Discipline and ruthlessness are required to whittle down decades of horror programming to just a devil’s dozen. There is no room for pity. It didn’t make this list if a horror TV show once reigned supreme from a throne of gruesome intestines but now feels about as appealing as a colonoscopy. It didn’t make the list if another show scared us from here to next week when we were kids but didn’t hold up when we revisited it as adults. And if it was at the top of everyone else’s list (hello, Twin Peaks), we included it solely for fun.
The following reflects our apex among a plethora of excellent horror television shows. They are all in English (so no Les Revenants, Marianne, Kingdom, or The Kingdom), and they had to be series rather than one-offs (so no Ghost Watch). They’re also not horror-comedies, else it wouldn’t have been fair to give What We Do In The Shadows every single slot.
1. Penny Dreadful
Penny Dreadful’s appeal isn’t just down to Eva Green’s performance as creepy medium extraordinaire Vanessa Ives, but it is mostly due to Eva Green’s performance as spooky medium extraordinaire Vanessa Ives. Green ruled over a library’s worth of literary monstrosities with mesmerizing passion and unparalleled elegance for three seasons. In a demonic struggle between Lucifer, his adherents, and the forces of (dubious) good, Ives’ soul was the contested battleground.
Penny Dreadful was a full-body dive into the violent Gothic imagination of the 19th century, created by erstwhile Bond colleagues John Logan and Sam Mendes. Its jewelry box of book characters included Dracula, Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and many others, all resurrected by a strong cast led by the excellent Rory Kinnear (pictured above, left) and the redoubtable and much-missed Helen McCrory as Madame Kali, leader of the Nightcomers intent on winning Vanessa for their master.
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The perfume of blood and incense was never far away in Penny Dreadful, which grew in scope season by season. Lurid, well-made, and atmospherically designed, the scent of blood and incense was never far away in Penny Dreadful, which grew in scope season by season. It was a masterclass in not holding back, drenched in gore, and doing full homage to its literary horror origins.
2. American Horror Story
You can’t throw a rock without hitting an anthology series in the streaming era of television. In today’s overcrowded television landscape, anthologies are ideal. They come in, tell their narrative, and then leave, paving the way for the next franchise story. With that in mind, it’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking FX’s surprise anthology series American Horror Story’s debut season was.
Please excuse the spoilers for a ten-year-old television season, but American Horror Story’s first act, which has been renamed “Murder House,” concludes with nearly everyone dead. And, as if that wasn’t enough, FX announced shortly after that the Ryan Murphy-created show would be renewed for a new, nearly wholly unrelated season. Since then, new American Horror Story seasons have focused on asylums, witches, haunted hotels, and, unfortunately, the end of the world.
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The anthology-style of American Horror Story means that some seasons are better than others. After all these years, there’s still not a show quite like this one in terms of bringing the horror genre to the small screen.
3. Inside No. 9
As of now, we’ve strayed from our own rule of no scary comedies—but for good reason. The Bafta-winning film Inside No. 9 is a comedy, but it’s also a drama, a horror film, and sometimes all three at once. Horror’s wicked and amusing side shines through no matter how it is conveyed. As a spiritual heir to series like Tales of the Unexpected, A Ghost Story for Christmas, and Play for Today, among others, it’s a must-see for any fan of the holiday season.
Even from the first episode of the first series, The Harrowing, through series six’s ‘Hurry Up and Wait and How Do You Plead?’ and beyond, it has an incredible capacity to flip from satire to terror (series seven is already on its way). Over six seasons and 36 episodes, this BBC Two series has given some unforgettable horror scenes.
Demonic possession, Satanism, and Satanism-worshipers are only some of the demon-worshipers you’ll find in this book. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, along with producer Adam Tandy and the outstanding cast and directors their scripts attract, have filled their grotesquerie with unnerving shocks on a low BBC budget. For as long as there are pizzicato strings and dust motes, television will be haunted by this piece.
4. The Fades
IMDb now lists 2011’s The Fades as a mini-series, which is unfortunate. Even though British TV shows, even the long-running ones that air for months or years, are all considered mini-series in comparison to the usual US runtime, The Fades should not be made into one. The acclaimed horror series by Jack Thorne should run for at least three seasons, as well as a movie and a Christmas special.
BBC Three’s sought-after audience was late to this unusual horror with a star-studded group of teens, but it was too late for the British people. Paul (Iain de Caestecker), a youngster with the ability to see the dead, is the protagonist of The Fades. In the wake of a breakdown in the ascension process between life and death, the Earth has been overrun by wandering wraiths that are becoming angrier and malevolent with each passing year.
