Follow TV Tropes


Series / American Horror Story

Go To
"Murder. Madness. Magic. Misfits. Mayhem… Mystery?"
Season 6 "Anthology" Promo Description

American Horror Story is a horror anthology series created by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) and Brad Falchuk (who co-created Glee with Murphy) airing on FX.

Described as a "movie buff's delight", its plots, soundtracks, and visual style thrive on numerous classic movies and horror stories (including, but not limited to: The Shining, Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Sixth Sense, Twisted Nerve, Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Carrie), with some elements of supernatural soap operas (like Twin Peaks), as well as homages to American urban legends and folklore.

The seasons of American Horror Story to date are as follows:

    American Horror Story seasons 

As of 1984, the series has been renewed up to a thirteenth season, while a spinoff of self-contained anthological episodes (American Horror Stories) has been ordered straight to series.

American Horror Story is also known for employing a rotating cast of repertory actors, some of whom have appeared in every season to date as different (and in some cases, the same) characters:

     American Horror Story repertory cast 


American Horror Story generally provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The '80s: The ninth season for American Horror Story is set in 1984.
  • Abusive Parents: Every season has at least one.
  • All Myths Are True: See Fantasy Kitchen Sink
  • American Title: The entire series in general.
  • And Starring:
    • Jessica Lange in the first four seasons, though she's usually preceded by someone with the "With" citation that varies depending on season(s).note 
    • In Hotel, it's shared by Angela Bassett and Lady Gaga, omitting Lange altogether thanks to her departure from the show.
    • Parodied in Roanoke, with the entire cast being credited in pairs using the "With" and "And" citations.
    • Kathy Bates in Apocalypse.
  • Anyone Can Die: Well, this is a horror show...
  • Author Appeal: Judging by Dylan McDermott, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Wes Bentley, Finn Wittrock, Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson, and Billy Eichner, the show's creator Ryan Murphy, like Hotel's Countess, has a thing for tall, dark, handsome men with stubble and "jawlines for days."
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The shows usually have multiple antagonists.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Seems to be a default setting to the series. The protagonist(s) is/are usually Anti Heroes, with the unambiguously good character(s) characters either get themselves killed off immediately or end up not being the driving force of the story.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The rules for who gets into the series’ conceptions of Heaven and Hell seem to be inconsistent and arbitrary. Fiona Goode winds up in Hell while the equally amoral Elsa Mars gets sent to Heaven just...because.
    • Not to mention the characters who are doomed to the hellish fate of forever being bound to a specific location simply by virtue of being killed in a “cursed” location, regardless of their innocence or guilt in evil actions.
    • The Devil and the Antichrist are just as evil as you’d expect, but God is seemingly absent from this world and never interferes directly, not even to protect innocent souls from the aforementioned horrors of the afterlife.
  • Body Horror: Mutilations are common in the shows.
  • Break the Cutie: Too many to list.
  • Camp: When you've got a horror show brought to you by the creator of Glee, what else would you expect?
  • Continuity Creep:
    • Freak Show has several connections with Asylum (the circumstances behind Pepper's institutionalization as well as Elsa's past history with Hans Gruper).
    • Hotel is directly connected to Murder House (Marcy the realtor and Billie Dean Howard reappear, along with Dr. Charles Montgomery in the Countess's backstory) and Coven (Queenie reappears).
    • Roanoke is tied into Murder House (the references to Roanoke Colony's disappearance are expanded upon, and the origin of the Pig Man), Freak Show (Gloria and Dandy's ancestor Edward Philippe Mott appears), Coven (the first Supreme Witch appears) and Asylum (Lana Winters reappears and Briarcliff is mentioned).
    • Cult connects to Freak Show (Twisty reappears) and Hotel (Charles Manson, previously mentioned as a disciple of James Patrick March, appears).
    • Apocalypse features several characters from Murder House and Coven, and was billed as a crossover between them. It also has an appearance by the Hotel Cortez and Mr. March from Hotel, and the movie Bubbles McGee is seen filming scenes for was inspired by the Santa Claus killer from Asylum.
