As the remainder of Stranger Things’ fourth season is released, audiences reflect on the horror and supernatural series that have brought the monsters, jump scares, and intricate storylines. Horror can be a difficult genre to adapt for the small screen, as there must be enough ideas to prolong a storyline longer than a two-hour movie for at least an entire season and some shows are more successful than others.
Fans at Ranker have voted for the most exciting horror series on television. From classic anthology series with terrible special effects to new imaginations of old characters, these shows are the best the genre has to offer for the small screen that will make viewers want to sleep with the light on and question every bump in the night.
Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.
10 Penny Dreadful
Penny Dreadful is a horror drama series that aired on Showtime for three seasons. As a historical fantasy, the series uses popular literary characters in the public domain, including Dorian Gray, Count Dracula, and Henry Jekyll, as the main character goes on a journey to find his daughter. The dark writing combined with the familiar characters brings the story to life.
The series’ dialogue fits the period, and it feels more like reading a great literary work than just watching it be acted out on a small screen. With this and the costuming and setting beautifully done by the crew, Penny Dreadful is a perfect reimagining of gothic horror that is pure art.
9 Stranger Things
Stranger Things stands out as a conventional horror series. Featuring new monsters each season, the series follows a group of friends as they initially save their best friend from another dimension only to release new evil on the town. The writing is superb, accurately portraying life in the ‘80s through dialogue, clothing, and music. The actors have become household names due to their emotional performances and believable friendship.
The series keeps the viewer ready for more. The episodes are so intense, making it near impossible to only watch one as viewers want to know what happens next. The character development in season 4 has viewers growing attached to the characters and fearing the next onscreen death. Stranger Things is one of the best and creepiest horror series of the year.
Hannibal is a reimagining of the character Hannibal Lecter portrayed in the Thomas Harris novels. The series is psychological horror, as Dr. Lecter is recruited by the FBI to help with the investigation of a serial killer while he is, in fact, a cannibalistic serial killer himself. The show is smart and one of the best serial killer shows available.
Mads Mikkelsen takes over for Anthony Hopkins in the titular role. His portrayal of Hannibal is a smart villain, as he is able to manipulate the FBI and spends much of the series trying to turn an investigator into a killer. Mikkelsen’s performance matches the well-written script perfectly and adds a level of intrigue to the familiar character.
In 1990, IT premiered as a two-part miniseries following a group of outcasts as they try to defeat Pennywise, the shapeshifting clown threatening the town of Derry. The TV miniseries may be considered cheesy in comparison to the movie remake released in 2017, but it was terrifying for its time. With less technologically advanced special effects, the creepiness of Pennywise relies solely on Tim Curry.
Curry brings an unnerving smile and an intimidating cheerfulness to the role. He manages to be a circus clown filled with evil behind his yellow eyes and razor-sharp teeth. Curry’s Pennywise is the physical embodiment of the fear of clowns, and the It miniseries stands out against the remake as its own exciting horror series as a result.
6 American Horror Story
First airing in 2011 with American Horror Story: Murder House, the anthology series changes with each new season. Covering a range of themes including aliens, witches, the lost colony of Roanoke, and vampires, the series has yet to run out of ideas. With many actors returning each season as new characters, the viewers never tire of the storylines.
American Horror Story has characters based on real people including the Black Dahlia, Madame Delphine LaLaurie, and Edward Mordrake. The inclusion of these real people and similar storylines makes the series even creepier with beautiful special effects and realistic makeup that makes audiences forget everything is staged. Viewers should be aware the series is meant for mature audiences as it includes plenty of violence, gore, and sexual situations.
5 Tales From The Crypt
From 1989 to 1996, the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt haunted the dreams of audiences. The introduction to the show follows the camera into a haunted house and down into a cobweb-covered crypt where the decaying corpse of the Cryptkeeper pops out of a coffin, screams, and laughs to set the tone of the campy horror series. Each episode finds the Cryptkeeper telling a new story full of horror, drama, and comedy.
Originally airing on HBO, Tales from the Crypt includes nudity, strong language, sexual situations, and graphic violence, spawning several spin-offs including a film, cartoon, and kid’s game show. Yet, the series is most memorable for the host. Despite the creepy exterior, the Cryptkeeper is actually quite hilarious with puns and corny jokes to successfully establish the show as an exciting horror series.
4 The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone first began airing in 1959 and ran for five seasons. Each episode is a new story with the characters finding themselves in unusual events with surprising endings. The show is known for Rod Sterling’s introduction into the Twilight Zone, or the fifth dimension, as he presents each story.
The series is imaginative, having to rely heavily on good writing and acting as opposed to special effects. The storylines provoke thought and often end with morals for the audience. It is entertaining and intelligent television, and The Twilight Zone deserves an updated reboot with classic storytelling. The series has had such an impact on pop culture that multiple revivals have taken place over the years and spawned a ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.
3 Channel Zero
Channel Zero is a horror anthology series based on internet horror stories that aired on Syfy for four seasons. Each season features a new story with a new set of characters. The series is creepy and shows the impact the internet has on pop culture storytelling. It brings to life the fears of the average viewer, making something as mundane as returning to a hometown truly terrifying.
The ideas presented in Channel Zero are unique in comparison to traditional horror shows. From a haunted house that eats memories to a children’s program that causes death and disappearances, the series sets itself apart with strong performances and memorable stories that unsettle the viewers. Channel Zero is no average horror series.
2 The X-Files
Though intended to be more science-fiction than horror, The X-Files has all the makings of a good horror series. Extraterrestrials and supernatural phenomena provide the backbone for mind-bending storylines and meticulous characters in Mulder and Scully. The story and performances are so believable that it will make any viewer question the supernatural.
The X-Files has a long-term story arc. Each episode builds on the last with great continuity, making it difficult to jump in the middle rather than watch from the beginning. The series is worth watching from beginning to end as it has generated multiple spin-offs and was rebooted in 2016 after a fourteen-year hiatus.
1 The Haunting Of Hill House
Premiering on Netflix in 2018, the supernatural horror miniseries The Haunting of Hill House is a fresh adaptation of the novel by Shirley Jackson. Hooking viewers with a jump scare at the end of the first episode, the series follows the Crain family as they are haunted by memories of their childhood home, alternating between two timelines.
Without tons of gore, The Haunting of Hill House utilizes a gothic atmosphere and emotional acting that remains believable to keep the intrigued and even anxious. Each episode tells the story of a different Crain family member yet manages to tie in every story to the previous. The series is extremely well done that according to the Jerusalem Post, Quentin Tarantino has stated it as his favorite series.
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