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How “American Horror Story” Borrows from Horror Classics

28 October 2012 | Features, Guest Posts, Other Lists | by David Zou

If it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, then the creators of “American Horror Story” are blissfully ignorant on that account. They’ve taken the grimmest and most scream-tastic elements from the classic horror movies that have been frightening audiences for generations and crammed them into their small-screen show – making it a veritable perpetual homage to the genre. Check out some of our favorite “American Horror Story” cameos played by some of the most frightening films ever.

“The Shining”


 Creepy twin sisters in The Shining

American Horror Story twins

Twin brothers in American Horror Story

This Stanley Kubrick spine-tingler, based on the novel by Stephen King, is one of the most iconic and enduring horror movies of all time. The story of a family who takes over an isolated hotel as caretakers for the winter only to find themselves besieged by nasty spirits and horrific visions of the future was the perfect inspiration for chills in American Horror Story’s first haunted house season. The show pays tribute to the terror classic with the hauntingly creepy twins, a seemingly sexy lady who’s really a shriveled corpse, a daddy gone delusional and they even take a whack at some wild axe-wielding histrionics.


“The Silence of the Lambs”


 The corridor to Hannibal Lecter’s cell in The Silence of the Lambs

american horror story corridor

Similar corridor in American Horror Story

While no one on “American Horror Story” is eating anyone’s liver, they still manage to incorporate the bone-chilling creepiness of this horrific serial killer flick. Hannibal Lecter, played to ghastly perfection by Anthony Hopkins, raised the stakes for terror with his calm, cool accounts of cannibalism and sickly insightful psychoanalysis of FBI rookie, Clarice. “American Horror Story” gives the not-so-good doctor his due with a pickled head in a jar, reminiscent of the one Clarice finds in Lecter’s creepy warehouse. The long corridor of the men’s ward in the asylum even feels like the forbidding walk to Lecter’s cell in lockup.



The famous shower scene with the famous Bernard Herrmann score in Psycho


The same shrieking score in American Horror Story

You gotta love Hitchcock and “American Horror Story” certainly does. This classic slasher film, about a loner with an oedipal complex, has taken such deep root in the American psyche that everyone thinks twice before stopping for the night at a remote, roadside hotel. “American Horror Story” does Hitchcock proud with a gory stabbing scene and, although they move the action from the shower to the living room couch, the shrieking, brain-rattling music that accompanies each scene is what really makes each  one impossible to forget.


“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre mask

 Human flesh mask in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Bloody Face in American Horror Story

The little nods to this 1974 gore-fest are almost too many to keep track of. The tale of five friends who are terrorized by a freaky fiend in a mask who likes to chop things up with a chainsaw and serve them to his extended family of cannibals has proved fertile ground for the minds behind “American Horror Story.” From the wind chimes made of bones hanging on the front porch to Bloody Face’s mask of human flesh, the comparisons are terrifyingly obvious, but not a fraction less frightening for all their familiarity.


And just for fun, here are some less significant references that simply can’t go unmentioned:

“The Others”

The Others Cap

“American Horror Story” took a tip from this haunted chiller by including a seemingly omniscient, but creepy, housekeeper who seems to know a lot more than she’s letting on.


“What Lies Beneath”


Mirrors are always a portal to terror, and just as the dead girl communicates with Michelle Pfeiffer via messages scrawled in steam, the poor souls in “American Horror Story” also use a mirror to send messages from the great beyond.


“Kill Bill Vol. 1”


While not a horror flick, per se, no one can deny getting the chills when Darryl Hannah walks the hospital corridor whistling “Twisted Nerve.” This disturbing tune is co-opted by “American Horror Story” in yet another homicidal hallway stalk.


“The Blair Witch Project”


Thankfully it’s the handmade crosses dangling from trees that “American Horror Story” chose to co-opt rather than the shaky camera work.


What is your favorite “American Horror Story” episode?


About the author:  Lisa has been a big fan of American Horror Story since it premiered, and can’t wait to see what it has in store for season 2.  When she isn’t catching up on the latest episode, she is a full time writer for Satellite



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