It used to be that horror on television was tame. It was PG-ish stuff like Scooby-Doo and The Twilight Zone. Good fare, but these shows all held horror at arm’s length, like it was a sub-genre or something shameful. Now, with streaming, TV horror shows can be just as creepy and scary as their movie brethren. They’ve shed some of their sci-fi and mystery armor to be fully grownup, unashamed gore that’s perfect for Halloween binging. Below are some of our faves. If you like them, you may also want to check out our lists for the best horror movies or scary Halloween tech.
A spiritual successor to many of the shows and movies Gen Xers and Millennials loved growing up, Stranger Things serves horror tropes with a nostalgic glow. The fourth season (the best so far) leans heavily into ’80s horror, with the villainous Vecna reaching his fleshy tentacles into his victim’s dreams to exploit their worst fears. The show reverently acknowledges its debt to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street series, with Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) himself popping up as Vecna victim Victor Kreel.
The eponymous depression town (in more ways than one) is a kind of nexus for Stephen King’s characters, and Castle Rock is a treasure trove of references for fans, but it also works as a captivating standalone story. Season 1 focuses on a mysterious inmate at Shawshank, and Season 2 introduces a young Annie Wilkes (pre-Misery). If someone built a King theme park, it would surely look like Castle Rock. This fictional Maine town first appeared in The Dead Zone, served as the setting for Needful Things, and has popped up repeatedly like a bad penny in King’s work over the years. With Hulu’s show, it gets a tale all its own.
When archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) is hired to restore some old video tapes, he soon becomes engrossed in the work of a woman named Melody (Dina Shihabi) who was investigating a demonic cult in a Lower Manhattan apartment building. This claustrophobic series is permeated with a growing sense of dread and relies heavily on an excellent performance from Athie. Sadly canceled after a single season, you can still listen to the podcast that inspired the show if you want to dig even further into the tale.
The Haunting of Hill House
This ghost story centers on five adult siblings haunted by paranormal experiences that caused them to flee the family mansion years before. Loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s gothic horror novel of the same name, this creepy tale is skillfully directed by Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep), ably assisted by a strong cast that includes Carla Gugino, Timothy Hutton, and Victoria Pedretti. It is a complex and terrifying family drama, packed with spine-chilling imagery, that builds to a frightening climax. If you enjoy this, Flanagan’s Midnight Mass is also worth a look.
Ash vs. Evil Dead
Rumored for years, fans of the Evil Dead movies finally got what they wanted when star Bruce Campbell reunited with director Sam Raimi to revive the ultimate horror anti-hero. Campbell was born to play wisecracking idiot Ash as he wades into deadites and demons to save humanity with a chainsaw and a boomstick. Raimi directs the first episode, Campbell stars throughout, and this is slapstick gore at its finest. The supporting cast has plenty of chemistry, and includes a fun turn from Lucy Lawless. And, while the frenetic action is mostly played for laughs, the gross-out gore hits impressive highs, or should that be lows?
Set years before The Silence of the Lambs, this atmospheric show follows FBI special agent Will Graham as he tries to track down Hannibal Lecter without losing his sanity. Bryan Fuller’s blood-soaked show is gorgeously cinematic with plenty of tension, haunting visuals, and an ambient score that immerses you, but Mads Mikkelsen’s tightrope act as he veers from charismatic to cannibal is what makes this essential viewing. The supporting cast, which includes Gillian Anderson and Laurence Fishburne, is not bad either.
American Horror Story
I have a love/hate relationship with the anthology series American Horror Story, but with 10 self-contained seasons spanning classic horror scenarios, not to mention a stellar cast that includes Jessica Lange, it demands a place here. For me, it peaked early with the asylum in the second season, and subsequent seasons have been hit-or-miss. It’s fun for horror fans playing spot-the-trope, and the campy thrills come thick and fast, but it’s a guilty pleasure that can occasionally feel glib and exploitative, especially when it attempts to tie in real-life history. If you enjoy AHS, check out the sorority slasher Scream Queens, starring Emma Roberts as a loathsome mean girl and Jamie Lee Curtis as the school dean.
The residents of this small town in middle America find they cannot leave, and something evil comes out to hunt them when the sun goes down. While exactly where this spooky slow-burner is headed remains to be seen, it’s creepy enough to be worth a look. Harold Perrineau grounds the show with a compelling turn as Sheriff Boyd, struggling to hold his community together. I’m excited to see where they go with season two.
Another horror prequel, Bates Motel is set in a time long before Psycho when Norman Bates is just a young lad who comes to an Oregon town with his mother to fix up a dilapidated motel. Despite their best efforts to start a new life, everything seems to conspire against them, and the seams begin to show quite quickly as Norman struggles to maintain his mental health. Anthony Perkins is a hard act to follow, but Freddie Highmore is convincing as a young Norman, and Vera Farmiga is excellent as his mother Norma. Their relationship is the heart of this suspenseful show. Unlike many listed here, Bates Motel got five seasons to build to a satisfying conclusion.
A famous horror writer is lured back to her hometown by the death of a childhood friend and must take on an evil spirit who has been haunting her nightmares for years. This French show starts strong with a foreboding atmosphere and some chilling sequences. While it plays with familiar horror tropes, it is stylish and slick with a touch of humor, and leaning into witchcraft works perfectly in its old coastal town setting. Mireille Herbstmeyer makes the series work thanks to a truly unnerving performance as Madame Daugeron. It lost its way a little towards the end, it still shouldn’t have been canceled.
Atticus Freeman travels across 1950s America to find his father, but the horrors awaiting this young Black man reach beyond Jim Crow into Lovecraft’s twisted imagination. Beautifully crafted and daringly subversive, Lovecraft Country marries the real American horror of racism with Lovecraftian cults and monsters, as both step from the shadows to scare us. The much-missed Michael K. Williams and the wonderful Wunmi Mosaku stand out in this excellent cast.
When the mutilated corpse of a young boy is discovered in the woods of a small town in Oklahoma, detectives think they have a clear culprit, but an ironclad alibi throws a spanner in the works. This show is based on a Stephen King novel, though it doesn’t feel like one. Instead, it comes off as a Scandi crime drama at first, with a glacial pace that painstakingly builds a growing sense of dread. Ben Mendelsohn steers us through the gloom, and there are solid performances from Cynthia Erivo, Paddy Considine, and Jason Bateman (who directs a couple of episodes). King fans hungry for another detective show should also check out Mr. Mercedes, where a broken-down retired detective played by Brendan Gleeson hunts a psychopathic killer.