The 50 Best Horror TV Shows of All Time

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The 50 Best Horror TV Shows of All Time

For today’s youngest generation of TV viewers to consider the best horror shows on TV, it must seem simple to point at The Walking Dead and make the assumption that it represents the apex of horror on the small screen, if not a genesis point for the entire genre. And indeed, when The Walking Dead arrived in 2010, it was the start of a new era in TV horror—a 60-minute, primetime zombie drama on AMC, a cable network that had earned a shining reputation for serious fare such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. In the post-TWD period, horror has been in a televised renaissance, from series that have garnered critical acclaim such as Hannibal, to commercial juggernauts like American Horror Story. At the same time, we’ve also seen our fair share of failed series with horror backgrounds—everything from 666 Park Avenue to the DC Comics adaptation of Constantine.

But horror on TV, like any other genre, has been around for ages. As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun. And it’s always been one of the more difficult genres for TV to grasp, continuously flitting around the censors on issues such as gore, violence and terrifying imagery; but it’s never disappeared, and like a true monster, horror always comes back. Whether they’re children’s programming such as Scooby Doo or one of the many straight-faced horror anthologies that have thrived on cable over the years, we continuously return to horror TV because in our heart of hearts, we love to be scared.

The shows on this list represent a best-of, decades-long appreciation of spooky television. Some are horror comedies that never truly intended to frighten, but instead play off tropes of the genre in the vein of The Munsters. Others stretch boundaries, and would also show up on lists of the best sci-fi shows of all time, but they belong here as well. Some are simply terrifying, and are responsible for an untold number of nightmares over the years.

Read on below, and tell us about your favorite horror TV show moments in the comments.—Jim Vorel

Here are our picks for the 50 best horror shows of all time.

For the list of the best horror TV shows currently streaming, head on over here.

50. Scream


Original Run 2015-Present
The conversion of Wes Craven’s beloved slasher Scream into a television series was a surprisingly shrewd move on behalf of MTV. The series format allows suspense to build, but, most interestingly, the expanded time gives viewers the opportunity to empathize with certain characters as they face tragedies and horrors. The updated version also takes many liberties with the franchise that started back in the ‘90s, by building a story in Lakewood with new faces instead of Woodsboro with Sidney Prescott. The show, which premiered in 2015, utilizes modern technology (goodbye landlines) which becomes as threatening as the masked killer. The novelty of 1996 isn’t there like Stranger Things and the ‘80s. This series tackles modern plights of high schoolers— cyberbullying, slut shaming, blackmail—that are just as terrifying as a serial killer on the loose. Don’t get us wrong, the serial killer is pretty gruesome, too. Characters are decapitated, hung, cut up, every disgusting thing you can think of. But it usually happens off camera. Sure, it’s a little too Pretty Little Liars-esque—the acting is subpar all around and it’s about as subtle as a clap of thunder. Despite these minor pitfalls, which perhaps just add to the humor of the show, Scream is a binge-worthy series filled with backstabbing from both the killer and the so-called friends.—Taylor Ysteboe


49. True Blood


Original Run: 2008-2014
Alan Ball’s True Blood had terrible or great timing, depending on how you look at it. Released the same year as Stephanie Meyer’s much derided Twilight series, it’s a show that inevitably exists in the same breath as that other vampire craze. And while the popularity boom for wolves and vamps drew plenty of viewers thirsty for dense supernatural lore, it also did a great disservice to the weirdness of True Blood. Adapted from Charlaine Harris’ long-running “Southern Vampire” series, the show draws from a deep well of visual inspiration from the erotically charged ghouls of Anne Rice, to the nightmarish imagery of Tony Scott’s The Hunger, to the supernatural camp of The Craft and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Over its seven radically uneven seasons, it was a hard show to love with its constantly webbing narratives, stop-start pacing, and sloppy characterization. (I’ve still never heard a good argument for Tara as a well-written character.) But, at the same time, it was an easy show to admire. Even in its most baffling moments, True Blood is a show that truly commits to its ideas, no matter how off-the-wall they can become. This was a show that, all the way back in Season One, was reveling in gory vampire orgies that make American Horror Story look tame. And the show only escalated in ridiculousness. There were whole seasons based on allegories of bigotry, arcane dynasties that were generations-old, and a developing world of pulpy horror staples. It didn’t always make sense and it wasn’t always satisfying, but it felt startlingly singular at times.—Michael Syndel


48. Freddy’s Nightmares


Original Run: 1988-1990
Unlike the perpetual disappointment of Friday the 13th: The Series, Freddy’s Nightmares manages to squeak onto this list. Although the former was much-maligned for having nothing whatsoever to do with its film series, Freddy’s Nightmares was at least connected to the Nightmare on Elm Street mythos and featured the man himself, Robert Englund, as Freddy Krueger introducing and occasionally appearing in the stories. It had a fairly novel approach for an anthology series, as each two-part episode would build to a second story that was influenced in some way by the first. Really, though, the depressing plots weren’t the draw, the series likely would never have made it to a second season if not for the presence of Englund, which is what people were really paying to see. If you love the demonic (but sardonic) Krueger of the Elm Street sequels in particular, then you owe it to yourself to check out his opening and closing sequences on Freddy’s Nightmares, with Krueger playing the part of a demented Rod Serling.—Jim Vorel


47. The League of Gentlemen


Original Run: 1999-2002
Named after the quartet of British comedians at its creative center (Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith), The League of Gentlemen serves as an adaptation of the group’s award-winning stage and radio shows. Set in the small village of Royston Vasey, the sketch series explores the lives and dark secrets of the town’s off-kilter, often-malevolent residents. Fans of provocative, dark humor will find much to appreciate in the townsfolks’ various shenanigans. That said, though always comical in nature, the series distinguishes itself with overt shadings of macabre surrealism and grotesque, gothic horror. Consider a version of IFC’s Portlandia as produced by late 80s/early 90s-era Tim Burton and you have some idea of the morbid hilarity to expect.—Mark Rozeman


46. A Haunting/Scariest Places on Earth/Unsolved Mysteries


Original Run: 2005-2007, 2012-present/ 2000-2006/ 1987-2002, 2008-present
These are three entirely separate shows, but we include them here as a combined entry on the style of show that might be referred to as “paranormal documentary,” “reality horror” or simply “spooky TV.” Note: We’re not talking about the BS genre of ghost-hunting faux documentary-style shows, as characterized by the eponymous Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures. Programs such as A Haunting or even certain segments of Unsolved Mysteries don’t purport to FIND any ghosts, but only describe the stories of real-life people who claim to have experienced these phenomena, via terrifying reenactments. Scariest Places on Earth you might remember as the series hosted by The Exorcist’s Linda Blair, who would narrate the features of various haunted asylums and prisons like they were celebrity pads on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. A Haunting, meanwhile, makes more of a genuine attempt at frightening the viewer than almost any other show on this list. Fright is truly its only purpose, and it’s damn effective at it. Although some of the reenactments come off as silly, plenty of A Haunting segments are chock full of high-grade nightmare fuel that would send children crying out of the room, just as effectively as that terrifying Unsolved Mysteries theme music.—Jim Vorel


