Run out of scary movies only a couple of weeks into October? Never fear: That's why God created television–then streaming services–on which to binge hours upon hours of creepy content.
From the kickass demon-slaying in Ash Vs the Evil Dead to the mind-bending German import Dark, here are our 15 picks for the scariest shows to stream before Halloween.
The Purge (Amazon)
For those not in the know, The Purge is a dystopian slasher franchise based on the premise that, for one night a year, all crime is legalized. Despite that, everyone in the Purge uses their 12 hours in one of two ways:
1) Roving gangs of millennial murder crews sporting unwieldy and impractical weaponry and wearing creepy opaque masks (which...why? Isn't the whole point that you can do whatever you want with no repercussions?)
2) By hunkering down and hiding from the first group. Which seems like a lack of imagination on our citizenry part: there are SO MANY OTHER CRIMES besides hand-to-hand combat murders. I can't tell if it's lazy writing or a depressingly accurate reflection of our current social climate. How much mileage can you get out of that one idea? Tons, apparently.
When Blumhouse Entertainment and USA announced they were adapting The Purge for TV, the best theory floated for awhile was that the show was actually going to be about the other 364 days a year that weren't Purge night, which might have actually been fascinating/hilarious, in a cringe-comedy sort of way.
Instead, the show takes a look at just a single Purge night in one small town, with each episode told from a different character's vantage point. Considering how hard this show could have been phoned in, it's actually a pretty clever twist on the concept, though there's really only so far you can editorialize the "scary people in dolls masks setting a car on fire" premise. I'd be more interested in an episode about the guy out there during the Purge just committing 12 hours hours of tax fraud.
Into the Dark: The Body (Hulu)
Horror impresario Jason Blum isn't just content to rule over his dominion of highly successful, low-budget horror franchises and their subsequent Universal Horror Nights tie-ins. His ambitions are far bigger: not only does Blumhouse Productions have a TV production arm that's won two Emmys (for The Normal Heart, of all things, as well as Sharp Objects), but a book division as well.
He'll be producing Jordan Peele's reboot of The Twilight Zone on CBS, but Blumhouse is trying its own hand at the anthology phenomena called Into the Dark, on Hulu.
The 12 "episodes" are actually stand-alone, full-length films, with one released each month on the streaming service and tied to a specific holiday... the upshot being the bang for the viewers buck. Under the Into the Dark umbrella, Blumhouse will beam a new horror movie directly into viewers' homes, all from different creators; a year's worth of content for the price of a Hulu subscription. Hell, maybe Blumhouse should just open its OWN streaming subscription service at this rate. They obviously know the model.
So far, reviews for the first installment, released October 5 and titled "The Body," have been relatively mixed. It's more darkly comic than scary, telling the tale of a hitman tasked with dragging a corpse across town on the most annoying night of the year for the dead...Halloween. Honestly? Even if it sucks, we can't wait to see what they come up with for Thanksgiving.
Dead Set (Netflix)
Long before Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker was fascinated by technology, celebrities and the way our cultural obsession with both aspects of the modern condition had the tendency to turn even the best of us into drooling, brainless, zombies. You can see it in his 2008 E4 show, Dead Set, which focuses on the cast of Britain's Big Brother as they are forced to come to terms with the fact that everyone on the outside world has, well, become a flesh-eating monster.
It's not played for laughs–Dead Set is a surprisingly morbid story for the usually cheeky Brooker– but the whole premise is so outlandish and perfectly ironic (the wannabe D-listers realizing that, oh my god, there's nobody left to watch them on TV!) that you'll be forgiven a few dark chuckles. For those among us who watch reality television for schadenfreude alone, Dead Set is a binge-worthy no-brainer.
Wolf Creek (Shudder)
There are many reasons Wolf Creek, an anthology show based on the Australian torture porn film series of the same name, shouldn't work. Not the least because, hey, it's 2018, we're all on edge right now, and watching some big, scary dude with an accent like Crocodile Dundee stalk and gut young women lost in the outback has lost some of its novelty.
