It’s one thing to go to the theaters and watch a really scary horror movie, but it’s quite another to get hooked on a weekly television series. Throughout the history of television, movie makers have been putting together shows that thrill us and make it hard to sleep in a dark room at night. Why do we keep going back for more? Because they are so entertaining that they keep us interested in finding out more! Even re-runs of older shows from the 1950s and 60s are still fun to watch. They show us how the horror genre has evolved through the decades in film and television production. We’ve put together a list of the top 20 scariest television shows of all time for your entertainment.
“Are You Afraid of the Dark?” (1990-2000)
This was one of the most popular kids’ shows in the nineties. It was a part of the Saturday night SNICK lineup of shows on the Nickelodeon network. The show is Canadian and it centered around a group of storytellers who were just on the verge on entering their teen years. Each wold take turns telling the rest of the group the scariest stories they could muster while gathered around a campfire. This gave viewers an even eerier setting to kick off the creepy tales. It may have been a little dark for younger viewers, but that didn’t stop them from watching it. The show was one of the scariest kids’ shows on the network and it set the foundation for these kids to grow into adults who would join the ranks of adults hooked on horror shows.
“The Vampire Diaries” (2009-2017)
“The Vampire Diaries” is a television series that is truly frightening, but along with the horror, chills and thrills, the creators of the show threw in a sexy theme that features attractive and sexy guys and girls taking off their clothes. It’s a teen soap opera that has its share of romance, humor and violence. It’s one of the scariest shows on television that was aimed at the teenage audience. The show packs a fair amount of shock value to go along with everything else that is going on. If you’re a viewer you had to stay on top of each episode or you’d quickly fall behind and get lost because each episode was packed with mysteries that are gradually revealed one tiny piece at a time.
“Tales from the Crypt” (1989-1996)
This popular television series was directed towards people of all ages. It frightened both young and old alike with the famed Crypt keeper who was just humorous enough to make you think that the show might not be too scary. He was creepy enough to make your skin crawl and he made the introductions and closing comments for each segment with witty puns that had a dark humor about them. The show brought some big time celebrities onboard throughout its seven year run. The series was an adaptation of the comic published in the 1950s by EC Comics. We saw Whoopi Goldberg, Demi Moore, Joe Pesci, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a variety of others who helped bring the tales to life. It became a big hit on HBO thanks to Walter Hill, Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver who assisted with the adaptation and production of the series.
“The Outer Limits” (1963-1965)
This old series from the 1960s only made it for two seasons but this didn’t stop it from becoming a sensation. Do you remember the famous phrase “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical?” This is how each episode of the show began. Back in this era, this was as good as it got when it came to prepping the audience for a thrill ride. It was as scary as the film “Psycho” and with good reason because many of the episodes were written by Joseph Stefano who was also responsible for the Hitchcock thriller.
“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” (1974-1975)
There are many of us alive today who remember being a teenager and getting scared out of our wits by the creepy villains that Darren McGavin would encounter in his role as Carl Kolchak. He was a Chicago reporter who regularly faced dark forces and was forced to deal with them. He waded into realms that the police refused to traverse. The show was filled with conspiracies and dark alley encounters. Most of us recall the cross that Kolchak carried with him to ward off the evil supernatural forces that he was certain to come across in his work. This one didn’t last long, in fact, it didn’t even finish out the full season, but it still had a lot of followers who were unhappy when the show was cancelled. it was rumored that McGavin who played the main character did not want to continue.
“Ghost Hunters” (2004-2016)
The Atlantic Paranormal Society, also known as TAPS were the crew of scientists who investigated paranormal activities in selected locations. The team consisted of the leader Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. They introduced the world to a variety of different gadgets and electronic devices that are intended for capturing evidence of paranormal activities. Viewers would join them as they entered some of the most notorious homes and establishments that were known for being haunted. There were plenty of scary moments ranging from objects moving to spirits making contact with the investigation team. They let us know with some language that was at times colorful, when something frightening happened to them.
“The Returned” (2012-Present)
“The Returned” is a television series that features dead people coming back to life. When they arise from their graves they bring a whole new meaning to the word terror as a little piece of hell comes along with them. This French TV series is about dead people who become re-animated and return to the world looking as they did prior to their deaths. it only happens in one small town and when they return, they are anxious to get back to what they were doing before they died. This show was filled with horror and suspense as one of the scariest television series made in the world.
“Dark Shadows” (1966-1971)
Who could forget the jarring series that kept children awake during the 1960s and early 70s? “Dark Shadows” was a truly terrifying soap that featured Barnabas Collins in the lead role as a vampire who was played by actor Jonathan Frid. This gothic tale of werewolves, witchcraft, monsters and vampires was also tempered with some of the most moving love stories ever told. It was such a big hit that the show was recently remade in a film starring Johnny Depp in the role of Barnabas.
“Night Gallery” (1969-1973)
Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” was one of the most frightening series that was aired in the late 60s. The host of the show offered a prelude and commentary for each segment that was shown. This show had a peculiar way of starting off each show with a normal looking scene that was terribly misleading. If you were innocently tuning in, you wouldn’t know it was a horror show until it was too late and you were already in too deep to tune it out. One of the most interesting things about this show is that it is the television series in which the famed film director Steven Spielberg made his debut as director in the pilot of the series. Each vignette was short, to the point and terribly frightening. The genre was horror and the topics ranged from hauntings, guilt, murder, revenge, powers of the mind and even the undead.
