There’s a long history of television shows playing dress up for Halloween. But it doesn’t always have to be an October episode or a straight up horror show to make for properly scary TV. Sometimes that helps, to be sure, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.
With that in mind, we rounded up a stack of stories from throughout TV history to assemble a list of the spookiest, weirdest, and yes, downright terrifying hours (and half-hours) to ever hit the airwaves, from The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits to Supernatural and American Horror Story.
Check ’em out…
The Twilight Zone Season 1 Episode 34: After Hours
Original Airdate: 6/10/1960
Do you think mannequins are scary? No? Watch this Rod Serling masterpiece and you will. There is a bit of a farcical tone to this classic episode, but the way it takes the mundane and makes it unsettling is truly a remarkable thing to watch.
As the main character Marsha slowly is convinced the mannequins in a department store have come to life, her sense of desperation is powerful as she slowly unhinges from reality. When she is locked in the store with the mannequins, things get terrifying quickly. Watch this episode and then hit Macy’s. – Marc
Thriller Season 1 Episode 36: Pigeons from Hell
Original Airdate: 6/6/1961
How many Robert E. Howard stories were adapted to another media in the early ’60s? Not as many as there should have been. Stephen King once called “Pigeons From Hell” one the of 20th Century’s greatest horror stories, and in 1961, Thriller and Boris Karloff (yes, Boris Karloff) adapted the creator of Conan’s greatest horror story for television. The lack of music, the perfect usage of shadows and silence make this gem a must see for horrorphiles.
The episode’s greatest scare happens early in the episode when one of the brothers takes an ax to the skull but shockingly, still walks. “Pigeons from Hell” is not a swarm story like Frogs or Night of the Lepus, it’s a series of psychological horrors wrapped in a cinematic suspenseful masterpiece When they show the dead brother walking around, they only show his face, the rest of his ruined head hidden in shadows. The viewer’s imagination conjures worse images than any makeup artist could. Who knew that television horror came this potent in 1961? – Marc
The Twilight Zone Season 3 Episode 24: To Serve Man
Original Airdate: 3/2/1962
Rarely is a pun scary. But the hilarity of this Twilight Zone classic’s play on words is the horror of them. When aliens come to Earth to offer an end to the Cold War and all famine with miraculous M.A.P. (mutually assured protection) force fields and cure-all vaccines, we think our ship has come in. And it has since huge swaths of humanity go to the aliens’ home world for vacation after they pass a polygraph saying that their indecipherable book of aide is intended “to serve man.”
Thus when the protagonist of the half hour gets on a spaceship to see what the fuss is all about, he was just a minute too late when his assistant cries from the rope line that they have finally translated the aliens’ book: “’To Serve Man:’It’s a cook book!” Alas, it’s too late for our hero as he is stuck on a spaceship with aliens telling him to eat his rations—all the better to fatten him up for his dinner date on another world. – David
The Twilight Zone Season 3 Episode 33: The Dummy
Original Airdate: 5/4/1962
The Twilight Zone, while pretty sci-fi heavy, did have its huge share of monsters. The third season’s thirty-third (!) episode featured one of the best monsters on the show: a dummy named Willie, who is actually alive and tormenting its human owner, Jerry. Of course no one believes Jerry when he claims the dummy is alive since he has a drinking problem.
Jerry tried to replace Willie with another dummy named Goofy Goggles, but the evil dummy slowly manipulates Jerry into destroying Goofy and becoming HIS dummy. By the end of the episode, Willie has become the man and Jerry is the dummy. It’s one of those terrifying episodes that you don’t forget. The Twilight Zone definitely dished out many of them. – John
The Twilight Zone Season 5 Episode 3: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Original Airdate: 10/11/1963
Yes, It’s been done to death, it’s become part of the culture, it’s a gimme, it’s been parodied on The Simpsons, but it’s earned its reputation. For all the scripts Richard Matheson wrote for The Twilight Zone, few can top his story of a man (William Shatner at his sweatiest) who’s fear of flying can sometimes go a little haywire.
