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'American Horror Story': First Look at 'Freak Show' Cast Art (Exclusive)

It's darker than "Coven" and Ryan Murphy will direct the premiere

AHS Freakshow Video - H 2014
FX

Kathy Bates as the bearded lady. Michael Chiklis as the strong man. A two-headed Sarah Paulson. Sword eaters and oh so much more.

That's just a hint of what's to come, judging from The Hollywood Reporter's exclusive cast art for American Horror Story: Freak Show (below). This is the first look at what co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have in store for the upcoming fourth season of the FX anthology series.

Season four of the FX anthology starts in Florida, circa 1952, and centers on a "troupe of curiosities" that arrives at the same time that a dark entity emerges, threatening the lives of townsfolk and freaks alike. From the official description: "This is the story of the performers and their desperate journey of survival amid the dying world of the American carny experience."

Jessica Lange stars as Elsa Mars, a German expat managing one of the last remaining freak shows in the country. Emma Roberts is set as Maggie; Paulson is Bette and Dot Tattler; Bates is Effil Darling; Chiklis is Wendell Del Toredo; Angela Bassett is Desiree Dupree; and Evan Peters is Jimmy Darling. Frances Conroy and Gabourey Sidibe will also return to the cast, which includes newcomers Wes Bentley, Fargo's John Carroll Lynch as the central villain and The Normal Heart's Finn Wittrock as well as the world's smallest living woman, Jyoti AmgePatti LaBelle will also appear in a four-episode arc, with Matt Bomer set for a guest stint.

"At every freak show, you have the tropes but there's some [that are] unique and weird," Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter about season four. "It's about something: It's about outcasts and how society at that time … true stories about circus performers who were cast aside. The story in many ways dovetails with Asylum, because they leave one era and you can see many of them in real life were put into asylums. There's a great symmetry we've come up with that's rewarding."

Judging from the official Freak Show hashtag, the series will explore the "freak" in all of us, as the German #WirSindAlleFreaks translates to "we are all freaks."  

"It's darker than Coven; it feels very unique," Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter of Freak Show. "I directed the first one and I haven't done that since the very first one of season one. It feels like a Douglas Sirk movie; it's very 1952 presentational and then the horror is an unexpected jab. As opposed to last year, which was crazy camera work and comedy. This year feels different. The special-ability cast that we have is amazing and I feel so thrilled because for so many of them, it was their dream to be actors and they didn't have any opportunities. There's a great community. They feel part of something perhaps for the first time in their life and that's an amazing thing that I was really emotional about when I was directing them."

Check out the cast art below, and hit the comments with your thoughts. Freak Show premieres Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 10 p.m. on FX.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit