If you love your horror in television form, Rotten Tomatoes has made your life a little easier by compiling “The Best Horror TV Shows of All Time.” Here are five titles from that list worth checking out, complete with vampires, witches, mysterious murders, and much more.
(Photo by Courtesy of Netflix)
Netflix delivered a thrilling double-whammy this October with the premieres of The Haunting of Hill House and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, both of which serve up stellar moments of serialized horror. While the latter portrays the campy, occult end of the genre’s spectrum, the former paints a haunting portrait of grief with ghosts stalking the lives of one family over years.
Those shows’ biggest scares us thinking about the best episodes of horror in TV history, so we’ve prepared a list of the scariest episodes of television ever. Among these fearsome moments are episodes of The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead, and American Horror Story. But, in addition to those no-brainers, episodes of The X-Files, Stranger Things, Atlanta, and Doctor Who also strike terror into the hearts of viewers.
So enter the crypt, lose yourself in the Zone, take a walk with the dead, then rank these scary episodes from most frightening to least below. And if you don’t see your favorite spooky TV tale on our list, tell us in the comments!
The horror! The horror! The top five series in this category for 2017 share a certain bloodlust, though each in its own peculiar or fantastical way. Game of Thrones, meanwhile, finds itself locked out of the category’s top spots for the first time since RT began awarding TV Golden Tomato prizes in 2013.
The order of the rank below reflects the Adjusted Score as of December 31, 2017. Scores might change over time.
The past year gave us some superb Certified Fresh fare: Big Little Lies, Legion, American Gods, Better Call Saul, GLOW, Narcos, The Deuce, The Crown, Master of None, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and so much more — all of which you could binge, of course. But this isn’t that list. (See all of 2017’s Certified Fresh TV.)
Rotten Tomatoes’ staff chose 13 of our personal favorite series of 2017 that you should get to binging before the 2018 midseason premieres and returns are full swing.
What It Is: A workplace comedy set in a big-box chain store.
Why You Should Watch It: Superstore is the rare comedy where the majority of the characters are working class and the brunt of the humor thankfully doesn’t come from mocking them for being working class. It’s a workplace comedy grounded in reality that deals with real issues, like immigration, divorce, gun laws, and workers’ rights, but isn’t afraid to veer into the surreal. (Why does Amy’s dad paint those creepy portraits of famous people? What happens to all the unclaimed lost and found items?) Superstore is a funny, weird, and thoughtful look at the lives of people behind your shopping experience. Catch up soon, because season 3 begins on January 4.
Commitment: about 7.5 hours
Picked By: Sara Ataiiyan, Review Curator
What It Is: The Star Trek universe returns to small screens, but on an epic, big-screen scale. Discovery tells the story of exemplary First Officer Michael Burnham whose brash choice in one conflict is blamed for kicking off the Federation-Klingon war and ultimately lands her under the leadership of mercurial cowboy Captain Gabriel Lorca.
Why You Should Watch It: The Certified Fresh series is set in a turbulent, but intriguing time of war about a decade before James T. Kirk is to take the helm of the legendary Starship Enterprise in the 1960s original series created by Gene Roddenberry. The new, streaming-only series features a stellar regular cast, including The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and the Harry Potter franchise’s Jason Isaacs as Lorca, as well as The Shape of Water’s Doug Jones, stage and screen actor Anthony Rapp, and newcomer Mary Wiseman. Its guest stars include Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), James Frain (Gotham), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Jayne Brook (Chicago Hope), and Rainn Wilson (The Office). Plus, binging Part 1 (nine episodes) of season 1 now gets you caught up in time for the premiere of Part 2, coming January 7.
Where to Watch: CBS All Access
Commitment: about 7 hours
Picked By: Debbie Day, TV Features Editor
What It Is: In 1969, Sister Catherine Cesnick, a beloved Maryland teacher, was found murdered. The cold case haunted her former students for decades, and this series chronicles their passionate investigation and search for answers.
