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American Horror Story and its spin off, American Horror Stories, have noticeable differences that allow the shows to entertain a broader audience.
The success of American Horror Story also came with lots of feedback from fans that were longing for different elements of horror in the show. To respond to some of these remarks, Ryan Murphy created American Horror Stories to explore the beloved tropes of the horror genre that the original show lacked.
While American Horror Story is known for its impressive ability to reflect society through its horrific tales and its complex, dynamic characters, its dense concepts bored some horror fans. While the show is nothing short of impressively conceived and woven together, it is not as fast-paced and tense as many scary movies, which is what a good number of fans look for in horror–something that makes them jump.
In contrast, American Horror Story changes storylines every episode or every other episode, rather than every season, which gives it a much quicker pace. This hastened the pace and resulted in characters that are more outwardly monsters, rather than flawed people with room to grow, giving the spin-off series a more traditional horror feeling. By focusing less on the message in each storyline and more on what the fans would enjoy or be creeped out by, American Horror Stories is the dessert for those fans with a sweet tooth for more traditional horror.
Because fans of the horror genre can essentially be sectioned into two groups, it makes sense to have two versions of a horror series concept to appeal to both groups. The first type of horror fans are the basic structure fans who prefer a straight forward scary story, with slasher films, hauntings (by static ghost characters), and zombie action flicks being a few examples.
The other type of horror fans are those that prefer a structure with a message. In other words, they like for there to be a deeper meaning to the film than what is on the surface and for the characters in the story to be complex. Fans in this group also sometimes prefer more obscure plots, with an ambiguous or indirect sequence of events that can sometimes leave the story open-ended.
Though some viewers were hesitant of what the spin-off series would bring to the table, the differences between the shows seem to speak for themselves. When considering the two groups of horror fans and how significantly different their tastes are, it seems very reasonable to have both shows. They essentially explore very similar concepts, in different measurements of time and through different lenses to check off the many tropes of horror. It would almost be contradictory to explore the two styles of horror in the same show which seems to justify the decision to create the spin-off series even more.
Beyond the structure of the shows being different, the effects they have on audiences differ, as well. American Horror Stories, being the series that leans more into horror that is centered around effects and visuals, is more a show for the moment, meaning the creepy feelings it evokes in the viewer fades after a while.
On the other hand, American Horror Story explores the psychology, spirituality, and emotions surrounding each horrifying concept which gives the story more depth, and thus more to unpack, resulting in it having a lingering impression on audiences. The concepts in this show, being more developed, take a bit more time to process and have a stronger ability to leave viewers reflecting on themselves.
While there are several differences that set the shows apart from each other and justify the simultaneous existence of both, they share several qualities that distinctly brand them as contributing to the same world. That is to say, they share several concepts, locations, and iconic characters that link the two overlapping worlds of each show.
However, while the worlds of American Horror Story and American Horror Stories do sometimes intermingle, they are still written to stand out from each other. The biggest difference between them is that the characters in the world of American Horror Stories are aware of the world of AHS. This is important because it indicates that the characters in American Horror Story are already familiar with how these situations turn out because they’ve seen it in the show, but they learn nothing from that and still make the same mistakes. It’s possible that these characters were meant to nod to AHS fans that seek to live these haunting situations in real life for a thrill, rather than learning from the message of the show.
All this said, any fan of the horror genre is sure to find something they like between Falchuk and Murphy’s two shows. The genius in creating both shows is that no trope of the genre is left out and neither is any horror fan, because between the two shows, so many concepts are artfully balanced, allowing the world to appeal to a broader fan base. Whether you’re fascinated by how terrifying circumstances bring about different responses in people, or you’re looking for a quick thrill, American Horror Story and American Horror Stories have a tale that will speak to everyone.
Screenwriter, actor, nature lover, and film enthusiast.
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