The horror anthology has spent years pushing the boundaries of bad taste, but American Horror Story: 1984’s Richard Ramirez was a terrible mistake.
The following article contains mention of sexual assault.
While American Horror Story has included a lot of real-life figures in the show’s campy anthology stories, Richard Ramirez’s role in AHS: 1984 was a mistake. American Horror Story has never been too concerned with good taste. Since its inception, American Horror Story has been committed to pushing the boundaries of what can be shown on television and the series has depicted more depravity than most horror anthology shows ever manage in its 11 seasons. However, while most horror fans don’t object to even the show’s more extreme gore and explicit content, American Horror Story’s tasteless twists can be complicated by their relation to reality.
A lot of American Horror Story villains have real-life inspirations and the show’s tone can make their depiction morally questionable. Many classic horror villains, from Leatherface to Norman Bates, were inspired by real-life serial killers such as Ed Gein. However, these characters are still fictional creations, even if they were partially based on a real person. In contrast, American Horror Story tends to depict real-life historical figures as characters in the show’s stories, a habit that is tricky to justify at times. On occasion, this approach can prove outright tasteless and takes the tone of American Horror Story from fun, tacky camp into unpleasant exploitation.
Why Richard Ramirez Didn’t Belong In AHS: 1984
The worst instance of this occurred in American Horror Story: 1984. Called the worst season of the anthology show by many fans online, American Horror Story: 1984 began as a pastiche of ‘80s summer camp slashers. However, unlike the comparable Fear Street: 1978, American Horror Story: 1984 didn’t keep its plot contained to this isolated slasher setting. Instead, the labyrinthine plot soon extended its scope further and incorporated the real-life crime spree of a notorious rapist and murderer, Richard Ramirez. While American Horror Story featured historical figures as characters before, they were typically integrated into the plot. In the case of the Night Stalker, American Horror Story: 1984 failed to achieve this.
Ramirez is one of the most notorious serial killers in US history, but he appears in one of American Horror Story’s goofiest seasons (apart from, arguably, Asylum). The tone of the season was all wrong for the Night Stalker storyline, with a real-life criminal arriving at American Horror Story: 1984’s fictional Camp Redwood and interacting with cartoony stereotypes plucked from campy ‘80s slasher movies. As if to make up for this discord, Ramirez is depicted as a handsome, charming rebel, rather than the deeply troubled, unhinged person he was. Without the satirical angle of its predecessor Cult, American Horror Story: 1984’s historical revision seemed to be going for pure shock value.
AHS Made Real-Life Characters Work Before
From Madame Delphine LaLaurie in Coven to Edward Mordrake in Freak Show, to Jim Jones and Andy Warhol in Cult, American Horror Story has integrated plenty of real-life figures into its stories before. These instances were in both good and bad taste and were usually pulled off without major issues. However, with Ramirez, there was less of an attempt to integrate him into the story, and, ironically, American Horror Story: 1984’s plot makes more sense without Ramirez. While the divisive Lena Dunham’s portrayal of Valerie Solanas in Cult was hardly in good taste, the gag fits with the season’s theme of alienation leading to radicalization.
However, in American Horror Story: 1984, the presence of Richard Ramirez jarred with the playful tone of the rest of the show’s action. American Horror Story is a fundamentally silly series and the horrific nature of the Night Stalker’s crimes, along with the tragic circumstances of his upbringing and the traumas that led to them, don’t fit the show’s goofy tone. What made this issue worse was the fact that American Horror Story: 1984 attempted to work around the problem by simply rewriting everything about Richard Ramirez, meaning the show might as well have simply created a new fictional character instead.
Richard Ramirez Could Have Worked In AHS: 1984
While American Horror Story: 1984’s Richard Ramirez didn’t bear any reaction to his real-life inspiration, that didn’t need to be the case. It’s a dark idea, but the Night Stalker’s crimes gripped the US around the time of the slasher heyday, and American Horror Story: 1984 could have drawn this historical parallel, making a point about the public obsessing over murder sprees both real and imagined. If AHS: 1984’s creators had utilized the character of Richard Ramirez for more than mere shock value, American Horror Story could have commented on the contrast between the media’s handling of real-life violence and Hollywood’s depiction of the same.