“The Kingdom” (1994-1997)
“The Kingdom” was director Lars Von Trier’s lasting impression on the world. It was originally made for Danish television but found its way around the world. The series ran for two years and frightened audiences around the world. The goal of Von Trier was to give people the creeps and he used unusual ways to do it. It centered around a hospital in Copenhagen. The show honed in on the lives, deaths and afterlives of the doctors and the patients affiliated with the hospital. It was so creepy that it didn’t make it for a third season.
“Supernatural” is one of the most popular television horror series to hit the air waves. The two Winchester brothers Sam and Dean are demon hunters who don’t have to look too far to find what they’re looking for. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have a unique chemistry that has caused the show to explode into an astronomical success. This show features some very touching side stories, but there are plenty of angels and demons to keep you scared out of your wits. In addition to thrills and suspense, there is also a lot of humor infused in the series. Each show seems to possess a good balance of terror and humor to make it all the more palatable.
‘The Walking Dead” (2010-Present)
Why has “The Walking Dead” become such a cult classic? It’s a hard hitting horror show about what would happen to mankind in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Frank Darabont decided to give the concept for the television series a run and during his time with the crew, has turned it into a sensation that has fans constructing theories about who is going to die next and how it might happen. If you don’t mind watching zombies chomp down on somebody’s neck or am, then it’s an action packed show. It gives us a glimpse of what could happen if civilization falls and we are left without law and order. If you’re offended by cannibalism than this might not be the right show for you to watch.
“American Horror Story: (2011-Present)
This is another of the more popular television series that falls squarely into the horror genre. Some of the things that go down in the episodes of this show are downright hard to watch at times. They sow everything from demonic nuns to killer clowns and haunted hotels. There is a little bit of everything that could possibly creep you out included in “American Horror Story.” We’ve seen some popular mega stars appear in this series including Emma Roberts, Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Glenn Close and more.
How would it feel to wake up in a strange house and not know how you got there? This is what happens to a woman. The show is a conglomeration of frightening events that take place including the committing of crimes, terrible punishments and the worst of all bad anxieties and fears rolled into the episodes. Watching it for many is like living through the nightmare of your worst fears. This is a British series, but we could not leave it off the list because of the fear factor that it delivers. It is hands down one of the most frightening television series in the world.
“True Detective” (2014-Present)
“True Detective is an HBO offering that is presented in the anthology series format. The popular horror series is watched from viewers around the world. This bizarre series takes the musings of H.P. Lovecraft and melds it with a truly warped mind because that is the only way that the abstract terrors shown in this show could ever be imagined. Imagine Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey appearing in a surreal story line as serial killers that had a pipeline directly into the dark side of the occult. Watching this show is much like experiencing a nightmare that isn’t over nearly soon enough.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer'”(1997-2003)
This horror television series appealed to both guys and girls around high school age. It literally brought the “High school is Hell” statement to life. Buffy Summers had a lot of guts and it took all of her resolve to hunt down the blood sucking vampires and drive stakes in their hearts, but she was determined. When the death of her mother is shown, this took the cake on gross, scary and something that you genuinely wanted to run from.
“The X-Files'”(1993-2002 and Present)
Searching for the truth became the central theme of this Chris Carter creation in the form of a science fiction thriller that went heavy on conspiracy theory. This didn’t stop it from being good and hauling in record breaking viewers. The series made it for a solide nine years before being cancelled. We loved the interactions and chemistry between Mulder and Scully as they helped each other through the ups and downs in both their personal and professional lives. In their line of work, it was hard to keep their credibility high. Not everybody believes in UFOs and aliens who visit the earth and abduct the citizens from their homes.
This series lasted for two full seasons and it is likely because of the large number of fans who like watching “The Silence of the Lambs.” The truth of the matter is that an ongoing series about Dr. Hannibal Lecter is really creepy and frightening. He truly was a monster who gained pleasure from killing victims and then eating their various body parts. It bordered sick and it was definitely one of the scariest television series created. It’s kinda sick how he pulled Detective Will Graham into his web of deceit and placed him in the position o being his mortal enemy as well as a friend who brought him amusement every now and then.
“The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964)
This was another big hit from the late 1950s that lasted into the mid sixties. “The Twilight Zone” brought a variety of different vignettes to the fore and each one was truly bizarre. They were intended to shock and surprise, but were tempered to suit the time in which they were presented. This show scared the pants off of viewers and they just kept coming back every week for another dose of fright. Rod Serling with his cool, calm and collected demeanor presented each story as though it were a fact of life or something that had actualy happened in real life.
“A Haunting” (2005-Present)
“A Haunting” is an ongoing series that features re-enactments of paranormal situations that are alleged to have happened to real people. Throughout the series, we learn about the stories of those who have encountered demons, ghosts, poltergeists and the horrors that they themselves have encountered. The show is much like a documentary that shows the interview of the person who had the paranormal experience and allows them to tell their stories. Afterwards, actors portray the story tellers and bring their recounts to life on the show. We see the recreation of some very bizarre and frightening events. There are plenty of jump scares included in “A Haunting.” Each episode gives a good back story about the victims of paranormal entities and we learn that they are everyday people like you and I.