There are plenty of bad people in American Horror Story, but in terms of being outright villainous, there's a thin line. Some of the show's characters are murderers, some are demons, and some are just down on their luck people who end up making life-altering choices. But seeing as AHS is all about the darkness, it's no wonder that antagonists would reign supreme. Which begs the question: which of these characters are evil, and which of these characters are villains? (Because, yes, there's a difference.)
For example, Papa Legba in Coven and the Addiction Demon in Hotel are essentially manifestations of evil, but that doesn't make them villains, per se. They're acting out of a sort of natural order. Good and bad. The sour and the sweet. The same goes with Sister Mary in Asylum. If anything, she's actually the victim, what with the Devil himself possessing her body.
The real villains in AHS are the ones who understand the difference between good and bad — characters who have the choice to do the right thing — but ultimately give in to the dark side. And whether they're supernatural or not, these are the true monsters in the show.
So, assuming you need to scratch that AHS itch, keep reading to explore the 18 Best Villains On American Horror Story, Ranked.
In the first half of Freak Show, Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) is propped up as the season's big bad. He slices and dices and ultimately lives up to his decrepit image, but he's eventually killed off, only to be replaced by the season's true villain (but we'll get to him later). That said, when Twisty is present, he makes a hell of a presence. Easily surpassing the definition of grotesque, while easily living up to the inherent fear in most people that is clowns, Twisty represents villainy at its most direct and blatant (if not incredibly depressing), and despite only existing in the series for a shorter amount of time than audiences probably expected, he still made a considerable impact.
As it turns out, Twisty will be showing up yet again in the series (in toy form, at least, but who's to say it won't go further?) in the latest AHS entry: Cult. Judging by the whole clown motif that this new season is going with, Twisty's presence only seems natural.
In a way, the Axeman (Danny Huston) is really just your run-of-the-mill serial killer. By day, he has his innocent pursuits (in his case, Jazz music), but by night, he exchanges his sax for an ax, brewing a messy collection of bloodbaths in the French Quarter of 1919 New Orleans. Hardly a shy killer, the Axeman went so far as to write a letter that was then printed in local papers, describing to the locals what his murderous intentions were.
Eventually, his killing spree came to an end, thanks to the lovely coven of witches at Miss Robichaux's Academy, but that didn't stop him for good. His spirit was ultimately unleashed, allowing him to roam free once again, wielding his ax and swinging it through New Orleans like the lunatic he was.
Of all the colorful guests at the Cortez in Hotel, John Lowe (Wes Bentley) stands out in how dour and drab he appears. He's the father of a missing child, his marriage has fallen apart, and he's quickly being pulled back into his nasty drinking habit. Right off the bat, nothing seems to be working in his favor. Now, if only there wasn't a life-shattering bombshell of him actually being the serial killer that he's been pursuing.
Oh, wait. That's exactly what ends up happening.
John eventually discovers that the serial killer who's been driving him insane was actually himself all along. He was manipulated by the hotel's original owner, James March, and coached into being his murderous successor, taking on the duties that he could no longer carry out (what with him being dead and all).
It's hard to hate Jessica Lange, but when she's playing someone as vicious and cruel as Fiona Goode, good luck stopping yourself.
In Coven, Fiona is the selfish Supreme Witch of the Salem Descendants, and it's fair to say that her surname offers zero indication of what her character is really like. Right from the get-go, Fiona shows her true colors, showing audiences what she is willing to do in order to accomplish her ultimate life goal: staying young. (Hint: it has to do with killing and having zero remorse.)
This woman is a conniver who would even go so far as to put her only daughter's life in danger for her own personal pursuits. And in fact, doing this ends up haunting her in the end, and serving as her ultimate downfall. Which she absolutely had coming.
Weaved within the twisted lore of Roanoke is Scáthach (Lady Gaga), a woman who sought a new life in the British colonies, only to be sentenced to death on account of alleged witchcraft. In AHS, Scáthach is very much a behind-the-scenes player. She lures people to do her will, and in return, asks only for their soul and eternal servitude. No biggie.
Showrunner Ryan Murphy has also explained that Scáthach is the original Supreme (throwing a reference back to Coven), though this is never explicitly stated on the show. It also contradicts information given during Coven, stating that Salem witch Prudence Mather was the original Supreme. But there you have it. Either Murphy changed his mind, or narrative misinformation was his goal all along.
Backstory changes aside, Scáthach is a soul-stealing, human-sacrificing witch whose direct source of power comes from a place of absolute darkness. Whether that source will be explored any further remains to be seen, but chances are it's the very same source that's been responsible for all the evil permeating through the previous AHS seasons.
