The Most Terrifying ‘American Horror Story’ Scenes That Will Seriously Mess You Up
American Horror Story ain’t called that for nothing. Ryan Murphy’s anthology series has been giving us nightmares for the past seven seasons with gory murders, paranormal hauntings, disturbing sexual violence, and a variety of freaky oddities. We’ve seen everything from mutilated baby ghosts to coat-hanger abortions; if it’s traumatizing, American Horror Story‘s got it.
With Halloween on the way, we’ve complied the most terrifying AHS scenes from the first season’s Murder House to the most recent episode of Cult. But be warned – these aren’t just spooky moments you’d encounter in your average horror movie; most of these scenes will seriously eff you up. We’ve ranked the 25 most frighting scenes from ‘Pretty Horrific’ to ‘Spending an Hour in the Fetal Position Rocking in Place’ scary. If you’re a masochist like me who’s stuck with this show since the beginning, enjoy! If not, I am truly sorry for polluting your mind. And of course, SPOILER alert for the first seven seasons, plus a fair warning that many of the following clips are NSFW and include graphic physical and sexual violence.
25. Piggy Piggy (Murder House)
Eric Stonestreet whispering “piggy piggy” into a bathroom mirror before a man wearing a pig head pops out to butcher him is actually the stuff of nightmares. And you thought Bloody Mary was scary.
24. Penny Becomes the Lizard Girl (Freak Show)
After Grace Gummer’s Penny takes opium and has an orgy with the local Freak Show performers (as one does), her father punishes her with non-consensual body modification – a tattoo artist covers her face in reptile patterns, shaves her head, and gives her a split tongue. I’m all for free tattoos, but jeez, at least let me pick the design.
23. Moira Takes a Bite Out of ... Something (Murder House)
In Murder House Moira (Alexandra Breckinridge) seduces a sleazy real estate broker (Amir Arison) in the basement to ensure he doesn’t tear down the titular locale. In a nice little Last House of the Left homage, she bites off his penis during a blow job, then Denis O’Hare’s Larry suffocates him with a plastic bag. Those ghosts sure are kinky.
22. The Santa Claus Killing Spree (Asylum)
If you’re someone who’d prefer to leave your childhood Christmas memories untainted, skip this scene. In Asylum, Ian McShane’s Leigh Emerson is locked up at Briarcliff for murdering 18 people just days before the holiday. In a flashback, he breaks into a family’s home dressed as Santa, ties up the parents with string lights, and makes them choose who gets shot first. Santa’s naughty or nice list takes on a whole new meaning.
21. The Rubber Man Rapes Vivien (Murder House)
Having sex with someone in a latex rubber suit is one thing, but not knowing who the person wearing the suit is a whole other story. Connie Britton’s Vivien thinks her husband (Dylan McDermott) is dabbling in some BDSM thrills when really Evan Peters’ Tate Langdon is the one inside the suit. It’s an unsettling scene not only for the lack of consent, but because Tate is a dead guy who impregnates Vivien with the Antichrist. (Editor’s Note: I thought Oliver made this one up. They assure me they did not.)
20. Zoe Rapes and Kills a Rapist (Coven)
Taissa Farmiga’s Zoe is cursed with a power that makes me kill whoever she has sex with. But she uses it for good (kinda?) when she hunts down one of frat boys responsible for gang raping her friend (Emma Roberts). While the boy is unconscious in a comma, Zoe rapes him, causing him to have a fatal aneurism. That’s one messed up means of justice.
19. Chad and Patrick Get Murdered (Murder House)
Hey Ryan Murphy, is it really necessary to show a gay couple getting brutally murdered and sodomized? After the Rubber Man (Peters’ Tate Landgon, once again in the latex suit) drowns Chad (Zachary Quinto), he beats his boyfriend Patrick (Teddy Sears) with a fire iron. And because this is AHS, where things always go too far, Tate kills Patrick by sticking the metal rod up his ... well, you get the idea.
