The only thing that sucks about an hour and a half horror film is that, even the great ones, are over entirely to soon. But horror TV shows can quench our thirst for long sustained terrifying tales where you can really grow attached to the characters and care about whether they die or not. Or we can get an anthology show where there’s a different story each time with a chilling ending.
This list was not easy to compile and I initially decided to include both old and new TV shows. There were also many anthology shows I had to leave out, such as The Outer Limits, Tales From the Darkside and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This is because I wanted a variety of different shows and wanted to pick only the best ones of each. For example I wanted to choose at least one children’s horror show and left Goosebumps off of the list in favor of something else. Twin Peaks didn’t make this list because I honestly never watched it. Sorry David Lynch, I still love your movies.
Honorable Mentions: Being Human, American Horror Story, The Vampire Diaries, The Outer Limits, Goosebumps
So here’s my list for top 10 horror shows of all time:
10. True Blood (2008–)
Based after the Sookie Stackhouse novels comes this series about a waitress and her frequent romances with vampires who are now accepted into society because of a synthesized version of blood called True Blood, which allows them to not have to feed on humans. The show is filled with many other creatures including werewolves, faeries, shape shifters and were-Panthers. It is also bloody and filled with lots of nudity and sex. These mature elements raise this show above other similar human and vampire love themed shows such as The Vampire Diaries.
While this show can often times be great some seasons and story lines can be lackluster and that is why this falls in at number 10 on my list. Special praise has to go to Ryan Kwanten for his fantastic portrayal of Jason Stackhouse who plays stupid very convincingly. This show, despite its shortcomings, should be considered a must see for vampire fanatics. With a 7th season already planned, this show isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
9. Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991–1996)
When I was just a little kid every Saturday night at 9:30 I could be found sitting in front of my TV waiting for the next episode of this show to begin. The series followed a group of kids who call themselves the Midnight Society that gather together in front of a campfire and tell ghost stories. This was a huge inspiration towards my love of all things horror and in my opinion is the finest example of a children’s horror show. I wanted to be a member of the Midnight Society and tell my own stories.
There were some downright terrifying episodes, especially for my younger self, which include “The Tale of The Twisted Claw”, “The Tale of the Nightly Neighbors” and “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark”, which still holds up to this day and proves that clowns are terrifying. Without Are You Afraid of the Dark this website probably wouldn’t exist and many other young kids who grew up on this show were introduced to the wonderful world of horror. These two facts alone dignify this shows existence on the list.
8. Fringe (2008-2013)
Unfortunately this genius show created by J.J. Abrams only lasted five seasons but thankfully for us fans they were five amazing ones. It followed a female FBI agent named Olivia who works with an institutionalized scientist named Walter and his son Peter. They join a division of the FBI called Fringe division that investigates unexplained phenomena. While starting off somewhat like The X-Files the show quickly differentiates itself by introducing a second universe slightly different then our own with varying versions of the same characters. It sounds confusing but makes sense once you watch the show.
While it could be argued that this show is mainly science fiction there are plenty of episodes that delve strictly into the horror genre. Such episodes include “Marionette”, “One Night In October” and “The No Brainer”. The performance by actor John Noble who portrays Dr. Walter Bishop is the real highlight of the show and he has the ability to both be sympathetic and hilarious when the moment calls for it. In my opinion this is the closest a show has pulled off both fantastic horror and science fiction at the same time since The X-Files and while it might not have lasted long that in no way diminishes how great of a show this was.
7. The Walking Dead (2010-)
Did you ever finish watching Dawn of the Dead and wish it would continue on to show what happened after the mall incident? I did. Based after the Image graphic novel series of the same name comes the story of Rick Grimes, a Police officer, who leads a group of survivors against a world overrun by the undead. This show is like a never-ending zombie movie with amazing special effects and gore brought to life by a team of talented artists.
The best part of the show, however, is the human conflict between the characters where the zombies are the secondary evil after the human one. The actors that portray these characters are top-notch and after growing attached to many of these characters it is made that much more heartbreaking when they die, and trust me many will die and that is why the show is as suspenseful as it is. Anyone can die at any time. The Walking Dead has become a pop-culture phenomenon and is responsible for a zombie movie boom that cements its appearance on this list after only four seasons.
6. Supernatural (2005-)
Heading into an amazing tenth season comes a TV show that follows two brothers, Sam and Dean, who are monster hunters that are frequently put in the middle of an epic war between heaven and hell. The great thing is how many different supernatural beings fit into this universe and how creatively they are used and hunted down by the brothers. The episodes that follow the war between the angels and demons are good but the highlights of the show are the stand-alone episodes that deal with all the other types of creatures.
