American Horror Story has changed the face of television, bringing with it the kinds of stars, sex, blood, foul language, and queer sensibility that TV had scarcely seen.
With the new season, American Horror Story: Apocalypse, upon us, it's time to look back on eight seasons' worth of some of the scariest monsters we ever cowered from in the safety of our own living rooms. They're ranked in order of pure scariness, with the most terrifying kept for last.
The Rubber Man (Season 1, Murder House)
You could make the argument that the American Horror Story franchise would never have become the phenomenon it did without the Rubber Man. He featured so prominently on the first season's promos and posters, probably because he summed up the show's mix of outrageous sex, violence, queerness, and terror that made it so unique in the TV landscape. On the show, the Rubber Man started off as an unknown but clearly malevolent force (a ghost? an intruder?) but was later unmasked... a few times, actually.
The Countess (Season 5, Hotel)
A 111-year-old vampire stalking the halls of the famed Cortez hotel is the stuff of gothic horror meeting L.A. noir. And with new addition to the American Horror Story squad Lady Gaga playing her, Countess Elizabeth was plenty queer-appealing too. Elizabeth murders lovers and keeps tiny little vampire children in vampire coffins and is generally everything you want/fear in a vampire queen.
Leigh Emerson (Season 2, Asylum)
Leigh Emerson, played with terrifying zeal by the great actor Ian McShane, is a serial killer who murdered 18 people in one night, all while dressed as Santa Claus. Locked up and in solitary confinement at Briarcliff, he terrorizes the patients and especially Sister Jude, who'd been so abusive to him earlier. Emerson is scary enough in the flashbacks to his murderous rampage, but he's downright demonic as the post-solitary, Santa-dressed monster he eventually becomes.
The Infantata (Season 1, Murder House)
In the second half of the Murder House season, the horror of the Rubber Man gave way to whatever that monster was living in the basement. The undead Franken-baby creation of Dr. Charles Montgomery, who tried to bring his baby back to life and accidentally re-animated a monster, haunts the basement of the titular Murder House and makes any unwanted trespassers feel very regretful for their actions indeed.
Thomasin/The Butcher (Season 6, Roanoke)
Kathy Bates already had a history of wild accents when she entered the Roanoke season of American Horror Story, and the colonial accent she used to play Thomasin White, aka The Butcher, was no disappointment in that department either. Thomasin was the woman who violently overtook the original Roanoke colony, relocated them, and hundreds of years later, let them slaughter whatever families were unlucky enough to take up residence in the farmhouse on "their" property.
Kai Anderson (Season 7, Cult)
The charismatic and psychotic cult leader in the Cult season of American Horror Story, Kai marked the first time that Evan Peter got to play the main villain of an AHS season (though he was a bad guy in Murder House and a really, really bad guy in Hotel). Peter was terrifically unsettling as Kai, a figure whose unshakable confidence in his own ability to come out on top was perhaps also the thing that was most alluring about him.
Were you ever fully confident that you'd never fall under his thrall?
Democracy (Season 7, Cult)
If there was anything scarier than Kai Anderson in Cult, it was the Electoral College that elected Donald Trump and sent so many of the characters in this season into psychological or literal chaos. Loved ones turned on each other. Seemingly placid people turned to murder. Cults formed overnight. The angel-hair line that separated Americans' lives from blood-thirsty anarchy was so much thinner than anyone on this season ever anticipated.
Bloody Face (Season 2, Asylum)
The worst monster of Season 2 is Bloody Face, the serial killer terrorizing the community surrounding Briarcliff asylum. Bloody Face is revealed to be Dr. Oliver Thredson carrying out a series of gruesome murders. Later, in a modern-day timeline, Bloody Face's reign of horror returns, this time carried out by his long-abandoned son, Johnny, who he conceived by raping his patient, Lana Winters. It wasn't just Bloody Face's murder spree that was terrifying, but also his bloody, disgusting mask made of sewn-together skin and teeth that really did the trick.
Twisty the Clown (Season 4, Freak Show)
If you didn't already have a fear of clowns before American Horror Story: Freak Show, you certainly did after encountering Twisty, the murderous clown with the plastered-on smile (which was masking his real busted-up, toothless monster face), played by John Carroll Lynch. One very macabre Ryan Murphy twist on Twisty is that his murder of the attractive young couple by the lake was essentially a shot-for-shot re-creation of a scene from Zodiac, where the masked killer stabs two young lovers in a near-identical way. In Zodiac, John Carroll Lynch plays a man who is heavily suspected to have been the Zodiac killer.
Michael Langdon (Season 1, Murder House; Season 8, Apocalypse)
At the end of Season 1 of American Horror Story, long before we ever knew that seasons of this show would start bleeding into each other, Viven Harmon's child was born after having been fathered by the ghost of the dead Tate Langdon. Vivien died in childbirth and Tate was, you know, dead, which meant the child was raised by his grandmother, Constance (Jessica Lange).
As prophesied by the spooky medium Billie Dead Howard (Sarah Paulson), the child of a human and a spirit would be the Antichrist, who would usher in the apocalypse. And so, right on time for American Horror Story: Apocalypse, the first episode ends with the arrival of a mysterious and possibly malevolent figure... named Michael Langdon. The last we saw of Michael, he was an adorable little blond-haired toddler who had just murdered his nanny in bloody fashion. It's good to have him back.