Whether you generally enjoy immersing yourself in bone-chilling experiences or usually steer clear of the horror genre, this time of the year just calls for something eerie. Your favorite spooky holiday is here, and chances are, you’re looking for a horror marathon to celebrate the day to the fullest. Now, binge-watching horror films or even a series of cult classics might not always cut it. There’s something about diving neck-deep into what’s terrorizing a bunch of characters in a show that really makes you a part of their bizarre world. You’ve got nothing to lose. And even if you come to care about the characters in a show and empathize with their plight, horror shows have a way of pinning you down to your couch and pulling you into a frightful narrative. There’s no easy way to point out why we obsess over this genre as much as we do. But I guess there’s something rather relieving about knowing that the bad things on the screen, no matter how impactful or terrifying, aren’t actually happening to you. So, this Halloween, you might want to book a ticket to take a trip down horror lane with no personal stakes attached. To add a little more spooky factor to your Halloween that will surely linger for at least a few more days as November creeps in, here’s a list of 10 shows that you should try out if you haven’t already. Now, remember, the order of the titles in no way suggests a ranking scenario. So, take your time, go through the list, and pick the one that entices you the most.
You might be done with the same old tedious stories surrounding vampires and werewolves, but I’d urge you to keep your mind open, maybe just this once, and not dismiss Hemlock Grove as just another vampire fantasy horror. For starters, Eli Roth, Brian McGreevy, and Lee Shipman’s show goes so much further than just a freaky exhibition of the creatures of the night that their supernatural powers are hardly even relevant to the central theme. Enveloping the fictional town of Hemlock Grove is a gothic darkness that’s less about catering to the aesthetics associated with it and more about creeping up on you when you least expect it. It’s a treat to watch Famke Janssen in all her dark, authoritative glory as she pulls the strings and practically decides the fate of the town and everyone in it. A string of inexplicable murders unites the town’s disturbed vampire prince with a newly arrived boy, Peter. The spookiest of the Skarsgard Clan, Bill Skarsgard, plays the successor of the Godfreys’ cursed dynasty with such organic morbidity that you’d think he was born to play Roman Godfrey. To cut through the rising heat threatening to reduce the town to ashes, Hemlock Grove has characters like Shelley Godfrey, the very embodiment of innocence and love. So get your Halloween candies and a box of tissues ready, because as much as this show will creep you out, it also has enough emotional ammo for a good crying session.
You probably already absolutely love Eva Green, but that love hasn’t reached its full potential unless you’ve watched this gothic masterpiece of a show. Penny Dreadful, at its most vulnerable core, is a love story. Crowded with references handpicked from old lores and unique anecdotes adapted from gothic literature, this Showtime original is chockful of everything dark and mystic that your mind can imagine. You have a handful of vampires here, too. But they’re not your usual kind. And they’re merely the grisly creatures assigned a wicked job by a bigger evil. An evil that has taken Malcolm Murray’s daughter, Mina, hostage. The wildly unpredictable and jarringly poetic turns the investigation takes are what propel the narrative forward for us to meet the likes of Dorian Gray and Count Dracula. At the heart of it all is Vanessa Ives—the devil’s beloved and the person who’s tormented the most—played with fascinating originality by Eva Green. What runs through the veins of each interpersonal relationship Vanessa forges with the mystical characters is an aching sense of loneliness and love. A uniquely serene yet equally disturbing blend of psychological and creature horror, Penny Dreadful definitely deserves a place on the mantle of shows that would leave a mark.
Are we ever really too old for parables? It’s not that there’s a scarcity of shows and films with moral lessons sneakily added into entertaining recipes. But sometimes you just crave something that won’t be too juvenile yet is not as soaked in existential dread as “Black Mirror”. A reasonable middle ground, which also happens to be one of the strangest, most peculiar horror shows I’ve seen, is “Creeped Out”. If you don’t really feel like investing too much of your headspace into following a continuous narrative, “Creeped Out”, being an anthology, might just be the show for you to check out this Halloween. Now, when I say parables, I don’t really mean you’d be handed a pamphlet on the rights and wrongs of moral lessons. The creepy little spectator, namely The Curious, hopping from one story to another, feeding on the misfortune of the characters who make mistakes and pay through their noses, isn’t too keen on hanging around to watch them make better choices. A reckless babysitter, an ungrateful child who traded his parents for puppets, and an online troll are a few among a horde of characters who learn not to mess around with the peace and quiet of their lives. “Creeped Out” is surprisingly tender at times too. If you do decide to sit down with your kids and give them a fairly mild taste of creepy tales chronicling actions and consequences, “Creeped Out” is likely your best bet.
First things first, if you do decide to give some real scares a chance this Halloween and go for Netflix’s Haunted, take every story with a grain of salt. Now you might be wondering why I’d even include Haunted in this list if I don’t actually buy into their claims that these stories are of real people and real supernatural experiences. Created by Propagate, this pseudo-documentary aims to be a group therapy of sorts, or at least, that’s how it’s set up. People tethered to all sorts of supernatural experiences and trauma, ranging from a woman’s ghost to the existence of aliens, make a circle and open up amidst kindred spirits. It’s their unthinkable claims that are then dramatized with the eeriest of storytelling into the episodes that make up the “real-life horror” anthology. While the extreme nature of the stories is bound to make you look around to see if there’s any truth to it all, you’re unlikely to stumble upon anything that’d validate their claims. But that’s not why you watch Haunted. If you’re on the lookout for a show that’d not only extend your terrified fascination through the different stories of each episode but also assure you of a handful of scares that’d stay with you, Haunted might just be the show for you.
