10 of TV's Scariest Shows

By Louis Peitzman

Oct 27, 2010

Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Carnivale, Dexter, Twin Peaks, Angel, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Supernatural, Tales from the Crypt, Buffy the Vampire Slayer " link="/the-twilight-zone/show/237/summary.html" target="_blank" loc="left">

I don’t know about you, but I rarely jump when watching TV. You should see me in a movie theater: I will cover my face with my hands, plug my ears, and still lose it when the killer pops out from under the bed. On a small screen in the comfort of my home, TV just isn’t as threatening—but that doesn’t mean it never scares me. Here are 10 of the shows I’ve lost sleep over, along with the episodes I’d most like to forget.

The Twilight Zone

Air Dates: 1959-1964
What Made It Scary: The Twilight Zone didn’t need sex or gore to drive its point home—each story was a self-contained mystery guaranteed to leave the viewer in distress. Yeah, there were ghosts and aliens, but at its best, the show commented on human nature. Spoiler alert: we’re pretty awful.
Scariest Episode: “The Hitch-Hiker.” I’ll be honest—this is probably one of the least original Twilight Zones episodes produced, and it’s likely not the scariest to most, but it’s haunted me for a long time. Seeing a stranger in your backseat must be awful. Learning you’ve actually been dead all along is maybe even worse.

Tales From the Crypt

Air Dates: 1989-1996
What Made It Scary: Like many of the other series on this list, Tales of the Crypt blended horror and comedy. Inspired by the ‘50s comics of the same name, this HBO show had the decrepit Crypt Keeper telling darkly ironic tales. But while the comics were mostly good fun, the realistic violence of the show elevated it to another level of terror.
Scariest Episode: “And All Through the House.” Tales from the Crypt got campier as time went on, which is probably why this early episode is the scariest. There’s something really upsetting about a killer Santa. No, Tales from the Crypt wasn’t the first to do it, but in its defense, the story was based on a 40-year-old comic book.

Twin Peaks

Air Dates: 1990-1991
What Made It Scary: In classic David Lynch fashion, Twin Peaks reminded us that there’s always something dark lurking under the surface. The show introduced us to tons of memorable characters, few of whom you’d want to meet in a dark alley. I’m looking at you, Killer BOB.
Scariest Episode: “Lonely Souls.” Laura Palmer’s killer is finally revealed, and it’s a doozy. Not to mention the fact that Laura’s lookalike cousin—same actress, dark hair—also gets offed in tremendously horrific fashion. Oh, and did I mention BOB? Because holy crap. Mirror scares are always effective.

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Air Dates: 1990-1996
What Made It Scary: Look, if you were a child of the ‘80s, you grew up on and were terrified by this Nickelodeon anthology series. Some of the stories were goofier than others, but there was always something really frightening about a group of kids meeting in the woods at midnight. None of their parents ever caught on?
Scariest Episode: “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.” This episode should never have been aired. I’m not a fan of censorship, but children shouldn’t be exposed to clowns—they’re just too scary. And this particular clown, Zeebo, steals the noses of his victims. I saw it when I was six, and I’m still not over it.

The X-Files

Air Dates: 1993-2002
What Made It Scary: Agents Mulder and Scully encountered a whole mess of badness on a weekly basis. While the series skewed sci-fi overall, many of the episodes had horror elements—ghosts, monsters, serial killers. Iconic horror author Stephen King even penned an (admittedly underwhelming) episode.
Scariest Episode: “Home.” Dead babies? Check. Inbred maniacs? Check. Amputation? Check. “Home” disturbs me on so many levels that I still can’t bring myself to rewatch it. And I’m not the only one. Ask most X-Philes which episode scared them the most and they’ll point to “Home.” Or “Squeeze”—Tooms is horrifying.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Air Dates: 1997-2003
What Made It Scary: Vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. Buffy was a solid blend of action, comedy, romance, and horror—most of the time, it wasn’t about scaring the audience, but some of its episodes continue to frighten. And even at its most lighthearted, there was always the sense that death was lurking right around the corner.
Scariest Episode: “Hush.” The Gentlemen are a group of freaky-looking demons who steal everyone’s voice, then cut out their victims’ hearts. They have severely unsettling smiles and a wonderful musical theme that still creeps me out. The worst part is, no matter how much pain they cause, you won’t be able to scream.


Air Dates: 1999-2004
What Made It Scary: See above. As a spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel retained the supernatural elements that spooked viewers of the original series. But it also captured a more adult tone that allowed for even scarier stories. Add to that the fact that the show’s hero can turn evil at the drop of a hat. Or, you know, perfect happiness.
Scariest Episode: “Calvary.” Angelus is a pretty awful villain, in that he’s the Angel we know and love but really, really mean. Add to that The Beast, who could do some serious damage, and his master, revealed at the end to be Cordelia. That’s two familiar faces on the wrong side of the fight. What could be scarier than that?