There are few things scarier than a heartless opportunist. They have clear goals in mind, and in their eyes, stabbing a few backs or breaking a few hearts doesn't really seem to bother them if that's what it takes to acquire said goals. And a perfect example of this type of character is Freak Show's Stanley (Denis O'Hare).
He shows up with a single goal in mind: collecting freaks, so that he can sell them to the American Morbidity Museum. Does he care that this is criminal? That it involves kidnapping? Disfigurement? Murder? Of course not. Which is exactly why he finds himself on this list.
In Stanley's eyes, making money is making money, and whatever it takes in order to make a quick dollar shouldn't matter. Naturally, karma doesn't ultimately stand in his defense in the end, but before his limbs are trimmed down to nubs, he works his way through Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities like the cancer he is.
It doesn't matter how messed up your past is or how severe your daddy issues are — if you dress up in a mask made of human skin and pursue victims on a murderous rampage, you're a villain.
Yes, Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott) got dealt a considerably bad hand (his father was the original Bloody Face, his mother was one of Bloody Face's rape victims who ultimately disowned him), but that's no excuse for his behavior. Following in his father's footsteps (even though it's a father he never met), Johnny feeds the Bloody Face legend, stalking complete strangers and skinning them alive.
There is a theory that Johnny was actually possessed by an evil entity, but odds are that he was as bad as he was only on account of a special sort of evil that flowed through his veins.
Beauty and immortality are two popular themes in American Horror Story, introduced by Fiona Goode in Coven, and then revisited in Hotel with Elizabeth Johnson, a.k.a. The Countess (as played by Lady Gaga). The only difference is that Fiona's pursuit of immortality came through witchcraft, while Elizabeth's came through a rare blood virus (which is essentially vampirism, though it's never officially stated).
Elizabeth's villainy doesn't just stem from her literal thirst for blood alone, but through her cold self-absorption and jealousy. If her needs aren't met in the exact way that she expects them to be, she reacts. With violence, in most cases. She wears her power on her sleeve, seeing as she was loosely based on the real-life serial killer, Elizabeth Báthory, with whom she shares an obsession for blood.
At first glance, Joan Ramsay (Patti LuPone) just seems like your run-of-the-mill devout Christian. She's the kind of woman who has a clear opinion of the world, but is aggressively lost in a little something called close-minded extremism.
After finding out that her neighbors (literal witches) rub her the wrong way, she immediately proceeds to wield the figurative torch and pitchfork. In fact, she becomes so engrossed in battling her neighbors, who never intended to bother her in the first pace, that her true evils are unveiled. Not only does she physically abuse her son, it's revealed that she was the reason her husband is dead. Her son explains to her that he knows all about her wicked ways, so in order to keep her secret safe, she smothers her son and kills him too.
Nothing like religious fundamentalism to blur the lines between good and evil...
Doesn't matter how long or short your tenure is on American Horror Story — if you're bad, you're bad. And when it comes to Chester Creb (Neil Patrick Harris), Elsa's replacement for ringleader of Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities, "bad" comes with baggage.
Chester is a man with a dark past. After finding his wife in bed with another woman, the incident caused him to snap. He murdered them both, and then went on his merry (and psychotic) way as a magician/ventriloquist.
By the time he's working at the freak show, his psychosis is very much on full blast, especially highlighted by the fact that he believes his puppet, Marjorie, is actually alive. In fact, this puppet of his goes so far as to tell him to do things; kill people, even. Which he does. And by the end of his run on the show, his final performance has him sawing one of his employees in half. Not as a trick, mind you, but in the literal sense.
Christmas is meant to be a wonderful time of the year, but with American Horror Story getting its paws on it, happiness is hardly a guarantee. This much is proven with the character Leigh Emerson (Ian McShane), a serial killer who dresses up as Ol' Saint Nick on Christmas Eve, breaks into people's homes, and then, per serial killer custom, kills them.
After he's caught and sent to Briarcliff, Monsignor Timothy Howard tries to help Leigh find God and change his ways. This seems to be going fairly well (despite the fact that audiences are well aware that it can't possibly end well), but things don't pan out as well as the Monsignor might have hoped. Turns out that Leigh just wanted to put on a little show.
He ends up drowning the Monsignor, nailing him to a cross, and escaping Briarcliff. What followed was, as you might have guessed, yet another murder spree.
When the blood moon rises in Roanoke, the local ghosts get physical. They march, they scalp, they burn, and they hunt, and at the helm is Thomasin White (who would later come to be known as The Butcher), a territorial ghost doing the evil bidding of the witch, Scáthach. After Scáthach spared her life, Thomasin devoted her life (and afterlife) to whatever higher power the witch happened to worship. Over the years, her spirit has been haunting her homeland, killing anyone who dares claim it for their own.