  • Crossover: Apocalypse is the long-rumored crossover between Murder House and Coven.
  • Crossover Cosmology: The series has accumulated an eclectic assortment of higher beings. To wit:
    • Michael Langdon, the Antichrist, produced from an unholy union between the living and the dead.
    • An unidentified demonic entity, possibly Satan himself, who possesses people to cause destruction. This entity was destroyed in 1965 by...
    • Shachath, a benevolent Psychopomp who can be summoned by the dying to ease their passage with a kiss.
    • Papa Legba, the guardian of the spirit world. He is a collector of souls and has the power to banish a soul to its own personal hell.
    • Edward Mordrake’s demon face. He bound himself to a 19th century nobleman at birth and drove him to suicide. Whenever a “freak” performs on Halloween, the demon and his host are summoned and must collect a soul, which joins their coterie. He also has the power to send a soul to its own personal heaven.
    • The Addiction Demon, a malevolent entity summoned to the Hotel Cortez in 1993. It punishes people for their addictions by raping them.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: If you can survive to the final ten minutes of a season, you have a chance of getting this.
  • Event Title: Technically Freak Show. Implied with Apocalypse.
  • Fake Guest Star: Played with. Some actors/actresses appear in guest/recurring capacity but as different characters, and are nonetheless "mainstays". Most of them are Promoted to Opening Titles below.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The world of American Horror Story is home to ghosts, Frankenstein-esque monsters, psychics, aliens, demons, angels, witches (of the classic, Voodoo and Druid varieties), zombies, loa, vampires, immortals, androids, mad scientists, cannibalistic mutants and a Minotaur.
  • Final Girl: See here.
  • Flash Forward: All the seasons have ended the season finale on a flash forward epilogue to wrap things up and finish any loose ends.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening of each season utilizes macabre imagery to foreshadow the events of its respective season.
  • Gay Gaze: Let's just say that if you didn't know Ryan Murphy was gay before watching the show, you certainly will afterwards.
  • Genre Anthology: It started out as this, with each season being a self-contained Horror story. With the revelation in Freak Show that all the seasons take place in the same universe, the trope is less applicable, though each season still makes sense on its own.
  • Gorn: The violence in the show gets pretty messy and visceral.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
    • Satan who was the Big Bad for Asylum is this for Murder House, Hotel and Apocalypse, therefore most of the series. however despite Roanoke definitely not having his influence, it's never said if his influence was in Coven and while Mary Eunice does appear as a cameo in Freak Show, she hasn't been possessed yet. Though the four seasons mentioned, Satan has influenced the actions of others, corrupting them and making them give into their sins and desires, driving them to commit crimes and heinous acts, not to mention fathering The Antichrist and having him bring about the apocalypse At least until time was reset.
    • The Old Gods in Roanoke as well as possibly the entire franchise as a whole. They are the masters of Scathach, the first Supreme Witch and progenitor of the Witches and covens to begin with. Scathach's motives and sacrifices are all to appease them, and it's stated that mankind used to worship them until the Abrahamic God arrived and make them not believe in the Old Gods anymore. It's implied that they want humanity to worship them again and that many occult factions, like the Witches and Voodoo, do worship them still. Papa Legba is quite possibly a member of their pantheon or a minor deity in their ranks.
  • Historical Domain Character: Almost every season has had some, either in the flesh or as a ghost.
    • Murder House: Elizabeth Short (AKA "The Black Dahlia")
    • Asylum: Anne Frank (which is subverted, as she turns out to be an obsessed impostor)
    • Coven: Marie Laveau, Delphine LaLaurie, and The Axeman of New Orleans
    • Hotel: Aileen Wuornos, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, Gordon Northcott, the Zodiac Killer, Bernie Madoff, Rudolph Valentino, Natascha Rambova, and F. W. Murnau
    • Roanoke: The inhabitants of The Lost Colony of Roanoke
    • Cult: Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Jesus Christ and Charles Manson
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The realistic, sometimes even mundane acts of evil perpetrated by human beings tend to be far scarier than any supernatural horrors. In the words of Sister Jude, "all monsters are human." This theme shows up in all seasons, though it is most prominent in Freak Show.
