The Parodic Reprise of 80s Camp Queerness in American Horror Story: 1984

Curator's Note

The lingering influence of the 1980s on current horror film and television is evident; from style to cinematography to ideological frameworks, the era of spandex, slashers, and synthesizers deeply informs contemporary horror aesthetics. Nowhere is this influence more intelligible than in American Horror Story: 1984 (FX, 2019); the season’s devotion to campy 80s horror sensibilities manifests as part homage, part pastiche—but its embrace of 80s slasher tropes is entirely constitutive. It’s a mashup of plot points, character notes, and mise en scène borrowed directly from classic 1980s teen horror like Sleepaway Camp (1983) and the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as incorporating thematic and visual inspiration from The Evil Dead (1981) and themes and narrative structures from Creepshow (1982).


Yet one of the most notable differences between AHS: 1984 and its antecedent texts is that while the season makes use of an 80s aesthetic and setting—including diegetic gestures toward the period-accurate cultural opprobrium of non-heteronormative sexuality—it simultaneously subverts 80s heteronorms through queer inclusion. Historically, Reagan-era teen horror becomes marked by queer campiness that relies on metaphor and double entendre, often manifesting as hypermasculine overperformativity. This is perhaps most visible in the iconic splatterqueer camp of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), and AHS: 1984 borrows heavily from its particular strain of queer coding.


AHS: 1984, however, is devoted to both the 80s slasher aesthetic and anachronistic queer inclusion. In the requisite shower scene from “Mr. Jingles” (S09 E02), this tension is rendered particularly visible. As the men shower, the camera hits classic establishing tropes of 80s horror: the radio closeup, the spray from the shower nozzle, the suggestive bottle squeeze. Hypermasculine bodies are objectified by the camera while the queer potentialities of group showers are parodied through the focus on Trevor’s outsized anatomy; spying from outside, gay porn producer Blake declares with awe, “That’s no cock—that’s an act of God.” As dictated by 80s slasher formulae, Blake dies—stabbed through the metonymic organ of his perversion—yet the dialogue refuses the low-hanging fruit of the anticipated homophobic joke(s); instead, here and throughout the season, the latent homosexuality of 1980s teen slasher films is used to recontextualize contemporary incidental queer inclusion.


Hello Stephanie,

I was impressed with your interpretation of American Horror Story: 1984. I have to admit that I've given up on the show over the past few years and your post has inspired me to reconsider.

That said, I'm curious to hear more, especially regarding your closing statement about how "the latent homosexuality of 1980s teen slasher films is used to recontextualize contemporary incidental queer inclusion" in AHS: 1984

Best regards, Hans 

Surely, there is—like you described—a lot of horror/sci-fi films and tv shows influenced by the 80s right now, e.g. Summer of 84, Final Girls, It Follows, You're Next, You Might Be the Killer, Tonight It's You, ManborgStranger Things. I wonder, do you sometimes, as a viewer, get a sense of overload and—maybe at the same time—longing for something—let's say—more authentic, naive (actually from the 80s) as opposed to afore-mentioned hyper-self-aware and ironic/nostalgic retro works?

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