Whether it’s in the form of anthologies, cartoons of questionable quality or creepy hosts of older or cheesy movies, televised horror has existed since its inception and with each new decade, it seems to be getting more and more popular. There was a bit of a dip going from the 60s into the early 80s but once it came back, it never went away. Each new era brings with it a new generation hungry for spooks and new creators are anxious to provide them. With the recent release of Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities and the news that Peacock is making a Halloween show, it feels as good a time as ever to rank the best of the scariest.
These are The Ten Scariest TV Shows Of All Time.
10. Two Sentence Horror Stories
If you’re a sucker for anything horror, Two Sentence Horror Stories is a must add to your ever-growing Netflix list. This horror anthology series, inspired by popular online fanfic, has something to fit every horror fan’s taste. Vampires, demonic possession, ghosts, creepy porcelain dolls, virus outbreaks, and even a life-threatening plant are just some of the fun and captivating subjects that will get you in the mood for spooky season. This series also does a great job representing the LGBTQ+ community by depicting several same-sex relationships throughout the series without being offensive. With three seasons of episodes running around 20 minutes each, this is the perfect show to sit and binge with a bowl full of popcorn, a big blanket, and a partner to cling to when things get a little too scary.
09. The Walking Dead
Let’s be honest – all, if not most of us, are zombie fanatics. Whether they’re the focus of a top-notch horror film or a rib-cracking comedy, just about everyone enjoys them to some capacity. That’s why The Walking Dead was an instant hit when it premiered in 2010. Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, this gritty series portrays life in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the flesh-hungry beings. From the get-go, viewers are captivated by the danger and uncertainty surrounding the show’s main characters. Tensions run high throughout each season as those who aren’t yet undead try to navigate their new normal while trying not to rip into each other. Every episode sees the survivors faced with war, heartbreak, jealousy, betrayal, and the possibility of death from both the ever-growing population of zombies and the living. If you haven’t given this show a watch yet, it is highly recommended. One word of advice, however – don’t get too attached to any one character, because, in this world, no one is safe. Oh, and if Daryl dies, we riot.
Following the success of the 90’s film franchise, MTV introduced their own concept of the popular slasher with an anthology horror series. For those unfamiliar with the premise, Scream follows a group of teens as they are stalked and murdered by a masked killer in order to avenge wrongdoings from the past. Although the plot remains the same between the films and the television series, there are plenty of details that set them apart and allow the show to stand on its own. For one, the series showcases some brutal deaths that even Billy Loomis couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams. One death, in particular, stands out as the most shocking and heartbreaking that a person has fallen victim to at the hands of Ghost Face himself. Speaking of Ghost Face, another clear difference between the films and the series sticks out like a sore thumb: the mask. Whether you are a fan of Scream or not, that white, open-mouthed mask is unmistakable. However, show-runners opted for a much different mask for the series, serving up a killer look that will haunt one’s nightmares for a week. But worry not, season 3 saw the return of the classic look, along with a whole new group of targets for Ghost Face. With a fantastic cast and even a Halloween specific episode, Scream is the perfect show to add to your spooky season watch list.
07. Bates Motel
Serving as a prequel to the 1960 horror film, Psycho, this series follows Norman Bates as he tries to navigate his teenage years after moving to a new town to run the titular Bates Motel by the side of his devoted mother, Norma. Fiercely protective of Norma, young Norman goes to great lengths to prevent anyone from taking even an ounce of her attention away from him, especially a potential love interest who stirs feelings of jealousy and anger. Norman’s jealousy and refusal to share his mother even extends to his half-brother, Dylan, whom he shares a very turbulent relationship with. Despite these issues, Norman does find solace in friendships he forms with others throughout the series, although at least one of those friendships meets a gruesome end. For fans of the Hitchcock film that inspired the show, Bates Motel is a must see. Freddie Highmore delivers a spectacular performance of the shy and socially awkward Norman that will send a chill down your spine and leave you pondering the term “mama’s boy.”
