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Each year, eagle-eyed viewers wait with bated breath to discover which classic horror trope will be explored (and subverted) on American Horror Story. From killer clowns to cannibalistic inbreds and dildo drill demons, the storylines have broken boundaries for the genre on the small-screen and influenced a plethora of television series, while simultaneously popularising the anthology format.

For its signature blend of camp and terror, trailblazing LGBTQIA+ representation and rainbow cast members, American Horror Story has also garnered a devoted following amongst the queers. It helps that the cast consists of legendary women that have gays screaming “mother!”, with the likes of Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Leslie Grossman, Emma Roberts, Lily Rabe and, of course, Lady Gaga.

There’s often discourse online as to which season of American Horror Story is the supreme, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to rank all 12 instalments from worst to best, from the inaugural stylings of Murder House to Delicate. Without further ado…

12. Delicate (season 12)

Cast: Emma Roberts, Matt Czuchry, Kim Kardashian, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Denis O’Hare, Cara Delevingne, Julie White, Maaz Ali

News of Kim Kardashian’s involvement with Delicate was met with contempt online, with fans describing it as a “joke” and “stunt casting” in order to attract more viewers. Ironically, her performance as Siobhan Corbyn, the wickedly bitchy publicist to Emma Roberts’ Oscar-hungry Anna Victoria Alcott, is widely considered to be one of Delicate‘s saving graces. (Not Emmy-worthy, but enjoyable.) Based on Danielle Valentine’s novel Delicate Condition, the nine-episode season focuses on Anna, an actress who is convinced that someone – or something – is trying to stop her pregnancy. Honestly, I did not envision a reality where Double Feature was usurped as American Horror Story’s worst outing (the first five episodes of Red Tide save it from last place), but, yeah, here we are. Not a lot worked, bar Kim’s surprisingly entertaining performance and Anna’s campy pro-abortion and defecation Instagram Reel. The gaslighting aspect is both a positive and negative, because while Delicate delivered a rather accurate depiction of psychological abuse, it felt like 80% of the season consisted of Anna running amok and losing her mind, which got a bit old. And the finale? Insulting. The threat, a coven of evil witches led by Siobhan, were eradicated with a simple incantation from… a ghost. Who signed off on that? I need names and addresses.

11. Double Feature (season 10)

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Finn Wittrock, Frances Conroy, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Adina Porter, Angelica Ross, Macaulay Culkin, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Denis O’Hare, Neal McDonough, Kaia Gerber, Nico Greetham, Isaac Cole Powell, Rachel Hilson, Rebecca Dayan, Cody Fern, Christopher Stanley, Craig Sheffer, Mike Vogel

With gnarly pale creatures that wouldn’t look out of place on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Sarah Paulson’s hilariously unhinged “Tuberculosis Karen”) lurking around an eerie Provincetown setting, the first half of Double Feature marked a promising return to American Horror Story’s horror-centric beginnings. Red Tide‘s story felt somewhat original, all the fan-favourite veterans returned and it was a perfect blend of hair-raising terror and high camp. So, it’s extremely baffling that the creators – we’re taking aim at you Ryan – ended the season with a deeply unsatisfying and rushed finale to transition into Death Valley, arguably the four most catastrophic hours in American Horror Story’s history (including American Horror Stories – yeah, eek.) Returning to the alien storyline first introduced in Asylum, the alternating timelines jarred viewers, the Gen-Z newcomers were unable to keep up with the mainstays and the plot… honestly, nothing worked except for Leslie Grossman’s lovely wig. If only Red Tide received the full season treatment…

10. NYC (season 11)

Cast: Russell Tovey, Joe Mantello, Charlie Carver, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Sandra Bernhard, Isaac Cole Powell, Zachary Quinto, Denis O’Hare, Patti LuPone, Jeff Hiller

‘Inoffensive’ is how we’d describe NYC. Centering on a series of murders plaguing the gay community in the 80s, it’s sexy, subversive and has Patti LuPone belting ‘Fever’ in a bathhouse. Could it get any gayer? Yes: the serial killer, known as ‘Big Daddy’, is a leathered-up muscle man with a gimp mask who had gay viewers begging to be his next victim. (No, seriously – Twitter was a mess.) NYC deserves props for highlighting the dire protections for LGBTQIA+ people during this era, particularly gay men, as well as the lack of mainstream recognition for queer women. Sadly, NYC doesn’t do much in the ‘horror’ department. Of course, it comes down to personal preference, but the suspense, terror and shock factor is sorely missing. Think of the eerie ambience of Asylum, Twisty’s chilling introduction in Freakshow and the dread permeating Roanoke. Admittedly, Coven, Hotel and 1984 were also void of scares, although they made up for it in dialling up the camp. But there’s not a lot of that in NYC either, which is confusing for a season that includes – it bears repeating – a bathhouse dominated by Patti LuPone’s powerhouse vocals and a henched, undead serial killer who is later revealed to be a manifestation of the AIDS epidemic.

