American Horror Story is an award-winning Horror Television Series where each season is not based on the season before; However, all seasons have an overarching theme of gore, sex, and the exploitation of the weak. The series is currently on its eighth installment ‘Apocalypse’, its seven previous seasons ‘Murder House’, ‘Asylum’, ‘Coven’, ‘Freak Show’, ‘Hotel’, ‘Roanoke’, and ‘Cult’ respectively, each portray very deviant infatuations American Society has with the abnormal. Many characters in American Horror Story are based off a real people and real experiences and every season is based off a true, dark, American history that spans from murder and tragedy to urban legend and conspiracy theories.

Season one is filled with dark histories of America, most notably referenced are the Black Dahlia Murder and the Columbine School shooting. The Black Dahlia Murder is about Elizabeth Short a twenty-two-year-old actress who was found brutally murdered, amputated from the waist down, and facially deformed by a carved smiley face cut from ear to ear known as the Glasgow Smile. AHS recreated the Black Dahlia murder with a conspiracy as to who was her killer. The Columbine shooting was reenacted by Evan Peter’s Tate Langdon, a mentally unstable teenage ghost who, in 1994, ends up shooting 15 people before being shot down by police in his home. The Columbine shooting took place in 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students and a teacher while injuring 21 more. The portrayal of Tate is very mysterious but also very likable the juxtaposition between what is known about him and what the audience wants to believe he is a staple in American horror story and this torment between morality and empathy is well established by the audience.

Season two, asylum, is based on real place, Willowbrook State School, AHS’s Briarcliff mimicked the real asylums unchecked abuse on the patients by subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse, neglect and starvation, as well as a number of medical experiments. Asylum also featured real characters of folklore and murder such as Lizzie Borden. The lead character of the sadistic rhyme “Lizzie Borden took an ax/gave her mother 40 whacks/when she saw what she had done/she gave her father 41” is portrayed as ‘Grace’, a humanized patient in the asylum that is completely sane and does not deserve to be trapped in mortal hell. There is an overarching tendency in AHS to humanize the murderers and even empathize with their killings similar to the desired perception of Grace. Other characters of American history, however, are only meant to frighten and fascinate the audience like Bloody Face, a character that kills women for their skin and wears it like a mask to disguise himself from future victims. The character pays homage to Ed Gein or ‘Leather Face’, the serial killer who would wear women’s skin as a suit fitted for him.

In season three, Coven, Madame LaLaurie is a slave abuser from the 1800’s who was doomed to an eternal life of solitude by a voodoo tribe for ruthlessly torturing her slaves, only to be brought back to the 2000’s as a slave to a black witch. The real Madame LaLaurie was a notoriously evil socialite turned murderer who was investigated in the 1800’s for maltreatment of her slaves. She tried to turn a woman into a human caterpillar, ripped intestines out of her slaves and wrapped them around their bodies like belts, and made them eat animal feces. The fictional Madame LaLaurie suffocated slaves with animal head masks, completely removed the intestines from a man, and made her slaves eat human feces in soup. The Voodoo Queen that banishes Madame LaLaurie is also based on a real person. The real Marie Laveau was a hairdresser in the French quarter in the 1800’s who was known to practice black magic and Catholicism. These two practices combined gave Marie the reputation of a healer and a nurse. The comparison between the evil and the good aspects of an overarching evil past are another typical attribute of AHS. Ironically, while we recognize that Madame LaLaurie was holistically evil she is humanized and portrayed as a misguided individual that just needed help learning morality; thus blurring the lines of what actually is morality and good or evil. Marie Laveau, in comparison, is first portrayed as the villain, and gradually humanized as the series progresses, though she had predominantly good intentions through eternity.

