American Horror Story: 1984 is considered one of the series’ worst seasons to date despite its inventive slasher storytelling and popular setting.
Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: 1984 is considered the weakest season out of the nine he has created in the series so far, but why? American Horror Story season 9 pays homage to classic slashers and an extremely popular setting—the 1980s—which has been proven to work in the horror space within the last decade. When 1984 was initially announced, however, it was revealed that several of the recurring cast members would not return, which caused longtime fans to grow skeptical. Then, after 1984 released episodes in fall of 2019, its viewership dropped dramatically in comparison to other installments. There are numerous reasons why this happened, and why it’s often considered the weakest in the horror anthology.
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American Horror Story season 1, Murder House, ignited the popularity of Murphy’s horror series, and featured an exciting cast who would come to return for several seasons or make surprising guest appearances down the road. In its early years, Jessica Lange was the figurehead, but the veteran actress left after season 4, Freak Show. However, it’s still common to see names from the beginning and early seasons such as Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, and Frances Conroy still involved in recent years. As the series progressed, Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Cody Fern, and Leslie Grossman became new staples in the ensemble cast. In fact, they encompass the primary cast members of AHS: 1984, but—much to fans’ dislike—favorites like Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson did not return for season 9.
1984 follows the story of a group of young adults who go to a summer camp while a serial killer is on the loose. While this highlights one threat, another lurks in the history of the inconspicuous location. In the 1970s, a different killer slashed through campers, and just so happens to revisit the camp in 1984. Season 9 includes several iconic themes familiar to 1980s horror classics such as slasher killers, camping, sex, crazy plot twists, and acid wash denim. In episode 4, “True Killers”, there are two twists and numerous major reveals that are all lumped together in less than an hour. It’s overwhelming as well as confusing, to say the least, and the season doesn’t stop there. For that reason, and others, 1984 never managed to pick up with long-time fans of the series, and its ratings dropped over time.
One of the biggest reasons that AHS: 1984 is considered one of the worst seasons is due to Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson not returning. However, this does not inherently make or break a storyline. It’s entirely possible that fans could be equally as disappointed if they were included. Plus, Ryan Murphy had other shows in mind for some of his most popular actors. Sarah Paulson starred as Nurse Mildred Ratched in the 2020 Netflix original series, Ratched. Another reason why 1984 is disliked is because it’s considered to be predictable, but that’s somewhat the point of the use of ’80s horror tropes. Just as Wes Craven’s Scream satirized slasher movies in 1996 for their overuse of predictable situations, Murphy furthered that critique by including popular storylines from the sub-genre’s greatest hits.
AHS: 1984 is actually an underrated gem. Its story is creative and unique while playing on the ridiculous nature of the slasher horror sub-genre. Ray accidentally killed someone and attempted to cover it up, which is reminiscent of I Know What You Did Last Summer. When Margaret confesses to actually committing the murders back in 1970 and Lavinia’s (Rabe) son, Bobby, dies while two counselors are having sex, parallels are drawn to Jason Voorhees’s mother in Friday The 13th. 1984 is a brilliantly delivered season that was poorly received due to the somewhat serious tone its story gave off; this decision was undoubtedly meant to satirize slasher movies while also respectfully paying homage to tradition. However, fans were justified in complaining about the use of souls being trapped on the campgrounds, as it’s a theme used several times in the series’ history and has become bland with repetition.
Ultimately, it is considered the worst season for the same reasons it should be considered one of the best. Fans believe it to be too predictable, but that may have been the intent based on the slasher route. Satirizing and critiquing horror has been essential to the reinvention and reinvigoration of stale sub-genres in the past; 1984 was Murphy’s attempt at doing what Craven did in the 1990s. Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters being part of the cast also wouldn’t have improved the season that much. Each season arguably has its faults, but American Horror Story: 1984 deserves more credit than it currently receives.
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