13 Things to Watch in Preparation For American Horror Story: Freak Show

If you're like us, you've been counting down the days until the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show. You've watched all of the trailers dozens of times, and you've looked into the real story of Edward Mordrake. You've obsessed over the official character pictures, and you've even seen how they compare to vintage photos of actual circus performers. What else do you have left to do? We've compiled a list of the movies and one TV show that will absolutely keep you busy until the Oct. 8 premiere. Keep scrolling for the full list.

01
Big Fish (2003)
Sony Pictures

Big Fish (2003)

  • What it's about: A son tries to piece together the past life of his ailing father, using all the myths and stories he heard growing up.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: Not only is the film filled with fantastical elements like conjoined stage performers and actual giants, but Jessica Lange is in it too! Two for one, if you ask us.
02
Circus of Horrors (1960)
Lynx Films Ltd.

Circus of Horrors (1960)

  • What it's about: A plastic surgeon becomes the owner of a circus, and he begins transforming disfigured women into a beautiful cast of performers. When they want out, though, they begin dying in mysterious freak accidents.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: We can probably expect to see just as much bloodshed in Ryan Murphy's version of a freak show, especially since we know there's a twisted clown and an evil, two-faced man named Edward Mordrake.
03
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009)
Universal Pictures

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009)

  • What it's about: When a young teenager becomes bored with the life he's living, he stumbles upon a strange and mysterious freak show. He soon meets a vampire who wants him to choose between the life he had and the life on the road that lies ahead.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: There's a bearded lady here, but we're more interested in the campy vibe of this film, which feels strikingly similar to American Horror Story: Coven.
04
It (1990)
ABC

It (1990)

  • What it's about: A terrifying, shape-shifting monster, whose most recognizable form is Pennywise the Clown, awakens every 30 or so years to feed on innocent children. Now fully grown, a group of seven friends must band together to stop "It" once and for all.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: Murphy has said his twisted clown is the most terrifying clown you'll ever lay eyes on. So, this is obviously a good place to prepare yourself.
05
The Last Circus (2010)
Tornasol Films

The Last Circus (2010)

  • What it's about: A young, beautiful trapeze artist finds herself simultaneously in love with Sergio, the Happy Clown, and Javier, the Sad Clown. While she tries to make her choice, she comes to realize that both suitors are seriously disturbed.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: There's no such thing as terrifying and demented clowns, right? Consider this more applicable research for Murphy's creation.

This one's available on Netflix!

06
Carnivàle (2003-2005)
HBO

Carnivàle (2003-2005)

  • What it's about: A mysterious traveling circus with unseen management and individuals of extraordinary talents and abilities. The members of the carnival soon find themselves immersed in an epic battle of good and evil.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: There are so many character parallels between these two, included conjoined twins, another bearded lady, and a tarot-card reader. Also, since this is the only TV show on the list, it's the closest thing to the long-form narrative we'll get on AHS.

This one's available in full on HBO Go!

07
Cabaret (1972)
ABC

Cabaret (1972)

  • What it's about: The film chronicles a Berlin nightclub and what happens to it as Berlin descends into war and the Nazis rise to power in Germany.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: The strange, compelling acts of the cabaret and the exuberant emcee might give you insight into the kind of character Jessica Lange will be playing, German ex-pat Elsa Mars.
08
Freaks (1932)
MGM

Freaks (1932)

  • What it's about: The movie takes place at a circus, where a beautiful trapeze artist marries the leader of a group of sideshow performers. The group soon discovers, though, that she might not have the purest of intentions.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: You'll see performers of all shapes and sizes, which will prepare you for the unusual cast of "freaks" on AHS.
09
Water for Elephants (2011)
Fox

Water for Elephants (2011)

  • What it's about: When a veterinary student's parents suddenly die, he quits his studies to join a traveling circus as the resident vet. He slowly but surely falls in love with the wife of his unstable boss and must come to terms with his feelings.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: While Murphy isn't known for his sweeping romantic subplots, he does like to weave forbidden love somewhere into every season. Plus, Murphy has hinted that a romance might bloom between Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) and Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts), so this is like a sneak preview.
10
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
20th Century Studios

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

  • What it's about: An English poet finds himself irrevocably in love with the star courtesan of the infamous nightclub called Moulin Rouge. The story, filled with brutal jealousy, sweeping romance, and death, follows their tumultuous love affair.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: Not only is it another tale of forbidden love, and not only does it have a real carnival-esque feel to it, but there's also something eerily similar about Baz Luhrmann's and Murphy's over-the-top styles.
11
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Herts-Lion International Corp.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

  • What it's about: After a terrible accident, a young woman tries to start anew. She soon finds herself drawn toward an abandoned carnival where she must face her personal demons.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: When you start with a horrible accident and move on to a haunted carnival, you know you're right in line with the American Horror Story aesthetic.
12
Big Top Pee-wee (1988)
Paramount Pictures

Big Top Pee-wee (1988)

  • What it's about: When a big storm blows a traveling circus directly onto Pee-wee Herman's farm, he agrees to let them stay a while. They soon plan a new show, with one notable big star: Pee-wee himself.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: We're mostly here to talk about Benicio Del Toro as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy, because he'd fit perfectly into Murphy's cast. There are also a few other corresponding characters, including a strongman, yet another incarnation of the bearded lady, and, of course, clowns.

This one's available on Netflix!

13
The Funhouse (1981)
Universal Pictures

The Funhouse (1981)

  • What it's about: When four teenagers decide to spend the night in a carnival funhouse as a joke, they quickly find out they're getting more than they signed up for. The night is filled with brutal murders and a terrifying, violent killer.
  • Why it's like AHS: Freak Show: Between Edward Mordrake, the evil clown, and whatever other monsters come our way, we're going to experience very similar types of fright.