Season four, Freakshow is particularly hard to watch because of the real discrimination in American History towards these people who are deemed freaks and outcasts by the rest of society. Lobster Boy, played by Evan Peter’s, is based on a real person, Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr, whose hands looked more like human claws because of a familial genetic mutation. Sarah Paulson’s, Dot and Bette Tattler who were inspired by Violet and Daisey Hilton, born in 1908 who were conjoined at the hip. Pepper, one of the most iconic characters in American Horror Story, she is adored by all and She and her husband Salty were inspired by Schlitze Surtees(a.k.a. Schlitzie the Pinhead). Schlitze suffered from microcephaly, which left him with the cognizance of a three-year-old child who could only speak in single syllable words(Ranker). Twisty the clown is another character that falls into this gray area of empathy and evil. The accusations of child molestations ruin his life and drove him to become a murderer. Twisty the Clown is inspired by John Wayne Gacy, the serial murderer from the 1980’s who used the alter ego, Pogo the Clown when killing his victims.

Season five’s, Hotel, features James Patrick Marsh a deceased serial killer that is doomed to an eternal stay at his own hotel and murderous hunting ground. Marsh is a depiction of H. H. Holmes, a man widely regarded as the first serial killer in America. Holmes used his hotel, The Real-Life Cecil Hotel, as a death trap for hotel guests who dared to enter. The televised hotel and the real version were both equipped with trap doors, hidden rooms, chutes that lead down to the basement and purposely disorienting hallways as to confuse and entrap the guests. The ruthless depiction of Holmes as Marsh in American Horror Story is not an exaggeration of his deranged view of human life, Holmes murdered as many as 200 people, though he confessed to killing 28. In the Hotel installment, Marsh was known to host a horror night on the eve of Halloween where all of Americas most notable dead serial killers arose from hell and gathered together on earth to celebrate their evil divinities. Though the same cannot be confirmed for the Cecil, two of Marshes guests, The Night Stalker and Johan Unterweger, both murdered a number of people whilst using the Cecil as a home base.

Season six, Roanoke is a two-part documentary that tackles a married couple and their experiences in a farm town miles away from the connected world. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Roanoke including Americas oldest mystery, the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony. The Roanoke Colony settled in North Carolina in the 1500’s. The leader, John White, sailed back to England to gather supplies and upon his return, discovered that the colony had vanished without a trace. The only thing left in the colony was the word ‘Croatoan’. Additionally, Roanoke incorporates Tomasyn White, written as Tomasina White in AHS, who’s the only record of life is her marriage to John White in the 1500’s. However, American Horror Story personifies her as a butcher knife-wielding deranged killer named the butcher who torments the married couple. The dramatization of Tomasyn plays into the American fascination with the deranged and murderous.

More recently, season seven, Cult, tackles politics and the juxtaposition of misogynistic and feminist extremes. The premise of this season is President Trump’s election to office and the reaction to his presidency in a small town in Michigan. The Cult that the storyline follows commits murders and leaves a smiley face at or near the crime scene. The smiley face is inspired by a series of deaths that are not recognized by law as murders, but accidental drownings. The conspiracy that these drownings were murders was developed because every crime scene had a graffiti smiley face near the victim. This season also incorporates the attempted murder of Andy Warhol, and his attempted murderer Valerie Solanas. Valerie was the leader of a radical feminist organization called S.C.U.M (society of Cutting Up Men), in which Valerie and her followers hate men and believe that they should all die. In AHS SCUM is the real zodiac killer and Valerie is the mastermind behind the killings in her plight to overthrow the government.

The parallels drawn between American Horror Story and real American history perfectly exemplify the American infatuation with deviance and our ability to romanticize the dark memories that embody the past. From murder and abuse to weird happenings and conspiracy theories American desire for a good scare and a better story are almost obsessive. This gripping television series fosters a smeared sense of morality in which good and evil intertwine, in a beautiful, but a dark portrayal of half-truths. The plethora of history strung along a gripping plot masterfully blend wicked occurrences in American history with an enthralling story. Thus, creating a truly Americanized Horror Story.

Loveland, Mariel. “Bet You Didn’t Know All These True Stories, People, And Crimes Referenced In Every Season Of ‘American Horror Story’.” Ranker, 2018,

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Taylor York

One thought on “Americanized Horror Stories

  1. Hello! This is an interesting post and I really like the summaries of each seasons and the associated/ referencing real events. I agree with you that the media romanticize the crime and turned it into commercialized values, while it is far off to consider as a documentary but as an entertainment. Even though AHS isn’t the first to start incorporating real life events into entertaining purposes, no doubt that it would come across people’s mind more often compare to other examples.

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