Every American Horror Story Season Ranked In Order Of Scariness

FX's "American Horror Story" (or "AHS," to its fans) has been entertaining macabre-minded audiences since its premiere in October of 2011. Over the course of 10 years and an equal number of seasons, the boundary-pushing Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk-produced horror anthology series has inventively brought to life a wide variety of creepy, strange, campy, gruesome, and shocking stories, featuring an oft-recurring cast of talented actors in an ever-changing carousel of roles.

From haunted manors full of ghosts to a freak show circus, asylums to serial killers, witches to vampiric countesses, the end of the world and everything "horror" in-between, each season has delivered an entirely new theme, plotline, and characters — some darker and scarier than others. Given the hit series' recent 10th anniversary, we thought it an appropriate time to take a look back at its various seasons in all their wild, insane, horrific glory, and rank them — not necessarily in order of greatness, but rather, in order of scariness. 

Which season of "American Horror Story" scared you the most?

10. 1984 (Season 9)

The show's ninth season, "AHS: 1984," took the series' campiness quite literally, with a summer camp setting and an homage to classic American slasher films of the '80s, such as "Friday the 13th."

Emma Roberts stars as Brooke Thompson, who, after being attacked by the serial killer known as the Night Stalker (Zach Villa), decides to become a camp counselor along with her friends under the guidance of Camp Boss Margaret Booth (Leslie Grossman). What they don't realize is that the camp was the site of a brutal series of murders a decade and a half prior, and though we are led to believe the killer is Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch), it could very well be someone else.

It can't be said that "1984" has no scares, not with all the ghosts and murders and such, but it does tend to play up the campy humor, and certainly has a lot of fun with the clothing, hairstyle, and music of the era. In the end, it feels a bit more of a send-up than a fright fest ... but that doesn't mean it isn't a bloody fun watch.

9. Apocalypse (Season 8)

The eighth season of American Horror Story, "Apocalypse," finally gave fans of the series something they'd been waiting for: A crossover season that brought back fan favorites from previous seasons, pairing them all up with the Antichrist (Cody Fern) during the end of the world. Though the mash-up offered a great deal of fan service, it did not result in a particularly scary batch of episodes.

Set mostly in an underground bunker dubbed "Outpost 3," the season centers around Michael Langdon (Fern), the aforementioned Antichrist. A band of survivors is brought to Outpost 3 to be judged for salvation by their inherent worthiness. Eventually a group of Warlocks and the witches of "Coven" all gather there, as well.

There's a lot to like about "Apocalypse," including the fact that it saw the return and final "AHS" appearance of Jessica Lange. It also offered salvation for "Coven's" free-spirited Misty (Lily Rabe), who'd been trapped in a particularly cruel personal hell in the show's third season, while Stevie Nicks' cameo (in which she sings Misty a powerful and moving rendition of "Gypsy") offered another stand-out moment. That said, for a season about the Antichrist and the end of the world, the actual scare factor was fairly low.

8. Cult (Season 7)

"AHS: Cult" premiered in September of 2017, and was heavily influenced by the events of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The timely story centered around a cult that terrorizes the residents of a Michigan suburb in the aftermath of Donald Trump's win.

With winky episode titles like "Election Night," "Neighbors from Hell," and "Great Again," Ryan Murphy and company made no secret of the real-life fears and terrors they were hoping to examine. And while there's no denying that the timely political themes of the season rang eerily true and close to home, the season as a whole lacked a certain spook factor, rendering it less scary than some of the others. Sure, there's the fact that the members of the murderous cult all dress as clowns, which coulrophobic viewers might find scary. And yes, cults themselves are inherently scary. But the season felt like more of a darkly satirical commentary than a show intent on delivering spine-tingling chills.

It was, however, an outstanding season for Evan Peters, who gave the series one of its best, most intense performances yet as cult leader Kai Winters (along with other cultish figures like Andy Warhol, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and even Jesus). Peters' efforts would earn him his first Saturn Award nomination, though if you ask us, he should have gotten one much sooner.

7. Double Feature (Season 10)

After the lighter, more broadly entertaining "1984," the 10th season of "American Horror Story," "Double Feature," felt more like a return to form, with a spookier, slow-burn season split into two different storylines: the seaside-set, vampire-centric "Red Tide" and the alien-centric "Death Valley."