18. Elsa Mars’ Legs Get Sawed Off (Freak Show)
Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars gets an awesome backstory as a German dominatrix in Freak Show, but then she reveals how she lost her legs. After being drugged, Elsa was tied down to a bed as a group of sadistic Nazis sawed off her legs with a chainsaw for a snuff film. It’s surprisingly not as graphic as you’d expect, but undoubtedly still frightening.
17. Kyle’s Abusive Mother (Coven)
When AHS runs out of gory homicides and supernatural spooks, it turns to twisted sexual violence. In Coven, the series’ mommy issues get more alarming than ever before when it’s revealed that Kyle’s (Peters) mother has been molesting him. Coven didn’t even do us the courtesy of leaving the upsetting incident offscreen, but straight up showed Mare Winningham’s Alicia abusing her son. Luckily he got revenge later by bashing her head in with a trophy.
16. Madame Delphine Plays “This Little Piggy” (Coven)
While flashbacks of Kathy Bates’ racist monster Madame Delphine LaLaurie torturing slaves in her Chamber of Horrors are terrifying – and not to mention, in pretty poor taste – her present-day evil is even worse. After a black gardener cuts himself, she takes him inside, ties him up, and plays the classic childhood game “This Little Piggy” on his feet with hedge clippers.
15. Mass Shooting & Kai’s Assassination (Cult)
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Cult‘s mass shooting was one of the most tasteless moments of the entire series. Though most of the violence was cut out of the version that aired on FX, the unedited cold open (above) showed Leslie Grossman’s Meadow gunning down a congressional rally to assassinate Peters’ Kai, then shooting herself in the head. The episode was especially disturbing to watch in wake of the recent Las Vegas massacre, but beyond poor timing, it was another case of gratuitous violence that didn’t further the plot. We have enough of these horrors in the real world.
14. The Witch Hunter Massacre (Coven)
All fictionalizations of gun violence are upsetting in our current climate, but exploiting anti-black violence, and doing so in a cartoonish manner, is a step too far. In Coven, a witch hunting white dude storms into a salon to gun down a group of black women and men, all while the decapitated head of Kathy Bates watches Roots and “Oh! Freedom” blasts on the soundtrack. Then, in a particularly crass twist, Gabourey Sidibe’s witch shoots herself in the head to kill the gunman.
13. The Creation of the Infantata (Murder House)
Dr. Charles Montgomery takes his Frankenstein fascination a little too far when his infant son Thaddeus is kidnapped and murdered. After the baby’s chopped up remains are left on the doorstep (how nice of them!), Charles decides to put his kid back together with the beating heart of an aborted baby. And thus the terrifying creature known as Infantata was born, trapped in the Murder House to petrify visitors (and us) for years.
12. The Home Invasions (Murder House)
In Murder House you get two home invasions for the price of one! In the original 1968 home invasion, a man fakes an injury to get inside the house, then drowns one woman while tying up the other, all to the tune of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score. Then in the present day, a trio of criminals reenacting the crime attempt to murder the Harmons, only it ends with one of them getting an axe to the stomach. Tip: Don’t invite strangers in, dummy.
11. Twisty’s Origin Story (Freak Show)
If you thought Twisty’s (John Carroll Lynch) creepy teeth mask was scary, just wait until you see what’s behind it. A flashback reveals Twisty was actually a nice clown who tried to take his life with a shotgun after his reputation was tarnished with false rumors. Too bad the gun only blasted off his jaw. His gnarly disfigured face (don’t worry, I’ve spared you the image) is as terrifying as the jawless ghosts of Ju-On and The Grudge, and has haunted my nightmares ever since.
10. Dr. Thredson’s Necrophilia (Asylum)
Zachary Quinto’s Bloody Face may be a sadistic Buffalo Bill-type serial killer, but his real identity, Dr. Oliver Thredson, is the true villain. When held at gunpoint, Thredson gives Lana a detailed play-by-play of how he had sex with her girlfriend’s corpse after murdering her. The glee on his face when recounting it is enough to send a chill down your spine.
