“I have long stopped asking why the mad do mad things.”—Jessica Lange as Constance Langdon, American Horror Story: Murder House.
American Horror Story is an American anthology TV series produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who, believe it or not, also co-created the musical television series Glee and the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck. Each of the shows eight seasons function as a self-contained miniseries with different characters, locations, and storylines, with some aspects of the show being inspired by true events—and of course, a little bit of crossover between some seasons.
The show and the cast have received critical praise, and it has been renewed by its home network FX through season ten. Below are 42 terrifying facts about this hit series that brought horror back to the small screen.
42. True Crime Story
In American Horror Story: Hotel, the story of poor Ms. Evers, the laundress of Hotel Cortez, is based on a true crime from the 1920s. In the show, Ms. Evers’ son was kidnapped on Halloween. While his remains were never found, it was believed that he, along with several other boys, were murdered on a chicken ranch in California. The real case, coined the “Chicken Coop Murders,” was the discovery of a mass grave of bones on a chicken farm in Northern California. The murders were charged to the farm’s owner serial killer Gordon Northcott in 1929, but prosecutors were only able to prove that he’d killed three of the boys. If a mass grave on his property isn’t enough evidence, what is?
41. Unraveling the Mystery
The opening credits for American Horror Story contain important clues about the upcoming season, and it’s not usually until about episode nine that the meaning of the images are explained. Whether it’s a pair of bloody hedge clippers, a basement full of strange jars, or a floating white Christening dress, all will become clear after watching the episodes. That’s one way to make sure viewers never miss an episode!
40. Series Staples
Fans of AHS are used to seeing several of the same actors appearing from season to season in different roles, but Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters have the distinction of having appeared in every season of the show to date. Between them, they’ve played a staggering 23 roles in the eight seasons. Paulson has played a total of nine characters (including conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler in Freak Show) and Peters 14 characters, six of which appeared in Cult. I wonder how they keep them all straight!
39. Perpetual Sale
The Alfred F. Rosenheim Mansion in LA, which was the setting for Murder House, has been constantly up for sale since about 1999, but it took over 15 years for it to find a taker. Since 2011, it has been for sale for as much as $17 million in 2012 and as little as $4.4 million in 2014. According to Property Shark, Angela Oakenfold, the ex-wife of an electronica DJ and her doctor partner, purchased the home in 2015 for $3.2 million. Not a bad price for a fixer upper!
38. Crossover Connection
Pepper, a character from Asylum, crossed over into Freak Show, suggesting that the individual seasons take place in the same world if not the same time. Murphy has admitted that all the seasons are connected, and characters such as Queenie and Billie Dean Howard have made cameos in other seasons.
To prevent spoilers from getting out in advance of the show’s sixth season (Roanoke), the FX network confessed that they’d actually released unrelated fake promos and trailers to confuse the audience about the real theme. Of the 19 trailers that the network released, only one was real, but fans had to wait until the season started to find out which one.
36. You Don’t Belong Here!
Actress Naomi Grossman would spend over three hours in costume and makeup transforming into her character Pepper, and by the time she was done, she was pretty unrecognizable. That’s probably why a security officer didn’t recognize her and actually threw her off the set! Oops!
35. True Romance
Emma Roberts and Evan Peters first met on the set of their movie Adult World, but their romance didn’t start there. It wasn’t until they saw each other again on the set of American Horror Story: Coven that they started to take notice of one another. Now, after some turbulent breakups and reconciliations, the couple seems to be together again.
34. A Similar Feel
If the credits for American Horror Story make you think of The Walking Dead, there’s a good reason. Kyle Cooper of Prologue Studio produced the credits for both shows and they don’t disappoint—they’re almost good enough that we don’t want to skip them! (Nah, we still skip them).
33. Witchy Mansion
Similarly to the Murder House mansion, Miss Robicheaux’s Academy in Coven is also a real house. The Buckner Mansion is located in New Orleans’ Garden District and is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a slave known as Miss Josephine. If you don’t mind sharing the house with a ghost, the house is available to rent for about $20,000 a day.
32. A Nod to Horror
Fans of horror movies will find lots of references to famous films sprinkled throughout the show’s first season. The creepy twins Troy and Bryan are a nod to The Shining, the family moving into a house where a murder happened references The Amityville Horror, and Vivien’s unusual demon baby pregnancy cravings are Ryan Murphy’s attempt at “one-upping” the liver scene in Rosemary’s Baby. Additionally, much of Hotel was inspired by the moody vampire film The Hunger.
31. Killer Hotel
The inspiration for the Hotel Cortez in Hotel is the hotel that was built by HH Holmes—the first known serial killer in America. He would kill young female guests in macabre ways, and then remove their organs and bones to sell for medical use. The fictional hotel owner James March was based on Holmes, and like his true-life counterpart, he also used the secret rooms in the hotel to carry out his gruesome murders.