American Horror Story
It can’t be just an average TV show that’d run for 12 seasons and grab hold of its cult following for over a decade. And American Horror Story, no matter the badmouthing you’d hear around sophisticated horror town, is not an average show. The practically parallel universe that horror connoisseurs Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk started with the bizarre Murder House is now brattily playing around with pregnancy and satanic horror in Emma Roberts’ Delicate. It’s been a long, mystical journey. How masterfully the Murphy-Falchuk duo pilots contemporary pop culture elements through the narrow passage between the old wives’ tales and the religious horror references is a sight to see. And in case you tilt a little more toward sociopolitical horror tropes or the likes of conspiracy theories turning out to be true, American Horror Story has those in store as well. If that sounds just a tad ridiculous to you, humor is one of the particularly well-used elements in the convoluted and often absolutely unbelievable world of American Horror Story.
Now don’t go squinting your eyes at Yellowjackets just because teen shows have left a bitter taste in your mouth. They can’t all be bad, right? I’d actually go as far as to say that, as far as truly shocking horror TV shows are concerned, the aftereffects of each ghoulish season of Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson’s Yellowjackets will certainly linger on for longer than you can imagine. It does smell a bit like “Lost” initially, considering a plane crashes and lives change for the worse simultaneously. But when this bright and disturbed group of high school soccer players gets caught by the most menacing and enigmatic character of all, the wilderness, you know that you’re watching a show that’ll mess with your head the more you try to figure it out. But that doesn’t mean you’d stop, though. After all, if a cult is, in fact, a cult, and whether an odd case of suicide is a supernatural sacrifice, are the maze-like questions you volunteer to be consumed by when you opt for this glorious, unruly show that follows rules almost as often as it breaks them?
Our freakish love for the genre had to originate somewhere. And who can deny the nostalgic pull that’d remind you of the time when you were just starting to recognize what the genre has to offer? Now, Bates Motel might be inspired by the Hitchcock classic that introduced us laymen to the concept of necrophilia and the wicked basics of the Oedipus complex, but the Vera Farmiga-starrer show takes it a step further. What we’re essentially watching is Norman Bates’ messed-up backstory. A prequel to Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, Bates Motel takes us through the outlandish journey of a young Norman Bates’ rapidly exacerbating mental illnesses. As you’d expect, we get a more in-depth look at his bizarre dynamics with his mother, Norma. The alarming look in her eyes that makes the genre fit Vera Farmiga like a glove works tremendously as she plays Norma Bates, a grieving widow and a disturbed mother to Norman, who, despite her best efforts, only fuels his psychotic drive that’s headed toward a foreseeable state of absolute chaos.
Alright, fine. You got me here. Yes, I have sneakily added one of my absolute favorites to this list. But that’s only because, even with my personal, undying love for this show aside, Grimm happens to be one of the best creature horrors out there. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t usually too keen on trying this particular subgenre. You may be wary of investing in a six-season show without knowing if you’d like it or not. But that’s a wager that’s hard to avoid every time you decide to give a long-running show a shot. What makes Grimm the show you’d say a tearful goodbye to and never really move on from are its characters. Amidst the humdrum of people secretly harboring ancient, animalistic creatures within, Nick, Monroe, Rosalee, and Adalind’s complex and sincere interpersonal relationships shine through as the heart and soul of this fantasy cop drama. A striking war between the good, the bad, and the gray, Grimm is sure to become one of those shows that you find yourself going back to whenever you need the embrace of something familiar and weird at the same time.
Chances are, the wild success surrounding The Haunting of Hill House has gotten you hooked on the Mike Flanagan universe of horror. The horror maestro has made such a name for himself with the likes of Oculus, Absentia, and Gerald’s Game that even if he takes a decade-long break from making something new, you’d still remember him as the director who’s nourished the genre like no other. But even with his all-around expertise in creating absolutely traumatizing tales of horror, there’s something about the way Flanagan gives his own darkly emotional spin to already-existing stories that makes it the thing he’s best at. But interestingly enough, unlike Hill House and the recent The Fall of the House of Usher, Midnight Mass is not an adaptation. It was a fictional book written by the protagonist in Hush. This wildly ludicrous vampiric haunting is obsessed with characters who have behemoth personal demons squeezed into a little box that they hide in their wounded hearts. This experience, should you dare allow it access to the darkest corner of your mind, will be one to remember.
So, I haven’t exactly ranked the shows in this list, but that doesn’t mean I can’t save the best for last, right? And that’s exactly what this CBS original, created breathtakingly by Robert and Michelle King, really is—the very best at being what it is. If I had told you that there’s a show that’d keep you up at night and somehow trigger fears you didn’t even know you had, you’d probably be eager to believe me out of hope and dismissive out of your justified cynicism. And if I had told you that even in the latest season, we don’t know whether there’s an actual supernatural element at play in this very show, you’d probably believe me even less. But that’s what Evil is. It sneaks up on you emotionally with this atheist and skeptic forensic psychologist and her family, and the hard-not-to-fall-head-over-heels kind of strange Catholic priest’s complex tug of war with faith. And while that gets going, Evil breaks into the treasure trove of the macabre to make you keep your lights on. Giving Evil a shot would be to treat the horror fan in you to the feast it’s been awaiting.