The American Horror Story franchise almost instantly found success upon releasing its first season, “Murder House.” However, there were still those viewers that were lured to the show for its horror features, and felt that the series didn’t lean hard enough into the genre.
More than anything, this is due to the show’s theme, which has been summed up by many with the phrase: “All monsters are human.” In other words, the driving point of all the storylines in AHS is the point that — though we tend to focus our fears on the monsters we see in our minds — the real monsters in life are people that do bad things.
The theme is immensely successful in pointing out the many ways that modern society enables and even encourages monstrous behavior. However, this causes the story to pull back from leaning completely into the “horror story” component. AHS does, of course, feature the fantastical monsters and beings that audiences are familiar with from tales. But, they are often humanized or are accessories to corrupt humans, making them less threatening. For viewers that were turning to American Horror Story for a thrilling watch, the focus on humanity may be deterring, especially because the horror elements of the show also weave in plenty of drama.
That said, the show had enough of an impact to earn itself a spin-off series that does what it didn’t. American Horror Stories, now with two seasons under its belt, follows the multi-story structure of AHS; however, it changes every episode, rather than every season. In many ways, it is a lot like its parent show. It has several of the same actors, characters, settings, time periods, etc. One essential detail that sets it apart from AHS, though, is that it fulfills the genre promise that the theme of AHS didn’t allow the original to fully pursue.
American Horror Stories delivers on the horror tropes and beats. It doesn’t rely on the message of people being the real monsters, but it doesn’t necessarily exclude it. Because of this, it doesn’t have to point out how the humans have a multitude of character flaws that can or can’t evolve. It doesn’t have to paint a relatable experience for the “monster” characters. This allows the humans in the story to just be victims, and the monsters to just be scary threats sometimes.
Another significant connection between the original show and its spin-off is how it contributes to the storyline of the original series. As mentioned before, the two shows share a few similar story details. Because of these overlaps, there is almost always something revealed by these familiar faces or places. In American Horror Stories, those shared details give viewers insight into that same face or place in AHS.
The first season of American Horror Stories essentially introduced the structure of the show: how often the storyline changed, shared story details, and the heavier-handed horror elements. The second season revealed more. Season two of American Horror Stories has followed pretty much the same episode-to-episode story shifting format, but features more details about the plots from AHS. There are plenty of human monsters present in season two, but they are matched by monsters that aren’t concerned with redemption or being excluded.
Because of the episode-to-episode structure and the hesitance to humanize all the monsters, American Horror Stories appeals to die-hard horror fans more than American Horror Story does. The structure keeps the content fresh, because the traditional horror formula isn’t usually dense enough to span multiple episodes. The decision to make some of the monsters purely ruthless makes them more threatening.
As a horror series, American Horror Stories stays true to the tropes and formulas of the horror genre more than AHS. That said, its parent series is more likely to appeal to people who don’t have a genre preference. American Horror Story blends genres rather than tying itself down to one. This prevents the series from being genuine horror, but it also allows it to appeal to a broader audience. A person’s preference between the two would come down to the density of the content that a person prefers.
American Horror Story is a fuller, more layered storyline that weaves in messages, found-family dynamics, and imperfect but relatable “monsters” that linger with viewers even after they’ve watched the show. American Horror Stories focuses on the lore or creepiness, within a more traditional horror set-up. The only lingering feeling that it leaves viewers with is the urge to look over their shoulder and check for monsters. Though fans are sure to prefer one over the other, they are both necessary because they both offer what the other doesn’t. American Horror Story and American Horror Stories work together to effectively tell the stories of that universe.
It’s clear that the theme of AHS allowed creators, Murphy and Falchuk, to explore the true horrors in life. But for viewers just looking for a little adrenaline boost in the midst of their routine schedules, American Horror Stories caters better to the thrill seekers in the audience. Nonetheless, the varying focuses and styles of each series just go to show how committed these creators are to ensuring that their fan base is getting exactly what their dark little hearts desire.