American Horror Story: 1984 is all about a murderous adventure deep in the California forest with a group of doomed camp counselors and staff. This season takes the typical twisted horror story and packs it to the brim with callbacks and real-life events. Fans are already feeling nostalgia for colorful fashion and horror’s heyday of slasher films while they scour the Internet to fact check certain names. It may not be possible to spot every single throwback item, saying, or homage but here’s a solid (and ongoing) list of the best ’80s references in American Horror Story: 1984.
From episode five, “Red Dawn”
The Rotary Phone
This episode traveled back to 1980 with yet another Donna flashback. Her bloody confrontation with her serial killer father was obviously the center of attention, but the rotary house phone on the wall was sly nod to the past. Rotary phones existed well before the ’80s but they certainly were in many houses at that time. Now, most people have either fully ditched the house phone in favor of cell phones or they at the very least have a cordless phone were you simply dial the numbers.
No TV Guide for Xavier
Montana is (not really) ZUUL
Montana jokingly declared that she was ZUUL to her fellow dead camp counselors Ray and Jonas. It was a direct reference to a Ghostbusters (which dropped in summer 1984) scene with Dana declaring in an evil voice that there is no Dana, only ZUUL. She may be evil, but at least she knows how to drop some well-placed humor into an intense situation.
Did Billy Idol sponsor this season? His music is basically the soundtrack for majority of the big scenes. This time “Blue Highway” blares out of the cop car’s speakers as the undead Night Stalker and Mr. Jingles take off for parts unknown. It’s honestly the perfect song to play while speeding down a country highway after getting away with murder.
From episode four, “True Killers”
AHS: 1984 kicked off its fourth episode with a flashback to explain Montana and Richard’s odd origin story. He popped into her all-men aerobics class right when everyone was vigorously hip-thrusting to Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” The 1983 single was obviously a big hit and inadvertently played a role in one rude attendee getting gutted by the Night Stalker. If you want to survive, you have to respect Montana and love Billy Idol.
Donna vs. Montana = Alexis vs. Dominique (sort of)
This episode featured a double rumble in the woods with two serial killers and their respective partners in crime going head to head. Montana wasn’t happy about Donna’s serial killer experiment messing up her plans to kill Brooke, so she hit her with the sneak attack for a drag out fight. It’s not a direct reference, but this brawl is kinda reminiscent of the classic moment between Alexis and Dominique on the ’80s series Dynasty—except much darker and with less classy clothes.
From episode three, “Slashdance”
Donna’s Killer Rehab Collection
Cheaper Gas Prices
Inflation was definitely a thing in 1983. Rita and Donna’s stop at a gas station reveals a $1.13 per gallon price. It seems pretty cheap compared to today’s prices but that was a major jump considering the average price of gas was a mere $.86 per gallon at the end of the ’70s.
Tammy Faye Bakker
From episode two, “Mr. Jingles”
Where’s the Beef?
“Fat” Camps for Kids
It’s a (Not So) Nice Day for a White Wedding
The story seems to be going down a jilted bride route until he whips out a gun, shoots his groomsman and Brooke’s father, and then turns the gun on himself while everyone except Brooke runs. Her white wedding dress is splattered with brains and blood as Billy Idol’s classic song “White Wedding” plays in the background for perfect pop culture placement.
From episode one, “Camp Redwood”
The Opening Sequence
AHS revamped their opening sequence to give it an aggressively low-definition ’80s appeal with workout video clips, synth heavy music, high waist jeans, a Walkman, break-dancing, fast cars, and even an appearance from Ronald Reagan. The clips are interspersed with people hanging out at a lake, knives, and, of course, blood to let viewers know that some killing is about to commence.
The title font is almost identical to Friday the 13th’s style, with scrawled red letters forming the cast’s names. Showrunner Ryan Murphy got the concept from Corey Vega, a Twitter user who made a fan cut that caught Murphy’s attention. Vega joined the team and helped them create this new sequence, and it’s very cool.
A Very Friday the 13th Premise
The main premise of American Horror Story: 1984 pays clear homage to Friday the 13th: Camp counselors at a place surrounded by woods and water are murdered while trying to have sex. The camp is shut down and reopened years later with a new and initially unsuspecting crew. The killer returns and picks them off one by one. There’s even a dash of Halloween in there with Mr. Jingles escaping a psychiatric hospital. He looks more I Know What You Did Last Summer than Jason Voorhees, but that puts a nice spin on the narrative.
