"American Horror Story" spent six seasons building a reputation for striking visuals, off-the-rails writing, and plenty of movie references peppered throughout. One could easily get a crash course on the history of genre cinema just by studying the references that Ryan Murphy
and his team have pulled from countless films. Here are the films that have had the most influence on "AHS," and where the series has referenced them (WARNING: Major movie and "AHS" spoilers lie ahead!)
The reference: The plot of the first season of "AHS" (a.k.a. "Murder House") is lifted from several classic films. Halfway through the series, we learn that Vivien Harmon is pregnant with two children, each with a different father. One of these children is destined to be the Antichrist, and Vivien's demonic pregnancy leads to her eating various organs -- including a brain, to feed her hellspawn.
The film: Both the pregnancy and the "diet" come from Roman Polanski
's classic film "Rosemary's Baby," in which Mia Farrow
plays a woman who is impregnated with the Antichrist thanks to a deal her husband made with a Satanic cult. Similar to Vivien, Rosemary gains a craving for raw chicken meat and innards. According to her autobiography, "What Falls Away," Farrow was asked by Polanski to actually eat raw liver for those scenes.
The reference: The other major plot thread of "Murder House" is, well, the Murder House. The Harmons move into a house in Los Angeles that has been the site of multiple murders over the years, and the horrors of the past come back to threaten their lives in multiple ways.
The film: As any horror film buff can point out, this premise comes directly from "The Amityville Horror," a book and film inspired by the accounts of George and Kathy Lutz, who claimed to have experienced several terrifying supernatural experiences while staying at a Dutch Colonial house in Long Island that was the site where six people were murdered.
The reference: Evan Peters
' fruitful "AHS" career began with his performance as the messed up serial killer Tate, who pretends to be an innocent boy to win the heart of Violet Harmon, but rapes and kills many people in his attempt to preserve their relationship. Tate is introduced with a whistle theme that makes it clear which movie his character is based on.
The film: That tune comes from "Twisted Nerve," a movie about a boy named Martin, whose dangerous obsession with a girl has him pretending to be a mentally disabled kid to earn her sympathy. Soon thereafter, axes are meeting human flesh. The film got renewed interest in 2003 when the tune whistled by Tate in "AHS" was used by Elle Driver in "Kill Bill."
The reference: The twist and resolution of "Murder House" loosely resembles that of one of the most critically acclaimed horror movies of the 21st century. The Harmons eventually learn that they have been killed and cannot leave the house. They then decide they will spend eternity scaring away future tenants to prevent them from suffering the same fate.
The film: This is similar to the ending of "The Others," which stars Nicole Kidman
as Grace, the mother of two who discovers paranormal encounters in her house. Like "Murder House," the family discovers they are dead and have been scaring away the family that moved in. Though they won't be sharing the house with murderous ghosts like the Harmons, Grace tells the kids that they are going to make sure that anyone living who buys the house knows that they were there first.
The reference: In "AHS Asylum," one of the many inhumane acts inflicted on the patients of Briarcliff is behavioral modification. Lana Winters and Kit Walker are subjected to brutal Ludovico techniques, and one doctor tries to cure Lana of her homosexuality by using drugs to induce vomiting while presenting her with pornographic images.
The film: The brainwashing scenes come from two very famous '70s films. Kit's treatment is lifted directly from Alex's treatment in Stanley Kubrick
's "A Clockwork Orange." Meanwhile, Lana's electroshock therapy is reminiscent of the Shock Shop scene from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." In both instances, "AHS Asylum" uses nearly identical shots to the scenes they are referencing.
The reference: The major villain in "Asylum" is Bloody Face, a serial killer who wears the skin of his victims. This is a clear reference to one of the most popular villains in horror movie history.
The film: That villain is Leatherface, the killer in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which has been referenced on multiple occasions on "AHS." In the very first episode of the series, bone wind chimes blow in the breeze in front of the Murder House, which is a reference to Leatherface's penchant for making furniture and art out of the bones of his victims.