Sure we’ve all seen it a dozen times, but if you go in cold, that first vague glimpse of the gremlin hopping around on the plane’s wing in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, illuminated by flashes of lightning is still so beautifully done and so shocking it’s easy to understand why it’s become the classic it has. – Jim
The Outer Limits Season 1 Episode 7: O.B.I.T.
Season 1, Episode 7 (Original Airdate: 11/4/1963)
What if there was a surveillance device that could, with just a few simple keystrokes, bring up live sound images of anyone, anywhere, at any time? What would happen to people if they knew at any particular random moment they might well be under close scrutiny by unseen forces? Well, this is put to the test here as just such a machine is installed in a remote research lab to keep tabs on those smart-alecky scientists. Let’s just say things don’t go real well.
God bless The Outer Limits for always opting to take the dark way out. Now, when this first aired in 1963, audiences found it a little unnerving and disturbing, maybe. But there were no aliens in this one, and the very idea of a machine like that is so ridiculous and outlandish that, well, let’s see what Andy and Goober and Barney are up to. But given what’s happened to the world over the past 50 years, taking a look at our present circumstances, the episode suddenly seems prescient, and much more deeply frightening. – Jim
The Twilight Zone Season 5 Episode 25: Masks
Original Airdate: 3/20/1964
The makeup alone makes this episode a must see. A dying millionaire puts a proviso in his will that his greedy relatives must wear hideous Mardi Gras masks until he dies. The masks the unpleasant relations are forced to wear are the opposite of their personalities.
As the night progresses, the masks become unbearable, and when the millionaire dies, the shocked relatives…well, you can guess. This episode is perfect in its simplicity, a simple tale of beauty and death, as Serling reveals the true face of terror. – Marc
The Daisy Presidential Election TV Ad, 1964
No exactly a TV episode, but a piece of television horror history… That fucking atomic bomb commercial in 1964 gave me nuclear nightmares for life. I was like a year and a half old, my parents were watching some Bible movie and I was sitting on the floor with my face almost in the TV because the kid on the screen was just about my age. There she was, pulling pedals off of daisies and I think she made a mistake when she counted. She did in my head where it replayed until about grammar school.
In the middle of the count, as the pedals fell to the grass, the sound changed and there was some kind of count-off going the other way and I thought, just maybe, it would be a space launch. But no, it was a mushroom cloud and I knew that little girl, about my age, was toast. I watched TV incessantly, waiting for it to come back again, but never caught it. I’ve seen it dozens of times though in my dreams. – Tony
Dark Shadows Episode 366
Original Airdate: 11/20/1967
Although I was certainly aware of Dan Curtis’ vampiric soap opera and knew the overall gist (my cousins even had the Barnabas Collins board game), I was not a religious viewer. To me it was no different from The Guiding Light except, y’know, for all the vampires and witches. But there was one episode deep in the series run that got me.
Barnabas is losing his powrs, see, and no longer has the control over the family he once did. So much so in fact that they’ve started plotting against him, one sister even going so far as to place a voodoo curse on him. So anyway, Barnabas is up in his study late one night, pacing and fretting. Behind him through the tall windows we see a strange shadow swinging back and forth. Cut to outside the window, where we see something hulking, still in silhouette, swinging on a heavy chain. Cut back to the study where Barnabas continues weighing his options. Then all of a sudden a damned GORILLA smashes through the window and starts throttling him. I sure wasn’t expecting that! – Jim
Night Gallery (1969-1973): The Title Sequence.
I always really, really wanted to like Night Gallery, given how hooked I’d been on The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. To be honest, though, most of the stories seemed a little flabby and floppy and not terribly scary. Maybe it was the switchover to color. Maybe it was the fact that Rod Serling didn’t really have anything to do with the show, they just slapped his name at the front and let him host. Who knows?