45. Teen Wolf


Original Run: 2011-present
When MTV announced they were making a series based on the ridiculous 1985 Michael J. Fox comedy of the same name, I was less than excited. It would be like someone suggesting that it was a good idea to make a series based on 1992’s execrable Buffy The Vampire Slayer film. Oh, wait… What I mean is, it’s hard enough to make a good show out of a good film and for every Friday Night Lights or Fargo, there are a dozen Ferris Bueller or Clueless debacles. But using a bad film as source material? You damned well better tweak the hell out of it. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Jeff Davis did just that and has pulled a particularly fearsome were rabbit out of his hat. Teen Wolf is a genuinely terrifying and unapologetically sexy piece of work. (While I’ll admit to a teenaged crush on Boof from the original film, the series raises the lascivious lupine bar a few dozen notches.) Of course with a series, one runs out of source material rather quickly. But Davis and his team have done their homework and created an intriguing and well thought-out world, complete with magic, banshees, were-coyotes and even kitsune, populated by a surprisingly talented group of young actors. Like Sunnydale and Mystic Falls before it, Beacon Hills seems to be a magnet for mystical happenings and things that go “Grrrrr” in the night, and thankfully we’ve got Scott (Tyler Posey), Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest to at least try and make sense of it all.—Mark Rabinowitz


44. Tales From the Darkside


Original Run: 1983-1988
This list is absolutely filled with horror anthology series, and given that, it’s hard for one of the lesser examples such as Tales From the Darkside to claim much that makes it truly unique. Building on formulas laid down by the likes of Night Gallery and The Outer Limits, Tales From the Darkside sometimes feels like a precursor to Tales From the Crypt with its similar name and darkly comedic stories, but it lacks that show’s irreverent edge. The best thing it ever did was get adapted into a very amusing, colorfully silly feature film in 1990, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie. Featuring a ridiculous cast of everyone from Steve Buscemi and Julianne Moore, to Christian Slater and the delightfully droll William Hickey, the film is still well enough remembered to inspire occasional rumors of a Tales of the Darkside television reboot. Jim Vorel


43. Night Gallery


Original Run: 1969-1973
What The Twilight Zone was to spacefaring science fiction in the rocket age, Night Gallery is to the grimier, grindhouse horror fare of the early ‘70s. Also produced by the great Rod Serling, although with far less creative control, Night Gallery did have its wonderful framing device going for it. Each segment would be introduced by the drawling and, at this point, weathered-looking Serling, strolling around the dim gallery and unveiling paintings that captured the themes of the story. Those stories could come from any sort of inspiration—directly written by Serling himself, or adapted from horror masters both modern and classical, including several interesting adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike the space-aged Twilight Zone, however, the perils of Night Gallery were much more likely to come in the form of malevolent ghosts or monsters, bringing it more in line with later anthologies such as Tales from the Crypt. Still, it also did occasionally incorporate an unusually sweet, nostalgic segment such as “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” which could easily have been a former Twilight Zone script. Some viewers criticized this kind of uneven tone as confusing, but fans of Night Gallery’s three seasons were just glad to get a little bit more storytelling from one of the masters of the televised medium.—Jim Vorel


42. The Returned (American version)


Original Run: 2015
A&E’s The Returned never really stood a chance. Consider that when The Returned premiered in 2015, it was the third series with a very similar premise. The superior French version of the same name was getting ready to premiere its second season, while ABC’s similarly themed Resurrection had just concluded its second and final season. Even still, The Returned was one of the more intriguing takes on the zombie genre to hit America. It was developed by Bates Motel and Lost’s Carlton Cuse, who rightfully borrowed the slow pace and moody atmosphere from the original, but brought his own spin on the story, with a fantastic cast that included Jeremy Sisto and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The Returned might not have been the most original series and it might have been released at the worst possible time, but as a fresh view on a worn topic, The Returned was a respite from the usual.—Ross Bonaime


41. Fear the Walking Dead


Original Run: 2015-present
Over its many seasons, The Walking Dead has presented us with a world that has gone insane. Yet, there remains some sure things: everyone will die, nowhere is safe and danger is around every corner. With the world on the brink of its end, destruction has reigned supreme. What makes Fear the Walking Dead so fascinating is that we the audience know that this is the future to come, but the cast of this prequel has no idea just how terrible things will get. Fear the Walking Dead shows the origin of the zombie outbreak that will leave everything in ruins, but we also get a richer overall character experience than The Walking Dead ever attempted. Fear the Walking Dead shows the depravity, desperation and survival methods that come in those early days of everything falling apart. While we know the beginning and the end, this series presents the middle—which is completely unknown and horrifying.—Ross Bonaime


40. Alfred Hitchcock Presents /The Alfred Hitchcock Hour


Original Run: 1955-1965
It may be a little bit of a stretch to truly call Alfred Hitchcock Presents “horror,” as it were, but it was definitely high drama in the style created by the master of suspense. Hitchcock, of course, knew true horror, whether via The Birds or Psycho, and threads of these films, along with thrillers such as Notorious or North by Northwest, are woven into the long-running show’s DNA. Take the ultra-macabre episode “Man From the South,” starring horror icon Peter Lorre as an insidious old man with a truly nasty proposition for a young gambler played by Steve McQueen. Lorre’s character promises to give McQueen his Cadillac… if McQueen can successfully strike his Zippo lighter 10 times in a row. If he fails? Then Lorre will cut off McQueen’s finger as punishment. It’s a sadistic, weird premise that has since been adapted again multiple times, including by Quentin Tarantino in 1995’s Four Rooms, but none of them can touch Hitchcock.—Jim Vorel


39. Grimm


Original Run: 2011-present
Like any great show, NBC’s Grimm is the sum of its parts. The personal, familial and workplace drama that makes up the world inhabited by homicide detective/hunter of supernatural creatures (called wesen) Nick Burkhardt is plenty to keep you entertained. Throw in the monsters—inspired by characters from Grimms’ Fairy Tales—and you’ve got a compulsively watchable show. But let’s talk about these monsters for a minute, because these are a special brand of beast that will haunt your dreams. Between some terrifying wesen, completely unpredictable witches, mermaids that really work against the whole “mermaids are sexy” movement, and other such things, this show is not for the faint of heart. Many of the monsters also have a fascinating (but also horrifying) cultural bent, like the aswang—mythical Filipino beasts that attack pregnant women (because their amniotic fluid is so incredibly delicious). Good times, good times. Beyond the horrors, Grimm is one of those rare shows that makes Hollywood’s inclusivity problem look even more inexcusable. With a truly diverse cast, playing on both good guy and bad guy sides, and complex roles for the female characters (my personal favorite being Claire Coffee’s Adalind) the show may not come up in conversations about the current Golden Age of TV, but heading into its sixth season, it’s probably one of the best shows you’re not watching.—Shannon M. Houston


