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The Halloween season is best known for nightmare-inducing horror films, but there are frightening TV shows worth watching too. With the TV horror genre on the rise, you can now either scare yourself on a weekly basis or binge-watch a whole series over a weekend.
Keep in mind that most scary series are still limited by the restrictions of television, so don’t expect the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hereditary. But TV can be disturbing in other ways, so sit tight and enjoy hours of dread with these horror-themed TV shows.
1. American Horror Story
With a name like American Horror Story, this is clearly a show made for Halloween. Every season of American Horror Story explores a self-contained story, so you can view each season as a kind of miniseries.
This works great for the horror format because it can be difficult to stretch out horror for dozens of episodes. Some shows manage it well (see Hannibal below) but American Horror Story makes good use of its self-contained design to maximize thrills.
Be warned: This show is INCREDIBLY graphic and gruesome. Flayed skin, lots of blood, piles of corpses, psychological and physical torture, and other forms of disturbing imagery abound in this horrific show.
The characters, direction, and narrative of Hannibal are all top-notch and award-worthy. However, there’s a reason why Hannibal had such a small viewership during its run: it’s often difficult to watch. I viewed most of this series peering through my fingers—and had to take frequent breaks because of how dark it could get.
Not much else needs to be said. Everyone knows Hannibal. This series is basically a re-imagined crime drama that’s loosely based on the source material.
You can stream Hannibal on: Amazon Prime Video
3. The X-Files
The X-Files is a long-running series beloved by fans and critics alike. It was one of the first shows to successfully mix standalone episodes with serial storylines, allowing it to deliver deep character developments while satisfyingly wrapping up each episode as a self-contained story.
Some of the episodes can be a bit hit-or-miss, but it’s still a thoroughly entertaining ride throughout. Especially if you love mystery.
4. The Walking Dead
A Halloween without zombies would not be Halloween at all, and we’d be remiss if we left out one of the best zombie shows
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in the history of television. Season one nabbed five million viewers. By season five, 17 million viewers were tuning in. It’s a must-watch for zombie lovers.
However, do note one thing: even though The Walking Dead is packed with violence and zombie gore, this isn’t a zombie survival story. It’s a drama that happens to take place in a zombie apocalypse. If that sounds fine to you, then you’ll enjoy the show—especially if you speed through the slower parts.
You can stream The Walking Dead on: Netflix
5. Fear the Walking Dead
Fear the Walking Dead is a spin-off from The Walking Dead, and even though it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, it’s definitely noteworthy for its artistic and atmospheric merits. It’s also perfect for getting into the Halloween spirit.
You can stream Fear the Walking Dead on: Hulu
6. Stranger Things
I fell in love with Stranger Things in the first 15 minutes of the first episode. Few shows have managed to do what it does, which is to take a cast of children and adults on an epic adventure.
There is a monster in this show, and it can get quite moody and dark at times. It might even scare you if you watch it alone at night with the lights off. But there’s a touching human story at its core that resonates, plus an abundance of 1980s nostalgia!
You can stream Stranger Things on: Netflix
Carnivale is an underappreciated gem, and one of the many shows that make an HBO Now subscription worthwhile
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. It’s only two short seasons, making it the perfect show to binge-watch for Halloween.
Carnivale is a dark fantasy tale about a traveling carnival, and things aren’t what they seem on the surface. It’s an older show that feels dated at times, but if you can look past it, the story will suck you right in.
8. Penny Dreadful
The name of this stylized horror show refers to the “penny dreadful” stories produced back in 19th century England; printed tales that involved a lot of sensational, supernatural, and pulpy content matter. Penny Dreadful follows suit, but in much more intelligent ways.
It draws on many public domain characters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and more. But the stories therein are unique, engrossing, and macabre. The end result is compelling, to say the least.
As a Showtime series, be warned that you’ll find a lot of mature content in many scenes. Naked cadavers and grotesque imagery are par for the course.
From the original creator of The Walking Dead comes another horror series with much more character development than its more famous counterpart. It’s dark, creepy, but rooted in human relationships and community. All told, it’s a thrilling ride that actually gets better with each episode.
You can stream Outcast on: Cinemax
10. The Exorcist
The Exorcist is a TV series based on the nightmarish film of the same name. And while it isn’t nearly as terrifying as the source material, even the first episode will leave a lasting impression on you. It’s much scarier than primetime television should be, so viewers better beware.
You can stream The Exorcist on: Hulu
11. Wayward Pines
Wayward Pines is based on the eponymous trilogy of books and faithfully adapts the material into a slow-burning mystery that gets more compelling with each twist. (Skip the second season, which involves a messy genre shift and a significant drop in writing quality.)
You can stream Wayward Pines on: Hulu
Not many shows come close to the number of episodes in Supernatural, and we’re talking about hour-long episodes here. True, there are some real stinkers along the way, but Supernatural is impressive because it managed to stay generally consistent and on course for most of its run.
To cut a long story short, this fantasy/horror series focuses on two brothers who investigate paranormal events and end up having all kinds of run-ins with ghosts, vampires, witches, angels, and demons. The massive mythology of Supernatural is its strongest aspect, so if you’re into that kind of storytelling, you’ll love this show.
You can stream Supernatural on: Netflix
13. Bates Motel
Like Hannibal, Bates Motel is a movie-reimagined-for-television that tells the prequel story of Norman Bates, the famous serial killer from Psycho. While the show doesn’t reach the same award-winning heights as Hannibal, the overall experience is a solid one.
Leaning more towards thriller than outright horror, Bates Motel can still produce a ton of suspense and make you feel extremely uncomfortable when it’s firing on all cylinders. Worth a watch? Definitely.
You can stream Bates Motel on: Netflix
14. Hemlock Grove
Hemlock Grove centers on the fictional town of Hemlock Grove, which gets upended when strange happenings—including a string of brutal murders—start to occur. Though it debuted to mixed reviews, Netflix gave it a full three seasons to bring its story to a somewhat satisfying conclusion.
You can stream Hemlock Grove on: Netflix
15. Attack on Titan
Don’t be put off by the fact that Attack on Titan is an anime. This show is very adult, particularly in the themes it tackles. Attack on Titan tells the horrific tale of a city that’s attacked by cataclysmic titans, all bolstered by a beautiful art style and stylish animations.
You’ll wince the first time you watch one of these massive titans grab an innocent human and chomp them in half. Dark and gruesome, yet driven by strong characters, Attack on Titan delivers the trifecta of great horror. Not to mention all of the great plot twists along the way. A fun but depressing ride, for sure.
Which Scary TV Shows Will You Watch?
We don’t recommend binge-watching every single one of these shows. Instead, pick one or two that appeal to you the most and set aside a few nights to take in the full experience.
My personal must-watch recommendations are Hannibal (for adults who want truly dreadful horror) and Stranger Things (for something slightly more family-friendly).
If you want to supplement these shows with something more traditional, check out these classic horror films to watch on Netflix