9. Cult (season 7)

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Alison Pill, Billie Lourd, Billy Eichner, Emma Roberts, Adina Porter, Leslie Grossman, Colton Haynes, Chaz Bono, Lena Dunham

Exploring the aftermath of D****d T***p’s presidential election and the rise of a Trumpist cult led by Evan Peters’ blue-haired sociopath Kai Anderson, Cult is one of the series’ most ‘normal’ offerings. Zero appearances are made from aliens, vampires, witches or Scathath/Addiction Demons; there’s just clowns and the aforementioned orange neanderthal – which is, somehow, worse. While the plot is intriguing, it doesn’t fully commit to representing the historic conflict between the US’ two major political parties like we envisioned and, although we’re Sarah Paulson stans through and through, it’s a struggle to get on board with her leading ‘hero’ Ally Mayfair-Richards. (Her trajectory is great, though.) As is the case with the above entry, Cult isn’t particularly scary. Again: important for a horror series. Positives incoming: Adina Porter as cutthroat reporter Beverly Hope, the slasher-inspired killers and Ally shrieking her way out of clown chaos in the supermarket.

8. Apocalypse (season 8)

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Adina Porter, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Cody Fern, Emma Roberts, Cheyenne Jackson, Jessica Lange, Billy Eichner, Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Gabourey Sidibe, Billy Porter, Angela Bassett, Lily Rabe, Naomi Grossman

There were gay gasps all-around when Apocalypse revealed its true nature as a sequel to Coven. Seeing the return of the series’ iconic witches to prevent doomsday is fan service executed perfectly, and ties up some much-needed loose ends with Misty (Lily Rabe), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) and Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) escaping various cases of hell and damnation. While the return of Jessica Lange (after a three-season absence) as her Murder House character Constance Langdon elicited even more gay gasps, it’s disappointing that she doesn’t make a further appearance as her legendary Coven supreme Fiona Goode. As for the ‘apocalypse’ part of the season, there isn’t much of it. Instead of having the characters explore the nuclear wasteland and the potential horrors that would emerge as a result, too much time is spent in the past and the heroes at the start of the season are offed so early that their inclusion is completely pointless.

7. Hotel (season 5)

Cast: Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloe Sevigny, Denis O’Hare, Cheyenne Jackson, Angela Bassett, Mare Winningham, Finn Wittrock

Lady Gaga’s American Horror Story debut earned the pop icon a Golden Globe for her role as The Countess, a bloodsucking fashionista residing in the penthouse of the Hotel Cortez. Despite her acclaimed performance, Hotel suffers ever-so-slightly in Jessica Lange’s absence and for prioritising its camp qualities over the pure, unadulterated horror that we’ve come to expect from the series. Listen, we love a bit of camp – we are literally GAY TIMES – and it wouldn’t be American Horror Story without it. But, sue us: we want horror from a horror series. That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the campy aspects, from The Countess paying homage to Bianca Jagger’s Studio 54 horse ride to Evan Peters’ manic portrayal of serial killer James Patrick March, and Naomi Campbell being stabbed to death by Schmidt from New Girl. The themes of love, loss and identity were well done, as were Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare’s respective performances as dead prostitute Sally McKenna and eccentric trans bartender Liz Taylor. And, aesthetically, it’s AHS at its best. We just wish a few narratives, such as the mystery behind The Ten Commandments killer and the strap-on-wielding Addiction Demon, featured more prominently.

6. Freak Show (season 4)

Cast: Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Michael Chiklis, Frances Conroy, Denis O’Hare, Emma Roberts, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Wes Bentley

Garnering the most Emmy nominations of an American Horror Story season to date, Freak Show focuses on one of the last remaining freak shows in the US, headed by Nazi Germany survivor Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange, in her final regular role), whose eyes are set on Golden Age Hollywood. At the time of release, Freak Show received a mixed response from fans and critics, but has been retrospectively appreciated for introducing, arguably, the franchise’s most memorable antagonist in serial killer clown Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) and for its tragic undertones when compared to the fun and witty witch escapades of Coven. (Ma Petite deserved better.) Twisty’s abrupt demise regrettably tarnishes the remainder of the season, with Finn Wittrock’s spoiled, psychopathic Dandy Mott failing to live up to his genuinely terrifying (and heartbreaking?!) presence.

5. 1984 (season 9)

Cast: Emma Roberts, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Angelica Ross, Gus Kenworthy, Matthew Morrison, Cody Fern, Zach Villa, John Carroll Lynch, Orla Brady, Lou Taylor Pucci, Lily Rabe

We have entered peak American Horror Story territory. Inspired by slasher classics Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sleepaway Camp, 1984 follows five bitchin’ camp counsellors as they’re hunted by two (separate) serial killers (very bad luck): The Night Stalker (Zach Villa) and Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch). From the addictive synthpop intro to its wink-wink approach to classic horror tropes, as well as Leslie Grossman’s scene-stealing performance of maniacal icon Margaret Booth, 1984 is the series as its most fun (and bloody!). Pose star Angelica Ross, who made history as the first trans actress to secure two regular roles on television, was a welcome addition to the franchise, as was Gus Kenworthy’s endearing portrayal of bitter himbo Chet Clancy. And Brooke Thompson may not have been Emma Roberts’ most memorable or interesting character, but she did gift us this beautiful quote: “I gutted that bitch from the inside out. Now she’s in hell, licking Satan’s balls!”