  • Jump Scare: Again, it's a show with a blatant horror story in its title.
  • Kill the Cutie: In a series where Anyone Can Die, the likable and adorable ones are usually the most likely to go first.
  • Loads and Loads of Roles: This is true for most recurring actors, since they seldom play the same character in two seasons and sometimes more than one character per season.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Anytime Emma Roberts or/and Alexandra Breckenridge appear on screen. That being said, they are not the only ones who offer at the table.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Shirtless Scenes and male butt shots are especially common.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Invoked by the promos for Season 6, the first season where the audience was left completely in the dark about the theme prior to airing.
  • Period Piece: Asylum takes place in The '60s, while Freak Show mostly takes place in The '50s. The ninth season, aptly titled 1984, will be set in The '80s.
  • The Place: Murder House, Asylum, Freak Show (technically), Hotel, and Roanoke.
  • Overarching Villain: Satan himself is one for the entire series excluding Coven, Freak Show, Roanoke, and Cult. He is the Big Bad of Asylum and the Greater-Scope Villain of Murder House, Hotel and Apocalypse. He has corrupted and seduced the owners and denizens of the Murder House and Hotel Cortez for decades, making them give into their sins and commit heinous acts. He possesses Tate in order to impregnate Vivian with The Anti-Christ who grows up to be the Big Bad of Apocalypse, Michael, who plans to use the apocalypse, in order to rebuild the world in Satan's image. This plan ultimately fails, as Mallory is able to go back in time and destroy Michael when he was at his weakest. However, Satan and his followers seem to have a backup plan with Timothy and Emily.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: While this is an anthology series, some actors/actresses usually get upgraded to main.
  • Rape as Drama: Pretty much every season has a graphic rape scene.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • In Asylum, present day Lana mentions having had an interview with an imprisoned Bernie Madoff. Hotel reveals that the Countess was among his many victims, and regaining her wealth is a major motivation of hers.
    • Cult is literally this, as it focuses on the 2016 presidential election.
  • Rule of Scary: Naturally, since it's a show with Horror Story in its title.
  • Scenery Gorn: The series doesn't shy away from showing bleak environments.
  • Serial Killer: Very common on this show.
    • Murder House: R. Franklin
    • Aslyum: Bloody Face, Bloody Face II, Jenny Reynolds, Leigh Emerson
    • Coven: Delphine LaLaurie, the Axeman
    • Freak Show: Twisty the Clown, Dandy Mott
    • Hotel: The Ten Commandments Killer, James Patrick March, Richard Ramirez, Aileen Wuornos, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, Gordon Northcott
    • Roanoke: Miranda and Bridget Jane
    • 1984: Mr Jingles and Richard Ramirez
  • Shared Universe: Word of God has it that all seasons take place in the same universe.
    • Freak Show includes Asylum's Pepper, and a cameo from Dr. Arthur Arden.
    • Hotel features Marcy the realtor, Dr. Montgomery and Billie Dean Howard from Murder House, and Queenie from Coven.
    • Roanoke includes Lana Winters from Asylum and an ancestor of Dandy Mott from Freak Show.
    • Apocalypse has main characters from both Murder House and Coven as its main cast.
  • Team Title: Coven, technically Freak Show, and Cult.
  • You All Look Familiar:
    • Given that Word of God said that the entire show has a Shared Universe, one might wonder why exactly certain characters looked alike. Pepper in particular encountered two characters played by Jessica Lange and Evan Peters each in the timeline, and three played by Sarah Paulson.
    • Finn Wittrock, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe each appeared as two different characters in Hotel (though one of Rabe's was just a photo). The resemblance between Tristan Duffy and Rudolf Valentino was a plot point, but no one who sees both Hypodermic Sally and Billie Dean Howard says boo or bah. For that matter, Queenie doesn't comment on any similarity between Iris and Delphine LaLaurie or Ramona Royale and Marie Laveu.
    • Sarah Paulson appears in the season finale of Roanoke as both Audrey Tindal and Lana Winters, with no comment on their resemblance.
    • In Apocalypse, upon Madison and Behold coming to the Murder House, they meet characters who look exactly like characters they conversed with only a few days prior but don't recognize them; also, Mead and Michael don't note Venable's uncanny resemblance to Cordelia.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: