American Horror Story is back with its ninth season and latest anthology, 1984, an ‘80s-style cabin-in-the-woods slasher series! Some fans have been less-than-pleased with recent seasons, but if anyone can get the show back on top, it’s AHS boss Ryan Murphy.
To celebrate the latest season, which premieres September 19 on FOX Showcase, we’ve ranked all previous instalments of the franchise based on theme, style and overall spookiness.
ROANOKE (SEASON SIX)
Kicking off the list is Roanoke, the sixth season in the series. Originally disguised as a cheesy, haunted reality TV show about a couple who invoke ancient spirits in America’s backwoods, the dramatic re-enactments of horrors they encounter fall short compared to the genuine horrors of the other seasons.
CULT (SEASON SEVEN)
Ryan Murphy’s announcement of the show’s seventh season seemed to be a nod to the idea of “making American Horror Story great again” off the back of its questionable sixth season. The tongue-in-cheek idea for Cult focused on the 2016 Presidential Election, creating a violent political satire on the aforementioned campaign. It was extremely coherent and concise, and as the only season without a supernatural element, it showed that fear comes in many forms.
HOTEL (SEASON FIVE)
The show’s fifth season, Hotel, had so much promise – ghosts in a quintessential art deco hotel, a serial killer on the loose, a glamorous vampire played by Lady Gaga – it seemed to have it all! Unfortunately, looking back on the season as a whole, the intermixed storylines that Murphy usually weaves together fluidly just didn’t mesh. The whole detective-and-his-lost-family business was a little tiring, and considering it was the main storyline, it dragged the whole season down. Despite the lags, it was stylish, drawing from the sumptuous glamour reserved usually for the likes of The Great Gatsby.
ASYLUM (SEASON TWO)
The second season is very much regarded as one of the best due to its pure horror theme. Asylum focuses on journalist Lana Winters, portrayed by Sarah Paulson, who is investigating abuse at an insane asylum and winds up being committed. Winters meets a whole host of savage characters including serial killers and an alien abductee. Somehow, all of the plots converge together to form an impressive narrative on how those cast out from society can be victimised by the institutions that bind them – all while providing the classically bloody American Horror Story imagery.
APOCALYPSE (SEASON EIGHT)
If Cult was supposed to “make American Horror Story great again”, it failed in comparison to the show’s eighth season, Apocalypse, which married together the previously popular and stunningly beautiful seasons of Murder House, Coven and Hotel. Viewers were hooked from the start when the world ends with a nuclear attack. The show takes an interesting turn as it focuses on bunker survivors, the witches from Coven looking to stop the Antichrist born at the end of Murder House and adding in zombies and robots.
FREAK SHOW (SEASON FOUR)
Back in the 1940s, carnies were the horror stories of Backcountry America, and Freak Show lived up to the terrors of the time with the addition of a deranged serial killer, the evil clown Twisty who just wants to play, and more. It was stunning, living in and out of the big top of the show, and the arrival of Edward Mordrake, “the man with two faces”, appearing in green smoke was so spectacular it ranks as one of the greatest entrances on the show. Freak Show was horrific, and it put another spin on exactly what constitutes as ‘horror’.
MURDER HOUSE (SEASON ONE)
Murder House was the season that started it all – and boy did it set the tone! With big names walking into a haunted house in modern-day America, Murder House was a quality season that used the house as an allegory for the story of a family ripped apart by grief. Combining ghosts with terribly sad tales, Murder House had some of the best twists to come out of the whole series. It was phenomenal and could only be surpassed by one season…
COVEN (SEASON THREE)
Coven is considered by many fans the best season of the whole series, and we’re inclined to agree! It was dark and twisted and filled with wisecracking drama. The season about fashionable, super-powered witches combined with New Orleans voodoo was so popular that Ryan Murphy brought the fabulous women back as the main characters in season eight’s Apocalypse.
Lead image: Sarah Paulson as Ms. Wilhemina Venable, ‘American Horror Story: Apocalypse’