American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy loves classic horror movies and it shows. There are dozens of classic horror references in AHS, from quick shots and bits of scoring to entire plot lines that borrow heavily from horror's greatest hits.
Horror movie sources in American Horror Story extend from silent films to The Blair Witch Project, but Murphy gives the most love to classics from the 1970s and '80s including The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, and Carrie. He also delves into some more obscure horror movies, with nods to white-eyed witches in New Orleans and psychopathic teen predators in the UK. And of course some motifs, like demonic pregnancies or pig-headed murderers, are so ancient it's hard to even pin down when they first appeared on the scene.
Look back at the times American Horror Story paid homage to old movies and vote up your favorite moments.
Keen-eyed viewers might have caught a glimpse of something eerily familiar in the opening credits for Asylum: A girl scuttling up a flight of stairs, on her back and on all fours, like a spider. This same back-breaking walk first appeared in The Exorcist, in a scene so disturbing it was cut from the film's initial theatrical release.
Of course, this is also an example of Ryan Murphy's love of staircases, which shows up throughout the series.
Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange takes place in a dystopian future where roving street gangs of sociopathic young men terrorize Britain. Gang leader Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell) is captured and subjected to psychological torture designed to rehabilitate him. His eyelids are held open and he is forced to watch hours of violent movies until the very idea of violence leaves him physically ill.
In Season 2 of American Horror Story, the lesbian journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) is held in Briarcliff asylum and subjected to a similarly torturous "therapy" supposedly intended to "cure" her of homosexuality. Kit (Evan Peters) is also restrained in similar headgear as the one seen in A Clockwork Orange by the evil Dr. Arden (James Cromwell).
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The Shining's Disorienting Decor
Season 5 features the Hotel Cortez which borrows from another ominous hotel, The Overlook from the Stanley Kubrick 1980 film The Shining, based on the book by Stephen King. Kubrick famously used tricks of architecture and interior design to make the hotel's layout disorienting and unnerving. Ryan Murphy borrows some of these same designs for his Hotel, including this familiar carpet pattern.
The twin boys Troy and Bryan who are murdered by the Infantata in Season 1 - and maybe reappear in Roanoke? - may also have been inspired by the Grady sisters who haunt the Overlook. Also hidden in Season 6? A brief glimpse of an ax-wielding Ambrose White (Wes Bentley/Jesse La Flair) pressing his face to a doorframe just like Jack Nicholson in The Shining's "Here's Johnny!" scene.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Bloody Face Mask
The very first scene of the American Horror Story series is an homage to horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), when the series premiere establishes the "Murder House" with a low-angle tracking shot reminiscent of the one that reveals the terrifying Sawyer family farm where Leatherface murders and dismembers his victims before turning their body parts into furniture and clothing, including a mask made from a human face.The next shot? A mobile made of bones, another nod to the Sawyer household.
In the following season of AHS, Ryan Murphy paid homage to TTCM again, naming his human-face-wearing serial killer Bloody Face (Zachary Quinto). Roanoke's murderous Polk clan also hearkens back to the Leatherface's cannibal hillbilly family.