10 of TV's Scariest Shows

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.

Angel

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?

Carnivale

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.

Supernatural

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.

Dexter

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?

Comments (73)
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I don't know, but i never found any tv show that i thought was scary, just some movies
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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.
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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.
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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
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I miss Carnivale, what I wouldn't give to see that show back
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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!
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OMB! I still remember 'Hush' with perfect clarity! That episode was chilling!
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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 :)
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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.
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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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The scariest episode of Angel was the one where Spike got his hands cut off by that girl! (slayer??)
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I'd just like to point out to the dude who mentioned Goosebumps.
That show shouldn't be on this list whatsoever. It was the poor-mans 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?' with stories that rarely made sense, concepts that were just poorly done (two in particular I remember was that 2 part episode with the werewolf in camp... that ended up only being an animatronic head; and then the episode about worms in the bed.) and so on.
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OMG It's like you were reading my mind! Hush is the the most terrifying Buffy episode ever! The not being able to scream and their smiles and the floatting in the air. Creepy!
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I so agree that "Hush" is the most scary episode of Buffe EVER... I mean those guys got to be the most frightening demons in all times + plus all the silence, nobody can say anyting for like 30 minutes of the episode
Goose Bumps!
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There are only the popular, there are some other shows.
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Supernatural had some very creepy episodes. What comes to mind is Family Remains. It scared me so much!
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This was actually a pretty good article. Maybe the author found "The Hitchhiker" episode of The Twilight Zone unoriginal because it was an adaptation of an old radio play. My list would include Twilight Zone ("Living Doll," "The Grave," and "The Jungle"), The X-Files (the episode with the cats), Ghost Story ("Requiem for a Vampire"), Night Gallery ("Last Rites for a Druid" with Bill Bixby and Donna Douglas), Friday, the 13th: The Series (because it was so surprisingly graphic, especially during season 1; the episode where people's loas were being taken), and occasionally Doctor Who ("The Impossible Planet").
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I agree that "Home" is definitely one of the most messed up X-Files episodes, but I'm not sure it's the scariest. The one that scared me the most when I saw it for the first time was "Via Negativa" from season 8. It's about a cult leader who can kill people in their dreams and then they wake up and die for real. It's very creepy and perfect for Halloween!
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I agree about the "Blink" episode of Doctor Who someone else mentioned in these comments - it was amazing! I also remember Night Gallery, and don't know how you can mention Twilight Zone without mentioning Night Gallery. The Night Gallery that still haunts me is "The Earwig". From the first episode, Supernatural has had some good "shock" frights. I was too old for Are You Afraid of the Dark to be scary, but my kids loved it. I was a huge Buffy fan, and Hush was definitely a classic. I was trying to think of "Scary" the other day, and the "Home" episode of X-Files popped to mind unbidden, the inappropriate juxtaposition of the old happy Mr. Sandman music while the Gorks were out on their joyride was apparently very memorable.
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Interesting article. I grew up with Tales From the Crypt, Are You Afraid Of The Dark, both good series. Buffy and Angel are two of my all time favorites, and you actually picked good episodes for this article, X Files had its moments, Supernatural like Buffy and Angel make it seem so real, Dexter is a good choice but I disagree with episode choice. I thought when the Ice Truck Killer reveals himself to Deb was the scariest episode. I agree about relating to Dexter is also some what disturbing!
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Definitely agree on X-files and Dexter. However, you should have added Criminal Minds on this list. Very disturbing serial killers on that show.
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The X-files "Home" was both scary and disgusting. And you missed Millennium on this list. Sometimes it was scariest than the X-files.
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As a fan of both Buffy & Angel...I would've put True Blood & Fringe on this list quicker than anything from the Whedonverse. Although 'Hush' was a pretty frightening episode of BTVS
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Doctor Who just for "Blink". That episode was nuts.
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Excellent choices. Logo just did a Buffy mini-marathon of the Halloween episodes - reminded me why I loved to watch them with my youngest who was right in the age group that the Scooby Game was supposed to have been. As for Twilight Zone and X-Files - never missed them.
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lol. It's funny how you'r forcing buffy and angel on this list. Trying to hit all kind of audiences: check.
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To blossom77: you didn't get it at all on this article. To Louis Peitzman: how could you leave Millennium out of this Top 10? I'll take it that you never watched the show... and also Criminal Minds should be on the list, sometimes it's pretty disturbing.