30. Who Do You Want to Play?
During the show’s first season, Jessica Lange and Ryan Murphy grew so close that he started consulting with her on the rest of her characters. When Lange wanted to sing and play a drunk, he created Sister Jude in season two, who did both of those things. When Lange wanted to play a sophisticated Chanel-wearing woman, he made her season three character Fiona a picture of elegance. Lange also drew from her real-life interest in circuses of the 1950s to play Elsa Mars, the owner of the freak show in season four.
29. Freakish Soundtrack
Although Freak Show took place in 1952, Murphy chose to use songs that were released after 1952 for a very deliberate reason. The songs he chose were all recorded by people who were either considered to be freaks or who thought of themselves that way, which fit perfectly with the freak show theme.
There’s an old expression about having eyes in the back of your head, but the character of Edward Mordrake from Freak Show not only has eyes in the back of his head, but an entire face. His front-face is handsome and dignified, but the back face is Mordrake’s Hyde. He’s deformed, ugly and completely unhinged, and he whispers terrible philosophies that only Mordrake can hear. Not surprisingly, the evil face eventually drove him insane, and he was committed to Bedlam Asylum before escaping to join the freak show. Unlike most of the other characters, Mordrake is unique because he is not an AHS creation. Mordrake is also the central character in a Victorian urban legend who kills himself by taking poison when the whispers become too much.
27. Seeing Double
James Cromwell portrayed the physician and administrator at Briarcliff Manor (Asylum), and his look-alike son John played a younger version of the character in flashbacks.
26. Busy Dog
The Harmon family dog in Murder House has multiple acting credits to her name. In fact, Lambchop had to miss a few episodes of AHS because of her busy shooting schedule for the sitcom Suburgatory.
25. I’ll Date You and Kill You
On the teen drama One Tree Hill, Evan Peters portrayed the love interest of Ashley Rickards’ character. In the first season of American Horror Story, Rickards appeared as of one of Peters’ character Tate Langdon’s murder victims in the high school massacre. Twisted!
24. Electively Mute
The character of Spalding the butler on Coven is mute due to having cut out his own tongue. To fully get into character, Denis O’Hare, who portrayed Spalding on the show, decided to stay mute off camera as well as on. Now that’s devotion to craft!
23. Clown Fear
Twisty the murderous clown from Freak Show was largely panned by professional clowns for contributing to “clown fear.” The pro clowns do have a point—Twisty definitely doesn’t project a fun-loving image!
22. Dropping Hints
Series creator Ryan Murphy has an ingenious way of dropping hints about the theme of the next season of American Horror Story within the current season. In Freak Show, the top hat clue revealed the hotel theme and Lady Gaga’s starring role. At the end of season seven, Billie Lourd’s character Winter referenced Butte, Montana several times, leading fans to believe that season eight would have something to do with the city—guess we’ll have to wait and see!
21. The Gang’s All Here
Everyone who watches American Horror Story knows that death on the show isn’t necessarily final. This is especially true for the characters from Coven, who are reuniting for the show’s eighth season. How exactly Murphy will bring them back has yet to be seen, but fans are pretty excited nonetheless.
20. Group of Nine
American Horror Story has certainly had no shortage of talented actors. A total of nine Oscar-nominated/winning stars have appeared on the show, including Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, and Angela Bassett. That’s some serious star power!
19. Unintended Peak
While filming a scene for Asylum where his character was getting hosed down, Evan Peters accidentally gave co-stars Sarah Paulsen and Jessica Lange a… let’s say he gave them a bit of a show. I’m sure more than a few people would have liked to be there for that one!
18. You’re Fired!
As actor Chris Zylka learned, refusing to do something for your AHS role results in being shown the door. Zylka was supposed to appear in two episodes of Asylum as a deaf, mute patient, but when he refused to shave his head, he was dismissed from the show and the character was written out.
17. Maintaining Her Accent
Of all the accents that Kathy Bates has done for her American Horror Story characters (and she’s done a few), the most difficult accent to consistently keep up was her Baltimore accent in Freak Show. To make sure that she didn’t drop the accent, she ended up speaking with it outside the set as well as during filming. I wonder if she watched The Wire to try and pick up some tips from Idris Elba?
16. Been There, Done That
Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka were the original choices for the roles of the antagonistic gay couple in Murder House, but they turned it down because they’d already done that in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. The pair did end up appearing in Freak Show, but regretfully had to turn down roles in the following season due to conflicts with their schedules.