But in its first season, Wolf Creek worked by turning it into a cat-and-mouse revenge thriller between antagonist Mick Taylor (John Jarratt, who reprising his role from the series) and Eve (Lucy Fry), a young American girl whose family is murdered by the crazed survivalist. Watching the "final girl" transform into a cold-blooded badass is a sheer pleasure to watch, and the extended nature of the form allows for some actual character development, something sorely missing from the films themselves.
Ash vs The Evil Dead (Netflix/Starz)
It took 34 years for Sam Raimi to finally give in to the fandom and give us another story about one-handed demon slayer/retail service employee Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), but damn it was worth the wait. Raimi's signature Demon POV shots are in full effect in the show, and Starz clearly had no problem greenlighting a higher budget than any of the original films.
It's the rare adaptation that can live up to the original, but Ash Vs The Evil Dead managed to do so; it's clear that Raimi and Campbell never truly put the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis in their rearview. Of course, Ash is as lewd and crude as ever, but he's also a washed-up, overweight loser sales clerk past his prime, so when he accidentally summons the return of the Deadites during a drunken, one-night stand, it doesn't take too much squinting to see this show as an allegory for kicking your mid-life crisis' ass.
Howard Overman is the king of shows about disgruntled British youth with extrasensory abilities, having created both Misfits–about juvenile delinquents who, after being hit by lightning during mandatory community service, gain some spectacularly impractical super powers–and the horror comedy Crazyhead,.
Like Ash Vs the Evil Dead, Crazyhead is as much about the terrors of being trapped in a dead-end life as it is about the risk of being dismembered by the undead, as depressed bowling alley employee Ally (Cara Theobold) is reluctantly conscripted by an overeager classmate Raquel to hunt demons after it's discovered she has the ability to spot ghouls hiding in plain sight and sharing a pint among the normies.
A triumph of underachievement in the field of superheroism, Crazyhead is the perfect binge for us neurotic nerds who, even when daydreaming about Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, worried about being inevitably waitlisted.
Black Mirror (Netflix)
The Twilight Zone for techno-paranoia, Black Mirror made a splash when it debut on the BBC with its first episode, "National Anthem," a present day nightmare in which the British Prime Minister is forced to commit an act of barnyard indecency and air it to the entire world to save the life of the Royal Princess.
In retrospect, it was a brilliant gut-punch of a premiere, as it wasn't about the gadgets, implants, and other dystopian tech that has dominated the rest of the series. "National Anthem" was Charlie Brooker's commentary on our culture's inability to resist viral content, no matter how traumatizing or damaging that might be.
Of course, that isn't to say that Black Mirror has been all downhill since its premiere. Another standout is "Fifteen Million Merits," starring Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, about a future in which people spend all day on exercise bikes in order to earn credits for things like porn, gear for their avatars, and buying audition slots on the future version of The X-Factor. (Honestly, there was a lot going on in that episode).
Or "Black Christmas," which was the last episode of the show that aired on the BBC before the series moved to Netflix, and starred Jon Hamm as a pick-up artist whose day job involved uploading a digital copy of client's consciousness into their smart home devices.
Black Mirror isn't all bleak: there was fan favorite "San Junipero," which actually came close to showing a utopian vision of the future for the elderly, and "Five Stars," written by Rashida Jones and starring Bryce Dallas Howard as a woman living in an Instagram-filtered society where success and happiness is determined by the amount of "likes" you receive.
Last season's breakout hit was "USS Callister," which won the Emmy for Best Writing for a Miniseries, and managed to be simultaneously an amazing Star Trek homage and a scathing indictment of the rampant white knight/nice guy misogyny mentality promoted in the space saga.
American Horror Story (Netflix, Hulu)
Yeah, yeah, I know; Ryan Murphy's millennial-geared horror anthology is either hit (the inaugural "Murder House" season, "Coven," "Hotel") and miss ("Freak Show," "Roanoke," "Cult") with very few up for the debate. (This recent season, "Apocalypse," may just turn around yet, and while I personally hated American Horror Story's second season, Asylum, many fans put it in the #1 slot)
But come on. "Asylum's" Big Bad was a serial killer named BLOODY FACE, for cripes' sake. Not to mention the fact that the show deliberately set up a awesomely theological and metaphysical showdown by having aliens land in the exact Boston looney bin at the exact moment SATAN decided to show up and start possessing nuns. I'd buy a front-seat ticket to THAT introduction.