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Carnivale had more than a corrupt priest. He was evil incarnate. Literally! That show was weird and creepy as hell.
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How about a very old soap opera, Dark Shadows? With vampires, werewolves, witches, etc. from 1966 to 1971
and Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin from 1975.
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Seriously how are any of these shows scary? Buffy and Angel were camper than camp and had me laughing more often than they should, Twin Peaks had a freaky theme sure but was still only a who done it and by the end I really couldnt give a crap. Dexter is boring, Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt just variations on the same theme. I missed Carnivale when it was first on (and still gutted about that). The ONLY shows on this list that has come close to your description is Supernatural and the X-Files but mostly their 'scary' factor comes from the episodes that mess with your mind like Home on X-Files and The Benders.
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Nice choices! Carnivale, Twin Peaks and X-Files (in that order) would be my Top 3. And Millennium (eh... Top 4, then) Where IS Millennium, btw?? I would actually put it above X-Files...
Also - glad to see that True Blood DIDN'T made the list (I like the show, but it's hardly scary).
Additionally, while series like Oz, Rome, and Deadwood might not be scary in the Halloween sense of the word, they have provided us with some of the small screen's most disturbed and horrific scenes ever. (the execution of Flora and Miles on Deadwood, the crucifixion of that pedophile on Oz, and Atia's torture of Servilia on Rome, comes to mind at the moment, although there might very well be even better examples) I would definitely pick either of those above Dexter (not saying I don't love that series too, of course :) )
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There are definintely some scary X-Files -- "Home" was terrifying and creepy; any episode that starts with Mulder dragging Scully on "a nice little trip to the forest" usually freak me right out; that one with the metalic bugs and Doctor Bambi left me shuddering and still does -- I didn't actually get into the series until the final seasons, finding it too scary when I was younger, but have found myself rewatching the DVD's lately. I had nightmares all through the '90's because of the tail end of the series and the reruns of Are You Afraid Of The Dark. I don't find Dexter scary, mostly because I'm too busy picking apart the premise of the show -- a true psychopath or sociopath is inherently incapable of feeling anything for anyone else, so would never want to help anyone the way Dexter helps catch other killers. Buffy and Angel never felt all that scary to me -- though that one (supposedly campy) episode in Angel's last season where Angel became a puppet was kind of traumatizing. Twilight Zone and Outer Limits were both creepy and twisted and sometimes scary, but I rarely watch the reruns or revamps. Twin Peaks gave me nightmares, but I was in Kindergarten when I watched it with my dad who liked to introduce my sister and me to a variety of genres from birth, basically.
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I usually avoid scary shows. I'd rather laugh. But, I remember when I was a kid the 2 shows besides The Twilight Zone that I found scary were Night Gallery and Night Stalker,
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Heck yeah for Buffy and Angel being on this list., Hush was a given. I kinda knew SPN would, especially Bloody Mary, that ep kinda freaked me.
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Criminal Minds is pretty scary sometimes, seeing that it deals primarily on serial killers.
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I watch 7 of those 10 shows. Interesting.
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Millennium is the scariest show of all time in my opinion.
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Another Vote for Millennium. Very dark, IMO the scariest show that was ever on TV.
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I must be a million years older than everyone here but Rod Serling's 'Night Gallery' made me lose a lot of sleep. It was on 40 yrs ago but it was really good stuff. Watch it if you get the chance. Supernatural has made me jump more than once too! And I agree - Masters of Horror, The Twilight Zone & X-Files! Booooooooooooo! Happy Halloween ya'all!
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That episode on "Buffy" (Forever) where Dawn and Buffy are arguing while their dead mom's corpse is walking outside the window was pretty scary. Their mom knocked on the door, and Dawn ripped up their mom's picture before Buffy opened the door.
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Where the heck is The Night Stalker? That was an extremely well-made show.
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yay Twin Peaks!
And in terms of Dexter, the Season 4 episode at Thanksgiving is also pretty scary, in a different way. It reveals the true family dynamic for Trinity and how fracked up it is. He's shown completely dominating and subjugating these people, more terrifying than one murder in a bathtub.
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Hush scared the crap out of me... and it still does... I watched it with a friend who usually laughs at scary stuff, and she was terrified
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Are you afraid of the dark was so classic couldn't agree more about the clown episode. Great points on Dexter too.
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What about American Gothic or Millenium. These were terrifying shows, far scarier than Angel or Buffy.
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I think the scarriest show I can remember is Sliders- there was one episode that still gives me nightmares to this day.
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@Shikady- I'm in complete agreement. Doctor Who can be pretty scary... The Stone Angel episodes freak me out, and so did "The Family of Blood".
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Zeebo and Tooms still haunt my dreams to this day! The Bloody Mary episode of Supernatural was super scary too!
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Fringe? yes, I know, I'm a wimp
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wheres masters of horror?
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