38. Over the Garden Wall


Original Run: 2014
Patrick McHale’s Cartoon Network mini-series Over the Garden Wall feels ripped out of a previous decade (to say which, exactly, is a bit of a spoiler), and its creepiness is incidental yet pervasive in that way that only old-timey artifacts often achieve. Two half-brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), follow a bluebird named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) through the Unknown, an increasingly disorienting realm inspired by vintage Americana and haunted by The Beast (Samuel Ramey), a terrifying figure seen only in short glimpses throughout the show. For all of its charms, The Unknown operates on its own nightmare logic, and Wirt, the stuffier brother (voiced to anxious perfection by Wood), wants little to do with its demon-possessed house girls or living pumpkin towns. The emissaries of The Beast, beginning with a rabid, wide-eyed hell-wolf in the first episode, are not at all toned down for the show’s ostensibly young audience, and the twist revealed in the final two episodes is much heavier than one would expect to see on Cartoon Network. If you wrote off Over the Garden Wall as just another manic children’s comedy, think again—and consider watching with the lights on.—Steve Foxe


37. The Vampire Diaries


Original Run: 2009-present
If ever a TV show moved the needle on bourbon sales, I’m guessing it was The Vampire Diaries. Vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore (Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder) have a seemingly endless supply of brown liquor and an impressive collection of glassware. And I’ll admit, never before has a show more inspired me to drink along with the leads. But I digress… What began as a somewhat run-of-the-mill, angst-filled teenage supernatural drama has actually developed into a compelling and frequently gruesome foray into the world of vampires (and werewolves and witches and hybrids and siphons and…) and the men and women who love them. While CW shows are often painted as skewing towards melodramatic teen/YA fare, that’s an increasingly unfair assertion, and one that The Vampire Diaries did a great job of dispelling, particularly once it grew out of its early “Dawson’s Creek with vampires,” phase. Season One, while intermittently strong, was more or less, one of those shows people refer to as a guilty pleasure. It was fun, but not really good. Once creators Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson (creator of Dawson’s Creek, not a coincidence) really got a feel for where they wanted to take the show, however, it took off and over the past seven years, the show has proven to be a reliably well-acted, creepy and ethically complicated, hour of drama. The upcoming eighth season is the show’s last and I’m okay with that. It’s still strong and in the world of TV, there’s nothing worse than staying on too long. We’re going to miss the gang, but it’s time. And hopefully some of them will pop up in The Originals from time to time.—Mark Rabinowitz


36. Being Human


Original Run: 2008-2013
One of the most successful series on the BBC in recent years, Being Human managed to land five seasons, a spinoff show, books, and a decently received U.S. remake. And it’s not hard to see why, as the story revolves around three attractive Londoners reckoning with the fact that they are a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire. That they all live together in the same flat sounds like the recipe for a wacky sitcom. But while there was humor cooked into the show, the creators often took the characters to some dark and distressing places throughout. Things may have gone off the rails in the show’s final season, which featured none of the original cast members and threw in a lot of overwrought ideas. But during its first three seasons, there was a perfect balance of supernatural thrills with the down-to-earth concerns of its characters.—Robert Ham


35. The Munsters


Original Run: 1964-1966
As Laurel and Hardy are to Charlie Chaplin, so too is The Munsters to The Addams Family. Television is filled with these kinds of analogs—NYPD Blue and Law and Order, The Wire and The Shield—but none of them are quite so perfect as TV’s sitcom horror families, who competed with each other for viewers for almost exactly the same number of years before they both went off the air in 1966. Which is the better series is, of course, the eternal question, one that will vex and bedevil you for all your days if you bother trying to answer it scientifically, so don’t bother; just go with the one that best suits your fancy. The Addams Family has The Munsters beat on sheer creativity and invention, but as a decidedly cartoony spoof of the 1960’s squeaky clean, family oriented content, The Munsters feels just a little craftier thanks to its normalization. They’re monsters, all, but damned if they realize it; for all they care, they’re the average American family unit, just as much as the Cleavers are.—Andy Crump


34. Outcast


Original Run: 2016
Somewhere between his work on The Walking Dead and its spinoff show, Robert Kirkman helped develop this series for Cinemax. You would think having a showrunner pulled in so many different directions at once would spell disaster. Instead, Outcast has turned into one of the highlights of an already stacked year of television. The story of a demonically possessed young man searching for answers with the “help” of a troubled priest was brilliant enough on paper, but Kirkman and his team bring this to terrifying life with stories that provide shocks and scares. Key to it all are the terrific performances by Patrick Fugit as Kyle, the possessed and depressed lead, and the always-brilliant Philip Glenister as Reverend Anderson, a clergyman who has dealt with his own literal demons and seeks to bring righteousness to the world around him.—Robert Ham


33. The Strain


Original Run: 2014-present
The Strain was a series I felt compelled to watch as soon as I saw it announced—a Guillermo Del Toro-produced vampire horror apocalypse show? It’s the vampiric Walking Dead, sign me up! Unfortunately, though, The Strain didn’t arrive nearly so emphatically and cleanly as TWD, and as a whole it’s tended toward the uneven. The show has a propensity to follow far too many characters on what are meant to be intertwining plotlines that rarely, if ever, get around to intersecting. However, its grand, saving grace is the actual horror scenes, and the fantastic creature designs that would rival anything on The Walking Dead. Its concepts of vampirism and biology are also a breath of fresh air for the genre, but one can only hope that the upcoming Season Three will significantly tighten the story and eliminate some of the chaff characters. Seriously, kill off Corey Stoll’s obnoxious son as soon as you possibly can, and this show will be better off.—Jim Vorel


32. Svengoolie


Original Run: 1970-1973, 1979-present
This pick is likely to annoy readers from around the country, so let me be clear: It may say “Svengoolie,” but what we really mean is the entire tradition of “horror hosts” in American television. The actual character of Svengoolie, who has been played by two actors since first going on the local Chicago (Berwynnnnn) airwaves in 1970, is a classic example of the horror host—a ghoulish character who would appear to introduce and occasionally mock the stock of old-school horror cinema available to that network, often on weekend evenings or afternoons. Sven himself occasionally even inserted himself in a fashion similar to MST3k, riffing on the movies in a process dubbed “Sven-surround.” Beloved in Chicagoland to this day, Svengoolie is one of only a few still-active horror hosts who actually have a broadcast TV slot, although homemade, low-budget shows of this sort are plentiful online. It remains a dying art form, but a cherished one among horror devotees. Canadian sketch show SCTV’s “Monster Chiller Horror Theater” segments with Count Floyd are also a sublime parody of a similar class of lower-rent horror hosts who could be found in nearly any local media market.—Jim Vorel