Why You Should Watch It: I began watching this series thinking that I was watching another murder mystery. Within its expertly crafted episodes, The Keepers focuses on much more than just the initial cold case, involving not only sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic school Cesnick taught at, but also an incredible triumph of the human spirit among her students. The women who were greatly moved by Cesnick, now mostly retirees, never stopped seeking justice for the woman who shaped their lives. Their passion united them with each other and the Cesnick family many years later — and brought them that much closer to getting justice for Sister Cathy and the children affected by abuse. The series manages to be both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and with cliffhangers at the end of every episode that will keep you watching (and crying).
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: About 7.5 hours
Picked By: Grae Drake, Senior Editor
What It Is: A follow-up to the BBC’s groundbreaking 2006 nature documentary series, Planet Earth II similarly utilizes pristine high definition footage to shed light on the lives of wild creatures in exotic locales as they employ remarkable strategies to survive.
Why You Should Watch It: At some point over the past year, you might have come across a short video of a young iguana on the Galapagos Islands scrambling across the sand to escape hundreds of snakes, eluding certain death by mere inches. That remarkable clip came from the first episode of Planet Earth II, and it’s just a small sample of what the series has to offer. Plenty of nature shows are educational — Planet Earth II shines because it’s also beautifully shot in ultra high definition, impeccably edited, and narrated by the peerless David Attenborough. Not only will you see rare species in disparate environments all over the world, but you’ll also see some familiar creatures behaving in ways never before documented on camera. It’s all fascinating stuff, and if you weren’t a nature junkie before, this might be the show to change you.
Commitment: about 6.5 hours
Picked by: Ryan Fujitani, Editor
What It Is: Imagine waking up in a brightly lit office lobby and being told you’ve died and gone to “the good place” — then discovering that there’s been a mistake and you were really supposed to end up in the other place. What would you do? For Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), the answer’s simple: lie through your teeth and rope your helplessly conflicted, mis-assigned soulmate (William Jackson Harper), an ethics professor, into helping you learn to be a better person. It’s a pretty high concept setup for a sitcom, but it’s really just the beginning for The Good Place, which has spiraled off into all sorts of smart, unpredictable, and above all hilarious directions over the course of its one and a half seasons.
Why You Should Watch It: Part goofball comedy about an afterlife filled with frozen yogurt and fraught with bureaucratic mixups, part surprisingly deep examination of ethics and basic human responsibility, The Good Place deftly balances gut-busting lowbrow humor against complex, thought-provoking themes — no surprise given that it comes to us courtesy of producer Michael Schur (30 Rock, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). It also benefits from one of the most talented ensembles on TV; aside from Bell and Harper, you’ve got the dramatic range and crack timing of Ted Danson, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto — plus the show’s increasingly indispensable secret weapon, D’Arcy Carden. The second season picks back up on January 4 — get yourself caught up now.
Commitment: about 11 hours
Picked By: Jeff Giles, Curation Editor
What It Is: A noir-tinged murder mystery. Surrealist art. A magnifying glass held on small-town America. Electricity. 27 years ago, Twin Peaks redefined primetime TV, and continued to build a cult legacy over the ensuing years. As high as anticipation was for The Return, the resulting series was impossible to predict: an enthralling, immersive experience that shattered its own history along with the boundaries of peak TV.
Why You Should Watch It: While the original series took place primarily in the Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks: The Return widens its scope, stretching cross country with new locations and characters, but also upends the show’s trademark tone and style. The initial result is jarring: in early episodes, Lynch rejects the beloved quirky humor of the original series (but brings it back — stick with it!) in favor of a rabbit hole narrative reflective of Inland Empire and Mulholland Dr., a spiral that is infectious in its confounding plot lines and infinite mysteries. While his approach shuns a nostalgic view, tenderness is visible in Lynch’s treatment of familiar faces. Bobby, Norma, Hawk, the Log Lady, Cooper, and perhaps most poignant of all, Laura, have aged before our eyes, a reminder that at its core, Twin Peaks was and continues to be a meditation on the pain inherent with the passage of time and in unresolved grief.
