From jump scares to subtle psychological terror, these series have you covered.
Horror movies are all well and good, but sometimes 90 minutes of white-knuckle terror just aren't enough.
Sometimes you want to spend hours or even days hiding behind your hands and muffling your screams as you're sucked into a terrifying realm of blood and guts and ghosts and monsters. When you're in that kind of mood, you need a TV show that can consistently deliver nightmares straight to your skull.
So if you're planning to spend this entire month leaving the lights on when you go to sleep, these nine shows, all streaming now on Netflix, are sure to get you there.
Charlie Brooker's anthology series for Channel 4 and Netflix delves into the horrors of our technologically-driven era, extrapolating concepts like brain-computer interfaces, augmented reality, and our increasing reliance on social media into parables that range from ridiculous to vaguely haunting to deeply terrifying.
The series generally seems to take place in a near-future reality where current tensions and problems are cranked up to 11. And while the show is fairly hit or miss, when it hits it leaves you with a new and unsettling perspective on society, and memorable episodes like "Metalhead," "Men Against Fire," and "The Entire History of You," stand on their own as compelling hour-long horror films.
Based on the urbane, cannibal-killer Hannibal Lecter—from Thomas Harris's series of suspense novels—Hannibal follows Mads Mikkelson delivering a chilling performance in the titular role and Hugh Dancy as disturbed FBI consultant Will Graham.
Over three seasons of twists, misdirects, murder, and cooking sequences that are equal parts appetizing and nauseating, they engage in psychological battle as Dr. Lecter, a renowned psychologist, "assists" and evades law enforcement. Creator Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, American Gods) brings his visual flare to the horror genre in this tense and beautifully disturbing series.
"The Walking Dead"
Back in 2010 zombies were all the rage
virus. In that stretch between 2007's hilarious Zombieland and 2013's disappointing adaptation of World War Z, the draw of zombie content was strong, and no media has capitalized on that draw as much as AMC's adaptation of the comic series The Walking Dead.
While zombie content has generally fallen out of popular culture, the walking dead has kept going for 10 seasons, focusing less on the threat of animate corpses than on the survivors learning to live in a post-apocalypse—though always with a background of truly horrifying corpses walking around trying to eat everyone.
"The Twilight Zone"
Rod Serling's classic 1959 anthology series is generally more thought-provoking than it is horrifying. Each episode takes on a mind-bending concept with an all-star cast.
And while modern viewers may even find the old-school effects and excessively earnest dialogue cheesy, if you're willing to engage with ideas like the tiny tyrant in "It's a Good Life," and performances like William Shatner's portrayal of a man driven to madness in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, the show can be genuinely disturbing.
Showtime's Penny Dreadful, starring Eva Green (Casino Royale) and Timothy Dalton (Hot Fuzz), ran for three seasons, bringing new life to classic gothic horror stories from the 19th century, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Portrait of Dorian Grey. The series is known for its heightened approach to the macabre and grotesque and for its excellent acting and cinematography.
There are few characters as iconic to the genre of cinematic horror as Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock's 1960's classic Psycho: the soft-spoken proprietor of the Bates Motel who murders his victims while inhabited by the persona of his overbearing mother, Norma.
The movie played up common stigmas at the time, treating mental illness and queer-coding as fundamentally frightening character traits. While it could be argued that such outdated tropes would be better left in the trash heap of history, A&E's Bates Motel took a different approach, building a backstory over five seasons for how Norman and Norma developed such a twisted, co-dependent relationship—a relationship that Norman couldn't let go of even after his mother's death...
"Chilling Adventures of Sabrina"
For fans of the '90s sitcom Sabrina the teenage Witch, the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is hardly recognizable. While all the familiar characters—from Zelda and Hilda to Harvey and Salem—the show takes a much darker approach to witchcraft, with Satan, demons, witch hunters, and murder galore.
The show also tackles social issues like class divides and the challenges faced by trans teenagers who can't afford to transition—all through the lens of supernatural horror. The final set of eight episodes are set to premiere in late 2020.
"American Horror Story"
The FX series American Horror Story, from the producing team of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (Glee, Pose, Nip/Tuck) has been running since 2011 with an anthology format. Each season has its own arc, paying homage to particular settings and subgenres within horror—from cults to covens to haunted houses and asylums.
The format allows the creators to recast some of their favorite actors in a variety of roles for some truly memorable performances from Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, and others. While the heightened reality of the series frequently slips into pure absurdity, each season delivers at least a handful of deeply disturbing characters and horrific sequences. The first seven seasons are currently available on Netflix—with seasons 8 and 9 streaming on Hulu.
"The Haunting of..." Series
When Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House was released in 2018 as a miniseries, it seemed like a shame that the 10 episode story was over so quickly. Loosely based on Shirley Jackson's classic 1959 novel, the atmospheric terror and exploration of generational trauma made for compelling viewing.
But then, in October of 2020, Netflix unveiled the unofficial sequel, The Haunting of Bly Manor, based on Henry James' horror classic, The Turn of the Screw. Once again, Mike Flanagan and Netflix have delivered a gripping, subtly creepy hit just in time for Halloween binge-watching.
So just put these 9 shows in your queue and don't plan on sleeping for the next year or so.
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