With Halloween right around the corner, there's no better way to get into the spirit of the spooky season than with the help of a terrifying television series. From the supernatural to the gory to the psychological, there's small screen content that provides scares in every form. One of film's most famous villains, the notorious serial killer-turned-knife-wielding doll Chucky, makes his first foray onto the small screen with the new SyFy network series "Chucky." Now fans of the hit "Child's Play" movie franchise will get a weekly dose of the murderous Good Guys doll as he embarks on a new run of gory kills. To celebrate the show's premiere on Oct. 12, 2021, join Wonderwall.com as we run through the scariest shows to frighten all TV fans…
"The X-Files" follows two FBI agents as they investigate hundreds of paranormal cases. The disturbing mysteries kept viewers on the edge of their seats for nine seasons plus two movies and a two-season sequel series — and led many to believe, like David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson's Mulder and Scully that the truth is, in fact, out there. Both the series and its two lead performers received multiple awards and nominations during its run and Time magazine called the show the "cultural touchstone of" the '90s while ranking it as one of the greatest shows in television history (as did TV Guide). It eventually became the longest running science-fiction series in U.S. television history "The X-Files" can be streamed in its entirety on Hulu.
The post-apocalyptic horror program "The Walking Dead" — which is based on a long-running comic book series of the same name — has spent more than a decade as one of television's most popular shows since it premiered in 2010. Featuring a massive ensemble cast, it follows the survivors of a zombie apocalypse who are trying to stay alive as they encounter the undead as well as other human survivors who've formed groups and communities with their own sets of laws and morals. The thrilling adventures — which will end when season 11 concludes in 2022 — developed a massive, devoted fanbase, attracting the most 18-to-49-year-old viewers of any cable or broadcast television series at one point. It debuted to critical praise, which dipped in later seasons before rebounding with its more recent episodes. Review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes noted that the ninth season "feels more alive than ever, with heightened tension and a refreshed pace that rejuvenates this long-running franchise." The show can be streamed on Netflix and has spawned two spinoff shows — "Fear the Walking Dead" and "The Walking Dead: World Beyond."
The Netflix anthology series "Black Mirror" creates a new form of technology-based terror within every episode. The acclaimed series features installments that focus on everything from hashtags to five-star ratings in an effort to show how how some of our biggest advancements can be horrifyingly alienating and dehumanizing. The eerie program began in 2011 and still pops up with new episodes every few years, featuring stars like Jon Hamm and Miley Cyrus, and finds new ways to make viewers paranoid about their own attachment to the achievements of the digital age.
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After its debut in 2016, "Stranger Things" became the most buzzed about series on Netflix. The hit show has spent three seasons — with a fourth set to debut in 2022 — depicting a group of Midwest kids fighting the evil forces of the Upside Down universe. Ripe with '80s nostalgia, it's also chock-full of major thrills and terrifying monsters that keep viewers begging for more. Equal parts Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, the series is an action-packed trip down memory lane that proves to be as exhilarating for young fans as it is for the young at heart, with Screen Rant calling it "a nostalgia-infused love letter to the genre."
"The Twilight Zone" set the standard for scary television during its run from 1959 to 1964. Fans were transported to a different dimension over 156 episodes with an anthology series that's both spine-chilling and thought-provoking. Viewers waited with bated breath to see what sort of trippy, terrifying worlds awaited them each week as episodes delivered both a moral lesson and a macabre or unexpected twist. The impact of the hit program — which TV Guide and Rolling Stone both ranked as one of the best shows of all time — can still be felt in numerous shows today. "The Twilight Zone" spawned a feature film, a radio series, various literature, theme park attractions and three revival television series — the latest coming from horror mastermind Jordan Peele. The original can be streamed on Paramount+.