31. Scream Queens


Original Run: 2015-present
The same silliness, self-awareness and reverence for the genre that made Scream one of the greatest horror movies of all time helps make Scream Queens one of the best horror TV series. Creator Ryan Murphy has never been afraid to go campy, and his aesthetic is perfect for a show about a group of hilariously insufferable sorority girls being terrorized by the Red Devil killer. Emma Roberts is perfect as Chanel, president of the Kappas and a total nightmare, and Lea Michele is pitch-perfect as Hester, a social climber whose ruthless ambition poses a threat to her sorority sisters. It is impossible to watch a scene featuring Glen Powell’s Chad Radwell—Chanel’s over-the-top fratbro boyfriend—and not crack up. There are references to horror classics and great guest spots from Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas, and the original Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis, is excellent as the school’s dean. But it’s not all laughs—sure, there’s a scene where the Red Devil texts “I’m going to kill you now,” to his victim while standing in the same room as her, to which she texts back “Wait, whaaaaaaaaaat?”—but there are actual scares here too, and the show does a great job of employing twists to keep us guessing as to who the killer (or killers) really is (are?) until the finale.— Bonnie Stiernberg

30. The Originals


Original Run: 2013-present
It’s a rare occasion when the spin-off exceeds the original. The history of TV is littered will ill-conceived and poorly executed sequels and for every Frasier and Boston Legal, there are dozens of shows like Joni Loves Chachi, Beverly Hills Buntz and AfterMASH. Thankfully, The Originals falls firmly into the former camp and is actually a case in which the child has exceeded the achievements of the parent. As fun and compelling as the characters and stories on The Vampire Diaries are, that show took a little too long to really get going and was in a more limiting setting, especially in the first few seasons. The sequel, however, launched with fully-formed characters (with a mythology established by the parent show), unfettered by geometry class or the constraints of a small town. Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) is easily one of the most complex anti-heroes on TV and creator Julie Plec is unafraid to poke around in the heads of any character, even killing a few. Also, as dark and disturbing as The Vampire Diarie can be (and it’s gotten more so as the characters age) The Originals blows it out of the water. Plec has expanded on the world she helped create in The Vampire Diaries, giving her characters more room to grow emotionally and significantly more intricate challenges to face. The politics of The Originals is just as fascinating as the supernatural elements and the show feels more fully-formed than The Vampire Diaries did early on. It doesn’t hurt that New Orleans is decidedly more fun to explore than an imaginary small town in Virginia, and as much as I dig the gang from The Vampire Diaries, the rich character palette with which Plec and the writers have to work with here is a cut above.—Mark Rabinowitz


29. iZombie


Original Run: 2015-present
Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Veronica Mars is the best way to describe this delightful drama. iZombie, from Mars creator Rob Thomas, draws on the strengths of both of these iconic series while carving a distinct path for itself. Liv Moore (Rose McIver) was a promising medical student until one bad night of partying turned her into a zombie. Now she works in the morgue solving murders on the side, all while keeping the true nature of her condition from her loved ones (she’s not that pale because she uses sunscreen people). As the second season progressed, more were let in on Liv’s secret and she assembled a Scooby gang of her very own, while struggling to protect those that she loves. Much of the show’s success stems from its great sense of humor—witness all the delectable ways Liv serves up brains. But the ghoulish and voracious zombies offer real frights and Steven Weber’s nefarious CEO Vaughn Du Clark is truly terrifying. However it’s the show’s overarching premise—that any of us could find ourselves among the undead trying to control our most basic instincts while our normal life remains just out of our grasp—that will keep you up at night.—Amy Amatangelo


28. Supernatural


Original Run: 2005-present
It’s no small thing for a show like Supernatural to keep on keeping on, after a decade spent giving all manner of monsters the what for. Consider, as the series creeps toward its eleventh season premiere, that when The WB first aired the aberration-hunting adventures of the brothers Winchester, Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki), back in 2005, the network had added a slew of new titles to its ‘05-‘06 schedule, including Just Legal, Twins, and Pepper Dennis, among many others. Consider as well that none of them stuck around for very long or made much of an impression. (You’re probably pulling up Wikipedia to find out what they’re each about as we speak.) But Supernatural? Supernatural endured. When the WB merged with UPN in 2006, Supernatural walked out of the Thunderdome. The “why” is obvious. Eric Kripke’s story of two brothers on a mission to protect the innocent from evil in all its sundry forms— ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves, the occasional wendigo or djinn, zombies, you name it—maintains a terrific balancing act throughout each of its ten (to date) seasons, blending enough humor, horror and individual personality with well-tread genre tropes and plots to make it a standout from other programs of its kind. Some episodes lean more toward “funny.” Others lean in the direction of “scary.” Others still make you laugh and quake in fear at the same time. It’s no wonder, then, that the death of The WB wasn’t enough to stop the Winchesters from doing what they do.—Andy Crump


27. Masters of Horror


Original Run: 2005-2007
We have several HBO anthologies in this list, but Showtime also put its stamp on the genre with Masters of Horror. Unlike shows such as Tales From the Crypt, Masters was much more cinematic and less playful in its approach, offering hour-long episodes that felt much more like miniaturized features. The focus on directors and auteur theory was the real draw for genre geeks, offering episodes by the likes of John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Stuart Gordon, John Landis and more. Unsurprisingly, though, the results were somewhat mixed, as some of the directors rose to the challenge while others seemed more likely to just be collecting a paycheck before moving on to their next, more personal horror projects. Despite this, there are a few genuine classics that came out of Masters of Horror, including two surprisingly good entries by a late-career Dario Argento (genre fans know that any good Argento material by the mid-2000s is an unexpected boon). The acknowledged star, however, is John Carpenter’s last great horror film, the 2005 episode Cigarette Burns. I won’t spoil the plot—go track it down and watch the master unspool a 60-minute classic about the nature of horror cinema itself.—Jim Vorel


26. Goosebumps


Original Run: 1995-1998
I had at least 50 of the original series Goosebumps books as a child—I know this because I found a box completely packed with them a couple years ago and donated it to a used bookstore, so that those stories could freak out a new generation of children. The Goosebumps TV adaptation, on the other hand, probably doesn’t have quite the same cultural cache for us ‘90s kids, but it was a capable series in its own right. Most of the episodes adopted classic (or not-so-classic) Goosebumps stories, although there were also a few original, TV-only stories. The production values may not have been able to quite measure up to the similarly presented Are You Afraid of the Dark?, but the primary draw for kids was seeing regularly presented adaptations of their very own Goosebumps collection, including the occasional Easter eggs for book readers. Best remembered today are the few 60-minutes specials that allowed the show to stretch its legs, including the genuinely frightening “The Haunted Mask” and the medieval magic of “A Night in Terror Tower.”—Jim Vorel