In the seemingly "'Salem's Lot"-inspired "Red Tide," Finn Wittrock stars as a writer who moves with his pregnant wife and daughter to the sleepy haven of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he hopes to find inspiration and get a little professional writing done. Instead, he's offered mysterious black pills that (depending on your talent level) can either amp up your skills or turn you into a pale, vampire-esque creature. At first, the pills help him, but soon enough all hell breaks loose.

The second part of "Double Feature," "Death Valley," is more of a throwback to the sci-fi B-movies of the '50s, and its storyline imagines President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Neal McDonough) signing a treaty with aliens that allows them to abduct humans while they create diversionary distractions such as the Vietnam War.

As a whole, the season definitely had its moments of terror, though the two-storyline split didn't leave room for much exploration of the material ("Death Valley" itself is split into two separate timelines and storylines, further adding to the disjointed nature). Had the entire season not been broken up in this manner, it might've been a bit scarier overall.

6. Coven (Season 3)

"Coven" holds a special place in the hearts of many fans, thanks to its feminist themes and star-filled, female-led cast. It revolves around a coven of witches, descended from Salem, living in modern-day New Orleans at Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. Though a fan-favorite season, there is a general consensus that it's not one of the scarier ones ... but that's not to say it's entirely without its own little terrors.

Besides giving us one of the best Jessica Lange performances of all time as Fiona Goode, the Supreme witch, it also marked the series' first appearance of Kathy Bates, who played a fictionalized version of the real-life Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a wealthy former slaveowner who tortured and murdered her slaves, and whose sadistic crimes make for an unsettling watch, to say the least.

Other scary elements include the Axeman serial killer (who Fiona winds up dating), Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) gouging out her own eyes with garden shears, and the sweet, sensitive Misty (Lily Rabe) getting trapped in her own personalized hell.

"Coven" also marked the series' first appearances of Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau, Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie, and Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery. Several cast members were nominated for Emmys, including Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates (who won), while Jessica Lange won a Golden Globe for her iconic performance.

5. Roanoke (Season 6)

The sixth season of "American Horror Story," "Roanoke," is an interesting one. Its premise revolves around one of America's oldest unsolved mysteries, "The Lost Colony" of Roanoke (located in North Carolina's Outer Banks), whose colonists disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the 16th century.

What makes the show's sixth season especially unique is its presentation. The story plays out as part of a documentary-style show within the show, called "My Roanoke Nightmare," in which couple Shelby and Matt Miller (Lily Rabe and Andre Holland) are interviewed about their experiences at an abandoned colonial farmhouse, where they endured a series of horrifying events, which are then presented as dramatic re-enactments.

When it comes to scares, "Roanoke" certainly has its share, not the least of which comes in the form of Thomasin White, aka The Butcher (Kathy Bates), the first lady of the lost colony who sold her soul and is now prone to acts of human sacrifice. As the season evolves, the behind-the-scenes crew of "My Roanoke Nightmare" get drawn into the terrifying goings-on at the farmhouse themselves, and it doesn't take long for things to get chaotic.

The scare factor of "Roanoke" boils down to its untraditional format. The parts that weren't filmed as a reality show were scary, but the talking-head interviews and generally patchy storyline interrupted the spooky ambiance, putting this season firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of scariness.

4. Freak Show (Season 4)

The series' fourth season, "AHS: Freak Show," garnered 20 Emmy nominations thanks to its stellar cast and compelling storylines, all of which centered around a 1950s carnival freak show owned by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange). It's one of the scarier seasons of the series, most notably thanks to its bevy of memorable antagonists including Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch), Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), and Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock).

Twisty the Clown is undoubtedly one of the series' most iconic characters. Not only does he murder people, but he wears a terrifying, "grinning" mask that became instantly iconic the moment it appeared onscreen. That mask isn't just for show, either: It hides Twisty's real face, which we learn was partially shot off in a suicide attempt. This tragic backstory makes him one of the more compelling, and dare I say, beloved villains in "AHS" history.

The murderous ghost of Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley) adds even more scares to "Freak Show," as the face on the back of his head compels him to add more dead Freaks to his own morbid sideshow troupe.