The Love for Workout Videos
Workout videos were super popular in the ’80s and play a major role in the season opener. The characters are introduced in their co-ed “summercize” class while Frank Stallone’s 1983 hit “Far from Over” blasts in the background. The “Far from Over” video includes clips of workout classes from the movie Staying Alive, so it’s a well-placed reference.
Montana Duke, the resident party girl, is obsessed with aerobics and dreams of being a great aerobics competitor after reading about it in Rolling Stone. In fact, a chance at teaching a workout class is the only reason she agrees to be a counselor at Camp Redwood. And, she weirdly recognizes the smarmy activities director from an unreleased cut of a Jane Fonda workout video.
M*A*S*H, Three’s Company, Stella Adler, and Coca-Cola, Oh My
Xavier mentions he is a “serious actor” who is above Coca-Cola commercials. He missed a M*A*S*H audition after a fender-bender with Montana, and he apparently trained with Stella Adler, a real-life actress who established popular acting schools in NYC and later Los Angeles. According to the academy’s website, a Cali location didn’t open up until 1985, but she did teach at several venues in the area, so maybe Xavier is telling the truth. Maybe.
The ’80s TV references continue with the aforementioned activities director saying he appeared in a Three’s Company title sequence (though he’s probably lying for clout). The crowd loves the show, but they may not live to see the series finale in September.
The Night Stalker
There are two reason why this group decides to flee LA to head to Camp Redwood. The first one is the Night Stalker, a serial killer who breaks into homes and rapes, beats, and brutally kills his victims. Sadly, this story line isn’t made up for TV. In the mid ’80s, Richard Ramirez a.k.a. the Night Stalker killed a string of victims before being convicted of murder, sexual assault, and burglary charges in 1989. He was on death row, but he died of lymphoma in 2013. Based on his determination to stalk and kill Brooke, he’s going to make things even more deadly at this summer camp.
The 1984 Summer Olympics
The second reason for leaving LA to head into dark woods? The 1984 Summer Olympics. Chet is salty that his (probable) steroid use disqualified him from competing, but the rest of the crew doesn’t want to be bothered with the large crowds and chaos.
The group watches the opening ceremony, which took place on July 28, at the camp. The event leads to Chet freaking out and the beginning of terror. There’s also an interesting juxtaposition of Brooke running from Mr. Jingles while the Olympic athletes are passing the torch. Let the survival games begin.
The Doomsayers Are Here
What’s a good ’80s horror story without at least one person trying to warn people about their imminent demise? First, the crew runs into gas station attendant Ed, who tells them to stay away from Camp Redwood, lest they want to die. He’s reminiscent of Friday the 13th’s Ralph, who also liked to drink and warn people about the cursed Camp Crystal Lake.
They laugh and keep going until they hit a random person. He later wakes up horrified and tells Brooke that they need to leave before they die. The second warning is also brushed off. Nurse Rita tells them about how Mr. Jingles was a camp attendant who murdered an entire group of counselors. The camp owner Margaret confirms this because she was there and survived that fateful night. Yet, everyone still remains, even after Brooke confirms she has seen Mr. Jingles. Sigh.
Charles Keating vs. Larry Flynt
Margaret claims she survived because Jesus looked out for her and now she wants to reopen the camp to create a godly place for kids. The group seems skeptical but she is alive so she obviously had something on her side. But, the most interesting bit of info from Margaret is that she’s a friend of Charles Keating and supported him at a Larry Flynt trial.
Here’s what happened in real life: Charles Keating was a financier and real estate developer who became known for his anti-pornography activism. He was on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography in 1969 and frequently targeted Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. His campaigning against pornography led to Flynt being on trial in Ohio on obscenity charges in 1976, which were later overturned.
In the end, Charles Keating lost after his part in a massive savings and loans bust in the late 80s. Of course, Margaret doesn’t see this coming but, if she survives, hopefully her money isn’t with Mr. Keating.
There’ll be more ’80s references to come each week, so check back!
Featured image: FX