25. Bates Motel


Original Run: 2013-present
When telling the origins of a horror icon, a fine line must be walked. For one, you run the risk of losing the mystery that made the original characters so terrifying to begin with. Bates Motel, however, has created a backstory for Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) that makes the psycho of Psycho sympathetic. But Norman is always just a second away from behaving horrifically. Highmore has gone from confused teenager, to schizophrenic maniac and, in doing so, given a performance that rivals Anthony Perkins’ take on the character. Playing off this evolution is the equally great Vera Farmiga as his mother Norma. Of course Norma’s story has to end tragically. But when watching mother and son together, there’s hope that the story will diverge from the way we know it must go, and there’s the constant fear that what we know must happen can occur at any point. By expanding on the Norman Bates story, Bates Motel has taken an iconic character and enriched him with a haunted history that makes him even more fascinating as we watch his descent into madness.—Ross Bonaime


24. Penny Dreadful


Original Run: 2014-2016
In conception, Penny Dreadful doesn’t seem so much like a TV show but, rather, like a very elaborate dare—specifically, a challenge to craft the most fan fic-y Gothic horror series of all time and still have it track on an artistic and narrative level. Well, challenge accepted and conquered. Conceived by John Logan (the award-winning screenwriter behind Gladiator, Hugo, Skyfall and Rango) and executed with great finesse by pilot director J.A. Bayona (the filmmaker behind the extraordinary horror-drama The Orphanage), the series is set in Victorian London and centers on a trio (an explorer, a clairvoyant and a gunslinger) who band together to slay monsters who are threatening their world. The draw here is that a good many of these threats consist of characters or concepts from classic horror literature, whether it’s Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster or Dorian Gray. Boasting notable performances from the likes of Timothy Dalton, Josh Harnett and Rory Kinnear, the series managed to ground its outlandish premise in an emotional reality. The true masterstroke, however, is unquestionably Eva Green as the clairvoyant Vanessa Ives. One of the most brilliant and gonzo actresses currently working today, Green attacks her first major TV role with great relish, and Logan and company certainly rise to the occasion in writing great material for her. Alternating between victim and victimizer, Vanessa firmly deserves to be spoken in the same breath as the likes of Walter White, Tony Soprano or Don Draper.—Mark Rozeman


23. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace


Original Run: 2004
The same year that Edgar Wright introduced the world to his horror-comedy hybrid with Shaun of the Dead, Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade brought to the small screen their own spoof. Inspired by Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom and the cult of personality surrounding mega-famous authors like Stephen King, this short-lived series aired the supposedly lost episodes of a show set in a British hospital situated above the gates of Hell. The central conceit is funny enough, but Holness and Ayoade up the ante by making the show-within-the-show incredibly bad with stilted acting, terrible editing choices and the cheesiest special effects around. The cast of the show, including future The IT Crowd co-star Matt Berry and Sightseers star Alice Lowe, take to this concept brilliantly, capturing with full intent the kind of laughs that most B-movies provide accidentally.—Robert Ham


22. The Outer Limits


Original Run: 1963-1965
In the realm of influential, early anthology shows, The Outer Limits is probably forever cursed to play second fiddle to the likes of The Twilight Zone. Yet, while the program’s 49 episodes may not always have the consistency or emotional wallop of Rod Serling’s masterpiece, its stories embraced an arguably more complex, morally relative worldview, whether that week’s installment was a monster-centric horror yarn or a Harlan Ellison-penned “hard” sci-fi joint. What’s more impressive is how, over half-a-century after the fact, some of the show’s super-cheap creature designs remain eerily unnerving, as evidenced by the human-faced insectoids at the center of “The Zanti Misfits” (don’t Google it, it will give you nightmares). On the larger scale, it’s fascinating to note how the show may have planted the ideas for future seminal works, whether it be “The Architects of Fear” for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen or “Demon with a Glass Hand” for The Terminator franchise (though James Cameron will legally dispute that). Each week, the opening title sequences promised that we were “about to participate in a great adventure.” More often than not, The Outer Limits kept this promise.—Mark Rozeman


21. Dexter


Original Run: 2006-2013
Dexter Morgan of Showtime’s Dexter is a modern day Jekyll and Hyde—by day, he analyzes blood splatter for the Miami Police, by night, he splatters blood by mutilating and killing people. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer, but it’s basically okay because he uses his evil for good, by focusing his dereliction on other serial killers. While criminals may slip through the cracks of justice, none slip through Dexter’s maniacal fingers. The series manages to be at once intensely bloody, yet highly humorous, with Michael C. Hall magnificently portraying the complex leading gentleman. The show puts viewers in a moral quandary, rooting for an anti-hero who is making the world a better place through abominable acts. The story struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, garnering copious nominations and awards and its unforgettable series finale went on to break Showtime’s viewer records.—Madina Paola Papadopoulos


20. Preacher


Original Run: 2016-present
In only one scintillating season on AMC, Preacher seems to have designated itself as The Walking Dead’s heir apparent, even though it’s a very different show in terms of its tonal and character perspectives. It arrived fully formed in the pilot, with a uniquely irreverent tone that it immediately embraced and made work for it. At any given moment, Preacher can be serious—although never so dour as the self-serious Walking Dead. At the same time, it can be uproariously funny, and much of the violence of Preacher artfully blends gross-out gore with comic slapstick, in the mold of a young Peter Jackson in Brain Dead. But then, when it wants to, Preacher can also chill the blood, as it does at almost any moment when The Saint of Killers is on-screen. The show primarily succeeds because it’s able to goad the viewer into accepting all three of those tones as equal portions of its DNA, and also because its supporting characters are immediately so memorable and warmly integrated into the plot. If future seasons can keep it up as Jesse Custer embarks on his quest to track down God, then Preacher has all the elements of a TV classic.—Jim Vorel


19. The Addams Family


Original Run: 1964-1966
The Addams Family and The Munsters ran essentially concurrently, although the family Addams began life as a comic. But The Addams Family had an anarchic spirit and energy to it that really made it memorable. The family on the show is nicer than in the movies. They are macabre and weird, but really just harmless eccentrics with unusual appearances and strange appetites. At the center of it all, is John Astin, who is excellent as Gomez. He’s mischievous, but he’s almost always happy and he’s also super rich, so he gets to do whatever he wants. His relationship with his wife Morticia is wonderful to witness. Sure, basically every episode is some “normal” person stumbling into the Addams house and then being freaked out by this weird family, but there are always a handful of really good jokes in every installment. There was also that one time when Lurch became a music sensation loved by teen girls. That’s the kind of fun this show had—it was about the lightest, dark show in television history.—Chris Morgan


18. The Kingdom (original)


Original Run: 1994-1997
No matter what you may think about Lars Von Trier as a person, there’s no denying that the man knows how to tell a story in a way that will haunt you for the rest of your days, and does so with visuals that are almost distressingly beautiful to look at. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his startlingly original TV miniseries that aired in 1994 and 1997. The many strange tales told throughout The Kingdom all take place within the walls of a hospital in Copenhagen that falls prey to all manner of supernatural phenomenon. To try to relay all the various plot strains wound into this thick narrative would take up far too much space. But if any single elements connects them all, it’s the atmosphere that Von Trier creates throughout by filming the entire thing in these grainy, almost soupy colors that will leave you with a slight physical discomfort as you watch it. Combined with the weird body horrors, and cancerous organs, and ghosts and voodoo ceremonies that are worked into the story, you’ll very well find yourself cringing through these eight episodes, while still loving every last minute of it.—Robert Ham


