American Horror Story just wrapped up its ninth season, 1984, delivering several weeks’ worth of blood-soaked, campy ’80s nostalgia. Though Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk administer a fresh dose of fear every year, it’s tough to keep up with each season. Were there any you missed? Which are the vital installments? And which is the most terrifying of all? Here’s our rundown of every AHS season so far, from worst to best.
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Freak Show (Season 4)
AHS: Freak Show comes in dead last. Twisty the Clown was a letdown; Finn Wittrock’s Dandy Mott was the best part, but he wasn’t enough to keep the season from floundering. It was sad to see Jessica Lange go out on such a low note. Thankfully she’ll be making an appearance on Apocalypse to preserve her AHS legacy.
Cult (Season 7)
AHS: Cult was a response to the 2016 presidential election; it hit a little too close to home, a little too soon after everything went down. Sarah Paulson going head to head with Evan Peters was top-notch acting, but tough to take in sometimes. The season explored the dangers of extremism on both sides of the fence and didn’t try to mince that message at all. It felt a little preachy at times—although those clowns were creepy as hell.
Roanoke (Season 6)
Roanoke deserves an A for effort, but execution was more like a C+. The docu-style that made up the first half of the season and the found-footage approach that conveyed the second got a little too convoluted. Adina Porter’s Lee Harris and Kathy Bates as Agnes Mary Winstead were the season’s saving graces. The tale of the real-life Roanoke Colony disappearance is more than spooky enough, but the show left us thinking that they could’ve done more with it.
Hotel (Season 5)
Ladies and gentlemen…Lady Gaga! There was a lot of hype around Hotel, with Jessica Lange stepping away from the show and Ryan Murphy filling that void with Gaga, and it definitely delivered. The Countess racked up quite the body count within the walls of Hotel Cortez, which made for some bloody fun. The hotel theme also allowed for a lot of standout guest stars, including Darren Criss, Max Greenfield, and Naomi Campbell. Gaga nabbed a Golden Globe for her work on the season, but Denis O’Hare was totally robbed for his role as Liz Taylor.
Apocalypse (Season 8)
The eighth season of AHS delivered the crossover fans of the show had been waiting years for. It’s essentially a continuation of season 1, featuring a grown-up version of demon-child Michael Langdon, but with the witches from the Coven season thrown into the mix. Apocalypse explores the end of days from religious, social, and political standpoints, complete with some sorcery and sass.
1984 (Season 9)
Fun though the ’80s vibe and Friday the 13th homages were, it wasn’t clear from the outset whether 1984 was going to develop into a coherent season. With real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez terrorizing Emma Roberts one minute, and Matthew Morrison’s well-endowed camp activities director Trevor chewing up the scenery the next, it was hard to get a firm grasp on the tone. But in the show’s last half, 1984 surprised us by slowly becoming one of the most emotionally satisfying AHS installments yet, between Mr. Jingles’s (John Carroll Lynch) heartbreaking family backstory, and the touching friendship between final girls Brooke (Roberts) and Donna (Angelica Ross).
Murder House (Season 1)
The season that started it all had so much to love. Frances Conroy and Alexandra Breckenridge both playing the same seductive spirit. Rubber Man. Best of all, we got Jessica Lange as the maniacal Constance Langdon. There’s a reason some of these characters are popping up again in Apocalypse. The fans needed to see them again.
Asylum (Season 2)
Asylum is definitely the scariest of the seasons. It was a little bit of everything from the horror handbook, including possession, serial killers, Nazis…and all in a creepy mental hospital. The season kicked off with guest stars Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Adam Levine getting mangled by Bloody Face, and was a thoroughly terrifying ride from there. Points off for throwing aliens into the mix, though. Also worth noting: We’ll also never be able to listen to “The Name Game” the same way again.
Coven (Season 3)
Hear me out. Coven didn’t have a ton of jump scares (even though the minotaur was no joke) but the characters set it ahead of the rest. AHS is an anthology series, with a lot of actors taking on different roles each year, and Coven showcased Ryan Murphy’s go-to women at their finest. It’s nearly impossible to pick standouts, but every scene between Emma Roberts and Jessica Lange was bitchy, witchy greatness. And let’s not forget that Stevie freaking Nicks cameo. Coven’s blend of creepy and campy earns it the top spot on this list.
Emma Dibdin writes about television, movies, and podcasts, with coverage including opinion essays, news posts, episodic reviews and in-depth interviews with creatives.
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