If your dream weekend involves subjecting your eyeballs to abject horror and a-never-leaving-your-bed situation, a) are you okay? and b) we have so much to discuss. Specifically, what you're going to watch while you're wide awake all night. In no particular order, here are the 25 scariest, bloodiest, most disturbing, nightmare-inducing (sorry, I don't mean to belabor a point, it's just...accurate) TV shows that you can stream ASAP. Also, some of these are based on true stories so...if sleep is something you're into, heads-up that you'll never be closing your eyes again.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Answer: Yes, I am indeed afraid of the dark, and I'm also afraid of this show despite its target audience literally being children. But seriously though, '90s after-hours Nickelodeon (aka SNICK) was simply too real. Pretty sure there's an entire episode dedicated to a haunted red bicycle that's trying to murder people. One less reason to exercise, if I'm honest!
You know how there are certain shows that are so damn scary you have to watch them in broad daylight? And then give yourself a palate cleanser with several therapeutic episodes of The Office in order to come down from your horror high? True Detective is one of those shows. To this day, I can't look at Matthew McConaughey without screaming.
Penny Dreadful features vampires, reanimated corpses, and various creatures from the underworld—so unless that delightful assortment sounds totally mild to you, yeah. It's scary as f*ck. Like, would I prefer to watch a TV show where people aren't murdered and possessed every episode? Probably! But here we are.
Happy Valley is one of the most well-acted and plotted detective shows that's ever. been. made. And it's also one of the most frightening. Don't let the setting (a rural English village) or the insanely hot villain (hi, James Norton) fool you: this show is traumatizing. Uh, in a good way that's totally worth it, promise.
The only detective show more terrifying than Happy Valley is The Fall—mostly because Fifty Shades of Grey's very own Jamie Dornan plays a serial murderer. But Gillian Anderson saying lines like this make it easier to stomach: "We've chosen to work in a masculine, paramilitary, patriarchal culture. Let's not let it beat us." CLAP-CLAP-CLAP.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Yes, the special effects in Buffy might seem a liiiiiiittle dated in 2020, but trust. That does not make the show any less terrifying. I learned this the hard way by innocently sitting down for an episode while home alone the other evening. Haven't slept since due to being pretty sure vampires are coming to eat me.
Tales from the Crypt
Tales from the Crypt is ::extremely:: '90s but that does in no way prevent it from being a very scary anthology series. Honestly, lemme just go ahead and summarize a random episode for you: A woman becomes convinced the most haunted scarecrow ever is her lover and low-key hooks up with it only to have the truth be even more disturbing.
No one does horror better than Stephen King, so Hulu went ahead and adapted his Castle Rock stories for your terrified viewing pleasure. No spoilers because you should definitely watch the show, but it's all kinds of small-town eerie and yes, it involves murder and a creepy kid.
Here's the thing about Mindhunter. All those serial killers whose minds are being hunted? They're real-life people, some of whom are sitting behind bars right now for torturing, killing, and assaulting their victims. It's basically impossible to watch this show without staying up all night terrified, so have fun, bye.
I wouldn't call MTV's Scream a *good* show, but it's full of tension and jump scares, so I guess that makes it a good scary show? I mean, I screamed on more than one occasion so at least it lives up to its name, you know?
Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are perfect as Norman Bates and his mother Norma, respectively. The show, a contemporary prequel to Psycho, is about so much more than the film’s nearly 60-year-old shower scene (and TBH, you don’t have to watch the film to feel the effects of the show’s disturbing revelations). If there’s anything scarier than the twisted plots and surprises Bates Motel lays out over five seasons, it’s knowing what’s in store for the mother-and-son duo by the time they catch up to the events of the famous Hitchcock movie.
Fans of ‘80s horror have had a smorgasbord of goodies to devour ever since Stranger Things premiered on Netflix in 2016. Three seasons later (and with a fourth on the way), it’s still unclear what’s more terrifying: the Shadow Monster (who’s been getting impatient in the Upside Down), how Will (Noah Schnapp) can’t seem to catch a break, or the fact that Lucas’ sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) is about to unleash more roasts on her victims.
American Horror Story: Murder House
To date, the first season of AHS is the best season, hands down. This could be due to all the jump scares, the existence of Queen Jessica Lange (as Constance Langdon), or the insane way Murder House wrapped with the surviving Harmon twin. The ninth (and latest) season, titled 1984, is inspired by slasher movies from the—you guessed it—'80s. Think: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween. Oof, I'm already sweating.