17. The Returned (French)


Original Run: 2012-present
Based on a sublimely creepy 2004 film of the same name, Les Revenants hones its focus on one small town in France where a gaggle of formerly dead people return, alive and… mostly well. There’s no explanation for this either. Instead, the living and the undead are forced to try and figure out how to reckon with this strange turn of events, as well as the increasingly bizarre happenings that start occurring around town after the dead’s return. Creator Fabrice Gobert does the right thing with this adaptation by simultaneously narrowing its focus and expanding the ideas behind the story over the course of its two seasons. It opened up a world of possibilities but he and his writers exercised remarkable restraint while also assuring viewers that they were going to see a story unlike any they had seen before.—Robert Ham


16. American Horror Story


Original Run: 2011-present
Even fervent fans of Ryan Murphy’s high-camp horror anthology American Horror Story would have a tough time defending its Freak Show and Hotel seasons. But the first three story arcs—Murder House, Asylum and Coven—pushed the bounds of scary storytelling on television and helped kick off a small-screen horror renaissance when AHS first debuted around Halloween 2011. AHS’ evolution from a genuinely terrifying first season starring Connie Britton, to the gore-porn fifth season that earned Lady Gaga a Golden Globe mirrors just about every major horror film franchise: a shockingly strong start, followed by unexpected space shenanigans, complicated continuity callbacks, distracting guest stars, openly humorous installments and the departure of key players (most notably Jessica Lange, Murphy’s muse for the second, third and fourth season after her breakout supporting turn in the first). This murderous medley of elements clutters the show, but can’t suppress the glee that a horror hound feels seeing so many well-known genre tropes recycled and repurposed by Murphy and his rotating cast of players, from the chameleonic Sarah Paulson, to Misery’s Kathy Bates. American Horror Story may be a big, bloody mess, but it’s clearly in love with the genre in its title.—Steve Foxe


15. Ash vs. Evil Dead


Original Run: 2015-present
Look, Ash vs Evil Dead isn’t simply “a horror TV show.” It’s the TV show-sized version of one of horror’s greatest franchises, the point in time at which Sam Raimi became Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell became Bruce Campbell, and all manner of genres in cinema, from horror to fantasy, gained a new well from which to draw influence. Evil Dead and its descendants are responsible for adding “groovy” and “boomstick” to the “Movies” section of the pop cultural lexicon. It’s the series that gave nerdy guys new heroes to claim as their own in Campbell and in Ash, the book-smart guy who’s as handy with a chemistry textbook as he is with a shotgun. Ash is a nerd, but a roguishly handsome nerd, well-endowed of chin, who can beat the crap out of Deadites, demons, and skeletons all day long. And that’s the essence of Ash vs Evil Dead, distilled into 20-45 minute chunks of pure, unfiltered monster ass-kicking goodness where Ash doles out the harshness and, as is his wont, brings about the fucking apocalypse. (Good job, Ash.) Boil the show down to a mere two-word descriptor, and that descriptor would be “arterial spray.” If you’re a gore junkie who needs to feed their habit like clockwork, Ash vs Evil Dead has your back. The show’s stars—not just Campbell, but the great sidekick team of Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo—regularly run up on Deadites with deli slicers, chainsaws, hand cannons, you name it. And if you need to have your funny bone tickled, well, Ash and company have you covered there, too. It’s the perfect blend of unapologetic black humor and batshit violent insanity to get you your horror fix, week in and week out.—Andy Crump


14. Kolchak: The Night Stalker


Original Run:1974-1975
Kolchak is one of the most influential horror TV shows to have been more or less forgotten today by a younger generation of TV viewers, but considering its short run on ABC in the mid-‘70s, this isn’t really surprising. Darren McGavin, he of A Christmas Story fame, starred in two TV movies directed by the great Richard Matheson as Kolchak, an investigative reporter for a small Chicago wire service who had an uncanny knack for getting himself mixed up in supernatural threats, while searching for a scoop. Along the way, he battles a rather ridiculous array of creatures in only 20 episodes: vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, aliens, androids—you name it, and Kolchak probably investigated it. Without the series, The X-Files would likely never have existed, and even series creator Chris Carter has said as much. McGavin would go on to appear in several X-Files episodes as a character named Arthur Dales, the “father of the X-Files department,” but in-the-know fans knew it was all in deference to Carl Kolchak. Combining the tropes of cop shows and procedurals with a twist of the fantastical and terrifying, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was something truly unique for its time, and it’s a shame that a poor time slot and unprepared audiences ultimately doomed it after only one season.—Jim Vorel


13. The Walking Dead


Original Run: 2010-present
I remember excitedly watching the Frank Darabont-directed premiere of The Walking Dead on Halloween of 2010, thinking, “This is so cool, but it’ll never be popular.” An hour-long zombie drama? No one’s going to watch that but me! Well, obviously I couldn’t have been more wrong. Flying in the face of expectations, The Walking Dead somehow became cable’s highest-rated show over the course of the last six years, even besting Sunday Night Football on occasion. Stop for a moment and consider those implications: We live in a country that has become so geeky on average, that an hour-long zombie drama can sometimes get more viewership than Sunday Night Football. That’s America in 2016.

In terms of quality, the quest of the Grimes Gang to survive has been up and down, but the production values have always been impeccable. Although the story has occasionally bogged down in places or been stretched too thin, the show always seems to rebound with a moment of incredible pathos, even for iconic villains such as David Morrissey’s Governor. As the show heads into Season Seven this October, our ever-thinning group of survivors comes face to face with Negan, the greatest villain that creator Robert Kirkman ever wrote for the comics series that inspired the show. Whether Jeffrey Dean Morgan can nail the complex, unusual character will be key to the success of The Walking Dead from here on out, but the show’s success to date has already been massive for the marketability of horror on the small screen.—Jim Vorel


12. The Scooby-Doo Show


Original Run: In all its variations, basically non-stop since 1969
Scooby-Doo and crew have appeared in a variety of shows since they debuted with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! almost 50 years ago. The group has changed members here and there, but the premise has always been roughly the same. There’s a ghost or a monster haunting some place and causing chaos, and a cowardly Great Dane and his human compatriots investigate. Usually, it turns out that it was a crooked real estate developer in a rubber mask. Sometimes, Batman and Robin, or the Harlem Globetrotters show up.

