I begin this article with the knowledge that almost no horror fan will agree with this list, or with my parameters, and possibly even with anything I have to say about any of the shows. Such is the horror genre. It has passionate, opinionated fans from all age groups, nations, and social groups. Is it a fool’s errand then? Most possibly, but this is my list of best horror TV shows, and you can yell at me (well, 25YL) on social media all you want—in fact I welcome it!
In a further attempt to make my life a living hell I’ve restricted myself to a top five, which is essentially impossible because I love far more than five horror TV shows and all for different reasons. I’ve also tried to ignore shows that have horror elements but firmly rest more in another genre. So sorry Stranger Things but you are definitely sci-fi in my mind despite robbing horror’s bag of tricks a fair amount, particularly in the first season. Growing up in the UK I didn’t get to watch, and thus don’t have the same fondness for, horror anthology shows like Tales From the Crypt or Goosebumps, so they’re out too. Sorry folks.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Look, you’re either a Buffy fan or you’re not. I grew up on Buffy, so that makes a difference, and despite it’s slight tweeness— especially in the early seasons—Joss Whedon crafted this show into a tight, wisecracking, often funny, sometimes scary, occasionally emotional, but nearly always entertaining entity. That’s a hard thing to do, especially when after Season 1 there were 22 episodes in each season.
OK, so I found Angel tedious, and Riley was a complete wet blanket, and the over-reliance on kind-of-annoying “Big Bads” for each seasons arc was often a chore, but the writing was consistently excellent, and there are some really outstanding and experimental episodes throughout Buffy’s run. I may be in the minority but for me the show really got into its stride in Season 5 when it started to get a little darker, “The Body” being something of a marker point as well as one of the season’s best episodes.
In Season 6 we are treated to the delights of The Trio—possibly the least effective Big Bad ever, but endlessly entertaining—and Buffy deals with the trauma of being revived from the dead in self-destructive fashion. The darker tone of this season came in for criticism from a lot of fans who were used to the quippier side of the Scooby gang, but for me, Season 6 is one of the best. It also has “Once More, With Feeling”, one of the better musical episodes a show has attempted, and it seems like it’s almost obligatory now for long-running shows to give it a shot.
The key to Buffy’s greatness for me is that it manages to keep an episodic format going with mostly consistent quality, whilst developing the characters over time—giving them more depth and complexity—and as you watch they slowly creep into your heart and become part of your family. Buffy is not only one of my favourite horror shows, but would possibly also sneak into a list of funniest shows too. Maybe not top five, but the banter in Buffy is always good, sometimes hilarious.