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 eight, “Rest in Pieces”
There’s only one more episode of AHS:1984 left after this one, so it’s time to really pack on the last minute ’80s callbacks. Brooke and Donna’s pre-murder breakfast leads to a conversation about the future, past, and even a strange encounter that ends in eventual doom.
Brooke says she wants to head to Australia after she gets revenge on Margaret because she always loved the Crocodile Dundee movies—specifically the first one. This is interesting because the original Crocodile Dundee movie came out in September 1986 when Brooke was in prison. Perhaps she caught it once it came to TV sometime later.
A Final Girl Lesson
Donna warns Brooke that she has to eat and get her strength up to face killer Margaret if she wants to be the Final Girl. Brooke has no idea what this mean so Donna has to explain it. This may seem odd but it has been established that Brooke was pretty sheltered in the early ’80s, so it makes sense.
In her words, every horror movie has the last woman standing to lives to tell the tale. Think Nancy from Friday the 13th, Halloween‘s Laurie Strode, and (in their future) Scream‘s Sidney Prescott. Donna also rightfully states that her chances are slim because there are no Black final girls.
Stacy’s ’80s rundown
Their chat is interrupted by the very suspect Stacy Phillips, a National Inquirer reporter who remarks that Brooke looks like the Camp Redwood killer. Uh oh. She seems pushy yet harmless as she invites herself to the table and talks about the impending murder festival. Stacy has done books on ’80s killers like Ted Bundy and Ed Gein and remarks that the Camp Redwood murders represent what’s wrong with the ending decade.
She says it is a veneer of wholesomeness covering up darkness and goes on to talk about high school kids doing coke, gay British musicians pretending to be straight, AIDS, and crack. Whew. She wraps it up by saying that people will look back at the ’80s as a decade of B.S. Well, based on the current ’80s takeover, people seem to look back on it with a different viewpoint.
Stacy’s rambling mentioned Iran-Contra, which was a political scandal during Ronald Reagan’s era. Administration officials were secretly involved in the sale of arms to Iran during an embargo. This all went down from 1985-1987 and led to several people being indicted, including the Secretary of Defense, National Security Adviser, and Assistant Secretary of State, whom were all later pardoned by then Vice-President George H. W. Bush after he became president.
The reporter’s rant also included a quip about Small Wonder, a sci-fi comedy sitcom that ran from 1985-1989. The show followed a robotics engineer who made a humanoid robot and tried to pass it off as his daughter. It’s one of those shows that likely had a niche following and may have been forgotten among the crowd. Stacy obviously thinks it was trash enough to mention among drug epidemics and political scandals, but surely it wasn’t that bad, right?
The episode jumps back to right outside of Camp Redwood with the ’70s Ghost Counselor wandering the road once again. He encounters a thumbless Bruce (Donna and Brooke really should have killed him) while The Go-Go’s 1981 song “Fading Fast” plays in the background.
It’s a solid choice yet again considering how the stuck-in-purgatory former counselors have not only disappeared from their lives, but are also losing their memories every time they die. However, Bruce remarks that he is not a fan of the band and prefers The Eagles, Bob Sager, and Clearwater Credence Revival instead.
How did Bruce escape Brooke’s ties? Well, we have a very good Mary Kay consultant to thank. The enduring cosmetics multi level marketing company was founded by Mary Kay Ash in the ’60s, but it really didn’t hit it’s national stride until the ’80s. Bruce may have gotten it wrong about Mary Kay taking over the real estate game and the roads being filled with pink cars, but he was right about the company’s influence. It’s still around with many active consultants today.
I Want To Know What Love Is
Is there anyone who doesn’t know this song? Poor Trevor is so desperate to get away from Margaret that he’s sleeping with ghost Montana and declaring his unrequited love for her. He admits that this changing world doesn’t have a place for an ’80s dude like him.
So it’s only appropriate that his heart to hear with Montana would be accompanied by Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” (1984) because this guy just wants good love. It’s too bad that Montana is 1) dead, and 2) a serial murderer, and 3) completely out of her mind.
Everyone hates Benjamin – especially Xavier. His anger is justified considering he was stuffed in an oven. But, Xavier cannot let go of the acting career that he will never get to experience, particularly his two callbacks for the A-Team. The action series ran from 1983-1987 and it could have been his chance to hang out with Mr. T.
Eye of the Tiger
Donna certainly has her eye on a singular prize. She thwarted Brooke’s plan to kill Stacy by saying they should only kill Margaret because its the righteous thing to do. The pair got into a brief scuffle and eventually let Stacy go while the “Eye of the Tiger” (1982) by Survivor played in the background. Brooke and Donna might survive but Stacy was quickly taken out by the Night Stalker and his buddy Bruce. It’s honestly what she gets for coming out there in the first place.
From episode seven, “The Lady in White”
Morning in America
In reality, this phrase was a political slogan used by Ronald Reagan for his 1984 re-election campaign. Reagan wanted to convince American’s that the economy had become healthier with more positive people heading to work because of his policies. It obviously had an impact on Brooke, who was likely new to the workforce, and many other Americans because he was re-elected.
Armageddon It At The Skating Rink
Poison Strikes Again
Kajagoogoo, Limahl, and A Never Ending Story
Too Shy While They Die
From episode six, “Episode 100
Flesh for Fantasy
American Horror Story‘s 100th episode went completely off the rails in several unexpected ways. But, one thing that didn’t chance for this season was a heavy dose of Billy Idol. AHS:1984 kicked things off with Mr. Jingles and Richard aka The Night Stalker blasting “Flesh for Fantasy” on their boombox in a suspect hotel. Richard nearly killed another person who insulted his musical god, but thankfully his sidekick stepped in to tell him to chill out. Billy Idol will be at Camp Redwood’s festival so expect more music in the final episodes.
Can’t Fight This Feeling
The Night Stalker’s Capture
In August 1985, Ramirez had just returned to Los Angeles and was identified by several women as “El Matador” (“The Killer”) before running for his freedom. He tried to carjack a woman but was chased by bystanders and subdued after being hit in the head with a crowbar. The police came and he was finally taken into custody.
Montana’s Purgatory Music
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
Floppy Disks and Bulky Computers
Be Kind, Please Rewind
Mr. Jingles almost escaped the murder lifestyle. He changed his name to Donald and started living a quiet life in Alaska with a wife, son, and a job at Video Shack. His job has a few cool fictional movie posters like “Alligator Man” but the love for VHS tapes during this time was too real. Donald and his boss commiserated about people who didn’t rewind their rentals, which led him to say that people should “be kind, rewind.”
The manager says they should take that phrase and offers Donald a chance to work in their new Juneau store. In real-life, the phrase was slapped on Blockbuster VHS tapes, which means Mr. Jingles is a visionary. And, interestingly, there were two Blockbuster stores in Alaska that stood the test of time and closed last year. Perhaps Video Shack was bought out by Blockbuster and Mr. Jingles could have been a rich man. Too bad he is an agent for Satan who can’t have any peace…
’80s Horror Movie Homage
How Soon Is Now?
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