American Horror Story returned for its ninth season last night, introducing a whole new cast of characters for us to get emotionally attached to before they’re gradually massacred. Titled 1984 (which is not a George Orwell reference, sorry to this man), the season introduces AHS mainstay Emma Roberts as Brooke Thompson, a virginal teenager who makes the dubious decision to head out into the woods with a bunch of strangers to attend a not-very-legit seeming summer camp. In fairness to her, she only goes with the gang after a serial killer breaks into her Los Angeles apartment and attacks her, which is as good a reason as any to get out of the city!
There were surprisingly few references to previous AHS seasons in last night’s season premiere, especially compared to last year’s Apocalypse, which was basically a smorgasbord of easter eggs for devoted fans. But though 1984 may be turning over a new leaf, there are still plenty of pop culture references to unpack. Here’s a roundup of key references in the show so far.
Richard Ramirez, aka “The Night Stalker”
The first – and so far, the only – clear reference to previous AHS seasons comes when Brooke is attacked in her apartment by a man named Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa). “You’re going to be famous,” he tells her, right before running away. “You’re going to die by the hands of the Night Stalker. I will find you. Satan will show me the way!” He later reappears to stalk her at Camp Redwood, because he takes his title seriously.
As any true crime fan worth their salt will know, Ramirez was a real serial killer (and a real Satanist) who terrorized California residents between 1984 and 1985, and was dubbed “the Night Stalker” by the media. But this is also a callback to American Horror Story‘s fifth season, Hotel, in which the ghost of Ramirez made an appearance at Devil’s Night, having been invited there along with several other late serial killers by James March (Evan Peters).
And the rabbit hole goes even deeper: in real life, Ramirez once resided at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, a place with a history so creepy that there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to a “List of Deaths and Violence at the Cecil Hotel”. The Cecil was reportedly the inspiration for AHS: Hotel, so it’s only fitting that Ramirez would make an appearance. And since 1984 starts out in LA and takes place in southern California, more Hotel crossovers could well be coming.
This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference that could also just be a coincidence, except that in the AHS universe, nothing is a coincidence. Camp Redwood’s resident nurse is played by Pose star Angelica Ross, who casually mentions to Brooke and the gang that she works at Hawthorne Hospital. In last year’s Apocalypse, the Hawthorne School for Exceptional Young Men played a major role, providing a safe haven for warlocks. Both locations are in California, so could they be connected?
Friday the 13th (1980)
One of the first things we heard about this season of AHS was that it would be packed to the gills with references to 1980s horror movies, and the premiere did not disappoint. The whole premise in itself is basically an homage to Friday the 13th, the 1980 slasher movie in which a group of horny teenage camp counselors are hunted down and gradually murdered by a mysterious killer. Camp Redwood, with its lake, its dense creepy forests, and its dark, violent history, is clearly modeled on the camp at the center of Friday the 13th. 1984 even introduces a creepy local who warns the kids to stay away from the camp – and just like his counterpart in the movie, his very sage advice goes fully ignored.
The central killer in 1984 doesn’t seem to be Ramirez, but Mr Jingles (John Carroll Lynch), who committed a massacre at Camp Redwood fourteen years ago and has been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital ever since. The sole survivor of that bloodbath was Margaret (Leslie Grossman), who’s now in charge of the camp. But now Mr Jingles has escaped, and he intends to finish the job he started. The sequence in which he breaks out of the institution (releasing all of his fellow inmates in the process because the security protocols at this place seem… lacking) is very reminiscent of the way Michael Myers escaped captivity, more than once, in the Halloween franchise.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The wise local who tries to in vain to warn the kids about the camp is a gas station attendant, which is a reference to a classic scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the latter, the movie’s doomed lead characters stop to get gas, only to be told that the pumps are all empty. The attendant then warns them not to go messing around in old houses, and tells them “you don’t want to go foolin’ around other folks’ property. Some folks don’t like it, and they don’t mind showing ya.” Suffice it to say… they probably should’ve listened to him.