Air Dates: 2003-2005
What Made It Scary: The epic battle between good and evil is usually pretty tense. Carnivale had lots of other creepy elements, including a corrupt preacher, wicked carnies, and dead things coming back to life. The mythology may not have come together in the end—damn that last cliffhanger—but it’s still good for some quality chills.
Scariest Episode: “Babylon.” It’s tough to pick a scariest episode of Carnivale, which was more about the drawn-out atmospheric horror than episodic scares. Still, “Babylon” has some of the most frightening moments, including the catatonic Appolonia speaking and the brutal death of Dora Mae.


Air Dates: 2005-present
What Makes It Scary: Well, Sam and Dean are demon hunters, which means they’re bound to encounter a whole mess of demons. Like Buffy, Supernatural incorporates plenty of humor and wacky hijinks, too, but at its scariest, the series can be downright scream-worthy.
Scariest Episode: “Bloody Mary.” What did I tell you about mirror scares? They are always awful. And to anyone who grew up playing “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom, it’s truly terrifying to think that something bad might have actually happened. Urban legends are scary enough when they’re just stories—it’s way worse when they’re real.


Air Dates: 2006-present
What Makes It Scary: It’s about a serial killer who kills other serial killers. Did I mention his day job is as a blood spatter analyst? Yeah, Dexter is violent, but the scariest thing about it is how much we can relate to the main character. Sure, he cuts people up, but who hasn’t wanted to dispatch some deserving baddies in his day?
Scariest Episode: “Living the Dream.” The Season 4 opener introduced viewers to the Trinity Killer, played by the wonderfully effective John Lithgow. The opening scene is impossible to forget: a naked Trinity ambushes his victim, slits her femoral artery in the bathtub, then forces her to look in the mirror as she bleeds to death. Gah.

These are Louis' scariest shows, what shows would you put on your list?

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  • Abo_Malek Jul 04, 2013

    I don't know, but i never found any tv show that i thought was scary, just some movies

  • Jaykeson Nov 04, 2010

    This is my kind of TV! I love those shows - I mean REALLY love! This is just about the only kind of television that I ever really bother to watch. Some other spooky shows that I also used to watch include: The Outer Limits, Goosebumps, Tales From The Darkside, Sliders, Seaquest DSV, Amazing Stories.

    Fantastic stuff.

  • jbeauchamp17 Nov 04, 2010

    Great list!! I couldn't really agree more. As soon as I saw the title of the article my mind instantly went to 'Hush' from Buffy and 'Squeeze' from The X-Files. 'Home' was also pretty creepy, but for me, a guy who could squeeze into a tiny hole to gain access to your house, thus rendering locks useless, so he could devour your liver and make a nest out of your bile, is still one of the scariest images I've seen. And that Buffy episode still gives me the creeps - from the girl's rhyme to The Gentleman gliding along the streets, to the one turning up in the window... it still chills my bones!

    I would also have included Goosebumps on this list. While generally pretty tame and good fun, two episodes have always stuck out to me as being extremely creepy - 'Piano Lessons Can Be Murder' - I still can't hear that piece of music without being freaked out - and what I rate one of the scariest things I have actually ever seen, 'Welcome To Dead House'. That episode just drew on everything that really freaked me out when I was a kid, and the episode still resonates with me today.

  • hot_babe101 Nov 03, 2010

    i agree, supernaturals scariest episode was definitely Bloody Mary.
    I stopped watching the show for a while because i was so freightened after that episode

  • griz72 Nov 03, 2010

    I miss Carnivale, what I wouldn't give to see that show back

  • Lady_Lancaster Nov 03, 2010

    That 'Twin Peaks' episode and 'Bloody Mary' from Supernatural actually scared me, especially 'Twin Peaks', but I thought the 'Twin Peaks' episode where Laura was in that weird room speaking with the disembodied voice was even scarier. It's the mirrors!

  • roguele_beau Nov 01, 2010

    OMB! I still remember 'Hush' with perfect clarity! That episode was chilling!

  • memizz Nov 01, 2010

    Angel, Buffy and Supernatural are my favourite shows of all time and always will be. Dexter is awesome as well, but it doesn't top my Fab 3 :)

  • Amber132 Nov 01, 2010

    To me the scariest Angel episode was the one in which there was this guy who can remove parts of his body and mak ethem mvoe and stuff. I can't remember the name but I think it was in season 1. Creepy hands moving over the sidewalk without a body freak me out.

  • dna77054 Nov 01, 2010

    I think American Gothic was the scariest serial. And I would put Tales from the Darkside, at least the first couple of seasons, ahead of any other anthology

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