The evil imbued within Thomasin is so so powerful, in fact, that it ends up consuming the actress who plays her, Agnes Mary Winstead (Kathy Bates). Agnes proceeds to prowl the grounds, just like the character she played in "My Roanoke Nightmare," and even starts killing staff members on the show's follow-up, "Roanoke: Three Days in Hell."
It's one thing to kill someone, but to be meticulously calculated in acts of torture is a completely different level of horror. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), who is later identified as Hans Gruper) is a perfect example of this sort of behavior. He's the resident physician at Briarcliff and a former Nazi war criminal, and on his off-time, he's experimenting on his patients, mutating them beyond recognition and forcing them to run wild on the asylum's grounds.
During his time as a Nazi, he would take pleasure in other people's pain (in fact, he's the reason Elsa Mars lost her legs in Freak Show), but after pursuing a career in medicine, that pleasure became his profession. His goal in life was to create a more perfected kind of human, but all that did was turn him into a more sadistic version of Victor Frankenstein.
One of the biggest twists in American Horror Story involves Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto). Introduced as the sane and relatable visitor who may very well be the key to Lana Winters' escape, Thredson true identity turns out to be far more wicked than Lana (or the audience) could have ever imagined. It turns out that Thredson is actually the infamous serial killer known as Bloody Face who's been on an unstoppable killing spree since the beginning of the season. And what makes him so vile isn't exactly hard to miss.
He has a mask made out of human skin (and teeth and hair), he has handmade furniture in his home made out of human skin, and he has a mental vault of goals made up of you — you guessed it — human skin. But what makes him especially haunting is the fact that his character seemed to offer so much hope. Sitting back and watching it crash and burn is like experiencing a good dream-turned-nightmare that refuses to end.
In Freak Show, Penny (Grace Gummer) is a character who isn't all about a humdrum life. So, to satisfy this need for exploration, she visits the freak show, only to realize that she maybe doesn't belong with "outsiders" as much as she believed. That is, until she realizes that her attraction to Paul is too strong to resist, prompting her to be one with the freaks after all.
As it turns out, though, her dad (Lee Tergesen) is tired of having a disobedient daughter who would so much as imagine a life with these so-called freaks. So, to teach her a lesson(?), he hires a professional to shave his daughter's head, tattoo her skin so as to make it seem scaled, and slice her tongue down the middle to make it appear reptilian.
He gets his comeuppance (sort of) in the end, but the fact that this man felt no remorse for permanently mutilating his daughter earns him a spot in the Top 5 of this list.
Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) is a spoiled and sadistic man-child. When he wants something, he gets it — even if that something is the blood of an innocent. Encouraged by his mother to do whatever he pleases, Dandy, the product of years and years of incest, decides to purge the world of people he deems unworthy of living, and then bathes in their blood so that he can inherit the power of their souls.
It's revealed that this love of death and bloodshed started as a boy, when he killed a childhood friend. But it only got worse. By the end of Freak Show, Dandy ends up killing his "colleagues" in a gun-toting massacre, even though he considered himself to be one of the freaks as well.
In various sections of Coven, Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is played for laughs. Which land, incidentally. But don't let those moments of levity fool you. As explained in the very opening of the season, LaLaurie is an evil, bloodthirsty racist who not only mistreats her servants, but tortures them. After discovering that wearing blood as a sort of face cream can do wonders for de-ageing, she starts "draining" her servants dry, with zero remorse for all of the lives she ends up taking.
Madam LaLaurie was an actual person outside of the show, and even though Bates has a naturally endearing presence, the charm is just part of the performance; not of Bates', but LaLaurie's. The woman spent years deceiving the people around her, all because no one would have ever suspected that someone so affluent and charming could be so relentlessly vicious.
If villainy were ranked by body counts, then James March (Evan Peters) would have few rivals. And in the context of American Horror Story, that's exactly where March stands.
He was the owner-turned-ghost owner of Hotel Cortez, a building he designed specifically for his favorite pastime: killing. In fact, the hotel was a sort of torture chamber, and even in death, March would revel in the terror that his hotel was imbued with. He was a sadistic mass-murderer, and even after being found out by the police, March was so determined to leech his dark soul onto his establishment that he cut his own throat in hopes that he would remain in the Cortez forever. Which is exactly what happened.
Even in death, he was able to orchestrate murder to his liking, pawning off his bloodlust to one of his later guests, John Lowe.
Pissed that Tate didn't make the cut? Wondering why Hayden was left out? Sound off in the comments and let us know who should have been added (or nixed) from the list!