Is American Horror Story based on true events?

Jasmine Valentine
Finn Wittrock American Horror StoryFX

How much truth is in the supernatural and truly terrifying? When it comes to American Horror Story, it can be difficult to tell.

With each season of the horror anthology telling a completely different story, nothing in the series can be taken for granted. As well as plenty of obvious fictional elements, some details often feel more fact-based.

Spanning various decades with its storytelling, the show has explored everything from the Antichrist aiming to end the world to the dark side of mental institutions in the 1960s.

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But how much of it is true to life? Here’s everything we know about whether seasons of American Horror Story are based on real events.

American Horror Story: Murder House

The Harmon fmaily in AHS Murder HouseFX

Though Murder House isn’t an outright reality, it did take some inspiration from a true case.

Season 1 is loosely inspired by a murder investigation that took place in 1966. In a nurses’ dormitory in 1960s Chicago, Richard Speck was thought to have broken in and killed 8 of the young female students.

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There’s also another loose tie-in to the sub-plot of Tate’s (Evan Peters) darker side. Exploring the reality of school shootings, there are a staggering number of cases to fact-check against.

American Horror Story: Asylum

Characters in AHS AsylumFX

Asylum was apparently inspired by a real-life mental institution known as the Willowbrook State School.

In an interview with Collider, creator Ryan Murphy suggested that Season 2 was inspired by Geraldo Rivera’s investigation into the school during the 1970s, which particularly keeps in line with the events of the season finale.

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Opening in 1947, Willowbrook was supposedly a home for children with “intellectual disabilities,” breaching its 4,000 capacity by 1965 when it was housing around 6,000 children. The story ended up making River’s career after uncovering the abhorrent conditions that the children were subjected to.

American Horror Story: Coven

Kathy Bates in AHS CovenFX

New Orleans is well-known for its links to voodoo and witchcraft, which is why it makes sense for Season 3 to be set there.

While Kathy Bates’ character Delphine Lalaurie is based on a real-life person, the rest of the inspiration comes from a much broader historical context.

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American Horror Story: Freak Show

Finn Wittrock in Freak ShowFX

Set in 1952, Freak Show also accurately follows social history. In the U.S., freak shows had started to lose their mass appeal by the 1940s, explaining why Elsa Mars’ (Jessica Lange) show is on the brink of collapse.

Freak Show also parallels more modern history, sampling references from the likes of David Bowie and Lana Del Rey.

American Horror Story: Hotel

Denis O'Hare in AHS HotelFX

Though it was never properly confirmed, it’s thought that the inspiration for Season 5 came from the real-life mysteries of the Cecil Hotel.

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Opening in 1927 in Los Angeles, the Cecil Hotel has been home to horrific events and plenty of oddities and was most famously the location of the disappearance and eventual death of tourist Elisa Lam in 2013. The nickname of The Murder Hotel is one that still sticks to this day.

American Horror Story: Roanoke

Sarah Paulson in AHS RoanokeFX

It’s arguably Roanoke that has the most noticeable links to historical events, with a young family being haunted by the ghosts of the lost Roanoke colony.

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First founded in North Carolina during the late 1500s, they were officially thought of as missing in 1590. This was only discovered when a ship tried to visit them, with as many as 120 people going missing during that time.

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It’s still unknown what happened to the people of Roanoke, earning them the nickname of The Lost Colony.

American Horror Story: Cult

Billie Lourd in AHS CultFX

Jumping across to modern history, Season 7 is fuelled by the 2016 Presidential election of Donald Trump.

Though the events themselves are fictional, Cult is an authentic – yet scary – representation of how the far-right was able to mobilize after Trump won.

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As well as Trump, figures such as Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones Murphy all influence the story.

American Horror Story: Apocalypse

The cast of AHS ApocalypseFX

Instead of real-life Apocalypse is more inspired by real-life possibilities. These include nuclear war and environmental disaster.

At the same time, there are plenty of urban legends that inspired Season 8 just as much. While much of the show takes on a Doomsday attitude to the end of the world, a religious element also comes into play thanks to the role of the Antichrist and witchcraft.

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American Horror Story: 1984

Emma Roberts in American Horror Story 1984FX

As a slasher-style addition of American Horror Story, 1984 is almost directly lifted from a real case.

Season 9 takes its inspiration from Richard Ramirez, who earned the nickname of The Night Stalker. Between 1984 and 1985, he was found guilty of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 cases of sexual assault, and 14 burglaries.

American Horror Story: Double Feature

Aliens in AHS Death ValleyFX

Though it does draw from real-life historical events (such as the Roswell Incident), Season 10 is mostly made up of speculation.

The first half, known as Red Tide, isn’t grounded in any kind of fact, while the second half Death Valley can be loosely linked to alien sightings that took place between 1954 and 1972, when the story is set.

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American Horror Story: NYC

Zachary Quinto in AHS NYCFX

Heading back to the serial killer focus, the events of NYC are supposedly based on real deaths, though the exact ones haven’t been confirmed.

Following the deaths of gay men in 1980s New York, the season also parallels the AIDS crisis as a sexually transmitted infection begins to become life-threatening. A direct link is never made, but the timeline matched up to the peak of HIV becoming known.

American Horror Story: Delicate

Kim Kardashian in AHS DelicateFX

Unlike past seasons that have been inspired by real events, Season 12 is set to be influenced by a novel.

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Delicate shares its name with the recently released novel by Danielle Valentine, which documents an actress struggling with family life and a newfound sense of fame.

You can read everything we know about Season 12’s origins here.

You can check out everything we know about American Horror Story Season 12 here and check out our other coverage below:

About The Author

Jasmine Valentine is a TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's written for the likes of Total Film, The Daily Beast, and Radio Times. Jasmine loves anime, dystopian thrillers, and anything starring Tilda Swinton. You can email her here: jasmine.waters@dexerto.com.