The last decade has seen an explosion of horror content on television. Thanks to streaming services such as Netflix, traditional cable outlets and genre-specific platforms such as Shudder, horror on the small screen is undergoing a bloody renaissance. Freed from the strictures of network censors, creators are exploring darker themes and more intense imagery than ever before. The show that’s been on the bleeding edge of TV’s new wave of horror from the beginning is Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s American Horror Story. Bloody, sexy and imbued with a wickedly black sense of humor, AHS has used its anthology format to explore the common horror themes of murder, the supernatural and the apocalyptic in wholly original and refreshingly subversive ways.
If you’re one of the many fans suffering from withdrawal waiting for the return of American Horror Story in 2021, we feel your pain. To alleviate your suffering, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best horror series from the past and present to satiate your hunger for the macabre. Here are 10 of TV’s best horror shows to help you shorten the wait.
Dan Curtis’ struggling daytime potboiler Dark Shadows had limped along at the bottom of the ratings for 10 months beginning in the summer of 1966 until a last-ditch effort by the 40-year-old writer-producer made it an unqualified hit. With the addition of stately vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), the show gained a dedicated following of teen horror fans. Curtis would add even more supernatural elements, including ghosts, werewolves, witches and time travel, to the gothic soap over the course of its six-year run.
Master storyteller and television pioneer Rod Serling, best known for his iconic ’60s sci-fi series The Twilight Zone, returned to weekly TV with the horror anthology Night Gallery. Featuring stories by such horror legends as H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch, as well as many scripts from Serling himself, the show was also a proving ground for the early work of a young Steven Spielberg. Although the show lacks the quality and the deft creative control Serling exerted over The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery has enough effective moments to make it a TV horror classic in its own right.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Curtis further cemented his reputation as the king of 1970s terror with the highly rated Night Stalker, a 1972 TV movie about hard-boiled reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) facing off against an ancient vampire stalking modern-day Las Vegas. Inspiring a spinoff, Kolchak: The Night Stalker followed the hapless newsman through a series of supernatural encounters with everything from zombies to aliens. Lasting only one season, Kolchak: The Night Stalker’s lesser episodes often suffered from a formulaic “monster of the week” format, but even at its weakest, McGavin’s hangdog charisma as the titular Kolchak shines. An undeniable influence on The X-Files, Kolchak: The Night Stalker remains one of the most beloved horror shows of all time.
Tales From The Darkside
Beating HBO’s similarly themed Tales From The Crypt to the punch by six years, the syndicated Tales From The Darkside marked legendary horror director George A. Romero’s first foray into TV terror. A weekly anthology, Tales From The Darkside featured some heavyweight writing talent with stories by Stephen King, Harlan Ellison and other genre luminaries. Although its strongest segments are marred by obvious low budgets, top-flight writing and direction make Tales From The Darkside an essential cult horror TV show.
David Lynch brought his special brand of all-American, avant-garde weirdness to network TV in 1990 with Twin Peaks. Based on the deceptively simple premise of a murder in a small northwestern town, Twin Peaks’ ostensible mystery was second to Lynch’s hallucinatory storytelling and exploration of the nature of evil. Sadly, the show suffered from Lynch’s absence for much of the second season. In 2017, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost finally returned the cult favorite to TV with Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return, which tied up many of the original series’ loose ends but left fans with just as many questions.
Created by Charlie Brooker, who previously produced the zombies-meet-reality-TV thriller Dead Set, Black Mirror continues the proud tradition of TV horror and sci-fi anthologies such as The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Grim and allegorical, Black Mirror deals with the terrifying consequences of our reliance on and addiction to technology and media. Not for the squeamish, Black Mirror reflects a dystopian near future that’s frighteningly more and more like our present.
Much like American Horror Story, Syfy’s Channel Zero uses its anthology format to tell a single story over a season. Created by horror novelist Nick Antosca, author of the Shirley Jackson Award-winning novella Midnight Picnic, Channel Zero takes the internet phenomenon of “creepypasta,” short, scary tales often presented as true events, as the basis for compelling and horrific television. Although the stripped-down, go-for-the-throat style of creepypasta is what makes the form so effective, Channel Zero’s expansion of stories, such as season 1’s Candle Cove, work through a combination of tight writing, skilled direction and great performances. Loved by both critics and horror fans, Channel Zero takes a concept that shouldn’t work and executes it brilliantly.
Lasting only six episodes, Crazyhead was an immediate hit with fans of TV horror. Often described as a British Buffy The Vampire Slayer, comparisons to the ’90s WB hit are superficial at best. In the show, bold and brash demon hunter Raquel, played with streetwise panache by Chewing Gum’s Susan Wokoma, helps a fellow “seer” (a person with the power to see demons) adapt to her newfound powers and mission. Funny and action-packed, Crazyhead is a rare show with a balance of horror and comedy that works.
As any constant reader of horror maestro King knows, the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, is the central location of much of the author’s best work. So, any show bearing a name so beloved to King’s many fans had better deliver the goods. Castle Rock, the show, does exactly that and more. Featuring callbacks to such King favorites as The Shining and Misery, Castle Rock is more than mere fan service—it develops its own unique premise while respecting King’s mythology.
Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina
Exorcise all memories of the wacky adventures of Melissa Joan Hart in Sabrina The Teenage Witch from your mind. Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina is based on the grim and gritty reboot of the venerable Archie Comics standby that captured the imaginations of readers in 2014. Starring Kiernan Shipka as the titular Sabrina Spellman, Chilling Adventures ups the scare quotient with a serious approach to witchcraft and the occult that hews closer to the hardcore horrors of The Witch than the lighthearted antics of Bewitched. The first three parts are available on Netflix now with the fourth and final installment arriving this year.