American Horror Story has made a name for itself by shocking fans to their core. Since 2011, FX’s creepy anthology series has taken dark themes and ratcheted them up to a sometimes absurd level. But it’s also succeeded in terrifying fans more times than we can count.
The seventh season, Cult, has focused on the psychological fallout of political chaos in the U.S. But some fans thought the series went too far when it depicted a mass shooting in its sixth episode, “Mid-Western Assassin.”
It’s not the first time that AHS has pushed its content past the point of comfort for viewers. Here is every time that American Horror Story has gone too far, including a terrifying clown (No. 8).
1. Twisted nerve
When the Harmons move into their stylish (and very haunted) mansion in Season 1, they meet a whole host of frightening ghosts. But the most disturbing, by far, is Tate Langdon (Evan Peters). He comes into the fold as one of Ben’s psychotherapy patients and ends up playing a significant role in the Harmons’ fate.
His actions as a ghost — dressing up as the Rubber Man and raping Vivienne (Connie Britton) — are ghastly and unforgiveable. But the things he did before his afterlife were just as bad, if not worse.
We learn in the sixth episode, “Piggy, Piggy,” that in 1994, Tate shot and killed 15 people in his high school. The sequence plays out by following five students as they hide from, and are systematically stalked and murdered by Tate, in the school library.
It’s a haunting scene, one that feels eerily reminiscent of Columbine, thanks to Tate’s black trench coat and shotgun. But what truly made the scene unforgettably disturbing was Tate’s lack of remorse — his playful whistling of “Twisted Nerve,” and the complete lack of emotion on his face as he gunned down his classmates.
Next: A creature inspired by the likes of Frankenstein.
2. Hush, little baby
Murder House set the stage for all subsequent carnage in the American Horror Story franchise. So it’s not surprising that many of its most disturbing moments came from this wild and often macabre first season.
Sure, there were callbacks to famous murders, like the Black Dahlia and Richard Speck. But the scariest and most gruesome ghost in Murder House is the Infantata. It’s a creature inspired by the likes of Dr. Frankenstein, a murdered child brought back to life by his grieving father, Charles Montgomery.
The Infantata isn’t just disgusting to look at, with his cobbled-together body and monstrous face. When we learn his origins, in “Halloween Part 1,” he becomes a symbol of something truly horrific — the violent death of an innocent.
Next: That moment when you find your own dead body.
3. Lost girl
Through much of Murder House, we experience the mansion’s darkest corners with Violet (Taissa Farmiga). In many ways she’s your average teenager, but she’s brought to the brink by the high emotions (and supernatural forces) in her home.
In “Piggy Piggy,” she overdoses on sleeping pills, but is seemingly revived by Tate. But in the tenth episode, “Smoldering Children,” she learns that she did die, and that she’s been haunting her home alongside Tate ever since.
The reveal itself is chilling. But when Violet sees her own corpse, hidden away in the attic, it’s truly unnerving – both for her, and for fans who really hoped she would survive the horrors of her home life.
Next: The horrifying coat hanger.
4. The coat hanger
American Horror Story’s second outing, Asylum, dealt largely with violence against women. And that meant all manner of horrors, including sexual assault. Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto), a.k.a. Bloodyface, a disturbed serial killer, repeatedly rapes Lana (Sarah Paulson), one of Briarcliff Manor’s patients.
And after she learns she’s pregnant, she realizes she has to do something drastic.
In episode 9, she tries (and fails) to abort the child herself using a coat hanger. Though the scene itself isn’t nearly as graphic as many other AHS moments, it’s the emotional resonance of poor Lana being left alone to deal with the fallout of her assault that is truly horrifying.
Next: When the doctor amputates your legs and more.
5. The not-so-good doctor
Dr. Thredson wasn’t the only monstrous medical professional at Briarcliff Manor. In “Nor’Easter,” Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) upped the ante for depraved behavior when he experiments on another patient.
After a failed attempt at sex with Shelley (Chloe Sevigny), who’s been institutionalized for promiscuity, Dr. Arden is humiliated. And he takes out his frustration about his impotency on her by amputating both her legs. He doesn’t stop there, either.
