AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984’s Best ’80s References (So Far)

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


Xavier angrily confronted Donna after she admitted to releasing Mr. Jingles, which led to him roasting in a oven. He made sure Donna knew that she ruined his career and chances of hitting the cover of TV Guide. The printed guide of upcoming shows and premieres was the ultimate way to keep up with TV back then. Stars from big shows like Three’s Company, Magnum P.I., and Dynasty all graced the covers at some point, so it makes sense for a TV Guide cover to be Xavier’s big dream. Too bad he’s dead and apparently stuck in purgatory now.

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.

Blue Highway

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”
Rebel Yell

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”


The episode’s title is a play on the 1983 romantic drama starring Jennifer Beals as a welder who aspires to be a ballerina aspiring. Flashdance was critically panned but it became a box office success with a great soundtrack including “Maniac” and “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” Alex Owens inspired a generation of girls to rock their curs and wear over-sized sweatshirts that hang off their shoulders.

First Blood

Chet and Ray’s luck quickly goes downhill after he falls into a deep pit riddled with spikes. Ray comes out unscathed but Chet is impaled through his shoulder with a large wooden stick. Chet tells Ray that the hole is a punji pit and questions if he’s ever seen First Blood. The 1982 Slyvester Stallone action film is the first introduction to Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and featured the use of a punji pit. These traps were actually used in the Vietnam War and are now banned as a form of weaponry, according to the United Nations Office at Geneva. This technique would make sense for Mr. Jingles as a Vietnam vet who supposedly wants to set a trap for his victims.

Donna’s Killer Rehab Collection

Welp. Nurse Rita’s suspect behavior finally makes sense. She’s actually Donna Chambers, a psychologist pursuing doctorate studies. Donna is basically a serial killer whisperer who thinks she can crack the code to Mr. Jingles murderous tendencies. It might all be a lie but she claims to have broken through with Ted Bundy, Gacy, William Bonin, Patrick Kearney, and Robert Hansen aka the Butcher Baker. All of these people are real-life killers who reigned terror from the 1960s through the 1980s. Donna is currently studying Mr. Jingles in his “natural habitat” but she may not be ready for the Night Stalker’s deadly mission.

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.


AHS:1984 comes through once again with a perfectly placed ’80s jam. Hall & Oates “Maneater” plays in the background as the real Nurse Rita realizes she’s about to get kidnapped (or worse) by Donna Chambers. This song absolutely fits because, well, Donna is indeed ready to murder an entire group of people to forward her own agenda.

Tammy Faye Bakker

The always hilarious Montana refers to holier-than-thou Margaret as Tammy Faye Bakker before suggesting they leave her behind. Tammy Faye Bakker was a popular televangelist and singer alongside her husband Jim in the 1970s. She became infamous for her soft voice, large hair, and excessive makeup. The couple preached the message of God and lived a lavish lifestyle until their world came tumbling down following rape allegations in the late ’80s. Margaret would have totally watched the Christian Broadcasting Network and The 700 Club for inspiration from Mrs. Bakker.

Ray’s Decapitation

Ray turned out to be the worst token Black guy of all-time. He killed a fraternity hopeful and left Chet to die after Chet saved his life earlier. Ray took off on a motorcycle to leave Montana at the hands of the Night Stalker but his ride into freedom ended with Mr. Jingles whacking off his head. So much for luck. Ray’s death not only feeds into the “Black people usually die first in horror movies” trope but it’s also a reference to Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan. In the flick, Jason lobs off yet another doomed Black guy’s head. This didn’t happen until 1989 of course, but it’s still a fun parallel.

From episode two, “Mr. Jingles”
Where’s the Beef?

The ’80s pop culture references keep rolling in the second episode! Poor Ed’s gas station murder is on TV along with chatter about the Night Stalker. But, the crew (minus Brooke) is more interested in a popular TV commercial with a catchphrase, “Where’s The Beef?” The slogan is from real-life Wendy’s commercials that started to run in 1984 to throw shade at their competitor’s hamburgers. The original commercial features three older women poking around at a big bun and making jokes filled with double entendres. Since then, it’s become a way to basically question the quality of any product.

Sam Goody

Montana admits she hasn’t gone through as much as Brooke has, but she does vividly recall how awful it was for someone to grab her breast in a Sam Goody. This music and entertainment chain was a big deal long before online music and TV streaming services took over. Sam Goody recently popped up in Stranger Things‘ Starcourt Mall, so it’s getting a lot of love in 2019 despite being defunct for quite some time.

“Fat” Camps for Kids 

Montana and Brooke did a lot of bonding in this episode before everyone got shook over the Night Stalker and Mr. Jingles. Montana shared a sad story about being sent to fat camp as a ’70s kid, which might explain her dedication to participating in fitness classes now. “Fat camps” are now known as weight loss camps, but are arguably still born of a culture of body shaming.

It’s a (Not So) Nice Day for a White Wedding 

Brooke had a story of her own this episode that led to a very dark scene. She’s wearing a wedding dress with massive shoulders and ready to commit to her fiancé. However, the fantasy slowly unravels when becomes possessive and paranoid in front of the entire church. He accuses Brooke of breaking their virginity pact and sleeping with his groomsman, which she denies.

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