Some of my favorite episodes include “Changing Channels”, “The French Mistake” and “Hunteri Heroici”, which are all quirky and highlight how creative and fantastic this show can be. Side characters such as Castiel, Bobby Singer and the overly evil Crowley are awesome and add another layer to the show. Supernatural wouldn’t have lasted ten seasons already without it being exceptional and I personally wouldn’t mind it lasting another ten.
5. Dexter (2006-2013)
Based after the book series Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay comes Showtime’s answer to HBO’s The Soprano’s, at least in my humble opinion. Michael C. Hall brilliantly portrays a complex serial killer who also moonlights as a Miami police forensics expert. He has a Dark Passenger, what he calls his need to kill, that he keeps at bay with a code implemented by his father that involves only killing violent criminals and never getting caught.
The brilliance of this show is how it makes the viewer sympathize with a serial killer and root for him to never get caught. The greatest achievement, however, is in Season 4 with John Lithgow’s chilling portrayal of the Trinity Killer, which concludes with one of the most shocking season finales ever. Dexter is almost finished with it’s eighth and final season and there is already talks of a spin-off. Any horror themed show my Dad can also appreciate along with me more then makes Dexter worthy of a placement on this list.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Joss Whedon, the director of the Hollywood blockbuster The Avengers, followed up the criminally overlooked series Firefly with this series that continued the story of the 1992 film of the same name. Sarah Michelle Gellar replaced Kristy Swanson, who portrayed Buffy Summers in the film, and the show followed her high school career as both cheerleader and resident vampire hunter. Without this groundbreaking series we wouldn’t have The Vampire Diaries, True Blood or the tween favorite Twilight.
Highlight episodes include “The Body”, ”Once More, With Feeling” and the surprisingly terrifying “Hush”. This show featured many future talents such as Alyson Hannigan, Seth Green and Eliza Dushku among several others. What sets Buffy the Vampire Slayer apart from other shows was the presence of a strong female protagonist who could hold her own against the creatures of the night, not needing a man to help her. Angel, a spin-off from the main series, lasted five strong years and Buffy the Vampire Slayer still continues on to this day through comic book form and therefore deserves a spot on my list. Plus it was the first show to feature a lesbian romance. Hot.
3. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Rod Serling hosted this supernatural anthology series that was revolutionary for it’s time and laid the groundwork for such series as Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside and The Outer Limits. The stories featured ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations and usually ended with an ironic twist where people think they got what they wanted until they get it. The Night Gallery followed this series up in 1969 and featured similar themes as well as being hosted by Serling..
Supernatural horror and science fiction TV would not be what it is today without this show and that alone would put this highly on the list. But the classic episodes are what really put this show into legendary territory, such as “Time Enough At Last”. “Living Doll” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, which starred Captain Kirk himself William Shatner. This series featured many other appearances from famous actors of the time, to many to list here. The Twilight Zone movie, made in 1983, featured segments directed by horror legends Joe Dante and John Landis and is every bit as classic as the show, which further justifies it as number three on my list.
2. Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)
Based after the gruesome EC horror comics from the 1950’s this anthology horror series, which was aired on HBO, featured bloody stories with twist endings where characters frequently got what they deserved. Each half-hour episode was presented and wrapped up by a wisecracking puppet named the Crypt Keeper, whose puns were the definition of morbidly amusing. Highlight episodes include “The Ventriloquist Dummy”, “All Through the House” and “Abra Cadaver”, which still creeps me out to this day.
What sets this show apart from other horror anthology shows is the violence shown on-screen and the amazing directors and actors that were involved in each episode. It would be pointless to list them all here because there are so many famous Hollywood icons that appeared here, something we will sadly probably never see again. With three movies and a cartoon series based after Tales from the Crypt I have to let this series creep in at number two.
1. The X-Files (1993–2002)
Two FBI agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have forever changed the landscape for all horror and science fiction TV shows that followed after. The combination of a believer and a skeptic that are forced to be partners is nothing short of brilliant. Some of the most terrorizing episodes include ‟Squeeze”, “Humbug” and “Home”, which was banned immediately after it was aired because it was deemed to disturbing.
There were also countless appearances from such genre favorites as Cary Elwes (Saw), Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Brad Dourif (Child’s Play), Shawnee Smith (Saw), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), Tobin Bell (Saw) and Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn) among several others. After nine seasons and two feature films I would say The X-Files justifiably deserves a top spot on this list. And remember… the truth is out there.
So that is my list of the top 10 horror shows ever. Is there a show that I didn’t mention or leave out of my top 10 that you think I should have included? Let the debate begin.