In “Anne Frank,” we see the full extent of Dr. Arden’s depraved experiments, when we see a horribly mutated Shelley – with boils covering much of her face — locked away in his office. It’s one of the more grotesque moments in American Horror Story, and becomes even more disturbing when you consider what Shelley must have gone through to get to that state.
Next: One of the most tragic monsters.
6. Bulls on parade
Whenever elements of real-life terror enter the picture on American Horror Story, it’s especially creepy. And that was certainly the case in the series’ third season. In the opening moments of Coven, we met Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), a famous New Orleans socialite with an unquenchable bloodlust.
In the opening moments of the first episode, we see LaLaurie painting blood onto her face and sneaking away to her attack. There, she’s collected all manner of macabre souvenirs. But she saves the most disgusting for her slave, Bastien, who she has tied to the rafters. LaLaurie places a decapitated bull’s head onto Bastien’s head, and watches as he writhes in disgust.
Thus, the Minotaur — one of AHS’s most tragic monsters — was born. And we were all sufficiently disturbed before the credits even rolled.
Next: This moment is equally horrific and truly sad.
When Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) had acid thrown in her eyes, it was bad enough. But the headmistress of Miss Robichaux’s Academy wound up in a much worse situation as far as her eyesight was concerned.
Cordelia loses her eyesight, but gains a second sight as a supernatural consolation prize. And she becomes accustomed to the gift — until she loses it after she has her eyes replaced. In Coven’s eleventh episode, “Protect the Coven,” Cordelia reaches a point of desperation. She can’t come up with a potion that will restore her power, so she stabs her eyes out using a pair of pruning sheers.
It’s a moment that’s equal parts horrific and truly sad. Because Cordelia is one of the few truly good characters in Coven’s gaggle of witches — and she deserved better.
Next: As if we didn’t already fear clowns enough.
8. Tears of a clown
Pop culture has conditioned us to cower when we see clowns. And American Horror Story’s fourth chapter, Freak Show, gave us yet another reason to fear them. Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) is, by far, AHS’s most menacing villain. But in “Edward Mordrake Part 2,” we learned the origins of his gruesome grin — and somehow, it made him even more disturbing.
Before Twisty became a homicidal maniac, he was just another regular clown that loved kids. But after his fellow carnies accused him of pedophilia, he was left in ruin. He tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the face. But he survived, albeit with a disgustingly mangled jaw.
The first reveal of Twisty’s deformity somehow managed the impossible: it made us prefer his ghastly mask over his haunting true face.
Next: The true price of being famous.
9. The price of fame
There was something especially tragic about Freak Show’s Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) — and that was before we learned about her dark past. “Show Stoppers,” the fourth season’s twelfth episode revealed what had led her to become a quadriplegic, and it was far more horrifying than fans could have imagined.
Elsa always longed for fame. And she had a darker side, which she let out in her work as a torture-happy dominatrix. Unfortunately, she wound up becoming famous for all the wrong reasons.
Years before she took over the freak show, Elsa unwittingly became part of a snuff film, and both of her legs were sawed off. And we later discovered that one of the men behind Elsa’s traumatic injury was none other than Asylum’s Dr. Arden, who made a pretty profit off of the horrific footage. Sure, her face was on screens all over the world – but not at all in the way Elsa would have wanted.
Next: Where do your demons hide.
10. Where your demons hide
American Horror Story: Hotel was one of the series’ stranger outings. And it was definitely one of the most heavy-handed, where its metaphor was concerned. But that didn’t make the Addiction Demon any less disturbing.
The sinewy, faceless, deranged monster takes up residence at the Hotel Cortez. And it takes a most violent approach to punishing its victims through an extremely NSFW permanently attached drillbit sex toy.
Brought into being by Sally (Sarah Paulson) and the other addicts at the Hotel, it gives them what they want — before giving them a whole lot of what they don’t. The Addiction Demon makes several appearances in Hotel. But its introduction — when it forces itself on a drugged-up Gabriel (Max Greenfield) — still ranks as one of the most shocking moments in AHS history.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
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