hospital assistant. When faced with a “freak” she says that she would drown one if she gave birth to one. She ends as… well, that’s what makes us go WTF.
Visiting the carnival she is duped into participating in an opium-fuelled orgy. Using a videotape of the event she is blackmailed into silence. Not too put off by this Penny begins an affair with one of the freaks. Her father is none too pleased. He drugs her and hires a man to tattoo her like a lizard and splits her tongue. Now she can live with her “freaks.”
7 Son in the Attic
Thaddeus the Frankenbaby lives in the Murder House basement but it is a staple of horror stories that people keep their unusual family members in the attic. Those who die in the Murder House are destined to remain there forever as ghosts. When a mother cannot bear to be parted from her son she takes matters into her own hands.
Beauregard Langdon is gentle creature with an unfortunate face. And an even more unfortunate choice of mother. His mother locks him up in the attic to keep him out of sight. When she fears that child protection services might take her children away for neglect (and rightly!) she sends her husband to smother Beau and puts it out that he died of natural causes.
6 Spalding’s Dolls
Spalding is the butler of the witches’ school in AHS: Coven. He is well suited to keep the witches’ secrets – he cut out his own tongue to make sure he could not be forced to reveal anything. The mute butler now lurks in the background ready to serve the head of the Coven, and his own collector’s sensibilities.
When Spalding is instructed to dispose of a dead girl’s body he decides to put into practice the old saying “waste not, want not.” He takes the girl up to his room. The shelves of the room are populated by dolls. The dead girl? Just another toy for him to dress up. And dance with.
5 The Name Game
We saw earlier how the attempts to bring Christmas jollity to an asylum backfired. Another attempt goes slightly better when music is introduced. It also goes a little psychedelic.
Jessica Lange has ended up institutionalized in the very asylum she used to run. When she hears the music we are treated to musical song and dance number completely at odds with the misery-tinged scenes before and after. The other residents join in the routine dancing along to the upbeat tune.
We are suddenly jerked back to reality when the music cuts out and Lange’s character is revealed to be a drooling mess with the other unfortunates.
4 Puppet Show
Everyone wants to keep their children happy. Dandy Mott is the only child of a wealthy family. His upbringing has supplied him with everything he wanted and made him a spoiled narcissist. The murderous tendencies are a gift he gave himself.
Dandy’s mother will do anything for son. Regardless of the number of mutilated cats that appear or neighbour children who disappear she will not hear anything against her son. Finally driven to despair she confronts him. Instead of stopping him she becomes his latest victim. Dandy bathes in her blood and uses his mother’s corpse (with the head of an Avon lady) in a private puppet show.
3 Piggy Man
Everyone knows the urban legend of Bloody Mary. Say her name three times in front of a mirror and Bloody Mary herself will appear. AHS: Murder House takes a different spin on the tale.
A perpetually fearful man comes to a psychiatrist for help with his anxieties. He is even terrified of stories that he knows to be false, like that of Piggy Man. Say “Here Piggy Pig Pig,” three times and a butcher wearing a pig’s head will be summoned. Convinced by his doctor to try it and see how nothing happens the man returns home to test it out.
“Here Piggy Pig Pig… Here Piggy Pig Pig… Here Piggy Pi-“ The curtain on the shower is pulled back and - BOOM - the man shot in the head. Not by a supernatural Piggy Man but by a burglar. Never taunt an obese robber hiding in your shower by calling him Piggy.
2 Aliens and Spiders
AHS: Asylum focuses on the murders perpetrated by a killer known as Bloody Face, who wears the faces of his victims. So far, so standard. But American Horror Story is not afraid to branch out in its horror. Thrown into the mix are aliens and the robotic spiders they implant in victims.
The aliens appear in the first episode of the series when, in a flash of blinding light, they abduct a main character’s wife and violate him with their long fingers. They also implant something in his neck which Nazi Dr. Arden later pulls out. When it sprouts legs and scuttles off this only intrigues him to carry out more extreme experiments.
One of the slaves that Madame Lalaurie tortured was the lover of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. This slave, Bastien, is chained in Lalaurie’s attic and has a bull’s head placed over his own. When Laveau finds his dead body she revives him with the bull’s head still on – a modern Minotaur.
This Minotaur is then used to hunt down Laveau’s witch enemies. One of the young witches takes a novel approach in her attempts to stop the Minotaur. Instead of fighting him she begins touching herself and encouraging him to mount her. This attempt at love over hate does not turn out well for her…