Where to Watch: Showtime Anytime, on demand through your cable provider with a Showtime subscription
Commitment: 18 hours (with recommended prerequisite Fire Walk with Me, roughly 20 hours)
Picked by: Jenny Jediny, Critic Relations Manager
What It Is: An animated series inspired by the classic vampire-hunting video game of the same name.
Why You Should Watch It: It’s the easiest binge on the planet, with only four episodes clocking in at under two hours. The animation is lush, with gothic castles and crypts and caverns to boot. It’s also about an all-powerful vampire on a revenge quest, so there are floods of blood and violence galore. But there is also a vampire hunter and plenty of humor that follows him as he tries to help the townsfolk he encounters stay out of the vampire’s way. This show will have you swinging between LOL and OMG moments through its four rollercoaster-like episodes that go down like blood-red candy.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: Only two bloody hours
Picked by: Beki Lane, Associate TV Editor
What It Is: A true-crime mockumentary that doesn’t shy away from asking the important questions — in particular, who drew dicks on 27 faculty cars in the high school parking lot?
Why You Should Watch It: Don’t let the crass premise fool you, American Vandal is a brilliant send-up of society’s ongoing obsession with entertainment offerings like the Serial podcast and Netflix’s own Making a Murderer. It employs tricks of the investigative journalism trade and applies them to an ensemble high school cast. What begins as an attempt to clear one hopeless student’s name (Dylan Maxwell, who is brilliantly played by Jimmy Tatro) evolves into a complex web of reputations and intentions. By the end of the first episode, I was already swept up in the mystery and emotionally invested in Dylan’s defense. Throw in the show’s hilarious writing scene-to-scene, and you have one of 2017’s most delightful new series.
Commitment: About 4.5 hours
Where to Watch: Netflix
Picked by: J.S. Lewis, Media Coordinator
What It Is: ER doctor Mary Harris (Caroline Dhavernas) partners with a former plastic surgeon (Richard Short) to moonlight as a team of underground euthanizers for terminal patients in need while eluding a detective and potential love interest (Jay Ryan).
Why You Should Watch It: Brave and honest, Mary Kills People is one of the more emotionally intelligent shows currently running. While other amazeballs female star–led dramas like Good Behavior, The Girlfriend Experience, and Claws, too, stand out from the crowd, Mary is noteworthy for its truthful — with some added heightened antics for entertainment value, sure — portrayal of a topic still not easily discussed. These newer female-centric shows tend to outshine much of the male-lead opposition, rather than merely compete. Mary has a unique, evocative tone, with painfully empathetic characterizations in situations each of us hopes we never have to face.
Commitment: About 4.5 hours
Picked By: Kerr Lordygan, Associate TV Editor
What It Is: If Tracey Gordon had a £1,000, she would buy hair like Beyoncé, a lip reduction, red velvet cupcakes, and a dustpan and broom for her shop, probably. She’s 24, living in government housing with her well-meaning, but devoutly religious mother and sister, and she’s a virgin. But she’s going to change all of that with a little help from her friends, whether they mean to lend a hand or not.
Why You Should Watch It: Chewing Gum is on another level. Within the first five minutes you’ll laugh just as often as you squirm in your seat. The show captures the feeling of every awkward conversation you’ve ever replayed in your head a thousand times, only it’s not you, it’s the brilliant and whimsical Michaela Cole. You know, the girl from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, who turns around, eyes big and mouth gaping, to warn her fellow rebels of their impending doom? No? Well, you should. Her turn as Tracey earned her the 2016 BAFTA award for Best Female Comedy Performance, and for good reason. Cole is a singular comedic force. She’s so willing to explore the most uncomfortable of places with such endearingly horrific candor, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her, though you’ll want to to catch the absurd, captivating performances of her very-game ensemble. Especially her religious zealot of a sister, played by the equally but differently brilliant Susie Wokoma. I’m not going to lie, Chewing Gum can be painful. Like, I need to hide under my bed for three years before I can ever talk to you again, painful. But Cole and company take on these cringe-worthy moments with fearless fervor that is more than worth the mere 6-hour binge time. For two seasons! Brilliant, init?
