Whether we’re talking about classics like The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and Twin Peaks, or more modern entries like Hannibal or Stranger Things, the truth is scary TV shows offer a distinctly different appeal than scary movies do. A horror movie has around two hours to set up a sufficiently scary plot with high enough stakes to get your blood racing, plus introduce you to your cast of characters, and then orchestrate the horrible things that will happen to them. Scary movies also have the added benefit of a cold, dark movie theater with a top-notch sound system, both of which are indispensable for a horror experience. Even if you’re watching a horror movie at home, it’s more likely to be a lights-off, everyone-be-quiet affair than if you were watching, say, 30 Rock. To top it all off, if you can fund it, you can pretty much make a movie about anything.
Scary TV shows, though, adhere to different guidelines. Nearly anything that’s on television will have to be at least be signed off by the network. Unless it’s on a commercial-free network like HBO or Showtime, or a streaming service like Netflix, a showrunner will have to account for regular commercial breaks. Plus, the nature of the medium means you have to create shorter episodes, but balance them with longer story arcs. However, as recent horror success A Quiet Place shows, the more limiting a horror story is, the scarier it can be.
For years, showrunners interested in horror have adapted the TV format to their advantage. For instance: a TV show has more time to set up scary plotlines, without having to rely on cliché (yet effective) jumpscares. They can lettension build up longer, which will only translate to bigger payoffs. Additionally, while many scary movie franchises get more and more bland as sequels and spin-offs abound, scary TV shows know from the start that they will need to work with a premise that can last at least an entire season.
So of all of the scary TV shows out there, which ones are most worth your time? Below is a list of some of the scariest TV shows of all time. Proceed with caution.