The Haunting of Hill House
Aka the reason you haven’t been sleeping since October 2018. Based on the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, the series centers around a group of siblings who grew up in what would become the most famous haunted house in the country. Elizabeth Reaser and Michiel Huisman lead the cast as the grown-up versions of the siblings, who will make you question everything you thought you knew about ghosts/the dark/the next giant, old house you dare to enter.
The Walking Dead
The post-apocalyptic series, based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series of the same name, forever changed the standards of the zombie horror genre when the show premiered in 2010. The pilot of The Walking Dead remains one of the greatest episodes of television. Honestly, with all the sheer terror that’s gone down since, it makes one miss the good ‘ol days of season one, when no one had a clue what was going on, and when Glenn was still alive. Love you forever, Glenn.
The German series has been called Stranger Things for grown-ups, but we all know horror does not have an age requirement! Following the disappearance of two children in a small town, four families are the center of attention, along with their dark pasts, relationships, and yes, double lives. The show divides its time between 2019, 1986, and 1953 (time travel FTW), but now is not the time for excitement. Have you learned nothing from Hawkins, Indiana? Wormholes are dangerous!
Drawing from popular creepypastas of the world (horror-themed stories/things shared on the internet, naturally), the Syfy anthology series has covered everything from a creature made up of teeth to a hidden cellar door that reveals the worst of anyone’s nightmares.
When popular student Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is found naked and wrapped in plastic in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, FBI special agent Dale Cooper (a young Kyle MacLachlan) is put in charge of solving the mystery—only to uncover another world of super messed-up people and things that may or may not be there. The character of Bob alone is enough to haunt you for weeks—even if it’s your tenth time watching the David Lynch series.
Between the show’s hair-raising theme song and the fact that each episode was based on a real-life case, the true-crime series was truly horrifying. Unless floating heads in kitchens, UFOs, ghosts, or brutal murders are not scary to you at all. Come for the OTT reenactments, stay for the ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia.
If you’ve seen Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” music video, you know that Mads Mikkelsen thrives when blood and horror are involved (even though RiRi was doing all the killing in the video). As Hannibal Lecter, Mikkelsen makes a case for the serial killer. No, really: at some point, you will question why you feel the way you feel whenever he’s killing, cooking, and eating his latest victim. And to think the show got away with this stuff on NBC. Brilliant!
The Twilight Zone
Before Black Mirror, there was The Twilight Zone, one of the OG anthology series that first aired in the late 1950s. (Three revivals have been done since, most recently, the genius Jordan Peele's 2019 remake.) While the show covered an array of genres, it was best when horror and mind games were involved. If you only have time for one episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” starring a young William Shatner who sees a gremlin on the wing of his plane, deserves your full attention. While the creature is creepy (even in black-and-white), the real horror is how no one on the plane believes Shatner’s character.
Beyond the most talked-about episode, “San Junipero,” Black Mirror has been the home to several, high quality scare-fests, namely “White Bear” (a woman is subjected to daily, public ridicule at a “justice park”), “Playtest” (an American agrees to test a new augmented reality video game at a mysterious location in England), “Hated in the Nation” (robotic bees), and “Metalhead” (robotic dogs). Basically, robots are scary.
More sci-fi than horror, The X-Files still had a strong foot in the horror door. The show starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who bent over backwards to crack paranormal cases, which often came with the most gruesome, often non-alien creatures. Case in point: the Peacock brothers who create a baby with their own mother who’s kept under a bed (season four). Or the demon who had a huge crush on Scully (season seven). Or Leonard, that creepy twin Mulder and Scully had to chase around for a bit (season two).
Vampire horror is a tricky genre to master, but True Blood made it look bloody easy. No, really: the show was pretty much a blood-fest. When folks (humans and vampires alike) weren’t “fang-banging,” engaged in orgies, or getting fairies pregnant, the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana was the bloodiest place to be. Remember when Bill (Stephen Moyer) ate all the blood of Lilith and literally melted into a pool of blood (only to regenerate)? Or when Longshadow, the bartender vampire, died (by Bill’s stake) and basically vomited all of himself onto Sookie (Anna Paquin)? Long live his bar, Fangtasia, though.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Not long after films like Strangers On a Train, Dial M For Murder, and Rear Window, the Master of Suspense took his art to the small screen with this anthology series that toyed with the fears of the mind. If the haunting theme or Hitchcock’s “Good evening” greeting makes you tremor, congratulations, you’re in the right place.
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