How Sarah Paulson’s ‘the killer is escaping’ line from ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ became one of the fall’s biggest TikTok memes

Sarah Paulson on the red carpet at the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscars party.
Sarah Paulson in 2020. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
  • One of Sarah Paulson’s lines from “American Horror Story: Asylum” has gone viral on TikTok.
  • The line, “the killer is escaping,” has been circulating on the app since it was uploaded in July.
  • It’s inspired multiple different types of memes, from lip-syncing to remixes.

One of Sarah Paulson’s now-iconic lines from Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” has gone viral – and stayed viral for months – on TikTok. The audio of Paulson screaming “Help! He’s escaping! The killer is escaping!” has been inescapable on the app over the past few months, reviving the line nearly a decade after it originally aired.

Memes and trends using the sound started spreading in July. The most popular TikTok audio of the clip has been used in over 371,000 videos on the platform, with celebrities like Billie Eilish and Lizzo using it.

It’s even reached such a critical mass that Paulson herself has acknowledged it, saying in an Instagram Live that she didn’t think that people using the sound knew that it was her.

Here’s how “the killer is escaping” went from a single line in “Asylum” to one of the biggest TikTok sounds of 2021.

The ‘killer is escaping’ line is originally from the 2nd season of ‘American Horror Story’

“Asylum” is the second installment of “American Horror Story.” The 13-episode season was the first to mark the show as an anthology, telling a completely different story from the first season of the show.

The season, which premiered in October 2012, is focused on the fictional mental institution Briarcliff Manor and takes place predominately in the 1960s. Paulson’s character, Lana Winters, is a journalist investigating the institution’s treatment of its inmates until one of the nuns running it catches and commits her.

The “killer is escaping” line comes from the season’s second episode, in which Paulson’s character Lana believes that Kit, played by Evan Peters, is a killer. She foils an escape attempt by calling for guards.

“Help, he’s escaping!” Paulson screams as sirens blare in the background. “The killer is escaping! Help me!

“The killer is escaping” doesn’t appear to have a storied meme history prior to its TikTok resurgence, although Paulson said in the Instagram Live that she had faced backlash from fans on Twitter for her character’s actions in the scene.

The line has been used in multiple waves of memes

“The killer is escaping” crossed over to TikTok in a major way in July when TikTok user @horrorcovwn, whose username appears to reference the third season of “American Horror Story,” uploaded the clip, accompanied by an on-screen transcription interspersed with emoji. To date, the video has amassed 1.1 million likes and over 12.6 million views.

Since then, the sound – labeled on TikTok as “helllp the killer is ey scape ing” in a parody of Paulson’s pronunciation – has been used in over 371,000 videos.

Videos using the sound began to go viral in July, August, or September. At that point, users typically made videos superimposing the sound on videos of people or objects “running away,” whether they were shopping carts zipping by in a storm, toothbrushes vibrating around on bathroom counters, or babies propped up by their parents.

@emilyandthatbaby No Alexanders were harmed in the making of this TikTok

♬ helllp the killer is ey scape ing – abi

In September, the trend began to shift to users lip-syncing in a sarcastic manner and showcasing how they could manipulate their lips or nostrils.

@billieeilish hate that you guys made this sound huge on here. most infuriating scene in all of asylum

♬ helllp the killer is ey scape ing – abi

Both iterations of the trend have carried over into October, with people – and even brands like Duolingo – using it both in videos about running away, as well as dramatized lip-syncing videos.

The sound has also inspired remixes with music and other TikTok sounds

It’s nigh-inevitable that a popular TikTok sound will be remixed with other popular sounds, like in the recent cases of the Starburst “berries and cream” commercial memes and soundbites from rapper CupcakKe’s song “Vagina.”

One remix from @meredith_bull mashes up “the killer is escaping” with other popular TikTok soundbites including “berries and cream,” “oh no, our table, it’s broken,” and a clip from the 2006 film “Borat.”

@meredith_bull Reply to @goldminejokes oh no our table is broken mash up

♬ Oh no our table mashup by meredithbull – meredithbull

Another remix from user @sleepsleep__ chops up Paulson’s line over a pulsating dance beat and has been used in nearly 25,000 videos.

Read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture desk.