7:00am PT by Jackie Strause
'American Horror Story': Deciphering All the 'Cult' Clues
American Horror Story: Cult has been unlocking weekly hints about its upcoming seventh season, all leading to a big reveal of the season trailer (above).
For those who were in the dark, the FX anthology series launched another unique marketing campaign in the weeks leading up to the debut of Ryan Murphy's next horror creation. This time around, the minds behind AHS concocted an interactive, multiplatform journey that has been dropping news and clues about the Cult at the center of the election-themed season over the course of six weeks, all in anticipation to the show's Sept. 5 premiere.
"This provides us the opportunity to do something different and to have a longform engagement with the viewers as we take them through this experience to premiere," Jason Phipps, FX senior vp digital media marketing, told THR. Unlike last season, where the title, theme and cast of the sixth cycle were kept a secret until premiere night, viewers will know more and more of what this season is all about as the days unfold. "We really wanted to provide a community and reward the AHS audience for their fandom."
Viewers who have been playing along have used the show's website, AHSCult.com, as the "hub" for information and signed up to receive their very own cult identification number. Throughout the six weeks, clues have come in the form of chats via Facebook Messenger, on the show's social media platforms and through real-life activations, similar to the title reveal at Comic-Con. Now that the six weeks have wrapped, the network might continue to unveil tidbits through the show's premiere.
The Hollywood Reporter joined the Cult and has been updating this story as new clues "unlocked" each week. Follow along below and head here for more information on what the AHS team has in store.
CULT ID NO. 1438: It's official, THR has joined the Cult. Initiation week serves as an invitation to "join us" and, in typical Murphy fashion, the courtship seems to be defined by a less-is-more approach. Creating intrigue and playing to viewers' curiosity, the cult signup is marked official after a variation of a brief chat with one of the cult leaders — as the group is only speaking in the royal "we" for now.
"You were afraid. We are here to remove that fear. We are here to free you," reads the welcome message via Facebook's messenger app — similar to the first official promo. Encouraged to ask only one question, their answer to what this is all about remains vague: "You will learn. Now is time to commit. You will be contacted again."
What is known about the 11-episode season is that it will be set in Michigan and that the Trump-Clinton election will be used as a jumping point for a season that plans to highlight "people who don't have a voice in our culture," Murphy told THR. Adding, "People who are ignored by the current administration and who are afraid and feel terrorized that their lives are going to be taken away." Week one provides a first look at those who have felt ignored.
AHS' Facebook page posted a message out to "Find us," leading viewers back to the hub, which now has a new, interactive landing page. Gone is the promo and in its place is an introductory map to a handful of the cult members, who all have replaced their names with numbers, and their identities with identical shaved heads, colorful wigs and clown makeup. Also unlocked are two costume art images, one bringing to life the ball gag image from Murphy's Instagram.
New week-two signups were prompted to a Facebook chat that said, "You keep looking for us, we're right in front of you ... We were your neighbors. We were your friends ..." before challenging them to visit the website for their first test.
Murphy had implied that creepy clowns — including season four Freakshow's infamous Twisty — would be making an appearance this season, and now introductory video messages reveal cult members 82456, 017, 534, 34109, 4561 and 24712 (perhaps the scariest of them all, below).
Similar words unite their stories: "Surrender everything, especially your fear," "Fear is the answer" and "We are one." With "fear" being a common thread tying this election-themed season to the real 2016 presidential campaign and election. Not to mention the red-and-blue colored makeup and theme.
But the biggest hint comes with No. 82456.
Murphy has revealed that anthology star Evan Peters' character is named Kai Anderson, has blue hair and will have a "love story for the ages" with Murphy frequent leading lady Sarah Paulson, who plays Ally Mayfair Richards and is married to franchise newcomer Alison Pill, who plays Ivy. About her and Peters' love story, Paulson said "it's going to reveal itself in surprising ways."
