Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s FX passion project rarely lives up to its name. American Horror Story often resembles more of an aesthetic-obsessed, bad B-film debacle with too much money backing it rather than anything that fits in the horror genre. But, sometimes, it lives up to the hype.
Whether the truly terrifying instances across AHS’s seasons involve monsters or all too human murderers, there is one common factor: the jump scare. It’s that single, grotesque shot accompanied by a burst of unnecessarily loud music. And because scary moments are so rare on television’s most popular horror series, it’s important to give them their due credit.
Below is a list of the nine moments throughout American Horror Story that made you run just a little faster from the dark bathroom to your bed at night. On a completely unrelated note: sleep well tonight!
A word to the wise: some of the following images might be hella disturbing.
9. Violet’s Corpse — Season 1, Murder House
Perhaps more disturbing and heartbreaking than horrifying, the moment in Season 1 of AHS when Violet (Taissa Farmiga) comes across her own dead body in a crawl space was as big a plot twist as anything out there. The moody, troubled teen that we’d grown to love throughout the season was officially dead, and her corpse was being desecrated by flies and other creepy crawlies.
That close-up of her whited-out eyes and yawning, fly-filled mouth haunted viewers for nights to come. And, perhaps, made some wonder if they were also ghosts without realizing it. Dun dun duuuun!
8. Like, Everything About Bloody Face — Season 2, Asylum
Of all the horrifying, vomit-inducing things that Season 2, Asylum, introduced to its audience, the serial killer Bloody Face was the worst — in every single one of his iterations. Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) was Bloody Face in the 1960s, only to have his product-of-rape son, Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott), take over in the 21st century. Prankster copy cats ran wild as well, inspired by the legends of the skin-wearing killer.
From the horrifying (inflicting conversion therapy on Lana Winters) to the unthinkable (kidnap, murder, and rape) to the plain weird (craving breast milk), Bloody Face’s sticky, leathery, tooth-filled mask was as much a symbol of the character’s inner persona as it was his outer.
7. Twisty the Clown’s Gaping Maw — Season 4, Freak Show
Remember that moment in the first episode of Freak Show when you thought the demented clown approaching the cute, picnicking couple might be friendly? Yeah, he wasn’t. But Twisty’s (John Carroll Lynch) mask hid the most gruesome part of his story.
Horrifying clowns made a lot of noise in recent news, but it can be assumed that not a lot of them had half a jaw due to a failed suicide attempt with a shotgun. To make it worse, the flashes AHS audiences got of Twisty’s real mouth always revealed rotting teeth and flesh. Yum.
6. Shelley’s Fate — Season 2, Asylum
Poor Shelley. She was punished for being a woman who enjoyed sex in the 1960s by being labeled a “nymphomaniac.” Fast-forward, and Shelley (Chloë Sevigny) is crawling from the depths of an elementary school to terrify children after Dr. Arden violated and experimented on her.
When audiences saw Shelley in her final state after “Anne Frank” found her in Dr. Arden’s lab, the reaction was undoubtedly visceral. And her death at the hands of Monsignor Howard and his rosary was definitely avert-your-eyes grotesque.
5. Cordelia Needing Her Powers Back — Season 3, Coven
When Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) lost her sight in Season 3, Coven, she gained the power of foresight, but lost it after transplanting two other witches’s eyes into her own skull. So, of course, the logical thing for her to do was remove the new eyes with gardening shears.
And remove them with gardening shears she did. Audiences got an eyeful of Cordelia staring down the blade of the shears. “They won’t show that,” everyone thought. Then Cordelia, to everyone’s horror, promptly jammed the shears into her eye socket. Makes your toes curl just thinking about it, right?
4. The Mattress Man — Season 5, Hotel
Instead of the monster under the bed, AHS Season 4 gave us the monster in the bed, which is so, so much worse. And, to make it worse, how this creature that smells like rotting flesh came to be in the mattress has no discernible origin story.
Gabriel (Max Greenfield) later shares the same fate as the Mattress Man after being sewn alive into a mattress by Sally (Sarah Paulson). His escape comes more quickly, though, than the original Mattress Man’s, whose body is later dumped into a chute that leads to the Hotel Cortez’s basement.
3. Dr. Arden’s Raspers — Season 2, Asylum
Shelley wasn’t the first Briarcliff Manor patient to fall under Dr. Arden’s knife, not by a long shot. The Raspers, the cannibalistic creatures created through Arden’s sick experiments haunted the woods around Briarcliff, happy to kill and eat anything that mildly resembled food.
The only thing perhaps more disturbing than the appearance of the Raspers was the sound they made. Named “Raspers” for the way their breath rasped up their throats, Raspers would chase escaped patients from Briarcliff through the woods, following them with that awful, haunting sound.
2. Franken-Thaddeus — Season 1, Murder House
The scariest entity in Murder House was, undoubtedly, Thaddeus, who came to be known as “the Infantata” in AHS circles. The basement-dwelling, ball-rolling creature in the shadows, Thaddeus was the result of his father’s attempts to recreate his kidnapped and murdered son, who was taken as revenge for the father’s underground abortion clinic. Thaddeus was the result of Dr. Frankenstein-esque experiments that involved Thaddeus’s father stitching together the parts of various dead infants.
Tate (Evan Peters) and the other ghosts haunting the Harmon family’s house would often use Thaddeus to their advantage due to his generally terrifying appearance.
1. Tate’s Killing Spree — Season 1, Murder House
What makes Tate Langdon’s murder spree at his high school in 1994 so scary is the reality behind it. School shootings are all too real a thing, and after audiences had fallen in love with the disturbed Tate (Evan Peters), he was revealed as a murderer.
Between Tate’s troubled upbringing, his love for Violet (Taissa Farmiga), and his pseudo-suicide at the hands of a S.W.A.T. team, Tate is still one of the most complicated and tragic characters Murphy and Falchuk have ever spun.