Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's seasonal anthology series American Horror Story has returned, and with it an onslaught of classic horror tropes, colorphobia, and self-referential in-jokes. This season is subtitled Cult and—whilst the premiere focused on the cult of celebrity which surrounded last year's election—we know that the show will be looking at all kinds of cults, with Evan Peters not only playing budding cult leader Kai but also starring as some of the most infamous cult leaders in history.
With this in mind we've made a list of some of the best "cult" movies, covering classics that American Horror Story might take inspiration from to contemporary "cult" hits that are a must for any fan of the show.
Mia Farrow's star turn is likely to be a huge touchstone for American Horror Story this season. The simmering paranoia and body horror of his tale about a young pregnant woman convinced that a satanic cult has plans on her unborn child have already begun to seep through into the season premiere, so expect to see more of Rosemary's influence.
The Wicker Man
This '73 British cult classic about a police officer sent to a small island to solve the disappearance of a missing girl only to uncover a terrifying conspiracy, is one of the best horror movies of all time. The surreal, abstract strangeness of the film and the iconic pagan imagery make The Wicker Man a cultural touchstone that AHS would be wild to ignore.
Alejandro Jodorowsky's blood-drenched kaleidoscopic masterpiece tells the story of a young man who escapes his captors to reunite with his mother, the leader of a fanatical cult. Murphy and Falchuk have already borrowed heavily from Jodorowsky in the more surreal moments of Asylum and Hotel, so taking inspiration from Santa Sangre will be a natural fit.
This stone cold B-movie is an interesting cultural artifact from the Satanic Panic that coursed through North America in the 1980s. Martin Sheen plays a police psychiatrist who moves to New York City and becomes entangled with the dark world of satanic cults. This film has aged pretty badly, but it's likely that AHS will lean into Satanic Panic and the alleged spate of occult killings that (never) occurred during the peak of the trend.
One of the best horror films of recent years, Karyn Kusama's intimate and gloriously dark film is a masterclass in paranoia and fear. Friends reuniting for a dinner party are perturbed by the behavior of our grief stricken protagonist, but is it him they really have to be worried about? Falchuk and Murphy have stated there will be no supernatural elements in this season and The Invitation is a perfect study of a humanly horrific cult.
This Eli Roth/Ti West co-production is another fantastic look at the horrors that humans can wreak. Based on the Jonestown massacre, this movie is a heart-wrenching look at the exploitative nature of cults and their sometimes brutal ends. We already know Evan Peters is playing Jim Jones in a later episode, so this is a great primer for what will likely be coming to our screens later this year.
Ben Wheatley's sophomore effort is one of our favorite British movies of all time. What starts as a by-the-numbers crime thriller quickly spirals into a nightmarish world of surreal sacrifice. This is a deep cut choice and we'd love to see Falchuk and Murphy take some unconventional British horror hints from this occult oddity.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Differing slightly from the rest of our list, Martha Marcy May Marlene isn't a horror in the traditional sense but it's horrifying nonetheless. This dreamy indie thriller is a masterful character study about a young girl who's recently extricated herself from a cult. Though it's unlikely AHS will do anything as nuanced as this film, the movie does star AHS' main muse Sarah Paulson and take hints from the Manson family and AHS will be covering that this season.
A night alone in an empty police station goes just as well as you'd expect in this 2014 underground horror hit. With a badass female protagonist and a whole spectrum of scares from subtle to scream out loud, Last Shift is one of the coolest reimaginings of the classic cult tropes that take so heavily from the Manson and Jonestown stories which AHS will be recreating.
Will you be watching any of these classic cult movies to re-up your knowledge before the next episode of AHS? Is there a movie we missed from our list? Which of these films are you desperate to check out?? Let us know in the comments!
Looking for MORE spooky content?
- Watch episodes of One Good Scare!
- Read our review of IT, which was very creepy.
- And lastly, did you know there's a campy horror musical playing in Los Angeles?
Images: Magnet Releasing, Paramount Pictures, FOX, Warp X, Drafthouse, Orion, Mainline, British Lion, Worldview