06. Castle Rock
Although it takes place in the universe created by Stephen King, Castle Rock manages to take his work and turn it into something original and all its own. This supernatural mystery serves up a gripping plot, beautiful cinematography, and intriguing characters who keep the creep factor high. There are several nods to King’s work sprinkled throughout that fans will instantly recognize and appreciate, but won’t feel as though they are watching a remake of his classic films. It’s a shame that there are only two seasons of Castle Rock because this beautifully mastered series is like one of King’s books that you just can’t put down. From the very start, viewers will find themselves glued to the edge of their seats, mouth agape, just begging for one more episode.
05. The Twilight Zone
The quality of the classic episodes of The Twilight Zone are so strong, they convince you the entire show is nothing but classics. Don’t get me wrong, the shows batting average is still strong but there are far more forgettable episodes than you remember. Rod Serling’s genre-defining anthology series drew its stories from a who’s-who of the era’s finest horror and sci-fi writers, producing the iconic episodes we all know and love, and based on the quality of those alone, this show has permanently etched out a place for itself within the pantheon of the greatest shows of all time. Its legacy is so strong, it spawned three reboots and a theatrical film. When Serling warned us in the opening narration that we were about to enter another dimension, we must’ve called his bluff because it doesn’t seem like any of us want to leave it.
04. The X-Files
If this was a list of the scariest episodes of TV and not the shows themselves, the still-controversial, Texas Chainsaw Massacre–referencing inbreeding freak-out Home would be number 1 with a bullet. Kolchak: The Night Stalker walked, so that The X-Files could run. And run it did. It was an immediate hit, becoming the water cooler show for a good decade. Everyone needed to see what monster of the week Mulder and Scully were up against next and while there were some truly terrifying monsters on the show, nothing comes close to Home. For my money, it is the scariest thing that’s ever aired on primetime television and I saw Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl nip slip. The show started running out of steam towards the end (the less we say about the two latest seasons, the better) but the best episodes haven’t aged a day.
03. Masters of Horror
Born out of Del Toro’s notorious “masters of horror” dinners, Mick Garris looked around the veritable who’s-who of talent at the tables and had a eureka moment. His idea: bring back the televised anthology, hire big name directors to helm episodes and give them creative control. He didn’t want the title of the show to be disingenuous and it shows. The first season had such heavy hitters as John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, John Landis and Don Coscarelli, to name a few. Say what you will about the quality of the individual episodes but there’s no refuting the fact the show lived up to its name and then some. The show was successful enough to get a second season but after that, it was cancelled. Fear Itself, the unofficial third season, is a pale imitation but it is good enough that if it was the third season, it might’ve bumped this show up at least one slot.
02. Channel Zero
We live in a universe where American Horror Story just got renewed for thirteen seasons and this struggled to get four. Each of its quartet of stand-alone seasons is based on a different “creepypasta,” the viral online horror stories that have kept insomniacs up since the dawn of the Web. The first season, based on Candle Cove, gave birth to the nightmare inducing Tooth Child; season three, based on Butcher’s Block, gave Rutger Hauer one of his best villain roles and season four, based on Dream Door, had Pretzel Jack, the best horror icon of the last decade no one talks about.
01. Tales From the Crypt
There will never be a show like Tales From the Crypt ever again. When Hollywood heavy-hitters Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, Walter Hill, and Richard Donner teamed up with HBO to adapt the infamously gruesome horror stories of legendary 1950s publisher EC Comics, the goal was simply to bring the gory fun from the page to the screen. Taking full advantage of the cable network’s free rein with violence and nudity, Tales from the Crypt was a celebration of horror’s pulpy past that attracted the biggest stars in Hollywood at that time. Everyone from Tom Hanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Joe Pesci to Brad Pitt (and many, many others) showed up and were game to play in this wild sandbox. The Crypt Keeper was most definitely the star of the show but the A list actors most certainly helped keep the show fresh. Unless Disney buys the rights and forces their Marvel and Star Wars actors into their reboot, we’ll never see another horror show with this caliber of talent again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will never be repeated.