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: 6 hours
Picked By: Hañalina Lucero-Colin, Review Curator
What It Is: The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the Margret Atwood novel of the same name, is a dystopian thriller about what happens when women lose autonomy over their own bodies. Set in the not-so-distant future, in a not-so-far-fetched U.S., we follow Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a handmaid who’s been ripped away from her husband and daughter and placed into the home of a high-ranking commander and his wife to serve as their birthing chattel. This is, more than anything, a story of survival and one woman’s journey to be reunited with her family by any means necessary.
Why You Should Watch It: Aside from this show being beautifully shot and incredibly well acted, The Handmaid’s Tale is a deep drama from which you rarely find a moment to come up for air. It is stressful, thrilling, complex, and heartbreaking. The currency of the show’s politics, Offred’s situation, and how women are treated from the beginning should not be taken lightly. It’s not hard to picture a world where birthrates have fallen and politicians are calling for women to have more children, which makes the show all the more compelling to watch. The series returns for its second season in April.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Commitment: About 10 hours
Picked by: Zoey Moore, Production Coordinator
What It Is: PBS series tells the story of young Victoria, who inherits the British throne after King William IV passes away and must forge her own path.
Why You Should Watch It: I almost chose The Crown or Outlander, because I’m obsessed with period dramas, and one historical drama you may have missed is Victoria starring Jenna Coleman. The acting and cinematography of the show is first rate, and you’ll be surprised what you learn about the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. How an 18-year-old became a monarch, became a mother, and ruled during a time when women were not even able to vote, is fascinating to watch. I am personally drawn to the marital love and struggles between Victoria and her husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes). There’s even a little Upstairs, Downstairs–type story telling (not as compelling as Downton Abbey), enough to give you an assortment of characters to root for. Season 2 debuts on PBS in the United States on January 14.
Where to watch: Amazon
Commitment: nearly 7 hours
Picked By: Eileen Rivera, Sr. Director of Production
What It Is: A town. A community. But it’s not all pom-poms, milkshakes, and maple syrup for the good people of Riverdale. Last season, Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), and Veronica (Camila Mendes) were caught up in the whirlwind surrounding the murder of Jason Blossom. This time out, our heroes’ bonds are severely tested as a serial killer runs amuck in their town.
Why You Should Watch It: Stranger Things might get all the love for its expert pastiche of 1980s sci-fi films (no complaint here), but Riverdale’s scope is far wider: an omnivorous mixing-and-matching of 70 years of teenage popular culture. Sure, it sometimes veers into preposterousness (Archie’s vigilante group, Jughead’s always-hilarious noir prose), but mostly, Riverdale works because it’s aware of its campy trappings and is unafraid to revel in them. It’s also stylistically audacious, with its visual references to Zodiac, Pulp Fiction, and bathed in a neon glow that would do Wong Kar-wai proud. Even at its darkest, however, Riverdale is offering a sense of community — that of shared experience and an idealized past — that feels especially comforting in these divided times. Riverdale season 2 returns on January 17.
Commitment: About 7 hours
Picked by: Tim Ryan, Senior Editor
Rotten Tomatoes looks at 24 unresolved TV cliffhangers, ranging from poisoned presidents to adrift interstellar spaceships. We couldn’t possibly solve these mysteries. Can YOU?
It’s been nearly 25 years and Twin Peaks is still as much of a cult phenomenon today as it was when it first aired in 1990. With the Blu-ray finally available (with special features galore), isn’t it time you stopped by David Lynch’s surreal ’90s treat Twin Peaks?