And finally, we have workout-obsessed Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock), a rich, spoiled, budding psychopath with mommy issues who dreams of joining the circus himself. Dandy's murderous, "American Psycho"-like tendencies come into full bloom as the series unfolds, leading him to brutally murder a whole slew of people, literally bathe in their blood, and ultimately become the season's primary antagonist.

3. Hotel (Season 5)

"Hotel" doesn't get enough credit. The fifth season of "American Horror Story" – one of its absolute scariest — centers around the fictional Hotel Cortez, a historic (and obviously haunted) hotel in Los Angeles that was loosely inspired by the notorious real life Cecil Hotel.

The noirish "Hotel" stars Lady Gaga as the Countess, a vampire who rules over the now seedy hotel while murdering unsuspecting guests in order to feed them to her white-haired, bloodthirsty children. Later we learn that the Cortez's most sinister force is actually the ghost of its former owner, James Patrick March (Evan Peters), a sadist who built the hotel just to have a place to murder people (H.H. Holmes, is that you?).

"Hotel" is a dark, gory season, with plenty of murders and blood, including an especially graphic blood orgy scene starring The Countess and her lover, Donovan (Matt Bomer). It also features storylines involving serial killers and drug overdoses and has a controversially brutal moment involving an "Addiction Demon" and a drill-shaped apparatus. Add all that to the noirish vibe and spooky, Art Deco ambiance and you've got an unsettlingly haunting season.

That's not to say "Hotel" is all doom and gloom, though! This season also features a memorably touching performance by Denis O'Hare as the Cortez's transgender bartender, Liz Taylor, who quickly became one of the series' best and most beloved characters (and who actually gets a fairly happy ending, all things considered).

2. Murder House (Season 1)

The one that started it all remains one of the scariest seasons in "American Horror Story" history. The debut season was truly terrifying for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it's an intensely spooky ghost story set against the backdrop of a literal murder house (which, yes, also happens to be a gorgeous historic mansion).

When the Harmon family (Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Taissa Farmiga) moves into the titular Los Angeles manor, they have no idea its history is marred by tragedy and rife with ghosts, including that of the former owner who set his entire family on fire. And that's only the beginning of the truly messed-up history of the home! Other scary elements from the season include a school shooting, a storyline involving the Black Dahlia and abortion, and the infamous "Rubber Man," who ... well, if you know, you know.

The scare factor of "Murder House" certainly helped set the series up for long-term success. It also introduced the world to some of the series' most notable characters and actors, including Jessica Lange as the family's mysterious neighbor, Constance Langdon, and Evan Peters as Violet's boyfriend, Tate Langdon. Evan/Tate became a fan favorite, and both he and Jessica Lange would return for multiple seasons, with Lange ultimately garnering multiple awards for her roles and Peters appearing in every season except for "1984."

"Murder House" was, of course, also the first time we got to experience the eternally freaky opening titles that "AHS" has become known for. Featuring stop motion and CGI, a series of eerie visuals, and an unsettling theme song by César Dávila-Irizarry, the iconic opening titles remain one of the scariest elements of the entire series.

1. Asylum (Season 2)

The darkly creepy second season of "American Horror Story" centers around institutional horror, making it the scariest of all the seasons. Set in both in the present day and in 1964 at the fictional Briarcliff Manor (a Catholic asylum for the criminally insane), "Asylum" features some of the show's all-time freakiest storylines.

Journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) has plans to report on the mistreatment of patients at the asylum, but instead gets committed by Sister Mary Jude (Jessica Lange) for her homosexuality. While committed, Lana is subjected to torturous aversion therapy, while being placed under the care of Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto). 

Meanwhile, the naive Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) gets possessed by the devil, becoming evil in the process. As if all that isn't enough, the asylum's head doctor, Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), is actually a sadistic Nazi who performs torturous experiments on his patients, the Bloody Face serial killer remains on the loose, and Bloody Face suspect Kit (Evan Peters) get kidnapped by aliens. There's a lot going on!

Cromwell, Lange, Paulson, and Quinto were all nominated for Emmys for their work here (with Cromwell winning). Though the season was intensely scary, it also gave us one of the series' more memorable moments: an insanely fun musical number in which a delirious Sister Jude (Lange) sings a version of the "Name Game" song while the entire asylum staff and patients dance along.