At first glance, the cerebral 1950s black and white sci-fi series The Twilight Zone looks nothing like the blood-drenched splatter-fest American Horror Story, but the two chilling anthology series have a lot in common.
AHS creator Ryan Murphy has said that The Twilight Zone influenced American Horror Story. In a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy said he hoped American Horror Story "could be like The Twilight Zone and run for multiple, multiple seasons and have its own inner mythology."
Murphy and his co-writer Brad Falchuk love to include pop culture references in AHS, riffing on everything from Halloween to A Clockwork Orange, so why not start with TV's most famous weekly horror series?
Murphy may have looked to The Twilight Zone not only for American Horror Story's structure, but for AHS story ideas, themes, and characters. Murphy drew from many TZ staples, from creepy children to ironic punishments. Season 7, AHS: Cult, is a clear nod to one of the most beloved Twilight Zone episodes, "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."
Does this mean that Season 8 will feature a pair of tragically broken eyeglasses or a slavering gremlin on an airplane wing? Here's all the similarities between The Twilight Zone and American Horror Story.
Both Shows Construct An Alternate Universe
AHS creator Ryan Murphy said that he wanted to follow in The Twilight Zone's footsteps, creating an anthology series with its own internal mythology and hidden connections. American Horror Story fans have exhaustively documented the ways that all the seasons connect, including recurring characters, plot lines, and even visual motifs like spiral staircases.
It's a shame Reddit wasn't around in the 1960s, because Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling loved to tie together his episodes, too. (Of course, we do have twisted gems like this one on Reddit that posits that every TZ episode is an event that has happened in a parallel universe, all of which are a part of a vaster multiverse.)
AHS: Cult Takes Viewers Back To Maple Street
The most obvious nod to The Twilight Zone may be in AHS Cult, Episode 2, when a power outage leads to panic and murder. Viewers immediately spotted the reference to the 1960 Twilight Zone classic "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (Season 1, Episode 22). In the chilling story, an unexplained power outage in a quiet suburban neighborhood causes neighbors to turn against each other, fomenting resentments and suspicions that culminate in an innocent man being shot by mistake.
The real culprits are aliens masquerading as ordinary suburbanites who boast that conquering Earth is as easy as cutting a few wires, sitting back, and watching humans tear each other apart.
In Cult, a power outage causes Ally (Sarah Paulson) to shoot an "intruder" who turns out to be her employee, Pedro. What's more, panic-prone Ally was egged on by her insidious neighbors, who stoked her fears by suggesting the outage might be the work of international terrorists. Later episodes reveal these neighbors are members of a murderous cult stirring up trouble in the neighborhood by urging others to give in to their basest fears and desires. Like the aliens, they recognize it doesn't take much to turn humans against one another.
Bonus AHS connection: The moral of "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" - the real monsters are the "normal" people - is a recurrent theme on American Horror Story, most notably in Season 4, Freak Show.
Disturbing Children Are Featured On Both Shows
During its five seasons on air, The Twilight Zone played host to many deeply creepy children - and children's toys, like the vengeful doll Talky Tina in "Living Doll." In "Nightmare As A Child," a little girl appears to a future version of herself. In "Mute," a silent teen girl communicates only through telepathy. And in the influential "It's A Good Life," a little boy banishes adults who displease him "to the cornfield."
Flash forward to American Horror Story and the kids have only gotten worse, from Season One, Murder House's murderous toddler Michael Langdon to Hotel's demonic Bartholomew, who commits his first murder as a fetus.
Both Draw From Creepy Urban Legends
American Horror Story draws inspiration from creepy urban legends like Season One's Pig Man, Season Two's Cropsey, and Season Four's snuff films. Even Twisty the Clown is part John Wayne Gacy and part the urban myth of the Hook Man.
The Twilight Zone not only mined urban legends, it popularized many of them, including "Twenty Two" (the "room for one more" legend), "The Hitchhiker" (a ghostly face in the backseat), and "Night Call" (creepy phone calls from beyond the grave).