You know what’s better than horror movies?
More content. More characters. More terrifying monsters that’ll turn your stomach and make you wish you didn’t have to go the bathroom all alone.
But making a truly great horror TV series isn’t a small task. It can be difficult to create and maintain an eerie ambiance for a long-running series. You need a great storyline that’ll keep viewers engaged, and that can regularly and convincingly keep characters in danger.
This is why we are dedicating this article to the horror TV series that will keep you up at night, the horror TV series that have amassed millions of fear-loving fans.
1. American Horror Story
American Horror Story, like most great works of art, has polarized its viewers – some love it, some hate it.
But one thing undeniable is how offbeat and macabre the entire show is. There are plenty of unsightly, gory scenes, coupled with shocking events, that’ll satisfy your need for gruesome horror.
The show has been on the air since 2011 and does not follow just one plotline.
Instead, it is an anthology series, centering around different characters in different, charming locations, like an insane asylum or a possessed farmhouse, for example.
The show stars Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga. If you want your horror fix, American Horror Story will surely deliver.
The Twilight Zone is one of the all-time classics of television, even outside of the horror genre. It began back in 1959 and ran on CBS for five years, until 1964.
Like the American Horror Story, the episodes don’t follow one specific storyline revolving around a specific set of characters, but rather follows a separate story every episode.
The series has explored a plethora of different genres, including science fiction, fantasy, psychological thriller and – surprise, surprise – horror. Even more so, it introduced the American public to many tropes that we commonly see in present-day science fiction movies and books.
Episodes of The Twilight Zone were known for their gory and grisly special effects, especially at the time.
Nowadays, these special effects look more outdated than horrifying, but Rod Serling, the creator and director of the show, has a knack for portraying humans as malicious and evil, making them more terrible than any monster imaginable.
The Twilight Zone remains one of the all-time classics and is worth examining if you’re a fan of the horror genre.
Who knew a show about a serial killer cannibal would be actually terrifying? Oh wait, everyone!
Hannibal is one of the highest-rated horror TV series in modern television.
All 39 episodes, divided equally into 13 episodes over the span of 3 seasons, tell an engrossing story of a manipulative, secretly-cannibalistic forensic psychiatrist who is working with the FBI.
It’s actually pretty messed up, which is what makes it an excellent TV series. And with Dr. Hannibal Lecter being portrayed by none other than the incredible Mads Mikkelsen, the series was guaranteed to be a hit.
As you might guess, the show is filled with graphic scenes, but one thing the show is revered for is the gorgeous cinematography. So it’s all bloody and gory, and yet it’s shot so well, so it all balances out.
The creators of the show are lauded for the characters’ unpredictability and how well the actors complement each other. If you’re looking for a show that’ll keep your heart pounding and your mind racing, this show might be the one for you.
4. Bates Motel
This TV series is a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s all-time cinema classic, Psycho. It follows the lives of Norman Bates and his mother, Norma, in the events prior to the movie and novel.
Instead of attempting to remake the classic film – which is no easy feat – the creators of the TV show instead focused their creative efforts on reinventing the characters in a modern fashion, as well as making them more disturbing.
Of course, the death scenes and killings are wonderfully gruesome and gross, so if you get a kick out of seeing fake, bloody dead bodies getting decapitated and whatnot, you’ll enjoy the spectacle.
But what really gives the Bates Motel series a distinctly creepy vibe is the completely unsettling relationship Norman Bates and his mother, Norma, share.
The actors, Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, have been lauded for their engaging performances, and their ability to truly portray the disturbing mother-and-son relationship as intended by the creators of the show.
5. Penny Dreadful
A horror TV series set in the Victorian ages, in a world of mysterious, enigmatic characters with strange pasts.
Penny Dreadful brings together the origin stories of classic monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula, in a woven universe. Although the show can be somewhat over-the-top at times, there is no doubting how good the acting and storyline is.
And of course, there are some intense and horrifying scenes, as with any good horror TV series.
If you’re looking for an engrossing modern TV series with some excellent acting and beautiful cinematography, this might just be what you’ve been looking for.
6. Stranger Things
Based in a small, fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s, the story of Stranger Things begins after the Hawkins National Laboratory, acting on behalf of the United States government, performs research, involving both human and supernatural elements.
Inadvertently, they opened a portal to an alternate universe. This portal and alternate universe, containing all sorts of terrifying monsters. This begins to affect the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, resulting in some very serious consequences. Without going into too much detail, stuff goes down.
And, while it does sound corny and cliche – monsters and portals to alternate universes – the show carries it out very, very well. The series has a constant dangerous, dark and emotionally-charged atmosphere, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats and expecting something calamitous to happen at any moment.
And of course, we can not talk about Stranger Things without mentioning the excellent quality of the acting. Yes, we have to come to expect this level from the talented Winona Ryder and David Harbour. But the real stars of the show are the kids, who manage to perfectly portray the danger and unease the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana must be feeling throughout the events of the series.
7. The Strain
An American horror TV series created Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro and American author Chuck Hogan.
This series, with 4 seasons and a total of 46 episodes, is based on a trilogy with the same name, created by the same two people.
The series begins when a high-profile doctor based in New York, Dr. Goodweather, is assigned to investigate the mysterious case of an airplane landing with everyone aboard it dead. Dr. Goodweather and his team quickly discover that these weird events are caused by a dangerous, viral outbreak that causes vampirism.
Yeah, not good. This viral outbreak threatens the entirety of humanity and it’s up to Dr. Goodweather and his team to save the world. Otherwise, we’re all doomed.
Yup, sounds pleasant.
As corny and hashed out as the concept may sound, the show is actually really good and puts a refreshingly original spin on the concept of vampires in modern times. Funny, well-shot and very graphic – the show has all the right ingredients of a successful and highly watchable horror TV series.
An Exciting Time For Horror Enthusiasts
There is no doubt that it is an exciting time for all horror enthusiasts and fear-loving fans. With literally dozens of shows cropping up across a variety of different networks, and with audiences now demanding newer, more original concepts, there is no reason why we can’t witness the emergence of more brilliant, instant-classic horror shows that are capable of scaring fans half to death.
What’s more, with constant innovations and improvements to production equipment and computer software, film and series producers will, now and in the future, be able to shoot impossible terrifying scenes, create more gruesome monsters and basically bring your deepest, darkest fears to on-screen reality. So, yeah … have fun.
Of course, this list is highly subjective, and with such a loose definition of what a horror series really entails, it can be difficult for even two people to agree on a definitive list of the best horror TV series of all time.
Is it the level of scare factor? Is it about the eerie behaviour of messed up human beings? Is it about spirits and demons and exorcists? Or is it simply the shows with the most number of gruesome and disgusting killings?
These are questions you likely won’t find a simple, straightforward answer to any time soon, which is what makes watching and discussing horror TV series a very fun thing to do, and because everyone has their own opinion about which shows are worth watching, you likely won’t be able to stay away for too long.