When word came out in 2011 that FX would be offering a show called American Horror Story, I was excited. When the word continued to say that it would be helmed by Ryan Murphy, my excitement faltered. I mean, how could the guy from Glee turn in a quality show with drama and scares. Now, at the start of the third season, Murphy has lived up to his acclaim and American Horror Story is at the top of the fear market on television.
The show is a mix of great casting, atmospheric effects, and a background of genuine urban legends. It has strong performances and multiple award winners in Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, and Dylan McDermott. The new season has Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Gabourey Sibide. Let’s take a look at some of the real paranormal behind the first two seasons and upcoming third season.
American Horror Story Utilises a Background of Genuine Urban Legends
“Bloody Face killer” Season Two
Bloody Face, portrayed amazingly by Zachary Quinto, is a direct riff on Eddie Gein. Gein was a farmer with an unnatural connection to his overbearing mother (a famous Hitchcock movie based on Gein’s story should be coming to mind as you read this). After local women in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin started disappearing, the police raided Gein’s farm. The farm was in shambles and, after searching, the police discovered various bodies, furniture made from human skin and bones, and other body parts stored throughout the property. His house was eventually destroyed in an arson fire. He was sentenced to life in a mental hospital where he died in 1984.
Here is a great and detailed accounting of Gein from trutv.com’s crime library.
“The Black Dahlia” Season One
The Black Dahlia made a visit to the Murder House in a season one flashback. The real Dahlia was a young woman named Elizabeth Short. She went out to Hollywood seeking stardom and bouncing around the west coast. On January 15, 1947 Short’s body was discovered on the side of the street in Los Angeles, naked and dismembered. Her killer, despite numerous suspects, was never found. Novelist James Ellroy wrote a novel about the case that was turned into a feature film. The case made national headlines with a mix of deprivation, sex, power, and murder.
Here is another great article on the Dahlia murder from trutv.com.
“Salem Witch Trials” Season Three
Murphy and other sources have revealed that the surviving witches from the Salem Witch Trials will be part of the new season. Most of us know the story from Halloween in high school history class. In 1692, hysteria swept Salem, Massachusetts. Twenty people were executed for witchcraft with more than a hundred investigated. There were accounts of spectral evidence, possession, curses, and general havoc that reigned over the town. The events were portrayed numerous times in literature and film, probably the most famous being Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Giles Corey was the only person in the trials who died without entering a plea. He was crushed to death by rocks at his own urging as he kept silent in their demands to enter his plea of innocent or guilty. Legend has it that Corey cursed the town. You can read an account of the curse and more information about haunted Salem here.
I visited Salem as a kid on vacation and loved it. It is a city of rich history and you can feel the suffering as you walk around the streets and visit the cemetery of the victims. I recommend it to anyone interested in history or the beauty of New England.
Asylums, Voodoo and Demonic Possession – Deliciously Dark Themes in American Horror Story
“Haunted Asylum” Season Two
There are instances of haunted asylums across the country. In the second season, the asylum was a vital part of the world and the fear it created. See my article about Pennhurst for an example of the usual stories surrounding the asylums. They were places filled with patient mistreatment and abuse and have become hotbeds of paranormal activity. Check this link for ten haunted asylums and stories behind the activity there.
“Demonic Possession” Season Two
Lily Rabe nailed her portrayal as the possessed nun in season two. The main story that has shaped our culture surrounding possession happened in 1949 and served as the inspiration for the classic movie The Exorcist. A young boy spent a horrific length of time dealing with demonic influence. This included objects moving on their own, the bed shaking, speaking unknown languages, words written in his skin, and more. Jesuit priests were called to exorcise the demon and eventually succeeded. You can find the journals of the exorcism online and you can read solid coverage of the story behind the film here.
“Delphine LaLaurie” Season Three
Kathy Bates will play Delphine Lalaurie in the upcoming season of the show. Her story is a classic of the many deep veins in the New Orleans paranormal world. Delphine was part of New Orleans’ high society until a fire at her mansion in 1834. The fire was set by a slave and responders found a house of horrors. They discovered a chamber with slaves chained to the walls, some surgically combined to others, some crammed in cages small enough for animals, and other atrocities. The Lalaurie family escaped the city and was never found by the angry mob that ransacked the mansion.
Here is the Wikipedia article describing her life and story.
“Marie Laveau” Season Three
Angela Bassett is set to portray Marie Laveau in the upcoming season of the show. Marie Laveau was the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, born free there in 1794. Marie was a hairdresser who worked with wealthy families throughout the city. She was a powerful woman, privy to the secrets of society and a skilled practitioner of Voodoo handing out curses and blessings. Her grave is one of the most visited in the city. Her ghost and the ghost of her snake Zombi have been seen in the cemetery and her shadow looms large over the city.
The new season of American Horror Story premiers October 9th on FX. Be sure to watch and see what new scares Ryan Murphy and his crew have in store.
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