FX’s anthology series “American Horror Story” kicks off its seventh season Tuesday with the premiere of “Cult.”
Unlike last season, which was kept extremely under wraps, creator Ryan Murphy has been much more open about “Cult.” The new politically-inspired season begins on Election Night 2016. While it has political themes, Murphy said it isn’t an anti-Trump or pro-Clinton show.
Instead, Murphy said it takes a look at “the cult of personality,” examining people who are able to take advantage of others and gain power and loyal followings.
Murphy said this season provides an “unexpected jolt” in the series, which is just what AHS needs.
Let’s be real, the show hasn’t been the same since Jessica Lange left, and even her last season was trash. After a serious decline in quality in the middle seasons, “Roanoke” started to get back to the show’s true horror roots, and hopefully “Cult” can continue that revival.
But before the new season gets started, let’s take a look back at the show’s first six seasons, ranked from worst to best.
6. “Freak Show”
“Freak Show” was a mess. It had some serious potential (because who isn’t afraid of pretty much everything at the circus?), but it managed to butcher the season, while also butchering just about every single character in the show’s finale. While Twisty the Clown provided some genuine terror, he was extremely underused, so I’m excited to see him return in “Cult.” The only redeeming quality of this gory mess of a season was the fact that it really began to weave the seasons together by reintroducing characters from past seasons.
“Hotel” marked AHS’ first venture into life post-Jessica Lange, and boy was it hard to replace her. While Lady Gaga’s presence added a certain extravagance to the show, the season’s storyline was just too all over the place. Evan Peters’ performance as James March, the hotel’s sadistic creator, was one of the season’s highlights, along with the Halloween episode “Devil’s Night,” which brought together some of the world’s most famous serial killers. All in all, season five struggled to find its direction and couldn’t put together all of its crazy plotlines.
After a revolutionary first two seasons, “Coven” was the first time I was ever able to watch a season of AHS without feeling the need to hide under a blanket and turn on every light in my house. While the lack of scares really caused “Coven” to drop in my power rankings, adding Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett to the AHS universe made this season well worthwhile. The story was one of the show’s better plots, and Bates’ performance as the out-of-her-time-period Madame LaLaurie is absolutely killer. Plus, the entire cast’s chemistry is really just next level, and who doesn’t love Stevie Nicks playing a witch?
After the conclusion of “Hotel,” there was virtually no news about what the show’s sixth installment would hold until the night it premiered. The result? A revolutionary take on AHS. Instead of the traditional approach to storytelling, “Roanoke” gave viewers a show within a show, as we watched the ghost hunter-esque “My Roanoke Nightmare” until Murphy flipped the show on its head again in episode six when he went behind the scenes. Not only did “Roanoke” have a completely new take on AHS, but it provided perhaps the most straightforward plot of the series and brought back the scream-out-loud scares the previous seasons had been missing.
2. “Murder House”
This is where it all started. Never before had a show been so — for lack of a better word — extreme. The scares, the violence, the intensity, it was all unheard of. The scares in “Murder House” were some of the best in the entire series, and each episode introduced more and more compelling, developed characters. Perhaps one of this season’s biggest mistakes was the lack of Sarah Paulson, the show’s perennial star, who was very limited in her role as psychic Billie Dean Howard.
After such a standout first season, I didn’t think it would be possible for AHS to outdo itself in round two, but that’s exactly what it did. Not only did it have the same terror from season one, but it horrified viewers by showing the brutal conditions of the Briarcliff insane asylum. Season two provided the most well-developed characters and made audiences actually care about them. Both Paulson and Lange turn in their best performances of the series, plus Zachary Quinto and Lily Rabe portray the series’ two best villains of all time. When you have a cast and setting that is so consuming, fans forget about the fact that this season had a lot going on, with appearances from aliens, zombies, demon spirits, angels and Nazis.
“American Horror Story: Cult” premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.