FX's anthology series American Horror Story has the creepiest title sequences on television... period. When I was a kid, the opening strains of the X-Files theme was my signal to change the channel as fast as possible — hearing those haunting notes were the signal that some seriously scary stuff was about to go down. Well, AHS's title sequences makes The X-Files's feel positively cute. And AHS: Freak Show has an opening credits sequence that achieves that effect in a whole new way.
The precious three editions of AHS all set up certain expectations surrounding the show's title sequence that the fourth cleverly subverts. Season 1 (retroactively labeled Murder House by fans) first introduced viewers to the gruesome imagery, quick edits, and unsettling music that would come to epitomize not just the opening credits, but the whole show itself. The sequence was created by Kyle Cooper, a graphic designer who founded his own creative agency Prologue in 2003, specifically for the development of title sequences. Aside from AHS, Prologue is also responsible for the opening credits to horror and action films like David Fincher's Se7en, all three of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, and this summer's X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Godzilla. Cooper's work can also be seen on another three of today's most popular TV shows: AMC's The Walking Dead , CBS's Elementary , and FOX's Sleepy Hollow .
The title sequence for Murder House takes place in the Harmon's basement and is filled with images of body parts in jars and old-timey portraits of creepy children:
When Season 2 moved the action from contemporary Los Angeles to 1960s New England, the title sequence changed accordingly. Though similarly claustrophobic in its contained setting (now a lunatic asylum), the Asylum sequence was filled with distressed patients and psychotic nuns instead:
Coven's title sequence stayed very much in spirit with the other two editions, although there was one major difference. It was the first sequence to feature any scenes outdoors, which was appropriate given that the season shifted focus from a single building to the sprawling environs of New Orleans:
Prologue really changed things up with Freak Show. The first thing viewers will notice about Season 4's title sequence is that the music has changed. What at first seems like perhaps a completely different song is revealed to be the same theme, but overlaid with the sounds of a trilling, carnival-esque music box. There's something about the whimsy associated with such sounds overlaid with the disturbing imagery of the sequence that is particularly unsettling.
The second thing that becomes apparent is that Freak Show's is the first non-live action sequence. Instead, the entire opening is composed of stop motion animation (with the exception of brief interludes featuring a clown folding a balloon animal). There's something both inherently childish and inherently creepy about stop motion — hence why it's so strongly associated with such films as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and ParaNorman — and it's put to perfect use here. Conjoined twins, demonic monkeys, sword-swallowers... all are brought to disconcertingly lurching life by the animation:
Enjoy not sleeping tonight... or for the next thirteen weeks.
Traditional wisdom says a pattern is only truly a pattern if it's happened at least three times. AHS set up a pattern with its first three title sequences, so it was the perfect time to break that mold and shake things up with Freak Show. Hopefully every season from here on out will bring its own unique twist to the opening credits, while staying true to the spirit of the horror show.