Home TV TV Lists

25 Best Horror TV Shows of All Time

From gourmet serial killers to vampire slayers, the greatest small-screen landmarks featuring scariest monsters and superfreaks

tv horror

Illustration by Ryan Casey

With all due respect to Poltergeist (They’re her-rrrre!”), you don’t need to live in a haunted suburban house to get sucked into the terror of your television. From the short-story-like psychological shocks of Sixties name-brand anthology shows to today’s cable-abetted blood-and-guts extravaganzas, many of the medium’s most memorable series have centered on things that go bump in the night. With Halloween approaching, we’re counting down the top 25 horror shows in TV history. Vampire slayers and sexed-up bloodsuckers, brainiac serial killers and brain-chomping zombies, paranormal activities and portly auteurs wishing you “Good ev-eee-ning” — they’re all present and accounted for. Don’t dare touch that dial.

Horror Show

Ryan Casey

13

‘Penny Dreadful’ (2014-Present)

From Philip José Farmer and Alan Moore to Abbott & Costello, artists have been making mash-ups of their favorite heroes, villains, myths, and monsters for ages. What, then, could this Showtime series that combines characters from Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Grey, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, have to offer that we haven't seen before? Plenty, including charismatic performances (notably from Eva Green and Josh Hartnett), Gothic production design that's lush even by prestige-TV standards, and countless other supernatural elements that add an atmosphere of, well, dread. But mostly, it has a willingness to treat the fears and desires of its characters as seriously as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Oscar Wilde did back in the day, and that makes all the difference.

Horror Show

Ryan Casey

12

‘Night Gallery’ (1969-1973)

You’ve already defined speculative, intellectually complex genre TV for a generation of viewers. What do you do for an encore? If you’re Rod Serling, the answer is simple: You tap into psychological horror and double down on the darkness. The TV auteur’s Nixon-era series presented short, sharp, scary vignettes (as many as four per episode) that were fueled by murder, guilt, revenge, hauntings, undead predators, and the untapped powers of the mind. By adapting works by such weird-fiction godfathers H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and Fritz Leiber, Serling further made the case for his own legendary status. And did we mention that Steven Spielberg made his directorial debut in the pilot?

Horror Show

Ryan Casey

11

‘The Kingdom’ (1994-1997)

Before he helped kick off an art-house revolution and his incorrigible outbursts at press conferences made him cinema's greatest troll, Danish director Lars Von Trier made a TV show with a simple goal: creep people out to the Nth degree. The two four-episode series he made for Danish TV (he had planned a third, but abandoned it because too many key cast members kept dying) chronicle the lives and afterlives of doctors and patients at a nightmarish Copenhagen hospital. Its storylines stitch ghosts, body horror, and all-around avant-garde oddness together into one of the medium's most unique hybrids.

Horror Show

Ryan Casey

10

‘Supernatural’ (2005-Present)

If there's an Achilles heel for horror as a genre, it's the wafer-thin characters: Why bother crafting the next Jane Eyre if she's just gonna get chainsawed in half? But no TV series can survive if no one cares about your heroes and villains, and this CW show has taken that lesson to heart. The saga of demon-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester is driven almost entirely by their emotional connection, courtesy of engaging performances by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Yes, creator Eric Kipke's initial goal of "scar[ing] the crap out of people" is achieved on a weekly basis, but even when the stakes are outright apocalyptic and the monsters all but unstoppable, it's the ties that bind these bros that have made this show a fervently loved fan-favorite.

Horror Show

Ryan Casey

9

‘The Walking Dead’ (2010-Present)

In its original form, as a zombie comic book by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, The Walking Dead was the little series that could: an independent, black-and-white horror story that slowly but surely eclipsed all but the biggest full-color corporate superhero comics in popularity. As a television show, TWD’s success has been almost as unlikely. It started, courtesy of Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, as horror’s stab at a prestige drama worthy of sharing AMC airtime with Mad Men; several showrunners and tens of millions of viewers later, it’s a ratings juggernaut that showcases man’s inhumanity to man with at least as much gory gusto as the cannibalistic attacks of the undead.