Honourable Mention: ‘Doctor Who’
“Doctor Who” has enchanted fans in the U.K. and all around the world since the 1960s. Although typically a swashbuckling time-travelling adventure, the show’s writers have flexed their horror muscles on more than one occasion.
“Blink”, for example, is often touted as one of the show’s greatest efforts. The episode’s statue-like Weeping Angels move only when out of sight, racing towards characters – and eerily the audience – any time the camera pans away from their cold, creepy stare.
The beloved show “Dexter” fits into many genres: crime drama, psychological thriller, dark comedy, and mystery. What is most chilling about the show starring Michael C. Hall, however, is how much audiences can relate with Dexter’s bloodlust.
Similar to those supporters of "Saw" villain Jigsaw, “Dexter” fans can’t help but sympathize and sometimes cheer for the show’s protagonist and his murderous form of vigilante justice.
14. ‘The Walking Dead’
“The Walking Dead” lives (and dies) by a simple and sobering slogan: "Fight the dead. Fear the living." If eight seasons of AMC’s hit television show have taught fans anything, it’s that humans are the real monsters of horror.
Zombies, or more appropriately, Walkers, are merely pretext for humanity's survival against its own barbaric nature in the aftermath of society’s downfall.
13. ‘Masters of Horror’
“Masters of Horror” had a lot of promise. Showtime’s anthology series brought together horror’s greatest creators for a petrifying television experience. And boy, did the show kick off with a bang!
The series premiere “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” offered an absolutely shocking piece of horror television. Unfortunately, the quality of the show peaked and dipped from episode to episode and “Masters of Horror” told their final tale after just two seasons.
12. ‘Bates Motel’
“Bates Motel” spends less time paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s industry-bending 1960 classic “Psycho” and more time re-imagining the characters’ origins.
The series is anchored by sharp character work from the show’s lead stars, which adds greatly to the program’s suspense and creepy tone. “Bates Motel” offers a sublime, taboo mother-and-son relationship that is sure to leave audiences unsettled.
11. ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
If this was a list of TV’s greatest thrillers, you can bet “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would have slain the rankings. Ultimately, though, the supernatural drama drifted away from its scary vibe after the first season.
But “Buffy” never stopped dabbling in terrifying themes of horror. Case in point: “Hush”. The tenth episode of season 4 is often heralded as one of television’s scariest tales. The unsettling monsters of the episode, The Gentlemen, steal the voices of an entire town. This leaves victims unable to scream or speak as The Gentlemen break into homes and cut out their hearts.
Nearly the entire episode is void of any dialogue. The premise was so revered, it earned the show its only Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.
Sorry, Michael Jackson, this one isn’t for you! Horror anthology program “Thriller” frightened viewers with 67 bone-chilling episodes. The program featured a mix of macabre horror tales and suspense thrillers.
From 1960 to 1962, “Thriller” featured performances from acclaimed actors like William Shatner, Leslie Nielsen and Mary Tyler Moore. In a 1981 history and critique of horror in fiction, famed writer Stephen King suggested “Thriller” was the best series of its kind at the time.
9. ‘Stranger Things’
The newest entry on this list, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” took the world by storm with its campy vibe and loveable cast of kids. Multiple child abductions, conspiracy theories, a mother on the fringe of insanity and a teethy, drooly predatory monster are just some of the reasons “Stranger Things” roped in a new generation of horror fans.
The series arguably helped invigorate the blockbuster success of 2017’s “It”, which also starred Canada’s “Stranger Things” kid Finn Wolfhard.
8. ‘The Exorcist’
If monsters, alien invaders, and unhinged psychopaths are child’s play to you, “The Exorcist” might just hit a nerve. The new television series might not live up to the classic horror film, but the new “Exorcist” provides an experience you won’t get anywhere else in TV land.
“The Exorcist” is chock-filled with nightmare-inducing visuals that are sure to turn heads, while the relatable themes will leave you shivering in your own bed.
Often more sci-fi than scary, “X-Files” almost always generated some degree of suspense. The show was a cultural phenomenon and offered arguably the scariest episode in all of television: season 4’s “Home”.
This was the first “X-Files” episode to ever warrant a viewer’s discretion advisory. The story revolves around the incestuous Peacock family – featuring brothers who were breeding with their quadruple amputee mother – and a baby buried alive.