"American Horror Story" helped popularize scary television for a new generation of viewers. Since launching in 2011, Ryan Murphy's anthology series has featured a new horrifying mystery every season, covering everything from haunted houses and summer camp slashers to witches and murderous clowns. It's also created an incredible showcase for an ensemble that's included Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga (pictured), Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett and even Lady Gaga. The deranged program always attempts to top itself, packing as many outrageous stories and scares as possible into each episode. "American Horror Story" has earned its reputation for being peak over-the-top television as it's 10th season debuted in the fall of 2021. The previous nine are available to stream on Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
A generation of kids developed newfound fears with the assistance of Nickelodeon's "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" when it aired from 1990 to 1996. The anthology series revolves around a group of teenagers who refer to themselves as "The Midnight Society" and meet in the woods at night in each episode to swap scary stories. The Saturday-night hit became appointment viewing for young fans who nervously watched each tale under the safety of their covers, with Consequence writing that they "were old enough to stay up but not old enough to stay out, so [they] spent nearly every Saturday night huddled around television sets with friends or siblings, pretending not to be terrified by that week's tale." It led to two revival shows, with the first airing from 1999 to 2000, and the second debuting in 2019. Every episode can be streamed on Paramount+.
Netflix got in on the haunted house game with the 2018 TV adaptation of the classic Shirley Jackson novella "The Haunting of Hill House." It centers around a group of siblings who grew up in what would become the most famous haunted house in the country and who are still living with the trauma, grief and spirits from their time in that home. Critics hailed the show, which bounces between two timelines, for foregoing typical jump scares for creepy atmosphere and psychological terror. The Telegraph went so far as to call it "the most complex and complete horror series of its time." It served as the launch for the streaming platform's "The Haunting" anthology series, which continued with 2020's "The Haunting of Bly Manor."
Long before streaming platforms took over, HBO tried its hat at horror with "Tales from the Crypt" from 1989 to 1996. The show, which is based on the '50s comic book series of the same name, features wisecracking corpse the Cryptkeeper, who introduces a new terrifying tale in each episode. The show's success attracted guest appearances from big names like Demi Moore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Pesci and Whoopi Goldberg and gave way to eventual spinoffs and films.
The beloved "Evil Dead" film trilogy received a continuation with the television series "Ash vs Evil Dead," which ran from 2015 to 2018. Bruce Campbell returns as the demon-fighting, chainsaw-handed title character, Ash Williams, the skeezy hero who must once again face off against the dreaded evil curse from the movies to save humanity. The series brought back the same brand of dark humor and over-the-top gore that won over viewers in the original trilogy, providing three seasons of pure horror chaos. Critics and viewers alike were overjoyed to have new slices of the nasty, silly comedy-horror and celebrated the show's lighthearted approach to its disturbing subject matter. All episodes can be streamed on Netflix.
"Twin Peaks" confused millions of viewers when it aired in the early '90s but still quickly became one of biggest cult hits in television history. David Lynch's small-town mystery surrounds the murder of local homecoming queen Laura Palmer and the FBI agent and local sheriff trying to crack the case. What stars Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Ontkean find instead is a bizarre, surreal trip into a red-curtained wonderland. The steady stream of oddball characters and fantastical twists helped define the out-of-the-box artfulness that has made its way into numerous acclaimed shows in the decades since. The Washington Post said at the time the show aired that "'Twin Peaks' disorients you in ways that small screen productions seldom attempt. It's a pleasurable sensation, the floor dropping out and leaving one dangling." It won multiple Emmy and Golden Globe Awards and has been named by countless outlets as one of the greatest shows of all time. A movie hit theaters in 1992 and a third season was eventually released to much fanfare in 2017. It can be streamed on Paramount+ and Hulu.
One of the most infamous villains in movie history made the transition to television when "Hannibal" aired from 2013 to 2015. The series chronicles the early days of cannibal serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter as a determined young FBI criminal profiler attempts to understand the doctor's disturbingly haunted psyche. The beautiful, gruesome series actually made viewers fall for the charming-yet-psychotic murderer from "The Silence of the Lambs." It also pushed the boundaries of what content could fly by the censors on network television. While ratings never took off for the drama, critics unanimously agreed it was a prime example of a "prestige drama." During its short run, Slate called it "an engrossing, psychologically dense show that is also visually stunning… the kind of gem seldom found on network TV." The stunning but gory visual feast can be streamed on Hulu.