What’s the premise? FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives in the small town of Twin Peaks on the Washington/Canada border to investigate the murder of beauty queen Laura Palmer. What Cooper finds is a treasure trove of bizarre characters and even more bizarre supernatural phenomena.
What’s it like? Basically, it’s as though David Lynch made a film noir soap opera. Imagine Dallas mixed with The X-Files mixed with Blue Velvet, plus lots of coffee, doughnuts, and cherry pie on top.
How long will it take?The pilot episode is 90 minutes long and the following 29 episodes run about 45 minutes each, giving you approximately 24 surreal hours in the fair city of Twin Peaks, WA. If you are really hardcore and have a lot of damn fine coffee (and hot!), you could probably watch the whole series in one weekend — which you might be tempted to do since the show often ends with a cliffhanger. However, each episode is so dense (and often confusing), you might want to limit yourself to a few episodes a day. Either way, you could definitely enjoy the entire mystery in less than a month.
What do the critics think? Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Twin Peaks “teeters on the very edge of exquisite absurdity. Its genius plays both on the level of subtly ludicrous melodrama and on the level of baffling whodunit.” Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly gave the show an A, saying “Plot is irrelevant; moments are everything. Lynch and Frost have mastered a way to make a weekly series endlessly entertaining.”
Why should I watch this? You could make the case that all the great serial shows we’ve had in the past two decades owe a debt to what Mark Frost and Lynch accomplished on ABC with Twin Peaks — a show way ahead of its time. It takes everything unique to David Lynch’s films and distills it through an episodic lens. Just remember, the owls are not what they seem. You will fall in love with Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) at the same time, and you will never see another character quite like the Log Lady (or any of the other strange and wonderful townsfolk of Twin Peaks). Although, be warned: the show was cancelled during its second season and ends in one of the most unresolved cliffhangers of all time. Get yourself a large helping of cherry pie as you reach the end to help yourself through it.
What’s my next step? Once you’ve finished the entire series, give yourself a little break and then watch David Lynch’s prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. You might hate it at first (it was booed at Cannes and goes to horrific places with characters you’ve grown to love), but you’re sure to like it much more on a second viewing. If you want more television about quirky small towns, try Northern Exposure or Gilmore Girls (the latter of which features several actresses from Twin Peaks in guest roles). If you want to solve another season-long mystery, try True Detective, The Bridge, Broadchurch, or Top of the Lake. Or, for a serial that’s a bit surreal, try NBC’s Hannibal. Film-wise, you might enjoy the 1944 film noir Laura, which inspired many aspects of the show, from Laura Palmer’s name to the characteristics of Special Agent Dale Cooper. Lastly, if you haven’t delved into the world of David Lynch, try watching his feature films in order, starting with Eraserhead, to see the director evolve as an artist.
For more TV news, visit the Rotten Tomatoes TV Zone.
Mega-watt hottie Rosario Dawson ("Sin City") has signed on for a pair of productions over at The Weinstein Company, says Variety. One is the Elmore Leonard ensemble adaptation "Killshot," and the second will be Kevin Smith‘s "Clerks" sequel."
"The Weinsteins are near deals with Johnny Knoxville and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to join Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke and Thomas Jane in "Killshot," the John Madden-directed adaptation of the Elmore Leonard bestseller.
"Killshot" involves a couple who flee to the witness protection program, with a gangster in pursuit. Dawson will play the girlfriend of the gangster’s dangerous sidekick, a role that went to Gordon-Levitt. Knoxville will portray the FBI agent trying to keep the couple alive.
Dawson, who’ll next be seen in the Chris Columbus-directed screen adaptation of the Broadway musical "Rent," starts "Killshot" next month and will bounce from that film to "Passion of the Clerks," the sequel that was written and will be directed by Kevin Smith."