This post was originally published in 2022 and has been updated to include even more great horror TV shows.
With Halloween less than two weeks away, we are now officially in the midst of spooky season, a.k.a. the perfect time to watch some scary television. But where to begin? Two of our TV critics, Jen Chaney and Roxana Hadadi, have some ideas about what to stream.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
While The Twilight Zone may be the quintessential anthology series, this one technically came first and was often just as unsettling. Introduced by the master of suspense himself — “Good evening,” the filmmaker intoned during the opening of every episode — many of its stories cast some exceptional actors, including Joanne Woodward, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Walter Matthau, Scatman Crothers, and Art Carney. —Jen Chaney
Frustratingly, Archive 81 ends on a mystery and was canceled by Netflix, so the show has an open-ended quality. It could be argued, though, that the uncertainty caused by that finale actually works to the story’s benefit. Archive 81 traffics so much in the barely seen and barely heard that there’s a clear through-line of paranoia, and its final scene feeds back into that vibe. Before then, Archive 81 follows two story lines: one set in the present day, in which a multimedia conservator is asked to restore a series of old videotapes, and a flashback narrative about the subject of those tapes. There’s a mysterious cult, lost time, weird art, an ominous statue, and an exceptional soundscape that amps up the inherent strangeness of peering into a past that was purposefully hidden. The season moves slowly, but altogether Archive 81 makes for a melancholy and macabre investigation of history as a haunting. —Roxana Hadadi
Rachel Weisz gives a remarkable and ferocious performance in the dual roles of Beverly and Elliot Mantle, twin gynecologists engaging in devious medical and sexual games. Elegant, creepy, and impossible to look away from — again, I’m still talking just about Weisz — this gender-swapped take on the David Cronenberg film is a work of prestige perversity that’s both unhinged and sophisticated. FWIW, the Mantle twins would make one hell of a Halloween costume. —J.C.
This spiritual horror series — about a priest, a forensic psychologist, and a tech wiz investigating paranormal incidents for the Vatican — is one of the oddest shows on TV, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s also one of the creepiest. Watch the season-three episode about the trucker who thinks a section of I-95 is haunted and see how you feel next time you drive on the highway at night. —J.C.
The Fall of the House of Usher
Because you know you want to watch Mark Hamill acting like a little freak while Mike Flanagan’s ensemble of recurring players gets killed off by a never-better Carla Gugino. For fans of either Flanagan, Edgar Allan Poe, or Succession, The Fall of the House of Usher — about a painkiller-peddling family of billionaires finally getting its grisly comeuppance — is a delightfully gnarly watch. —R.H.
If Stephen King took acid and binged Lost with no sleep breaks, whatever he wrote afterward might be something like From. Created by John Griffin, From stars the always excellent Harold Perrineau as the sheriff of a mysterious township that seems to attract people and then trap them within it. Who lurks in the forest around the town at night? Why can’t any of the citizens leave? Is this supernatural, paranormal, evil — or some kind of mass delusion? From doesn’t answer every question it asks, but Perrineau is so compelling that he sells whatever increasing absurdity Griffin asks him to. And From has a good sense of what to show about the township and what to hide, so the slow-burn unraveling of its citizens engulfs us too. The series was renewed for a third season, making spooky season a good time to catch up with its first 20 episodes. —R.H.
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Any Guillermo del Toro–affiliated viewing choice would be appropriate for Halloween, of course, but Cabinet of Curiosities is special because of the variety of horror experiences it offers. Each episode is written and directed by a different team and gives a different flavor of scare, so while a couple of installments were inspired by H.P. Lovecraft stories, alien entities, ghosts, carnivorous rats, and consumerism pop up throughout the eight installments too. David Prior’s and Jennifer Kent’s episodes are standouts, but nearly every short story is well acted and immaculately designed (including the episodic prologues that feature del Toro tinkering with a gigantic physical prop of the titular cabinet) and will leave you wanting more. The fact that we haven’t gotten a second season is a travesty. —R.H.