4. Roanoke (season 6)

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lily Rabe, André Holland, Lady Gaga, Denis O’Hare, Wes Bentley, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Adina Porter, Leslie Jordan, Frances Conroy

Roanoke is the most polarising season of American Horror Story – Sarah Paulson even said she was “underwhelmed” by it and didn’t “care about this season at all”. Presented as a paranormal documentary series titled My Roanoke Nightmare, the season reenacts the story of a married couple (Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.) experiencing spooky disturbances in their North Californian home. The second half, presented as found footage, depicts the doomed production of the documentary’s sequel. Revisiting the slower, subdued pace of Murder House and Asylum, Roanoke is brutal and uncomfortable. With over 40 jump scares, cannibalistic inbreds and – this is the most petrifying aspect of the season – Kathy Bates’ Elizabethan Lancashire accent as The Butcher, it feels like the last season that tried to scare the bejesus out of viewers. Roanoke also includes some (unintentional?) comedy thanks to Audrey Tindall, Sarah Paulson’s arrogant British actress who can’t quite come to terms with the “carnage” across the pond. Reminisce on her best bits (and count how many times she says “oh my god!”) here.

3. Coven (season 3)

Cast: Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourney Sidibe, Patti LuPone, Stevie Nicks

Historically, queers have always been attracted to superpowered women in the horror/fantasy genres (re Buffy, Charmed, Alien, Xena: Warrior Princess, etc), hence why American Horror Story’s limp-wrist following exponentially increased with Coven. Following various students at Miss Robichaux’s Academy as they come to terms with their witchy abilities, from telekinesis to transmutation, the season became a pop culture juggernaut thanks to the camp and fierce sensibilities of its leading women. Jessica Lange’s mainstream popularity undoubtedly reached a new peak as Fiona Goode, the power-hungry “supreme” known for her biting wit and manipulative tendencies, while Emma Roberts’ status as the supreme of virality kicked-off with her self-centred starlet Madison Montgomery. Angela Bassett’s feared voodoo queen Marie Leveau made for a powerful foil to Fiona – their haircut scene was the mother-off we needed and deserved – and Frances Conroy’s eccentric redhead Myrtle Snow (aesthetically) stomped on the rest of the characters with her couture-heavy ensembles. All of the above are now considered members of the mother community – as in, the queer term of affection – and the fact that each star didn’t receive an Emmy for successfully pandering to the gays is an abomination.

2. Murder House (season 1)

Cast: Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Kate Mara, Zachary Quinto, Jessica Lange, Eric Stonestreet, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe

Spooky, salacious and sexy (Dylan McDermott, hello?), American Horror Story’s inaugural season was unlike anything on television (at the time). From the haunted chaos of the titular setting to the trauma of a school shooting, and the BDSM gimp suit stylings of the Rubber Man, Murder House succeeded in its mission: making viewers weep with fear (and extremely horny). Featuring a cohesive story with a clear beginning, middle and end (quite rare for this series), Murder House turns the traditional haunted house narrative on its head with a subversive take on love, ghouls and domestic life. Jessica Lange’s portrayal of Constance Langdon, a god-fearing, conniving Southern Belle who rules her children with an iron fist, might just be one of the small-screen’s finest horror performances in recent memory, while the season has been credited with catapulting its already legendary cast into the zeitgeist of popular culture. (Several stars went on to earn acclaim for later projects, such as Sarah Paulson for American Crime Story, Evan Peters for Dahmer and Taiwan Farmiga for The Nun.) There’s just one season that did it better…

1. Asylum (season 2)

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Peters, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Chloe Sevigny, Ian McShane, Naomi Grossman, Frances Conroy

American Horror Story’s magnum opus, Asylum takes place in 1964 and follows the staff and inmates at Briarcliff Manor, a mental institution run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), a corrupt nun who uses her power to unlawfully institutionalise Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), a lesbian reporter seeking to expose its dark secrets. Asylum has everything you could want from a horror show; evil nuns (Valak could never), alien abductions, Saw-levels of torture, heaps of gore and Maroon 5’s lead singer being butchered by a serial killer known as ‘Bloody Face’. Asylum tops our list because it’s (we cannot stress this enough) cohesive with a genuinely disturbing, bleak and blood-curdling atmosphere that hasn’t been replicated by any season since, accompanied by a plethora of Emmy-worthy performances from industry legends. It’s the most tear-jerking season, too. The ending is the series as its most poignant, with Lana and Jude’s arcs coming full circle; the former finally achieves peace and fame after her torment at Briarcliff, while the latter’s journey from ruthless villain to sympathetic anti-hero is one of the series’ best payoffs. On a final note, Asylum includes the series’ first case of camp – a word we have not mentioned once in this article – with ‘The Name Game’, a delightfully random musical sequence led by Lange that is perhaps the best embodiment of the series’ dark humour. Drag queens have even lip-synced to it, which is important.