October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror-centric TV shows is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Horror has been a staple of television since the earliest days of the medium. The format offers a lot of flexibility for creators that don’t want to be confined to the standard 90-minute run time of your typical horror feature. Shorter stories can be told via an anthology series, while something meatier can be stretched out across one or more seasons. No matter your preference, horror television likely has you covered.
Because the television horror landscape is so vast, it can be hard to know where to begin. Fortunately for you, dear reader, the FSR Boo Crew locked ourselves away for days in a remote cabin and fought each other tooth and nail until we could decide on a top ten. Yes, one of us died and was subsequently replaced by a clone, but it was worth it to come up with this list that everyone everywhere will surely agree with.
Slip into something comfy, grab your favorite snack, and slink into your couch, these are the ten best horror tv shows, as chosen by Brad Gullickson, Anna Swanson’s clone, Jacob Trussell, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, and myself.
10. The Terror (2018-2019)
The first season of The Terror has everything: bodies wracked with scurvy, Jared Harris, frostbitten limbs, old wooden ships, and monstrous polar bears. It’s a series that really runs the gamut of depicting both supernatural horrors and the horrors humans are capable of, especially in the name of survival. Based on the book of the same name by Dan Simmons, the series follows the doomed crew of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus as they try to carve a passage through the Arctic Ocean. But as the cold sets in and strange shadows flit across the ice, the crews slowly begin to realize they may never be going home. This is a show full of body horror and the terrifying reality of what happens as a body breaks down from the cold.
It’s also an incredible show of how to build tension through a television series. While one season of the show sufficed, AMC decided to greenlight a second season and make the show an anthology series as it follows an entirely different story. The second season, which takes place in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, is another effective piece of historical horror despite uneven pacing and a lack of scares from its ghostly villain. The Terror is a series able to take actual horrors from the past and bring them back into focus with a paranormal twist. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
9. The Outer Limits (1963-1965)
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission.” These are the famous first lines from the cold open narration that precedes every episode of Leslie Stevens’ The Outer Limits. This horror anthology with a sci-fi slant originally ran for two seasons on ABC in the mid-’60s before receiving a longer-running reboot in 1995. Despite having a loyal and passionate following, the series is often overshadowed by The Twilight Zone. But don’t let that fool you. The Outer Limits is a terrific blend of horror and sci-fi that often capitalized on the Cold War fears of the day. It’s also a show that is expertly photographed, leaning hard into German Expressionism and creating a genuinely chilling atmosphere. (Chris Coffel)
8. Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-2000)
“Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, I call this story…”
Growing up in the 90s was a great time for kids looking to get into horror. It felt like every other week a new horror anthology geared towards a younger crowd would debut. Perhaps the most popular of these was Are You Afraid of the Dark? This Nickelodeon show first ran for five seasons as part of the popular SNICK programming block before experiencing a couple of reboots, the most recent of which premiered in February 2020. The series follows a group of teens that have dubbed themselves “The Midnight Society.” They gather ’round a campfire and attempt to spook one another with hair-raising ghost stories about demons, clowns, haunted houses, vampires, werewolves, and any other supernatural or creepy entity you can imagine. Although the show sets out to scare you, it brings with it an odd sort of comfort, making the viewer feel like they’re just hanging out with friends trying to out-fright one another. (Chris Coffel)
7. The X-Files (1993-2018)
It’s easy to forget about the influence that Chris Carter’s The X-Files had on television in the 90s, but it stands the test of time as a top-notch genre show and a template for buddy shows with two opposing personalities. The show has had eleven seasons, and while I’ll acknowledge that the back half has underwhelmed, those first six seasons deliver the goods more often than not.
The show has a throughline narrative involving aliens, Mulder’s sister, and government conspiracies, but the show was always at its best when it ignored that in favor of “monster of the week” stories involving far more interesting threats, characters, and adventures. From stretchy serial killers to rapey Cher fanatics to some horrifying inbred killers, those early seasons are a gift that keeps on giving as they deliver scares, thrills, wonder, fun, weirdness, and more with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson leading our way through the dark. (Rob Hunter)
6. Channel Zero (2016-2018)
Channel Zero does creepypasta right, using delectable tales of terror born on the internet as a springboard into six-episode bouts of horror, directing its focus on the emotional turmoil rather than the narrative twists and jabs. The gimmick is the gimmick, but the characters that must reckon with each season’s gimmick feel real, or at least, Stephen King real. You’ve met these folks in the horror master’s tomes. They’re broken individuals struggling to make sense of themselves, their partners, and the world that seems hungry to gobble them up. While not directly referencing King’s domestic frights, the four Channel Zero seasons feel like the author’s natural heirs, where love and human connection are as important as whatever contortionist monster that lurks behind the basement door. (Brad Gullickson)
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