The 13 Greatest Horror TV Series

It takes discipline and ruthlessness to reduce decades of horror TV down to a handful of shows. There is no room for mercy. It doesn’t matter if a horror Bingeable TV Series once ruled from a throne full of grisly guts, but it now feels as good as a colonoscopy. It didn’t make it if another show scared us from here to next while we were children, but did not hold up when we revisited the show as adults. We didn’t include it if it was at the top of everyone else’s list (hello Twin Peaks), but we did so purely for the mischief.

13. Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful’s attraction is not just about Eva Green, but also about Vanessa Ives, spooky medium extraordinaire Vanessa Ives. Green ruled over a library of literary monstrosities for three seasons with unmatched elegance and bewitching intensity. In a battle between Lucifer and his followers, Ives’ soul was the decisive battlefield.

12. Children of the Stones (1977).

Director Peter Graham Scott was said to have asked the question “And this is for kids?” when he first read the script for Children of the Stones. This question could not have been asked in the context of Trevor Ray and Jeremy Burnham’s terrifying ITV serial. What about the moment Sidney Sager’s haunting horror choral score first was heard? Or when Iain Cuthbertson was first seen as the lord/magus Hendrick. It was probably asked when Matthew brought the cursed painting to Milbury where his father, a professor, has been sent to study druidic stones circle. Maybe it was said when the strange words “Happy Day”, were first spoken on set.

11. American Horror Story

Anthology series are essential for streaming television. Anthologies are perfect for a crowded TV environment. They arrive, tell their story, and then move on to the next story in their franchise. It can be difficult to recall how groundbreaking the first season FX surprise anthology program American Horror Story was.

10. Inside Number. 9 (2014- )

We’re only three entries in, and we’ve already violated our own rule that no horror-comedies should be included. But for good reason. Inside No. Inside No. No matter how the stories are told, horror remains close to its playful and perverse heart. It is a spiritual successor of some of the older shows, taking over the role of Tales of the Unexpected and A Ghost Story For Christmas. It’s uncanny and mercurial in its ability to switch between spoof and scare. This includes series one’s The Harrowing, series six’s “Hurry up and wait” and series seven’s “How Do You Plead?”. Series seven is on the way.

9. The Fades (2011)

IMDb lists 2011’s Fades as a mini-series. This is a shame. The Fades shouldn’t be considered a mini-series. However, compared to the average run time of US shows, almost all British TV programs, even those that last for years, should be considered mini-series. Jack Thorne’s beloved horror drama should have at most three beautiful episodes, plus a movie or a special. However, the British viewing public, or at most those from BBC Three’s highly sought-after demographic, missed this rare horror series with a talented young cast. It was too late for them and it was cut short in its prime.

8. Hannibal (2013-2015)

This list is being written by both an American and Brit (“Hi Louisa!” Alec). I am suddenly aware of the differences in content restrictions between Anglo-speaking countries. Sex scenes on television are frowned upon in the United States. Yet, acts of unimaginable violence can often sneak through. NBC’s brilliant horror series Hannibal is a perfect example. Hannibal is one of the most horrifying, violent, and grotesque shows ever to grace television. It was aired at 10:05 p.m. ET on NBC, presumably following a rousing episode of The Voice. It’s a school evening and the children are still asleep, but it’s not they’re asleep.

7. Tales From The Crypt (1989-1996)

Tales from the Crypt’s opening credits with the Cryptkeeper, the only thing it had to offer, would have been enough to make it one of the most terrifying TV shows ever. Every episode of HBO’s horror series begins with the camera slowly creeping past creaky gates before zooming into a haunted house. After the audience has made its way through cobwebs and candles, they will be greeted by this little terror who opens his coffin door and screams. Things get more frightening after that.

6. Channel Zero (2016 – 2018)

Channel Zero was only briefly on TV, with just four six-episode seasons spread over two years. It is also difficult to find as it is only available in the U.S. via AMC+. Don’t let its relative anonymity fool your eyes. This Syfy series is, pound-for-pound, one the most frightening things ever to air on TV. Look at those incredible costumes! Channel zero recognized that the internet was a goldmine of pure terror in a TV market saturated by horror IP.

5. Tales of the Unexpected (1979-1988)

Horror doesn’t always involve supernatural creatures or demonic beings. There is enough evil in the human race to support years of chilling storytelling. Tales of the Unexpected was able to do just that throughout its nine-series ITV run. Some of these half-hours do delve into the paranormal, such as the adorable infant reveal of Royal Jelly. They mostly focus on domestic noir and corruption, such as the chilling tale of child abduction ‘Flypaper’. There were 112 episodes total. Around a third of them were based on Roald Dahl’s stories. His name was prefixed to the title in the early years. He also filmed fireside introductions, teasing what was coming. Anyone who has read Dahl’s children’s books knows about the evil misanthropy that he had. This imagination found its full expression in this series with tales of murder, revenge, and cannibalism.

4. The X-Files (1993 – 2018, 2018)

Without The X-Files, it’s difficult to imagine the TV horror scene. It’s difficult to imagine television without it. The Fox-created Fox series, created by Chris Carter, is a key foundation for all subsequent shows. Its contributions to pop culture include: presenting stars of intense chemistry (David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully), a “monster-of-the-week” format, and an overarching series “lore”. The X-Files can be just plain frightening when it wants to be.

3. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

Horror stories have been around for since long. Many horror stories today try to keep up with the times by taking seemingly innocuous events or items and adding a little bit of terror. You can think of Psycho with its shower scene, Alien with a simple crew dinner, Jaws with a sunny public beach, and Alien with its crew dinner. All agree that the dingy backs of our enemies, graveyards and large decaying manors we see are enough to be scary. Is it worth continuing to fight those spooky horses who are dead? Mike Flanagan, Horror at Hill House creator, knows that there are still horrors to be found in the old tropes.

2. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

There are many things that The Twilight Zone can do. It’s sci-fi storytelling like the Bradburys, Asimovs, and Le Guin’s dream of. Rod Serling, the creator of it, has a vision for a better and more equitable world. It is also a high-octane, terrifying horror that has stood the test of time. Serling’s anthological masterpiece was a true innovator, not only in the society but also in the structural sense. Horror stories are best told in short stories. Too many stories can lead to the campfire becoming a smoldering ember. It turns out that television’s burgeoning medium needed short stories.

1. Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-1978)

It is difficult to believe that these hauntingly disturbing films were broadcast first on BBC One. In his introduction to the 2012 BFI release, Dick Fiddy, British Film Institute TV consultant, explained that it was before television was a 24-hour experience. They were broadcast late at night, “probably watched by dying embers on the fire before viewers turned in for the evening; the nightmarish qualities of the stories would linger in their dreams as they went to sleep.”