The Haunting of Hill House
Getting a new Mike Flanagan Netflix series has become as much of a Halloween tradition as buying 12-foot-tall decorative skeletons at Home Depot. Go back to where the trend began with the first of the filmmaker’s limited horror series, the creepy, melodramatic 2018 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel starring multiple actors who have become part of Flanagan’s regular ensemble: Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Annabeth Gish, and Samantha Sloyan. —J.C.
Interview With the Vampire
Sure, the AMC adaptation of Anne Rice’s iconic novel leans into the gothic romance between Louis (Jacob Anderson) and Lestat (Sam Reid), centering the captivating pull and intense attraction the two men turned vampires feel for each other in early-20th-century New Orleans. But that doesn’t diminish its moments of unsettling spookiness, which hammer home how different Louis has become as a result of his transformation and the horror he (and we) feel in response to his bursts of extreme violence. Some of this is gory, with spurts of blood, riverbeds full of corpses, and coils of intestines, but what Interview With the Vampire does equally well is force us to sit in the grotesquerie we don’t fully see. A missing person, a wailing baby — the series is masterful in suggesting what could have happened, and those insinuations add a welcome sinister vibe to such an otherwise sensual series. —R.H.
The less you know about Kingdom going into it, the better. Suffice it to say that The Walking Dead has had a lock on zombie TV for a long time (too long!) and this South Korean change of pace offers a completely different type of world-building and consideration of politics in light of a zombie apocalypse. The scariest thing about Kingdom may be its depiction of how a virus adapts, evolves, and spreads, which is an established trope in this genre (28 Weeks Later, anyone?) that takes on new relevance in our pandemic-era times. —R.H.
It’s increasingly clear that we’ll never get a third season of creator Joe Penhall and executive producer David Fincher’s psychological-thriller series, Mindhunter, which is disappointing not just because it indicates Netflix’s interest in making projects that titillate rather than investigate (cough, Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story) but also because this series was so consistently disturbing. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany were wonderful together as opposites-attract FBI agents building the agency’s Behavioral Science Unit and training other law-enforcement officers on its tactics, but the supporting cast here had reliable scene-stealers. Cameron Britton as serial killer Ed Kemper, Happy Anderson as Jerry Brudos, Damon Herriman as Charles Manson — their performances were all measured and constrained while the crimes they were talking about were horrific, and the combination was unerringly creepy. Britton’s face while his Kemper talks about killing his mother, decapitating her, and having sex with her head — it won’t leave you anytime soon. —R.H.
The North Water
Did you watch the first season of The Terror and think, Is there a way I can watch more episodes about a crew of men slowly becoming deranged as they fear for their lives in the frozen Arctic? Then The North Water is for you! Another AMC joint, The North Water is an unlikely triumph from writer and director Andrew Haigh, whose other film and TV work (including Weekend and Looking) is more romantic and comedic than this five-part miniseries about the existential duel between a whaling ship’s surgeon and harpooner. But the darkness of The North Water’s narrative (based on the book of the same name by Ian McGuire) is immersively handled by Haigh, who wrote and directed each episode of this nearly flawless exploration of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men. In addition to being one of the most thematically disturbing series you’ll ever watch, there’s a lot of gross imagery and unsettling sound design, plus a pair of performances from Jack O’Connell and Colin Farrell that are some of the best work either actor has ever done. The ocean simply seems like a terrifying place that maybe we should stop trying to dominate! —R.H.
Let’s get this out of the way: This HBO adaptation of Stephen King’s novel ends in an unnecessary cliffhanger that was clearly engineered to capitalize on the miniseries’ popularity, and the fact that the network eventually canceled The Outsider instead of giving it a second season was a weirdly anticlimactic move. But if you can ignore those nonsensical final seconds, The Outsider is a solid ride with an array of fantastic performances (Cynthia Erivo, Ben Mendelsohn), absolutely disgusting special effects (so much pus!), and a nightmare-worthy central villain who sparks well against the series’ otherwise matter-of-fact tone. Is El Cuco a demon or the Devil himself? Some kind of ancient entity or a modern-day parasite? The Outsider devotes time to both theorizing and body horror, and at ten episodes, it’s a great binge. —R.H.
