''The world is a filthy place. It's a filthy goddamn horror show.'' – Tate Langdon
There are some amazing horror-themed TV shows, but none are quite like American Horror Story. No other show on TV draws so deeply and richly from horror history, creating a sick, multifaceted Frankenstein's monster conglomerate of the finest that horror cinema has to offer — and it does so with such style. What other show could casually introduce the Antichrist, tacked onto the end of a season like it ain't no thang?
What makes American Horror Story so special? Partly its ability to reinvent itself every season, mutating like a fiendish, blood-spattered Madonna into a new form, a new timeline each year, unconstrained by what has gone before. Given that American Horror Story is so relentlessly innovative, it's no surprise that this show has become the richest breeding ground for new horror icons.
A horror icon is not just a scary character, but rather a nightmarish symbol of everything we fear made flesh through stark visuals. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to draw a line between the horror icon and the evil mind; think of this distinction through a Scream analogy; Billy Loomis is the evil mind, Ghostface is the horror icon. In just five short years, American Horror Story has created more memorable horror icons than many years of horror filmmaking combined.
Horror Lives In The Murder House
The first season started strong back in 2011, serving us Castle Freak realness with the Infantata before skirting close to the knuckle with an Elephant-era school shooting. But it was the glistening form of the Rubber Man that emerged as the horror icon of Murder House.
Actress Connie Britton reports that the Rubber Man even successfully horrified the man who invented him, telling TV Guide why she loved filming the freaky sex scene with the latex-loving villain:
"I was really nervous, and then once we actually shot it, I went up to ['AHS' creator] Ryan [Murphy] and was like, 'That wasn't so bad.' And he goes, 'Ugh, I'm horrified.' One of my favorite things was that Ryan Murphy was so shaken by his own creation. He could barely watch!"
Bloody Face, Bloody Heart
The sophomore effort is supposedly the most difficult, but American Horror Story: Asylum only grew the feeling of naked terror engendered by the first season. The devil himself plays a supporting role in this most horrifying of American Horror Stories, combining the evil scientist archetype — played to chilling perfection by James Cromwell as the Mengele-like Dr. Arthur Arden — with madhouse ramblings and religious fervor to create the nastiest season to date.
The horror icon of Asylum is Bloody Face, a knowing nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface and his successors, with a strong flavor of Thomas Harris. Bloody Face's expertly concealed identity was the pivotal riddle of Asylum, with his final chilling reveal redolent of The Silence of the Lambs, specifically the scene in which Hannibal peels off another man's face, literally removing the mask from the sophisticated professional to expose the monster within.
A Clown Can Get Away With Murder
Although Papa Legba could be the greatest black horror character since Candyman, Coven was less horror movie than slick teen movie with teeth, replete with crackling dialogue about the power of witches, voodoo and Fleetwood Mac. For that reason I'm going to skip Season 3 and head right into the jaws of Freak Show and the gory grimace of Twisty the Clown.
Despite his apparent mental defects, Twisty is the horror icon of Freak Show, the Ghostface to Dandy Mott's Billy Loomis. His cutaway face evokes the The Hills Run Red and Hannibal's ill-fated Mason Verger, while his coulrophobia-inducing costume begs the question of why Ryan Murphy had never tapped clowns for his Horror Story before. From Pennywise to Poltergeist, clowns have always been effective horror villains, but Twisty's most frightening facet is his similarity to real-life killer clown John Wayne Gacy — resurrected in American Horror Story: Hotel by the very same actor.
American Horror Story: Hotel trumped its predecessors with the single most shocking scene in AHS history. The new icon of Hotel — and his whirring drill-bit appendage — broke ground when he viciously shunted his conical strap-on into the hapless Gabriel in the new season's very first episode. The Addiction Demon, with his waxen skin and featureless face, managed to be the scariest character in a season that featured not only Evan Peters' brutal, undead maniac but many real-life serial killers, and that alone makes this depraved creature a horror icon.