American Horror Story Is At Its Best When It Focuses On Scaring You


American Horror Story has been an ever-evolving thrill ride since Murder House debuted with the intent to terrorize. The first season utilized classic genre tropes like ghosts and witches to build suspense week after week, enticing viewers to cast their own theories and immerse themselves into the Harmon family drama. But as AHS added to its twisted mythology with seasons focused on catty covens (Season 3’s Coven), the perils of reality television (Season 6’s Roanoke), and political clownery (Season 7’s Cult), it toned down the genuine scares in favor of killer camp and preachy themes.


A scene from American Horror Story: Cult

But with the current season, American Horror Story: 1984, the show made a swift return to its roots, presenting its purest take on horror since the very start. Truly, 1984’s pivot back to unfiltered terror has amplified its appeal in big ways. It’s a healthy dose of what longtime viewers who have stuck with every season, from Asylum to Apocalypse, loved in the first place. And it’s the first season in recent memory that doesn’t try and make flimsy connections to past seasons for the sake of building out the franchise’s own mythology.

By paying homage to the simple horror of AHS’s earliest successes, the scariest show on TV has finally gotten its groove back. Here’s how this season has built itself back up to be even better than before.

  • It invested us in the cast from the start

    From the very beginning of 1984, it was hard not to get invested in this rag-tag group of young camp counselors. There was Brooke (Emma Roberts), reserved in her overalls and scandalized by rocker chic Montana’s (Billie Lourd) unexpected pass. Per his many reminiscences, Xavier (Cody Fern) is a former actor, while Chet (Gus Kenworthy) is a former user, we learn as he laments his steroid use. Finally, there’s Ray (DeRon Howard), who attended medical school once upon a time, but dropped out somewhere along the way.

    And there we have it: an eclectic group of friends who decided to spend their summer working at the eerie Camp Redwood. We had their number as soon as they showed their faces. Better yet: the familiar narrative offered just enough insight into their checkered pasts and personalities to make us care, but still keep us curious.

    Then we meet the overtly devout owner of Camp Redwood, Margaret (Leslie Grossman), and the mystery begins to unfold. She presents herself as a survivor of the massacre that occurred at her beloved camp 14 years ago — a Friday the 13th-like slaying previewed within the first 15 minutes of the season premiere. She wants to make something positive out of the location, but her harsh personality makes her feel more like a murder suspect than an ally. Of course, that’s all part of the fun of a slasher; you never know who you can trust.

    Because we’ve all seen slasher flicks like

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