After a couple (Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell) lose their infant son, they bring a “reborn” doll into their Philadelphia home to help Ambrose’s Dorothy recover from the loss. But is the reborn doll not actually a doll? That’s one of the questions that animates this off-kilter, unsettling series executive-produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who directs several episodes, as does his daughter, filmmaker Ishana Night Shyamalan. —J.C.
This 2018 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel about an alcoholic journalist (Amy Adams) who returns to her small Missouri town to write about the murders of two young girls doesn’t blatantly scream Halloween. But every note struck in this exceptional limited series, directed by the late Jean-Marc Vallée, creates an unsettling atmosphere that stays with you even after the episodes are over. Now that we know this was Vallée’s final project, there’s a bit of poignancy mixed in with that unease. —J.C.
An image from the first season of The Terror has plagued me since I first saw it: a man’s body, splayed out on a table amid the Arctic ice, with pieces carved out — because his shipmates are hungry and he is meat. The AMC series took the idea for its first season from Dan Simmons’s 2007 historical novel about Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the Northwest Passage and follows the sailors as they get stuck in the ice, become sick and begin to starve, and start turning on one another. Meanwhile, a mystical bear demon named Tuunbaq is hunting them, appearing suddenly on the ice and chomping the sailors at will. The captivating mash-up of supernatural horror and human betrayal is deliberately paced, well acted all around, and enjoyably stark narratively and visually. The Terror practically redefined the color white with all its shades of snow, ice, frost, and fur. The Tuunbaq jump scares are good, but what remains unshakable about The Terror is how compellingly and jarringly it captures what men will do to one another to survive. —R.H.
We used to be a proper country, by which I mean the sexy, salacious, goofy, gory, and wonderful True Blood used to be on our televisions. Alan Ball’s series based on Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries series is primarily about the love triangle between Anna Paquin’s Sookie and her two vampire paramours, Stephen Moyer’s Bill and Alexander Skarsgård’s Eric, but the story never stops sprawling to include different kinds of supernatural creatures, various rivalries, jealousies, relationships between characters, and dense backstories for exactly how all these nonhumans have managed to survive for hundreds of years. The series is never always scary, but its creativity when it comes to violence — by vampires and witches and werepanthers and fairies, oh my! — is splendid and its fake-blood budget must have been enormous. The seven seasons are up and down with some hairpin narrative turns and character deaths being more acceptable or successful than others. True Blood is a fun reminder of what peak HBO used to look like, though, back when the network let its creators deviate from dourness. —R.H.
Before they were striving to be heir to the Iron Throne on House of the Dragon, Emma D’Arcy was starring alongside Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in this fun series about a cable-internet repair guy (Frost) who investigates paranormal activity on the side. Sadly, Truth Seekers lasted only one season, but that makes its eight episodes an easily consumable pre-Halloween binge. —J.C.
The Twilight Zone
Every anthology series — but especially the scary and suspenseful ones — owes a significant debt to Rod Serling’s early 1960s original. Spend your pre-Halloween days binging all 156 episodes or curate your own list of the most essential installments. A few suggestions for that playlist: the be-careful-what-you-wish-for parable “Time Enough at Last”; the season-one exploration of paranoia “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”; season three’s “Little Girl Lost,” which inspired The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” segment “Homer3”; the famous season-five entry starring William Shatner, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”; and, from the same season, the very creepy “Living Doll.” —J.C.
Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Return
Some people think the scariest show of all time is the original Twilight Zone. With respect, those people are wrong. The most terrifying imagery ever seen on television can be found in Twin Peaks and its decades-later follow-up, Twin Peaks: The Return. Both of these series contain moments that won’t just frighten you for a second or two — they will burrow into your subconscious and stay there for a good long while. —J.C.