No. 82456 shows a cult member resembling his blue-haired character. "Who you are doesn't matter, there is no you. There is only us," says the narrator about his story, before an ending message: "All must submit." (No. 534 is the only woman, though her red wig isn't as clear of a match to the sketch Murphy shared of Paulson's character.)
The official poster for the season also dropped, further pounding away at its message: Be of like mind.
A new promo — of the cult ostensibly swallowing a recruit into its fold — was paired with a word scramble game that, once completed, unlocked a character gallery for five key players. The message was: ABOVE ALL THINGS, HUMANS LOVE FEAR.
The characters that were unlocked (below) are: Cheyenne Jackson as Dr. Rudy Vincent, Billie Lourd as Winter Anderson, Colton Haynes as Detective Samuels, Pill as Ivy and Billy Eichner as Harrison Wilton.
Jackson is the only returning AHS star from the bunch, though Lourd has previously starred on Murphy's now-canceled Fox series Scream Queens.
Additional confirmed castmembers not included in the drop are AHS veteran Emma Roberts, franchise newcomer Lena Dunham, for one episode, former Murphy collaborator Leslie Grossman and Roanoke star Adina Porter, playing a broadcast journalist.
This week teased the second real-life activation, inviting fans to gather in Philadelphia's Dilworth Park on Friday, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m. where AHS secrets "will be revealed."
In addition to turning over the landing page each week with a new promo, Joseph Paulding, FX vp social media, had told THR that the marketing campaign would also be stretching its tentacles out into the real world, similar to the Comic-Con stunt that announced the season title and kicked off the website. "Our intention is to dovetail [the campaign] at various points into real-life engagement," he said. "Through various mechanisms, we'll unlock content to reveal more information about the season."
A three-step process unlocked two pages of excerpts from Cult's script, with the third step remaining locked. The names in the script were blacked out. The following day, THR received its first message from the cult via Facebook messenger since signup, once again encouraging members to return to the website. "The world is paralyzed. Unable to move beyond its fear. It's time we free them. Will you help?" asks the cult. An agreement prompts a reply to "spread our message."
The website later allows users to guess the code that will unlock the final piece of this week's content. At the activation in Philadelphia on Friday, fans were shown a patch bearing the code: fearistheenemy.
The code unlocks yet another snippet of a script, which appears to be referencing season four favorite Twisty, the deranged murderous clown and inspiration to eventual serial killer Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock). Murphy had previously teased Twisty's return this season on his Instagram.
Attendees were also treated to themed content from the upcoming season, some of which were captured on social media, example here.
Each week appears to be escalating on the horror scale, with the fifth homepage overhaul now coming with a seizure warning due to the intense flashing images.
"Are you ready?" asks an ominous clown as it stares the user down. The "Yes" prompt unleashes a montage of the promos that have continued to release over the last few weeks. Images include insects, blood, submerged cult members and ceremonial rituals — and a lot of clowns. When it's time to commit, the "I am ready" and "look closer" signals continue to spin through the promotional clues. Once ready, four cult masks are then revealed.
One of the masks seems to resemble Twisty the Clown, while another is the "Ambidexterity" demon Murphy had teased on his Instagram account.
A Facebook message from the cult directed cult members back to the website for a surprise trailer drop (which you can watch above and read about here). "The secret is out," read the message.
Lourd's character, Winter Anderson, introduced the trailer with a video. "Are you scared? Frightened of the world outside?" she asked. "Don't be. I'm going to teach you a trick. It's going to help you. We'll be connected. If you lie, I'll know. If you're frightened, I'll know. But I can take that fear from you. Pinky to pinky, flesh to flesh. You're going to give me your fear. I'm going to keep it for you. It's going to make us both stronger."
Sometime after the trailer dropped, the AHSCult.com website appeared to be having "technical difficulties." As of Friday, the site directs to an animated error page that reads "Error 404: This page cannot be found" with a short clip of Peters' character Kai staring directly into the camera as it zooms in, and finally settles on one of his eyes. The landing page and the links to the different weeks of clues are also gone from the website.