15. I Wish!
Connie Britton, who played Vivien Harmon on the first season of AHS, hasn’t been seen since, but not because she didn’t want to. Commitments to her series Nashville prevented her from playing a role in Coven, but she and co-star Dylan McDermott, who portrayed her husband, will reprise their roles in season eight. Considering neither of them made it out of the house alive, fans are eager to find out how that’s going to work.
In an interview with Bustle, Chloe Sevigny admitted to not being particularly fond of her character Dr. Alex Lowe on Hotel, but not because she was badly written. Her beef with the character was that she was way too vanilla and totally opposite the Shelly character on Asylum. Of course, after playing a nymphomaniac amputee, topping that on the crazy scale would be pretty difficult.
13. Time for a Break
Playing the kinds of amazing and varied characters that Jessica Lange has on American Horror Story would seem like an actor’s dream, but after four seasons on the anthology series, she decided to step away. As Lange explained, the six-month commitment that the show required each year got to be too much, and she felt like four years doing something was plenty for the moment. Thankfully, Murphy always left the door open for her return, and Lange will be back in the show’s eighth season.
12. Unexplained Disappearance
The disappearance of the real Roanoke colony is one of history’s big unexplained mysteries, and American Horror Story’s sixth season Roanoke incorporated the disappearance. The season framed itself around the theme “My Roanoke Nightmare” and followed a couple who moved into a mansion seemingly haunted by the colonists. As to what really happened to the Roanoke colonists? While the show did explore a few of the usual theories, researchers have yet to figure out what really happened to them.
11. Bonafide Witch
Not only did actress/singer Stevie Nicks play a witch on Coven, a rumor circulated back in the ’80s suggesting that she was a real-life witch and that her song “Rhiannon” was her anthem. In reality, Nicks is neither a witch nor a practicing Wiccan, but wouldn’t that have been awesome if she was?
10. Just Wheel Me Around
For her character in Asylum, Chloe Sevigny used prosthetic pieces which made straightening her legs pretty challenging. Since taking them off in between scenes wasn’t a possibility, she simply used a wheelchair to move around. That’s one way to do it!
9. Creepiest Character
There have been many creepy characters on AHS over the years, but many critics agree that Infanta from Murder House is probably the creepiest character ever. Infanta was kidnapped as a baby and returned dead and mutilated. His Frankenstein-like father took the dismembered body parts and cobbled him back together, turning him into the terrifying basement-dwelling murderer who is enough to horrify even the bravest of souls.
8. Spooky Spin-Off
The Ryan Murphy show Scream Queens was intended to be a spin-off of the Coven season of American Horror Story, but Fox and Murphy decided to take it in a different direction and model it after teen horror and slasher films instead.
7. Borrowed Themes
The Murder House season of AHS featured a soundtrack compiled from other classic horror films. Murphy used music from Psycho, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Insidious to name a few, and if you thought you recognized the eerie whistle from Tate’s killing spree, you were right! The whistle was the same one used in Kill Bill Volume 1 and a film called Twisted Nerve.
6. Infamous Improvisation
Sometimes the lines that aren’t written end up being the most memorable, and this was the case with an improvised line by Lady Gaga in Hotel. According to Murphy, the line that was written was something like “Your Boy is Beautiful,” but when he told her to say something else, she came up with “Your boy has a jawline for days.” The line was so perfect that Matt Bomer, who was supposed to be comatose in the scene, struggled to keep from laughing.
5. Mortal Enemies
The characters of Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie, played by Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, respectively, in Coven were actual people, but no proof exists to suggest that they were real life enemies or that they ever even met. Although they were alive at the same time and both lived in New Orleans, any meetings between them come from Murphy’s own twisted imagination.
4. Lightning Up the Mood
The atmosphere on the set of Asylum could get pretty intense, but Zachary Quinto had the perfect medicine for that. While in between takes, Quinto would play his banjo for the cast and crew, which he says helped lighten things up and bring a little fun to the set.
3. Double Duty
Ben Woolf, the actor who played Meep, the tiny geek known for biting the heads off of small animals on American Horror Story: Freak Show, was an elementary school teacher by day. Sadly, he died in February 2015 from a stroke after a head injury he sustained when he was hit by a car.
2. A Slippery Situation
Getting into a latex suit can definitely be a challenge, but actor Evan Peters, who plays the ghostly Rubber Man character, had a sort of fool-proof way of getting in and out of his costume. Due to the lack of give in the material, he’d use lubricant to make it slip on more easily. He also managed to split a lot of suits while performing stunts, but nobody said they were flexible!
1. Crustaceous Character
The character Jimmy Darling in Freak Show was based on a man named Grady Stiles Jr. who was dubbed “lobster man” for being born with claw-like hands and feet. The real-life Grady was a well-known freak show performer who was convicted of killing his daughter’s fiancé. What goes around comes around though, since Grady suffered the same fate in 1992 (being murdered that is.)