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk decided what would be even scarier is if those beings never met or acknowledged each other's existence; a real long, wet farting waste of a set-up, passed over to keep the focus on a guy named Bloody Face and and some Nazi torture experiments.
Yet, despite its flaws, I'm begrudgingly obsessed with the hot, campy mess that is American Horror Story. It's not always good... hell, it's not that scary anymore; half the time you get the distinct sense the writers are writing scripts one week out from their airdate. Not to mention Murphy and Falchuk have an almost insulting disregard of basic tenets of storytelling like narrative consistency, logic or substantive character development.
On the other hand, boy, is that show fun to look at! And by keeping on a stable of amazing talent in different roles from season to season, American Horror Story works precisely because it knows it doesn't really have to make that much sense, or even be that good. At this point, the show could consist of an extended Scrabble tournament between Sarah Paulson, Billy Eichner, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Lady Gaga and Evan Peters and as long as they wore disturbing prosthetics and had the occasional orgy during halftime, no one would be the wiser.
And yes, that's pretty much exactly what makes American Horror Story so fucking awesome.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Eggos. Winona Ryder. Ghostbusters. Eleven. Christmas Lights. Demogorgons. Barb. The Upside-Down. Nosebleeds? David Harbour's dad bod. Matthew Modine, and later, that guy from Mad About You. Rudy! Back to the Future. The unfortunate effects of New Wave on youth style. JUSTICE FOR BARRRRRRB! E.T.! David Harbour's dad bod. The Goonies!
No, I'm not just listing all the items from my Comic Con bingo card. I'm talking about Stranger Things, the hit Netflix show that's one-part sci-fi horror, two-part preteen adventure saga, and eleven parts nostalgia-pandering to a version of the 80s that never really existed outside of Steven Spielberg movies.
Many have compared Baran Bo Odar and Jantje Friese's German series, Dark, to Stranger Things, which is an easy mistake to make: both shows are highly stylized, science-fiction thrillers created for Netflix. Both shows revolve around a group of young outcasts who stumble upon a secret in the woods that abducts one of their own. They both feature shady government organizations conducting secret experiments in the woods while covering up a rash of missing and dead children, and both series pan out focus to include not just the children, but the parents and other adults in the town as central characters.
That may seem like a lot, but this is where Dark and Stranger Things break from each other. The German show really deserves a spotlight all its own, with a visually distinct style that is more Cary Fukunaga than Duffer Brothers, and a much more cerebral style of storytelling. Not to mention that, *slight spoiler* you find out relatively quickly in Dark that the cave in the woods leads not to an alternate dimensions but to the same exact same location in a different point in time.
I definitely needed to keep a few lists on hand while watching the show so as not to get too confused about how all the characters were related to one another, and it paid off. Like Donnie Darko, Primer, Time Crimes and other cerebral movies exploring time travel, Dark rewards multiple viewings. It also condenses a lot of expositional world-building alongside the central mystery, which means you'll want to hang on to those notes: the second season of this began filming earlier this year.
Lore is a very different type of entry on this list, for several reasons. For one, it's actually grounded in reality...well, the sort of reality that people have been telling themselves exist since the dawn of time.
Secondly, its source material comes to us from the land of podcasts, where in 2015, author Aaron Mahnke launched his popular scripted series Lore, about the various types of dark, supernatural stories humans have told each other to explain the inexplicable. The success of the podcast helped Mahnke turn the title into a brand, with an Amazon deal (season 2 is currently in production!), a book series and an extended podcast network.
Like a number of entries on here, Lore is an anthology show, albeit episodic instead of seasonal; one episode might be a deep-dive into the life and work of Dr. Walter Freeman, the inventor of the ice-pick lobotomy, while the next explores the fairy and changeling hysteria in 19th century Ireland.
Lore is a nice palate cleanser after a horror binge, more morbidly fascinating than downright scary. Plus, each episode has a distinct visual style and uses just the right amount of celebrity cameos for the reenactment portions without it becoming a distraction. Fun for the whole family... and hey, maybe you'll actually learn something along the way?
