American Horror Story: Freak Show has taken a lot of nods from the horror genre, but its biggest influence is the Tod Browning’s 1932 film, Freaks. Freaks was one of the most notorious releases of its day—not only did director  have to cut almost an hour of material in order for the film to be released to the public, the heavily censored film was still considered so upsetting that some audience members were reported as fainting.

This makes the film a natural source of inspiration for AHS creator Ryan Murphy, who has included a number of nods to the film in the season so far.


“Shut up, you Freaks!”

It isn’t long after Meep’s body shows up on the front step of the sideshow that the rest of the workers are making merry with drinks and sweets. Jimmy, who feels responsible for Meep’s death, is shown sitting amongst the revelry with a very different disposition. Suddenly he screams out: “Shut up!” and the sideshow workers stop in their tracks.

This scene is a reference to one of the most memorable scenes in Freaks, where the “normal” Cleo is at her wedding party; the ‘freaks’ of the sideshow are dancing, singing and making merry, when Cleo suddenly can’t take it anymore, and screams out: “Shut up, you freaks!”

Cleo’s fate

The revenge planned by Penny and company for her father bears a striking resemblance to the ultimate fate of Cleopatra and Hercules in the Freaks film. In American Horror Story, the original plan (which Penny ultimately decides to abandon) is to make him a “chicken boy” by pouring hot tar over him, covering him in feathers, and then cutting off his genitals.

In the film Freaks, Cleopatra is turned into a chicken woman—complete with feathers and a stout body—for trying to kill a member of the freak show; her cohort Hercules is castrated.

“One of us”


Many fans are surprised that American Horror Story didn’t make a more overt reference to the most famous line from the film—“One of us! One of us!” but the series did give a small wink to the line that many people looked over. There is a scene early on in the series where Jimmy tells the nervous Bette and Dot that they were “one of us” now. Don’t miss a single episode of the great American Horror Story.