Now, a lot of people might argue that these shows aren’t at all scary, but that doesn’t mean Scooby-Doo isn’t in the horror genre. Beloved characters are being chased, and scared and occasionally kidnapped. That said, if you want something with a real horror element to it, I give you Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. It is, by far, the best iteration of Scooby-Doo. It’s funny, and it has legitimately exciting action scenes, but it also has the most legitimate horror element of any of the Scooby-Doo programs. This is a show with an episode indebted to the Saw franchise. Scooby, Shaggy, Velma and the gang get into some real deal frightening stuff (some of it involving a super genius bird), all of which reaffirms Scooby-Doo’s place in the horror genre.—Chris Morgan


11. Black Mirror


Original Run: 2011-2014
If you’re going to be braving Black Mirror, you better do so with the majority of your technological appliances unplugged, and, even then, we cannot ensure your safety or psychological well-being post-viewing. Last time I checked in with Chuck Klosterman, he was still under the impression that our obsession with the war of man vs. machine was uncalled for, and that his toaster posed no threat. Well, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker is here to tell you otherwise. This show challenges the notion that technology facilitates our day to day lives and relationships by giving us a glimpse into a dystopian world ruled by the power of machines feeding on human ignorance. What makes this show more frightening than any other of its kind is its ability to present these science fiction concepts in an entirely realistic setting, told from an excruciatingly recognizable mindset. Enjoy your days spent chasing Pokémons and swiping through Tinder profiles while you can, because once you’ve watched an episode of Black Mirror there is no turning back. Brooker will make you hate. Season Three of Black Mirror is coming to Netflix in October with six more episodes, the sole purpose of which are too shock you out of your digital daze and into the throes of technophobia!—Roxanne Santo

10. Angel


Original Run: 1999-2004
For many ‘90s kids, Angel was our first time experiencing the magic and the disappointment that comes with almost every spin-off series. No, Angel wasn’t going to give us what Buffy gave, nor would Sunnydale’s savior even make regular appearances on the show, much as we wanted her to. But, yes, if you loved David Boreanaz’ brooding, tormented, redemption-seeking character, you were going to enjoy watching Angel (formerly Angelus, The Scourge of Europe) fight a whole new kind of big, bad in Los Angeles. Angel was never going to become as iconic as Buffy, but like BtVS, the series benefited from the hero’s helpers. Familiar faces (like Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia, James Marster’s Spike and Eliza Dushku’s Faith) were necessary to she show’s appeal, and new characters like Glenn Quinn’s Doyle gave Angel its own, distinctive feel. It was a darker, more mature show (this was even reflected in that intoxicating and haunting theme music from Holly Knight and Darling Violetta), and its somewhat surprising cancellation after five seasons was a major blow to fans. Boreanaz would go on to reinvent himself on Bones, but—for many of us—he’ll always be Buffy’s true love, The One with the Angelic Face.—Shannon M. Houston


9. Are you Afraid of the Dark?


Original Run: 1990-2000
The central conceit of Are You Afraid of the Dark?—sneaking off to a forest clearing to tell scary stories and throw magical powder on the fire as a member of the Midnight Society—was more or less the coolest activity that my nine-year-old self could imagine myself or any other child engaging in. Although it was predominantly aimed at the adolescent viewership of Nickelodeon, Are You Afraid of the Dark? captured the perfect tone of wonder and terror. Certain episodes, such as the oft-cited “Tale of the Midnight Madness” with its blood-curdling Nosferatu vampire, are straight-up horror, that likely sent kids running out of the room. Although most of the stories do get a happy ending, it certainly wasn’t universal—just ask the guy in “The Tale of the Pinball Wizard,” who is doomed to spend eternity trapped inside a pinball machine until he’s killed. Like Tales From the Crypt, however, the episodes I tend to remember best are those ones featuring a revolving door of goofy guest actors. Who could forget Gilbert Gottfried as the afterlife bureaucrat in “The Tale of Station 109.1,” or the bizarrely hilarious performance of Bobcat Goldthwait screaming his way through “The Tale of the Final Wish” while playing “The Sandman”?—Jim Vorel

8. Stranger Things


Original Run: 2016-present
The only question viewers tend to ask about the quality of Netflix’s Stranger Things isn’t “Is this a fantastically entertaining show?” but “Does it matter that the show is so homage-heavy?” Our take: No. Since springing into the cultural consciousness immediately with its release a month ago, Stranger Things has been hailed as a revival of old-school sci-fi, horror and ‘80s nostalgia that is far more effective and immediately gripping than most other examples of its ilk. The influences are far too deeply ingrained to individually list, although imagery evoking Amblin-era Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper films drips from nearly every frame. With a stellar cast of child actors and several different characters whose hidden secrets we desperately want to see explored, Stranger Things hits every note necessary to motivate a weekend-long Netflix binge. As questions now swirl about the direction of Season Two, following the first season’s explosive conclusion, we’re all hoping that the same group of characters will be able to re-conjure the chilling, heart-pumping magic of a perfectly constructed eight-episode series. Please, TV gods: Don’t let Stranger Things go all True Detective on us.—Jim Vorel


7. Tales from the Crypt


Original Run: 1989-1996
2016 may be the last time that one can fondly look back at Tales From the Crypt with nostalgia, given that M. Night Shyamalan is planning on (presumably) doing unspeakable things to the show’s legacy with a 2017 reboot. So let’s enjoy this while we can. Based on the classic ‘50s-era EC Comics series of the same name (the same comics fondly parodied in Creepshow), Tales From the Crypt may be the best pure horror anthology series ever. Helmed by the perfectly sardonic/ghoulish narrator The Crypt Keeper as a sort of puppeteered homage to classic horror hosts, the stories on Tales were equal parts funny, lurid and spooky, depending on the show’s mood at any given time. Even when they replayed in syndication (and not on their native HBO), the show was notable for the sheer amount of violence and especially sexuality it was able to get away with, ably transposing the spirit of raunchy ‘80s horror films such as Return of the Living Dead or Night of the Demons into a televised format. But perhaps best of all is the seemingly unending number of famous faces who popped up as guest stars over the course of 93 episodes—everyone from Patricia Arquette to Daniel Craig, Tim Curry, John Lithgow and Martin Sheen. It was as if every actor in Hollywood felt it necessary to appear in at least one Tales From the Crypt.—Jim Vorel


6. The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror


Original Run: 1990-present
Sure, it’s only a yearly special, but it’s also one of the longest-running yearly specials in the history of the medium. At 26 episodes (every Simpsons season, since number two), there have literally been as many “Treehouse of Horror” episodes as there are of most shows that reach two full seasons on TV. Conceptually, they’ve always been some of the series’ most off-the-wall presentations, as the anthology format and extreme non-canon violence allow for creative freedom that exceeds even normal Simpsons standards.