A procedural like no other, "Evil" takes the criminal-of-the-week format and gives it a horrifying twist. It depicts a skeptical forensic psychologist who allies with a Catholic seminarian and a technology contractor to investigate purported supernatural incidents. The series, which comes from the same people behind the critically acclaimed shows "The Good Fight" and "The Good Wife," introduces a new monster or terror each week. As Vox writes, the drama "should be too wild to work, but I have come to cherish its chaotic evil energy. I never know what's happening, and I love the way it leaves me confused, flummoxed, and giggly." It can be streamed on Paramount+.
"Slasher" is another horror anthology series that's currently on the air, and it has a much more focused theme of a masked murderer with an unknown motive for killing their victims. Each season brings the same overriding plot into a new setting, ranging from a small suburban town on Halloween to a wealthy but dysfunctional family gathering for a reunion on a secluded island. It serves as an homage to classic horror films like "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th," with fans commending the show for trading in high-concept visuals and groundbreaking storytelling to focus on good old-fashioned violence and gore. The murder-happy program can be streamed on Netflix and Shudder.
"Creepshow," which is based on the 1982 film from horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King, premiered in 2019 to the excitement of genre fans. It features a number of short stories in each episode, all based on the popular "Creepshow" comic book series. Scary, silent cryptkeeper The Creep introduces each grim tale and helped introduce the cult favorite property to a whole new audience. The fun camp of the comics and original film seep through in each chapter with Slate writing, "The series bottles the original's pulpy spirit and atmosphere for an irresistibly macabre package." It's been renewed for a third season; the first two can be streamed on Shudder.
"The Exorcist" is one of the most iconic horror films of all time, so it came as no surprise that it was eventually translated for the small screen with the 2016 FOX series of the same name. The direct sequel to the 1973 movie follows a pair of exorcists who investigate cases of demonic possession. The first season focuses on a family led by Academy Award winner Geena Davis's character, whose young daughter is tormented by an evil demon, while the second brings viewers to a remote foster home where demons run amok. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus is that the show "doesn't come close to its classic source material, but still boasts a tense narrative that manages some legitimate scares and credible special effects." Due to low ratings, it was canceled after two seasons, but all episodes can be streamed on Hulu.
This one takes the whodunit to a more more horrifying level: "Harper's Island" provided a mystery that saw the cast being taken out one-by-one in each episode until the killer was finally unveiled. It depicts a group of friends who travel to a desolate island resort for a wedding where the guests are being murdered and the remaining attendees are left to figure out which one of them is responsible. The limited series was planned as a tight, open-and-shut story with numerous clues and red herrings throughout the thrilling ride. As Nashville Scene wrote, the CBS series "is a perfectly contained one-season epic that blends the aesthetics of similar aughts TV like 'Revenge' or 'Pretty Little Liars' with the orchestrated mayhem of a classic mystery/slasher." All 13 episodes can be purchased on iTunes.
M. Night Shyamalan is considered one of horror's biggest cinematic names thanks to his hits like "The Sixth Sense," "Signs" and "Split." In 2019, he moved into television as executive producer of the Apple TV+ psychological thriller series "Servant." The eerie show follows increasingly odd occurrences in the household of a family who replaces their recently deceased infant with a doll then hires a nanny to take care of it — all in an effort to help the child's mother process both her grief and denial concerning the tragic incident. It's the sort of tense drama where viewers don't know who can be trusted, if anyone. TV Guide called it "creepy, compulsively watchable fun, with a distinct personality. It shows that Apple is willing to make shows that are pretty dark, pretty risky, and not particularly aspirational." Two seasons are currently available on the streaming platform; it has been renewed for a third.
"The Purge" films are one of the most successful horror franchises ever, with a collective box office gross of more than $450 million. A television series arrived on the USA network in 2018 — it's set in the same dystopian United States ruled by a totalitarian government that sanctions one day each year when crime is legal, including vandalism, theft, arson and murder. The first season follows a group of unrelated people preparing for the event, while the second jumps to the end of the night and revolves around the consequences of various characters' actions. It's a perfect addition for fans of the movies, as well as a great introduction for new viewers. As Collider wrote in its review, "Fans of the franchise should find plenty to enjoy in the new series, whether it's the tangents of world-building and deepened mythology, the freaky new masks or the ensemble of rich characters." The show was canceled in 2020, but both seasons can be streamed on Hulu and Peacock.