The reference: Season 3, "AHS Coven" references multiple films about witchcraft. One recent film about teen witches makes its presence felt early on in the series, when one of the young witches takes revenge on a fraternity that gang raped a member of the Coven, but also kills the leader of the fraternity who tried to put a stop to it.
The film: The concept of teen witches using their powers to get revenge at a price is most prominent in "The Craft," a '90s cult hit in which four teen witches cast spells to improve their lives at a high school that ostracizes them. This includes a spell that makes a jerk jock fall in love with one of the witches, but like the spell cast against the frat in "Coven," it backfires hard.
The reference: One of the most memorable images from "Coven" was Cordelia Foxx's white eyes after she was blinded by acid. Though she lost her sight, her blindness gave her the power to see the future.
The film: The image of a woman with marble-like eyes comes from "The Beyond," an extremely gory Italian movie about a New Orleans hotel with a portal to hell, called the Seven Doors of Death. That may have also inspired the Seven Wonders ritual in "Coven," which involves a rite of passage into hell.
The reference: In "Coven," the Seven Wonders is a test that determines whether a witch is powerful enough to be named the Supreme. The test is explained in a silent film that references one of the oldest known movies about witches.
The film: That movie is "Haxan," a 1922 Scandinavian documentary about witch hunts and superstitions. It's known for its lavish dramatizations of witch trials and occult rituals that has earned it an unintended legacy as a horror classic.
The reference: The fourth season, "Freak Show," references two horror movies through villains that threaten the freaks. One is Stanley, a con artist who planned to kill the freaks for money, but was discovered by the freaks' leader, Elsa, who was on to him thanks to a controversial horror movie.
The film: Elsa claims to have a copy of "Freaks," a 1932 film about deformed carnival performers who attack a woman who plans to seduce, marry and kill the richest of them to gain his inheritance. Though the film was banned in several states, Elsa said she had a copy of it. Like the con artist in "Freaks," Stanley is turned into a human duck and paraded about as Elsa's newest attraction.
The reference: The other villain that's a walking film reference is Dandy Mott, a rich, spoiled brat who hunted Elsa's freaks because of his boredom with his perfect life. This serious case of affluenza comes from a far more recent film than "Freaks."
The film: Many of Dandy's scenes are recreations of Patrick Bateman's murders in "American Psycho." In fact, Patrick and Dandy's motives are almost identical, and both killers get to show off their athletic prowess with exercise scenes accompanied by smug voice-overs.
The reference: While "AHS" has earned praise for its homages, "Hotel" got accusations from some corners for crossing the line from tribute to rip-off. This accusation was particularly made when it came to one of the most famous hotel horror flick of all-time.
The film: From the carpets of the Hotel Cortez to bedrooms filled with evil spirits, every episode of "Hotel" seems to have a reference to "The Shining." The whole season owes its pacing, premise and plot obstacles to this film.
The reference: The other big reference in "Hotel" comes in the form of the Ten Commandments Killer, who slays killers, adulterers and other sinners who do not obey Moses' Law.
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The film: The David Fincher
classic "Se7en" has Kevin Spacey
playing a similar killer, only instead of the Ten Commandments, he bases his punishments around the seven deadly sins. The film's finale, based on the sin of Wrath, is one of the most powerful scenes Fincher has ever directed.
The reference: The Butcher's band of murderous spirits in "Roanoke" is full of many vicious creatures, but arguably the most infamous is Piggy Man, an aggressive killer who hunts the "Return to Roanoke" production crew.
The film: Killers associated with swine have been seen throughout horror, but today it's most associated with the "Saw" series, as Jigsaw wears a pig mask while kidnapping his victims to put them in his gruesome games.
The reference: Throughout "Roanoke," The Butcher's victims were haunted with the sight of wooden totems strung up in the trees and in the house, where they would appear out of nowhere.
The film: This is one of the more blatant references "AHS" has made, as the totems are an exact copy of the ones seen in "The Blair Witch Project." "Roanoke" is also built on the "shaky cam" presentation that "The Blair Witch Project" popularized.