Of course, whether Treehouse of Horror stories are actually “scary” tends to take a backseat to whether they’re funny, but many have been series classics. At the same time, these episodes have featured some of the series’ most endearing parodies and tributes to the classic horror genre. From the Night Gallery tribute presentation of “Treehouse of Horror IV,” with its spot-on Twilight Zone and Bram Stoker’s Dracula parodies, to an entire reenactment of The Shining in “Treehouse of Horror V,” the earlier episodes in particular grasped a perfect balance between family friendly fright and humor. Like anything Simpsons-related, they eventually declined in quality, but even now the yearly special remains one of the few bits of Simpsons entertainment that many former, jaded fans still make time for every year.—Jim Vorel


5. The Twilight Zone


Original Run: 1959-1964
There was, understandably, a lot of debate when we began assembling this list over whether The Twilight Zone should qualify as “horror.” It is, in the estimation of any sane person, one of the greatest science fiction series of all time, without a doubt, with its myriad episodes about technology, aliens, space travel and more. But The Twilight Zone also plumbed the depths of the human psyche, madness and damnation with great regularity, in the same spirit as creator Rod Serling’s later series, Night Gallery. Ultimately, The Twilight Zone is indispensable to both sci-fi and horror. Its moralistic playlets so often have the tone of dark, Grimm Brothers fables for the rocket age of the ‘50s and ‘60s, urban legends that have left an indelible mark on the macabre side of our pop culture consciousness. What else can one call an episode such as “Living Doll,” wherein a confounded, asshole Telly Savalas is threatened, stalked and ultimately killed by his abused daughter’s vindictive doll, Talky Tina? Or “The Invaders,” about a lonely woman in a farmhouse who is menaced by invaders from outer space in an episode almost entirely without dialog? Taken on its own, a piece of television such as “The Invaders” almost shares more in common with “old dark house” horror films or the slashers that would arrive 20 years later, than an entry in a sci-fi anthology. And as such, you can’t deny The Twilight Zone its place on this list.—Jim Vorel


4. Twin Peaks


Original Run: 1990-1991
At its heart, Twin Peaks was a detective story, with Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachan), a stalwart, by-the-book FBI agent, descending upon the small logging town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of a young woman. But since this was a TV series conceived using the weird and wonderful visions of David Lynch, it wound up being so much more. Like its nearest antecedent, Blue Velvet, it explores the weirdness that lies beneath the surface of Anytown, U.S.A., including a lot of soap opera-like psychosexual drama and assorted oddball characters like The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) and agoraphobic Harold Smith (Lenny Von Dohlen). The horror of the show came in with the supernatural underpinnings of this storyline, with the killer of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) potentially being an otherworldly force that goes by the name of Bob. Through Lynch’s lens and through the guise of actor Frank Silva, that spirit haunted every last scene in the show, no matter how outlandish and far-reaching it got. With the help of Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score and the atmosphere created by the set designers, you spent the entirety of the two seasons waiting for something terrible to happen to everyone on screen. And it only made those moments—when things did go sour—feel that much worse. Lynch and company have a lot to live up to with their companion series, set to air next year on Showtime.—Robert Ham


3. Hannibal


Original Run: 2013-2015
When it was announced that NBC was going to air a series based on Hannibal Lecter, the serial killing cannibal famously played on the big screen by Anthony Hopkins, you could almost hear the collective groans of the world. Little did they know that they would be treated to an unflinchingly brutal, strangely beautiful, and devastatingly haunting treatise on the nature of evil. Danish film star Mads Mikkelsen was pitch perfect as the titular doctor, using his devilish intellect and disturbing desires to manipulate the FBI, in particular their gifted analyst Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). Once they started moving beyond the serial killer-of-the-week feel of the first season and really diving into the dark hearts and shattered psyches of Will and Hannibal, the series found its feet. Unfortunately, the TV viewers of the world didn’t all agree with us, causing the show to be axed before its time, with fans (still) begging for a potential rescue by Netflix or Amazon.—Robert Ham


2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Original Run: 1997-2003
It all started as a simple idea in the mind of a harried story editor on Roseanne. What if you followed a beautiful blonde woman down a dark alley where she is attacked by a monster? Instead of screaming helplessly as she is being overtaken, however, the blonde girl turns around and beats the monster to a pulp. Creator/showrunner Joss Whedon’s feminist subversion of this horror trope has since spawned a vast universe of TV shows and comic books as well as more Internet fan fiction than one could possibly hope to consume in a lifetime. There’s a reason why, in an episode of The Simpsons wherein Lisa decides to join a Wicca group, she discovers the most popular topic is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer—Greatest TV Show Ever.” Indeed, more than being a pop culture powerhouse, Buffy was a pivotal program not only in the development of horror on TV, but in bringing out genre storytelling from the fringes and elevating the “high school drama” to an art form. One only needs to look at the murderers’ row on display in the writers’ room (Marti Noxon, Drew Goddard, Douglas Petrie, David Fury, Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight) to recognize the extravagant brain trust that went into constructing the series. Not that Buffy had a promising start, by any means. The first iteration of Whedon’s ass-kicking, vampire-slaying Valley Girl was transformed beyond recognition into a campy 1992 feature film starring Kristy Swanson. Given a rare second chance when an executive at the WB approached him about redeveloping his concept for television, Whedon not only restored his original vision but employed the television format to dig even deeper. Using the monster-of-the-week premise, Whedon and his writers effectively Trojan Horsed deeper narratives involving puberty, sex, bullying, grief, redemption and, in the end, female empowerment. Just as Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) the person saved the world a lot, Buffy the series saved its audiences from the doldrums of their daily lives.—Mark Rozeman


1. The X-Files


Original Run: 1993-2002
Today, after more than 200 episodes, two feature films, a spinoff and two-plus decades of history, being an X-Files fan is a lot like being a fan of a long-running comic book. Namely, there are peaks and valleys in writing quality, the continuity becomes a convoluted mess if you stop to think about it for even a second and—in spite of whatever monumental changes occur—the story always seems to revert back to a certain status quo. And yet there’s no question that what initially started as creator Chris Carter’s take on Kolchak: The Night Stalker has since become an indelible cornerstone in the history of television. Long before the likes of Buffy or Lost, The X-Files legitimatized the viability of serialized genre storytelling. Alongside stand-alone case episodes, the series incorporated ongoing arcs involving vast government conspiracies, alien invasions and the mystery surrounding a missing loved one. Perhaps more impressive than its long-term thinking, however, was the flexible tone the creative team established as a template for its various installments. Episodes could be scary, funny, surreal, emotional—sometimes all in the same hour. In the world of The X-Files, a horror-filled hour centered on deformed cannibals could fit right alongside a hilarious take-off on Cops. Writing and directing aside, what really tied everything together and made it pop was the legendary chemistry between David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully. At the risk of courting controversy, those who simply reduce the two’s dynamic to a simple “will they, won’t they?” are being somewhat reductive. What Mulder and Scully had was more than simple sexual tension; it was a loving and respectful partnership between two intelligent individuals whose differing attributes perfectly complemented one another. It assured us that, despite all the monsters and aliens at play, there was an inherent humanity rooted firmly at the show’s center.—Mark Rozeman