The horror genre provides a wide variety of scares: the sudden shock, the slow dread, the flicker of instinctive disgust. The best part of American Horror Story is that it hits viewers with every kind of scare, often in the same episode (and sometimes even simultaneously). Gore, suspense and body horror – you name it and Horror Story has scared us with it. So sit back and cozy up to our highly subjective list of the series' scariest scenes. And no, the aliens aren't on here. They were great, but those extraterrestrials ain't scary. —Halle Keifer
The American Horror Story pilot was packed with traumatic details, but the element that cranked our expectations to high was the terrifying old man/baby monster that Tate (Evan Peters) and Violet (Taissa Farmiga) unleashed on school bully Leah in the basement. Viewers later find out that the creature is the resembled body of Thaddeus Montgomery, but even context doesn't make seeing the Infantata's bloody lamprey mouth snarl in between strobe flashes any less scary.
While Horror Story built its bread and butter on supernatural shocks, one of the single scariest plotlines of the first season deals with the Westfield High Massacre. It's just too realistic. While there are easily a dozen gorier scenes in Season One, even those viewers unmoved by the occult shudder at Tate's school shooting fantasies. . . especially after we find out that his fantasies are based on actual memories of the event.
Remember when Violet kept running out the front door. . . only to find herself running into the house again? Instead of just telling her with words, Tate brings Violet to the attic to reveal her fly-riddled corpse. It turns out Violet didn't survived her suicide attempt after all. We're not speaking out of turn when we say there are few images sadder or more frightening than seeing your own dead body.
Poor Shelley. Briarcliff's resident nymphomaniac (Chloe Sevigny) didn't last long before falling prey to Dr. Arden (James Cromwell)'s experiments. Shelley's amputations would have been disgusting enough even without the whole "dumping her near an elementary school" part, but that's not how AHS rolls. The happiness we felt seeing Shelley (temporarily) survive was offset by total child pandemonium when she crawled onto that playground.
In Asylum's fifth episode, Lana (Sarah Paulson) thought she was free after Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) snuck her out of Briarcliff and into his home. Then she noticed the skull candy dish on his coffee table. And the lampshade made out of human skin. There are few Horror Story moments more terrifying than Lana's look of dawning horror when she realizes that she abandoned the frying pan for the serial killer's lair.
"There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus!" It's easy to dismiss the idea of a killer Kris Kringle as too shlocky to be genuinely scary. Easy to dismiss, that is, until you see Ian McShane rip into another man's face with his teeth during Asylum's eighth episode, "Unholy Night." Only the Deadwood actor could make such a campy moment seem utterly terrifying.
You don't need to be a woman to recoil at the thought of giving yourself an abortion. The repulsion you feel transcends sex and gender (and maybe space and time). While Lana had every reason to try and stop the birth of her future serial killer son in Asylum's ninth installment"The Coat Hanger," the episode's eponymous scene left us weak in the knees with a visceral, knee-buckling kind of fright.
American Horror Story: Coven, like the preceding premieres, started off with a bang – a hideous, ghastly bang. As much as immortal former slave owner Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) has tried to redeem herself, nothing can erase the memory of our first visit to the twisted torture chamber she built in the attic of her New Orleans mansion.
AHS is at its scariest when the viewer doesn't exactly know what's happening. To whit – the moment in Coven's premiere when Zoe manifests her ability to kill sexual partners with. . . her vagina? The mechanics are unclear. The freshman witch later uses her skill for revenge, but nothing can rival her boyfriend's unexpected demise in the season premiere. Having sex for the first time is scary enough without a brain hemorrhage.
It's a struggle to make zombies seem fresh and scary in a post-Walking Dead world, but Horror Story pulled it off via Madame LaLaurie's heartfelt apology to her undead daughter in Coven's fifth episode. There's a reason Kathy Bates has an Oscar. Despite her milky dead eyes and rotting carapace, Boquita retains enough of her former self to choke the living daylights out of her mother. Or maybe she was just being a zombie. Either way, it's horrifying.