6. ‘Tales From The Crypt’
A show that should never be omitted from any horror TV list, “Tales From the Crypt” is a legend of the genre. This HBO horror anthology program was one of the only shows on TV to have full freedom from censorship by network standards and practices.
This nearly unparalleled freedom led to some of television’s most compelling content from 1989 to 1996. Graphic violence, profanity, and nudity were just some themes “Tales from the Crypt” explored at a time when most shows were unwilling to.
Episodes like “Abra Cadaver” and “The New Arrival” are why huge stars like Patricia Arquette, Dan Aykroyd, Sandra Bullock, Steve Buscemi, Corey Feldman, Whoopi Goldberg, Ewan McGregor, Demi Moore, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, John Stamos and Arnold Schwarzenegger were drawn to perform on the show.
Actors like Michael J. Fox and Tom Hanks also used the show as an opportunity to hone their craft as directors.
5. ‘American Horror Story’
If “Stranger Things” welcomed a new generation of fans to dip their toe in the pools of TV horror, then “American Horror Story” swallowed their foot whole. The anthology series hasn’t always remained consistent from season to season, but “American Horror Story” is a true gem when it shines.
Boosted by award-winning performances from the likes of Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, James Cromwell and even Lady Gaga, the show can often deliver an un-matched quality of small-screen scares. Exploring everything from killer clowns to demonic nuns, the series has no shortage of horror mythos.
4. ‘The Twilight Zone’
“Tales from the Crypt” may be an iconic horror program, but “The Twilight Zone” is the quintessential force of horror and suspense in mainstream culture. The show’s eerie theme music is instantly recognizable, as are the unnerving words that follow it: "Your next stop, The Twilight Zone".
“The Twilight Zone” didn’t strictly explore themes of horror, often conjuring up tales of fantasy and science fiction as well. The show often concluded with a macabre or unexpected twist. Episodes like “Long Distance Call” will have you near blind with fear, peeking through the blurry gaps between your fingers.
Perhaps the most genius aspect of “The Twilight Zone”, however, is the meaning behind each episode. The show often included social commentary or a moral left for audiences to ponder after the TV was switched off.
It isn’t often that a television show lives up to the excellent source material on which it was based. “Hannibal”, however, surgically cut together one heck of a show! The program is right up there with “Silence of the Lambs” in terms of quality and care taken with author Thomas Harris’ iconic character.
“Hannibal” depicted murder as beautiful performance art. No show on television had ever presented such grotesque gore with such precision and delicacy. The show started off solid with season 1 and really hit its stride through seasons 2 and 3 – earning significant critical acclaim.
One of the biggest television crimes of the past decade was NBC’s unwillingness to care for “Hannibal” the same way the show cared for its own writing. Chatter of a revival has been constant ever since the show was cancelled after three seasons.
2. ‘Black Mirror’
In many ways inspired by “The Twilight Zone”, this twenty-first-century update is a reality shock for the streaming generation. The British sci-fi program was cancelled after six episodes but found new life as part of Netflix’s growing catalogue.
While “The Walking Dead” operates on the notion of how evil humans can be, “Black Mirror” dissects all the ways humanity is and always has been wicked. The show explores the very real horrors we are all capable of, offering the sobering reality that our species is the greatest horror.
The show often focuses on technology, but episodes like “White Bear” illustrate just how scary “Black Mirror” can be. The episode follows a woman seemingly struggling with amnesia, made all the more horrifying by the pack of relentless hunters pursuing her. “White Bear” offers one of those twist endings that will leave you speechless.
“Black Mirror” is best digested surrounded by friends and family. Trust us; you’ll want someone to help work out your feelings after each episode.
1. ‘Twin Peaks’
“Twin Peaks” is touted by many as one of television’s greatest shows. This small-town murder-mystery quickly morphed into something entirely scary, thanks to a paranormal presence.
A terrifying supernatural place called the Black Lodge is embodied by a denim-wearing demon named BOB. Atmosphere and suspense are the strong suits of “Twin Peaks” and BOB creeping over living room furniture towards the camera is one of the most unsettling scenes ever witness on ‘90s television.
A 2017 revival of “Twin Peaks” has been a hit with the critics, but only time will tell if it can live up to the horror of the original show.