Horror and television have had a rocky relationship ever since they were first introduced back in the 1950’s. For every incredible horror series, you get three or four that are absolutely terrible. For every amazing “First 3 Episodes of Every Season” of American Horror Story, you get “The Rest of the Episodes of Every Season” of American Horror Story. It’s a grab-bag filled with some of the finest, and some of the worst, thrills that the horror genre has to offer.
Now that every company in the world is creating their own streaming services (including Apple, Disney, CBS, YouTube, Facebook, and I don’t know… Charmin? Probably.) and filling them with horror content, it’s hard to know what is wheat and what is chaff. That’s where we come in. We here at Nightmare on Film Street are dedicated to you and your limited amounts of free time. To help you out, we have compiled a list of the best horror television series of all time. That way, you don’t waste your time slogging through 15 episodes of something terrible involving teenage vampires and werewolves making romance eyes at one another.
“If you ask 5 people to name their top-5 episodes from The Twilight Zone, there’s a chance that they could rattle off 25 completely different episodes. There are that many”
This list isn’t perfect, nor is it complete. There are hundreds of horror series worth watching out there, so don’t hit us in the mentions because we forgot to mention your favorite. What we hope to do is give you the 7 best series from the inception of television to the year 2000, and the 7 best series from the year 2000 until now. Why the year 2000, you might ask? (Go ahead, ask…) Well, the year 2000 was an important year in the world for two reasons. That’s when a handsome young man from Illinois named Tyler Liston got his driver’s license and put leopard-print seat covers and fuzzy dice in his 1989 Chevy Cavalier (turning it into the Electric Lady Wagon), and it’s also the year the Backstreet Boys released the criminally underrated Black & Blue. It’s also just as good of a place to break the list up as any.
So, without further ado – The 7 Greatest Horror Television Series Before The Year 2000:
7. Night Gallery (1969-1973)
It may seem strange that a follow-up series to The Twilight Zone from Rod Serling himself would be this low on the list, but if you gave this series a watch, then you would know why. Night Gallery had an interesting premise and a familiar episode framing device. Each episode contained several short stories with Serling introducing each segment with his familiar, gravelly voice. While it was a welcome and comfortable sight, this excellent concept is also where the show fell flat. Sometimes an episode would have 3-4 different stories, all with different tones or themes, leaving the viewer with an uneven experience.
While the tone may have been inconsistent, the content within was still top-notch. The Twilight Zone focused many of its episodes on sci-fi topics, while Night Gallery leaned heavily into the serial-killer paranoia of the 1970’s. These episodes feature monsters as well as monstrous men, which was a dark turn for audiences at this time. Although Night Gallery packed nowhere near the emotional punch that The Twilight Zone did, it’s still a great series that you need to seek out.
6. Goosebumps (1995-1998)
Now, can you tell me truthfully (and without your nostalgia glasses on), that this series still holds up like it did in your memories? It really doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad series! It’s great, actually, but I couldn’t rank it any higher on the list.
What worked best for Goosebumps were the episodes taken directly from R.L. Stine’s series of books. The hour-long specials for “The Haunted Mask” and “A Night in Terror Tower” stand out as some of the best kid-horror of all time. What keeps it at number six on the list is the production values and the stories that weren’t taken from a book in the series. All that being said, put your nostalgia glasses back on and enjoy this great series from the zenith of kid culture.
5. The Outer Limits (1963-1965)
It’s a shame that The Outer Limits has been relegated to just “the one that’s trying to be The Twilight Zone” in the minds of horror fans. It is so, so much more than that. While it’s probably true that the series started out as a carbon copy of the more-famous Serling vehicle, its quality and importance cannot be overstated.
The Outer Limits only ran for 49 episodes, but they were all important and influenced generations of creators. While The Twilight Zone dealt in a lot of black-and-white morality tales, this series lived in a world filled with grey area. This created a host of thought-provoking stories that live on in the minds of everyone who has watched the show. Sure, some of the monster creation look like a child made them, but that’s what makes the episodes so charming. It was never the monster itself that was out to get you, it was what the monster represented.
4. Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-2000)
“Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story The Tale of the Horror Listicle.”
What kid growing up in the 1990’s didn’t want to be a member of the Midnight Society? My friends and I used to sit I a circle on the playground during Elementary school and play Are You Afraid of the Dark, telling each other the scariest stories we could come up with every day at recess. It was a gateway horror drug for all of us, and it still holds up today.
Do you remember Tale of the Midnight Madness? How about the Ghastly Grinner? Of course, you do. These were oftentimes our first forays into horror, and although most episodes ended in a happy ending, they still made us hide under the covers at night. Are You Afraid of the Dark is the third best thing to ever come out of Canada, behind only Nightmare on Film Street and Celine Dion.
3. Tales From the Crypt (1989-1996)
HBO was a strange place for a young boy to hang out in the early 1990’s, but without it I wouldn’t be the weird horror lover that I am today. I have Tales From the Crypt to thank for that. Violence, sex, horror and celebrity stars filled every episode of this incredible series. While the episodes themselves are not as memorable as the other series on this list, no one (not even Serling himself) can compare to my Bony Bae, The Crypt Keeper.
His maniacal laugh and terrible puns filled each viewer with a love of the genre that few other hosts have been able to do. As soon as we saw that old gate open in the intro, we knew that we were part of a hive-mind of other horror lovers, partaking in something special each and every week. These episodes were not only scary, but they were also fun. It’s a special feeling that is missing from many of the anthology series that have been attempted since.
Plus, without Tales From the Crypt, we wouldn’t have “The Crypt Jam”. Enjoy!
2. The X-Files (1993-2002)
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are still my favorite people on Earth (please don’t tell my wife or my son). Their quest for the truth took us to the darkest corners of the world, and into the forgotten places within our own psyches. While the over-arching mythology of the show is worth watching over and over again (aliens are real btw, and they are hungry), it was the episodes in-between that place this series so high on the list.
Do you remember Doug Hutchison’s slumbering serial killer in season one’s Squeeze? How about season four’s controversial inbred Peacock family from Home? There’s something about these monster-of-the-week episodes that sticks in our brains for years after viewing. It’s a show that can blend terror, paranoia, love, and humor, sometimes within the same episode. In addition, this is the first entry in our list that featured such a strong female character, played perfectly by Gillian Anderson.
1. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
There’s a reason that I have mentioned The Twilight Zone six times already in this article. It is the gold standard that every other series is compared to. Not every episode lands, but what other series has the amount of iconic and world-changing episodes as The Twilight Zone? Would “none” be the right answer? Yes.
If you ask 5 people to name their top-5 episodes from The Twilight Zone, there’s a chance that they could rattle off 25 completely different episodes. There are that many. The series employed the finest horror writers the world has ever seen (Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury) and found a way to affect each viewer differently. They were surprisingly progressive for their day, especially in The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street where nationalism and a fear of alien invaders (communists, or, ahem, migrant caravans) drive a group of Americans to kill. Or in It’s a Good Life where they explored the concept of giving one person too much power and how that person’s need for praise and obedience leads all of us to forget who we really are. These episodes explored the future, they explored the past, they looked at the horrors of war and the terrifying way that we treat those unlike us. It’s a beautiful series filled with unforgettable performances. In other words, it’s perfect.
“The Twilight Zone […] is the gold standard that every other series is compared to”
So, there you have it! Those are the seven best horror series up until the year 2000. Like I mentioned before, this is not a complete list, it’s a representative of what this writer feels are the most important horror series to come out before Y2k. It was a struggle to not include Twin Peaks, or Kolchak, or the dozens of other shows that are horror-adjacent representatives of the best that television can give us. While you sit back and digest this one, remember that our list of the best horror series released from 2000 to Now is coming soon. That list is going to get weird, so stick around!
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