The true story that inspired season 10 of American Horror Story and made it scary again

The real ‘Cape Cod Vampire’ murders are as terrifying as you’d expect


American Horror Story has just started airing its tenth season and has veered back to a vampire theme for the first time since Hotel. Red Tide, the first half of a season dubbed American Horror Story: Double Feature, has set the new era off with a pair of episodes that are the best and scariest AHS has felt in years. And a lot of that is down to the grim true crime murders that have seemingly inspired the central, bloodthirsty plot.

Red Tide is set in Provincetown, a town on Cape Cod in Massachusetts – the perfect eerie setting for the frosty, vampiric horrors that lie in wait for the central family of the new season. But what makes the setting more terrifying is the brutal killings of eight women that happened a 10 minute drive away from the real Provincetown, committed by a man dubbed as the Cape Cod Vampire.

American Horror Story vampire

Who was the Cape Cod Vampire?

In 1969, several bodies were found of women murdered and dismembered. The district attorney of Truro, the small town where the killings happened, said the women’s bodies had their hearts removed, were “cut into as many parts as there are joints” and claimed that there were bite marks found all over the bodies, leading the press to call the culprit the Cape Cod Vampire.

Red Tide’s vampires lurk everywhere in Provincetown

Suspected for the murders was Antone “Tony” Costa, a carpenter who used the garden where the bodies were buried to stash drugs. Costa was arrested and jailed after being convicted for the killings of two women, but Costa has maintained he wasn’t the culprit and wrote in prison that his alter-ego known as Carl was responsible for the murders instead. Helltown, a novel about the killing, is about to be adapted into a series after Robert Downey Jr’s production company acquired the rights.

What are the similarities to American Horror Story: Red Tide?

American Horror Story: Red Tide is a horror tale of drug use, addiction, infection and vampirism. The central character of Harry, played by Finn Wittrock, is a writer who upon moving to Provincetown quickly becomes embroiled in a tale of murder, drug addiction and struggling writers doing the unthinkable for success.

American Horror Story vampire

Finn Wittrock as Harry, inspired by the Cape Cod Vampire. Via FX.

When Harry gets sucked into the world of the drugs that encourage creativity, his side effects turn him into a bloodthirsty creature that craves blood and acts nothing like the Harry his family know – similar to the Cape Cod Vampire claiming that it was his alter-ego that did the killings. American Horror Story: Red Tide directly references the Cape Cod Vampire in its opening scene, where Harry tells his wife Doris about a murder that happened in Truro where a family was found slain in their beds with neck wounds.

Is American Horror Story season 10 any good so far?

It’s hard at this point to get a full picture of the quality of the season, due to Double Feature being split into two halves. However, Red Tide has got off to a considerably menacing start that has its best cast members doing what they do best. The camp and the fan service AHS has been notorious for in its later seasons seems to be out the window in favour of genuine threat and terror, and the show feels all the better for it.

The setting soaks into your skin, with its chilly seaside wind rattling through the faded beauty of the wooden facades of the houses in Provincetown. The streets are plagued with the infected vampires known as the Pale Ones – who seem to attack the community whether it’s day or night. One of the most frightening sequences happens in broad daylight, when Doris (Lily Rabe) and her and Harry’s daughter Alma are chased unrelenting by a twitching vampire hellbent on sinking his teeth into them. It’s genuinely frightening stuff.

Eerie Provincetown, as it appears in Red Tide

There’s a claustrophobia to American Horror Story: Red Tide that Leila Latif, writing for The AV Club, rightly compares to the Covid pandemic. The characters are trapped, feeling uncreative and picking each other apart in their conversations. Discourse in conversations switching rapidly from arguing about whose career is more important to who was the true villain in Jaws. Latif puts it excellently when she writes “what looked at first as a diverting ‘Overlook Hotel by the sea’ riff is actually much more interesting—a story that takes all the anxieties of the time it was made in and reflects them back at us.” We’re in for a good one with American Horror Story: Red Tide and the vampire tale it has in store for us.

Featured image courtesy of FX.

American Horror Story: Double Feature premieres on Disney+ in October for UK audiences. Seasons one to eight of American Horror Story are streaming now on Netflix. For all the latest Netflix news, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.

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