30 Best Horror TV Shows of All Time - Rolling Stone
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30 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 streaming-abetted scarefests, 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 30 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.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson

'The X-Files' appears among our readers' picks for the best TV shows of the Nineties.

Fox

4

‘The X-Files’ (1993-2002; 2016-2018)

“The Truth Is Out There” — the truth being that Chris Carter’s sprawling science-fiction conspiracy thriller was also crackerjack horror television. In between “mythology” episodes that chronicled FBI Agents Mulder & Scully’s journey through a maze of government and extraterrestrial shenanigans, The X-Files frequently stopped to scare the pants off its viewers. From the Arctic isolation of its first-season standout “Ice” to the still-controversial, Texas Chainsaw Massacre–referencing inbreeding freak-out “Home,” the show’s best creepy, skin-crawling episodes have lost none of its power to disturb. And the recent relaunch reminded fans why they wanted to believe in the first place.

Mads Mikkelsen Hannibal

Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in 'Hannibal'

NBC

3

‘Hannibal’ (2013-2015)

How the hell did a show as visually audacious, narratively perverse, and mind-bogglingly gory as Hannibal wind up on the Peacock Network? Before its unceremonious and unfortunate third-season cancellation, Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s series of serial-killer novels — starring cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and his arch-frienemy, FBI profiler Will Graham — was nothing short of a horror lover’s fever dream. It treated murder as performance art, peeling away the flesh and gristle of the human body in sensuous, spectacular slow motion to expose the heart of darkness within. In the process it made pretty much every other Prestige Drama look like a student film. As the Phantom of the Opera once said: Feast your eyes, glut your soul.

rod serling twilight zone

Rod Serling, center, creator and host of the original 'The Twilight Zone.'

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images, Everett Collection (2)

2

‘The Twilight Zone’ (1959-1964)

While most TV promised little more than an entertaining diversion between commercials, there was one show that billed itself as a journey into another dimension. Rod Serling’s genre-defining anthology series drew its stories from a who’s-who of the era’s finest horror and sci-fi writers, creating a an endless stream of stand-alone episodes that were equal parts spine-chilling and thought-provoking: the nuclear-apocalypse cautionary tale “Where Is Everybody?”; the telepathic terror of “It’s a Good Life” (“Wish it into the cornfield!”); the alien-invasion irony of “To Serve Man” (“It’s a cookbook!”); the airborne breakdown-cum-showdown of William Shatner and his little friend in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” A full four decades before the New Golden Age, The Twilight Zone was already making high art out of low culture. The 2019 relaunch, led by modern horror master Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), proves the Zone is still in good hands.

twin peaks dale cooper

American actor Kyle MacLachlan (as Special Agent Dale Cooper) holds a portable cassette recorder as he drives a car in a scene from the pilot episode of the television series 'Twin Peaks,' originally broadcast on April 8, 1990. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

CBS Photo Archive

1

‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-1991; 2017)

“Who killed Laura Palmer?” It was the driving question behind David Lynch and Mark Frost’s small-town murder masterpiece, but the answer was never going to be a matter of a simple whodunit. Laura’s death, like her life, concealed an ocean of evil beneath the surface — specifically, a group of terrifying supernatural entities hailing from another place called the Black Lodge. They were personified by a being called Bob: Played by set dresser turned actor Frank Silva, this cackling, shrieking demon’s long gray hair and denim jacket gave him the appearance of a metalhead crank dealer — the sight of him crawling through the Haywards’ living room toward the camera might be the single scariest scene ever shown on television. (Try not to cringe away from your screen as you watch it. You can’t.) Then came Lynch and Frost’s 2017 Twin Peaks: The Return, which introduced us to an ash-covered Woodsman and his eternal question (“Got a light?”) and tied the horror into a historical moment. But through all the surreal, red-curtained quirkiness, the show never lost sight of the human suffering at the heart of madness-infected Americana. It’s what continues to make Twin Peaks the all-time television terror champion

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