9. Twisty’s Bloody Picnic (Freak Show)
In the first of the series’ two allusions to Zodiac‘s picnic murder (there’s another in Cult), Twisty (played by Lynch, who played one of the Zodiac suspects in Fincher’s film) calmly approaches a couple canoodling in the grass. After performing a few carnival tricks, he stabs them with a pair of rusty scissors, in broad daylight! Cult can show us every gruesome clown murder imaginable, but none come close to Twisty’s nasty daytime kill in Freak Show.
8. A Nail Gun To the Head (Cult)
Brutal but quick deaths are one thing, but seeing how many nails in the brain it takes to murder a person? That’s just sick. To test his cult’s allegiances and plunk off the weakest link, Peters’ Kai forces his followers to take turns shooting James Morosini’s R.J. in the head with a nail gun. Surprisingly, it takes a heck of a lot of nails to kill him, and AHS milks the sequence for all its stomach-churning horror.
7. A Colonial Impaling (Roanoke)
In Roanoke, Sophie (Taissa Farmiga) and Milo (Jon Bass) are captured by colonists, impaled by giant stakes, and burned to death. That may not sound as bonkers as most AHS deaths, but the sequence is shown from the POVs of their GoPros. The shaky cam look paired with the darkness and Farmiga’s shrill screams makes it even more alarming to watch as you’re not quite sure what’s going on. This right here is chilling, classic horror.
6. Tate’s School Shooting (Murder House)
This was the series’ first and the most frightening shooting. The nearly five-minute sequence shows the perspective of the students as they take cover in the library and beg for mercy as Peters’ Tate Langdon kills them one at a time. There’s no music, just the sounds of heavy breathing and Tate’s maniacal whistling. The sequence is upsettingly realistic as it recreates an atmosphere of total fear. It’s also a crucial part of the character’s narrative and not a ripped-from-the-headlines gimmick like the shootings that followed.
5. The Coat Hanger Abortion (Asylum)
Sarah Paulson’s Lana Winters tries to give herself an abortion with a coat hanger. Need I say more?
4. Mutilated Shelly Hangs Out At a Playground (Asylum)
Imagine, you’re a middle schooler rushing out for recess when, suddenly, you see a mutilated woman covered in boils crawling towards you. Poor Shelly (Chloe Sevigny) was just a nymphomaniac who got locked up at Briarcliff then became the subject of Dr. Arden’s (James Cromwell) twisted experiments. Now she’s disturbed a whole schoolyard full of kids.
3. Demon Dildo Rape (Hotel)
I called this the most gruesome scene in the history of AHS two years ago, and so far, the series has yet to top it (thankfully). In Hotel, a waxy creature called the Addiction Demon anally rapes Max Greenfield’s junkie with a drill-bit dildo. Why? Because Ryan Murphy has a sick, sick mind.
2. Lana’s Gay Conversion Therapy (Asylum)
No season has come close to traumatizing me as much as Asylum, particularly with Lana’s storyline. Paulson’s lesbian reporter Lana Winters is forced to undergo various forms of conversion therapy by the Catholic nuns at Briarcliff to “cure” her homosexuality. Taking a cue from A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Thredson (Quinto) shows her photos of her girlfriend while giving her nausea-inducing drugs to make her vomit, then forces her to perform sexual acts with a man. And earlier, in a nod to One Flew Under the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) straps Lana down for electroconvulsive therapy. Forget paranormal entities and body horror, this is the stuff of true terror.
1. Dr. Thredson’s Basement (Asylum)
If you thought the conversion therapy was horrendous, you won’t recover from the basement torture. After Dr. Thredson helps Lana escapes Briarcliff, she realizes he’s the serial killer who murdered and raped her girlfriend Wendy. She wakes up chained to the floor of his torture room where he taunts her with Wendy’s dead body, then puts on the Bloody Face mask with one new addition – Wendy’s teeth. Oh, you thought we were done? After raping Lana, Thredson keeps her locked up as his prisoner, tells her about the first time he enjoyed necrophilia, calls her “Mommy,” nurses off her, then tries to kill her. Excuse me while I send Ryan Murphy my therapy bills.
Gallery: The Scariest Non-Horror Movies