One of the breakout characters from the Oscar-winning classic "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" became the twisted star of her own spinoff series with the 2020 Netflix psychological thriller "Ratched." It provides an origin story about how unhinged, creepy Nurse Mildred Ratched came to be. The period drama shows the character as she arrives at a spooky psychiatric hospital that does some not-so-ethical experiments on people and follows her as she slowly devolves into nothing short of a monster. Sarah Paulson excellently embodies the titular character, earning a Golden Globe nomination for her work in 2021. Collider's review said, "Taken for what the show is — a kicky, shocking, overtly stylish fever-dream of a horror thriller — 'Ratched' works wonderfully. " A second season has received a green light; viewers can catch up on the first set of episodes on Netflix.
"Scream" helped revitalize the horror genre in the late '90s by combining a traditional slasher film with humor, characters aware of horror film clichés and a clever plot. It spawned three sequels (with another set to arrive in 2022) and a short-lived television series on MTV. The show, which launched in 2015, features a new generation of small-town teens being terrorized by a masked serial killer. While the story isn't connected to the hit films — and lacks a lot of their winning wit — it retains the same meta comedy elements and gory stabbings. As The Wrap wrote in its review, "Luxe environments mixed with b***** teen entitlement and karmic vengeance drive 'Scream' beyond its slasher-exploitation film genesis to a stylish metaphor about a new generation's excesses and mean-girl cruelty." All three seasons can be streamed on Netflix.
"The Outer Limits" kicked off in the '60s as a science-fiction-packed version of "The Twilight Zone," providing an endless assortment of terrifyingly bizarre tales during both its initial two-season run as well as with a '90s reboot that ran for seven seasons. The anthology series introduced a number of nightmare-ready monsters with some episodes considered too scary to air during normal primetime hours. Iconic horror writer Stephen King even went so far as to call it "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV." The reboot landed on premium cable network Showtime, allowing all sorts of swearing, sex and violence that never would have flown on the original. As the Los Angeles Times wrote during the reboot's airing, "From its first alien encounter in the '60s, 'The Outer Limits' has always been a science-fiction series designed for the thinking person." Both series can be streamed on Roku and Pluto.
Showtime gave 19th-century Victorian Gothic fiction a bloody update with the 2014 drama "Penny Dreadful." It depicts a ragtag team of ghost hunters, including an American gunslinger, a medium, an explorer and scientist Victor Frankenstein, as they work to fight vengeful spirits in Victorian London. The spooky series features vampires, reanimated corpses and various creatures from the underworld that would keep anyone awake at night. It's a cinematic show that's equal parts smart, classy and creepy, with standout performances from stars Eva Green and Josh Hartnett. The Guardian called it "as riotous as it is ridiculous, taking the macabre to new heights (or depths)." It finished its run in 2016; all three seasons can be streamed on Showtime.
"Psycho" is considered one of the original horror classics. AMC breathed new life into the groundbreaking Hitchcock film with the origin story series "Bates Motel." The contemporary prequel, which premiered in 2013, introduces us to a young Norman Bates and his overprotective mother as they move into the notorious lodging establishment that eventually becomes the setting of numerous violent deaths. Over the course of five seasons, Freddie Highmore does an incredible job of capturing a psychopath's slow descent into madness with Vera Farmiga by his side as his disturbingly haunting mom. The show leads right into the events of the movie, including recreating the iconic shower scene with guest star Rihanna. Critics fell for the twisted story of how Norman transforms into an unhinged murderer, with Entertainment Weekly writing, "'Bates Motel' proved over and over again that it is one of the few series on television that can simultaneously subvert predictions, exceed expectations and make every shocking twist feel completely earned." Every episode can be streamed on Peacock.
For something almost disturbingly timely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, "The Strain" is the perfect choice. The horror series from creator Guillermo del Toro, which is based on his book of the same name, is set amid a viral outbreak that causes people to transform into evil vampires. It follows the head of the CDC's New York-based Canary Project as he and his team wage a war to save humanity as the virus spreads. For some, it paints a very realistic portrait of a world inundated with bloodsuckers, but it may hit too close to home for others as we continue to battle a far less supernatural virus. The New York Times called the show, which debuted in 2014, "a prime example of traditional, meticulous craftsmanship and slow-building suspense." All four seasons are available to stream on Hulu.