Call us Dandy Mott, because last night we sadistically put on our clown masks to watch the first episode of American Horror Story: 1984, the latest entry in Ryan Murphy‘s addictive but increasingly frustrating horror anthology on FX. The season drops some of the previous’s season’s higher concept themes (as well as the show’s own self-referentiality) and is so far content to remake itself as a homage to ’80s slasher films. With Evan Peters sitting this one out and Sarah Paulson (reportedly) only planning to show up briefly, Cody Fern, Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, and Leslie Grossman head up the season with assists from series newcomers Angelica Ross, DeRon Horton, Matthew Morrison, and former olympian Gus Kenworthy.
Despite the 1984 title, there were no obvious Orwellian themes (yet, anyway) but there certainly were a lot of references to not only slasher films, but an infamous John Travolta movie about aerobics, the ’80’s biggest sex negativity icon, and a couple of real life serial killers. Here, all the references we could clock in the first episode.
The Friday The 13th Movies
While there’s plenty of references to other ’80s slasher films to go around, his season’s most obvious reference point so far are the Friday the 13th movies (you know the ones with Jason Vorhees …the guy in the hockey mask). Like 1984, the series started and often returned to a summer camp setting (1984‘s is know as Redwood, while Friday the 13th‘s is Crystal Lake.) Those films are also notable for the fact that Jason seems to kill just about anyone who even attempts anything like pre-marital sex, often right before they’re just about to get it on. It’s perhaps the greatest example of the frequent horror “Death by Sex” trope, and it’s likely no coincidence that the first scene of the season is the murder of some young adults about to attempt a threesome.
Perfect (aka the Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta Aerobics Movie)
Of course, Murphy always loves big, flashy pop culture reference, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. The first scene after the credits, the one that introduces us to our main cast, is pretty much a direct homage to the infamous aerobics-themed rom-com Perfect, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta. Hell, the aerobics studio is even called “Perfect 10 aerobics.” The movie was based on a series of Rolling Stone articles about singles in LA who love to hook up at health clubs, and not only is the hook up culture directly references in dialogue but so are those exact Rolling Stone articles. Unfortunately, the movie itself isn’t usually so fondly remembered (outside of a few .GIFs of the overtly sexual aerobics scenes). It was a critical and commercial bomb and is widely credited with derailing Travolta’s career until he was redeemed a decade latter by Pulp Fiction.
The Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez
The Night Stalker who robs Emma Roberts’ Brooke was a real serial killer, rapist, and robber who terrorized California throughout the ’80s in pretty similar fashion to what was shown. He just walked right into homes and terrorized residents. Interestingly, Ramirez was already featured (albeit by a different actor) alongside other infamous serial killers in an episode of Hotel.
Camp owner Margaret Booth briefly mentioned that she used to campaign alongside Charles Keating. So, who was Keating? Well, a real sex negativity icon. Gaining fame first as a college swimmer, he eventually became a noted anti-pornography activist as founder of the group Citizens for Decent Literature. He once even testified before congress that he felt the spread of porn was part of a communist conspiracy. For good measure he was also a homophobe.
Of course, there’s something of an irony to even mentioning Keating. Later on in the ’80s, Keating, who was also a high-profile businessman, gained infamy for both becoming the public face of the savings and loans crisis and to his donations and attempts to curry favor from a group of lawmakers eventually dubbed “The Keating Five” (Sen. John McCain was not only amongst them, but a close friend of Keating).
There’s already a hint of season-long theme of the forces of sex positivity vs sex negativity, so it only makes sense to mention a prude activist who, of course, had his own dirty laundry.
Yet another reference to a movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis, but this one more on topic. The scene where Mr. Jingles escapes the hospital is a direct reference to Michael Myers’ own escape from a mental hospital in Halloween and the several other hospital-set scenes in that series.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
The ’80s are right there in the title, but apparently that doesn’t preclude some ’90s reference as well. There’s a heavy slice (no pun intended) of I Know What You Did Last Summer vibes so far, from the group hitting a pedestrian with their van and trying to cover it up by getting their stories straight, to the figure who chases Brooke who looks vaguely like The Fisherman.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
So, what’s the deal with the gas station proprietor? Likely a reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre were the victims stop at a gas station early in the film only to find its out of gas. Later we fine out that (spoiler alert) the proprietor was in on the evil all along.
Black Christmas (and Scream)
Black Christmas originated the trope of serial killers making threatening phone calls to their victims, and Scream made it iconic.
The Golden State Killer
Richard Ramirez wasn’t the first to be known as “The Night Stalker.” The name was originally associated with a serial killer who terrorized Souther California from 1979 to 1981 (with another suspected lone attack in 1986). Eventually police theorized that the same killer who might have also previously been known elsewhere in California as the “Visalia Ransacker” from 1974 to 1975 and as the “East Area Rapist” from 1976 to 1979 (the AHS characters mention that the serial killer on the lose may be the same one who committed crimes elsewhere in the state).
One of those names, “East Area Rapist,” shortens to “EAR” which may explain the choice to have Mr. Jingles’ obsessed with collecting ears.
The Golden State Killer murders remain officially unsolved, but Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and charged with the crimes in 2018 (like Mr. Jingles, he’s a Vietnam vet) and is currently awaiting trial. Perhaps not relevant to this season, but it is interesting to note that DeAngelo was identified as a suspect through a database where people voluntarily upload their DNA test results in an effort to find long lost relatives, the ethics of which still remain under debate.
American Horror Story‘s Most Shocking Onscreen Transformations
Sarah Paulson, the show’s most frequent star, has rocked just about every hairstyle under the sun throughout her run (even getting to model two at one time for her conjoined twin role in Freak Show). While she usually plays more sympathetic characters, her red-headed transformation into a stern Wilhemina Venable for Apocalypse certainly stands out. Seriously, the eyebrows alone… Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Poor Billy Eichner spent a good part of Apocalypse running around as a tattered survivor of the nuclear fallout. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
We don’t even know the names of most of the 1984 characters yet, but we do know most of the cast had to endure some serious hairspray, with Billie Lourd getting a particularly severe spritz. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and @mrrpmurphy.
Naomi Grossman’s transformation into recurring character Pepper is one of the series’ most notable. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Evan Peters mostly fills the role of “confused young man” in the series, but he got to stretch his skills in Cult for a segment in which he played Warhol. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Though, maybe that wasn’t as drastic as his appearance as Christ himself. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Yes, the show even turned Meryl Streep’s daughter into a freak show performer once. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and Everett Collection.
Gaga maintained her glamour in Hotel, but went full on swamp witch for her smaller role in this season. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and Everett Collection.
Patti LaBelle is showbiz glamor personified, but she underwent a pretty drastic makeover for her role in Freak Show. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Perhaps regretting killing off her original character too early, Ryan Murphy brought Joan Collins back for a second character later in the season and fitted the famous brunette with a white wig. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Jessica Lange usually gets to retain a bit of glamour for her roles, but certain scenes in Coven required her to portray the dying witch as, well, a dying witch. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and FX.
Perhaps less notable than her accent from this season, but a beard on Kathy Bates is still a beard on Kathy Bates. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and Everett Collection.
Joker who? Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
Lena Dunham has only appeared on one season, but even she required a makeover. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and IMDB.
France Conroy’s most famous roles are usually more low key, which made her transformation into full-fledged fashionista Myrtle Snow all the more exciting. Photos courtesy of Getty Images and Everett Collection.