Twin Peaks (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix)
David Lynch and Mark Frost's seminal ABC drama wasn't just ahead of its time; it inspired much of what we now consider "Peak TV" (pun intended) in its utter disregard for conventions of the form. Or conventions of...anything, really.
FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) travels to the titular town in the Pacific Northwest to investigate the strange murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer, whose body washed up shore "wrapped in plastic." That's the pilot synopsis, and telling you anything else if you haven't seen the show–revived last year on Showtime, wild at heart and weirder on top than ever– would be like trying to describe a very weird dream that happened to contain a bunch of spoilers.
An apt enough metaphor, considering Twin Peaks' most iconic moments took place in Cooper's dreams, where he met with a Palmer doppelganger and a small, backwards-talking man who gave cryptic clues about the murderer and showed off some dope dance moves.
The tone of Twin Peaks was darkly comic and was generally more off-putting than downright scary. But make no mistake, there's some real nightmare fuel to be found throughout the series, and if you need any more justification for Twin Peaks making this list, consider the Oxford Dictionary's recent edition of "Lynchian" to its lexicon:
"Lynch is noted for juxtaposing surreal or sinister elements with mundane, everyday environments, and for using compelling visual images to emphasize a dreamlike quality of mystery or menace."
At first glance, the pitch for Glitch doesn't read as particularly original: in the small Australian town of Yoorana, Victoria, a local cop James Hayes ( James Hayes) responds to a disturbance at the local cemetery to discover seven deceased residents have clawed their way out of their graves, dazed but in seemingly perfect health. The members include Yoorana's original town founder, a closeted World War I soldier, a murdered high school girl...and James' recently deceased wife. Though they died years–and sometimes centuries– apart, The Risen must work together as they piece together the mystery behind their deaths as well as their resurrections.
To complicate matters, any attempt by the undead to leave Yoorana results in fatal hemorrhaging, and, is obviously the case in shows like this, not everyone is who they say they were.
Yes, Glitch is very much like Lost and The Returned as well as several, lesser-known shows about people who come back from the dead un-zombified. But what it lacks in premise originality, the show makes up for in its refreshingly intimate approach, as the geographical limitations of the miracle means that all of the Risen are stuck in the same backwater burb most spent their whole lives trying to escape.
Channel Zero (Shudder)
Maybe the scariest thing about SyFy's anthology series is how few people know about it. Each season is loosely based on a Creepypasta–an Internet catch-all term for short, spooky stories copied and pasted around the web–and unlike some other anthology shows we could mention *cough* American Horror Story *cough* True Detective *cough*.
Each new season looks and feels completely rebooted in both its visuals and tone, without suffering from burnout or hackey meta-jokes about the nature of its subject material. Which, in itself is a twist worthy of a M. Night Shyamalan movie, considering how repetitive most Creepypastas are after you've read a few in a row. So far, Channel Zero has tackled demon children ("Pirate's Cove"), existentially haunted houses ("No End House"), cannibalism and class warfare ("Butcher's Block"), with its next installment, "The Dream Door," promising some ghoulish nightmares in the form of imaginary childhood friends. Bonus: Going into season 4, we've not heard so much as a whisper about Slenderman.
The Twilight Zone (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, CBS AllAccess)
Like I mentioned above, Jordan Peele has just began production on his remake of The Twilight Zone, which could not be more exciting than if you told me Key & Peele was coming back. (Sorry, Rod Serling, I just really miss Key & Peele.)
From the teaser, we know that Peele's impression of the show's original host and creator is spot-on, but that's the easy part. It's going to be harder to try to update such an iconic series without going the "everyone uses technology now!" route, of which Black Mirror has already called dibs. Will it primarily focus on the issues of identity in our current climate? From what we've seen of Peele's other work, including his sketch show and the incredible Get Out!, that's a distinct possibility. Hopefully there's room for some weirder stuff as well. I, for one, would like to have a scene of someone (Chris Pine) screaming about there being "a monster on the wing of that drone!"
No matter what Peele's addition to the iconic series may be, there's no doubt that The Twilight Zone remains the gold standard for scary television; one that doesn't rely on a blitzkrieg of gore or violence but instead draws you in with its eerie otherworldliness and uncomfortably accurate allegories.