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The Angelics must intervene when the Fades discover a way to retaliate against the living. In every way, from the creepy creature designs to the frightening tension, it’s funny, human, poignant, exciting, and drenched in dread. Whoa, that’s quite the ensemble! We have a new hero! Natasha Dormer, who? Tom ‘Lucifer’ Ellis is here! This is Joe “Gendry” Dempsey! Even if the series was prematurely terminated, it was still well worth seeing.
The fact that an American and a Brit are compiling this list makes me acutely aware of the cultural contrasts between the two Anglo-speaking countries. When it comes to network television in the United States, sex scenes are notoriously discouraged. Despite this, heinous acts of violence are often able to slip through the cracks. Hannibal, a superb horror series on NBC, is a good example. It’s safe to say that Hannibal ranks at the top of the list of the goriest, bizarre, and most horrific shows ever produced on television. In some way, it was broadcast on the network at 10 p.m. ET, perhaps following an episode of The Voice. While it’s true that children are sleeping on a school night, they’re a little more awake than you might expect.
It’s no secret that Hannibal is based on Thomas Harris’s writings on serial killers. As the titular character, Mads Mikkelsen manages to outdo Anthony Hopkins in a performance for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Mikkelsen’s chemistry with Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, a criminal profiler, made the show a huge internet fan favorite. Despite its glossy fanbase shine, this is a very horrifying show with eviscerated corpses, Colombian neckties, and human totem poles everywhere you look.
6. Channel Zero
Channel Zero had a brief run on television, with only four six-episode seasons spread out over two years. It’s also difficult to get by right now, as it’s exclusively available on AMC+ in the United States. But don’t be fooled by its relative anonymity. This Syfy series is one of the most horrifying things that have ever aired on television. Take a look at the incredible costuming work in the photographs above! In a market saturated with existing horror IP, Channel Zero recognized that the internet had one undiscovered gold mine of pure terror.
Channel Zero looked out and adapted the best of the best “creepypastas” – or online horror stories – starting with its first season adaption of the online short story “Candle Cove.” Channel Zero followed Candle Cove by bringing “No-End House,” “Butcher’s Block,” and “The Dream Door” to life. Nick Antosca, the author of the series, has a terrific eye for a story and an even greater eye for monster creation. Every season of the show feels like someone else’s a barely restrained nightmare, aching to creep into the viewer’s skull despite its limitations.
7. The X-Files
Without The X-Files, the TV horror landscape would be impossible to imagine. Indeed, it’s difficult to picture much of television without it. The Fox show, produced by Chris Carter, served as a model for many others that followed. Its contributions to pop culture include displaying intense chemistry between stars (David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully), a “monster of the week” style, and an overarching series “lore.” In addition to all of that, The X-Files had the potential to be horrifying when it wanted to be.
Even though Agents Mulder and Scully were generally more concerned with aliens, the show never shied away from showing more mundane tragedies. Some of The X-Files’ deadliest episodes are among the scariest on television. God help any young viewer who saw “Squeeze” in season 1, “The Host” in season 2, or “Leonard Betts” in season 4. And if viewers make it through all of that, “Home” is waiting for them. We don’t think we’ve ever seen a more ugly and disturbing hour of television.
8. The Haunting of Hill House
The Walking Dead had a lot to live up to, considering it was based on Robert Kirkman’s popular graphic novel. That’s exactly what happened. With director Frank Darabont of The Shawshank Redemption on hand, the brilliant horror TV harnessed the grandeur of a drama and added zombies to the mix.
The series follows several survivors as they fight to stay alive in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, but they are forced to deal with rival groups and difficult decisions in the process. The post-apocalyptic horror television series exceeded all expectations with riveting performances from the entire cast, particularly Norman Reedus and Andrew Lincoln, as well as some absolutely remarkable writing.
9. The Twilight Zone
The original horror television show. The Twilight Zone, dubbed “the original American anthology television series,” was a smash hit from the start and remains one of the most influential shows ever made. Rod Serling’s genre-defining show brought together the best horror and science fiction writers for an infinite stream of stand-alone episodes.
Episodes like The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet were spine-tingling and thought-provoking, playing out our deepest fears and concerns. Even after 60 years, these episodes remain among the best works of art the genre has produced.
10. Midnight Mass
Midnight Mass is a contemporary horror TV series that depicts a charismatic yet mysterious priest who brings miracles, riddles, fresh religious ardor, and otherworldly events to a dying secluded island village.
This religious-themed film is one of Netflix’s best terrifying shows, beautifully shot and eerie from the start.
These are the top 10 scariest series, which are available to watch on many streaming platforms.