But what did scare me, and what kept me coming back every week to be scared (if only for two minutes or so) was the opening sequence. All those distorted, misshapen faces emerging from the blackness one after the other, each sliding offscreen before being replaced by another, just as horrifying. Yes, the shows themselves always thwarted the build-up the opening sequence promised, that’s okay. It kept me coming back for more like a garish sideshow banner, and eventually I even learned to stop watching after the credits sequence ended. – Jim
Night Gallery Season 1 Episode 3: The House
Original Airdate: 12/30/1970
A young woman has a recurring dream that she is driving to an unknown house. After she successfully goes through dream therapy, she thinks the dream is behind her, until she stumbles onto the house in the waking world, and the ghost inside.
Like all Rod Serling stories, the end twist is amazing, but it is the simplicity of repeating a progression of events that makes this story so chilling. By changing one element of a repeated scene, this episode takes the simple premise of arriving at a house and makes it horrific. – Marc
Night Gallery Season 2 Episode 14: Different Ones
Original Airdate: 12/29/1971
“The Different Ones” featured a hideously deformed young man is exiled to an alien leper colony. The makeup effects of this episode will be burned into your brain as the young man struggles to find his place amongst his own kind. This is cerebral horror at its finest as Serling and company explore the horror of rejection. – Marc
Kolchak: The Night Stalker Season 1 Episode 15: Chopper
Original Airdate: 1/31/1975
When those who watched it at the time think back to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, they rarely focus on the one with Cathy Lee Crosby as a youth-sucking demon or the one with the evil Indian spirit haunting a hospital. but everyone rememnber’s chopper. As per usual when the aging members of a ‘50s biker gang start dying one by one, all neatly decapitated, the cops put it down as nothing but a routine biker turf war or some such. Our intrepid investigative reporter with a straw boater and a nose for monsters only gets involved when one terrified witness claims the killer is himself a headless biker with a samurai sword.
Yes there’s more than a little Legend of Sleepy Hollow at play in the script, and the makeup effects might seem a little slapdash and shoddy by modern standards, but still the reveal of that leather-jacketed headless biker speeding around the corner with sword raised is still a doozy. – Jim
Fun Fact: The episode was written by Back to the Future team of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale!
Trilogy of Terror: Amelia
Original Airdate: 3/4/1975
The Trilogy of Terror featured three horror tales each starring the great Karen Black. The tales were penned by William F. Nolan and the legendary Richard Matheson and they are all worthy of horror praise. But it was Amelia that stands out amongst the glorious yarns featuring Ms. Black.
In this brilliant piece of short fiction, Black plays a woman who uses a Zuni fetish doll to wreck vengeance upon her enemies. Just watch this little murderous doll in action, you’ll be checking under your bed for a month. The doll was creepy as hell and Black’s performance made this sick little bit of wonderful one of the ’70s bright points when it comes to dark fiction. – Marc
Barney Miller Season 3 Episode 6: Werewolf
Original Airdate: 10/28/1976
The detectives at New York City’s downtown 12th Precinct were probably the closest thing TV has ever seen to a real cop’s day to day reality and the series wasn’t known for frightening flights of fantasy. But on this very rare tip of the cap to Halloween, the veils are lifted for just one moment. Kenneth Tigar, as the damned but not dumb Stefan Koepeknie, does it all with his face and his attitude. The show was shot like a play and there are no special effects, but when Koepeknie tells the officers that he made a mistake, he has to get out and go to bed so he’s up bright and early for wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk, Tigar is both truly frightening and wholly hilarious. He hits on both marks and it is amazing.
Watching Jack Soo, as Det. Sgt. Nick Yemana, and Ron Glass as Det. Ron Harris, react to the wolfman’s itching and scratching is equally spine-tingling and yet brilliantly funny. It goes to show how close the beats of horror and comedy could be. – Tony
M*A*S*H Season 8 Episode 22: Dreams
Original Air Date: 2/18/1980
When one thinks of MASH, one does not necessarily think of pure horror. Yes, the classic series dealt honestly with the horrors of war, but it did so with an undercurrent of humor and humanism. Not so in “Dreams.” When the members of the 4077 are deprived of sleep because of an onslaught of incoming wounded, their brief naps are filled with surrealistic horrors that will chill the souls even the most jaded freight fan.
The episode stands as a contrast to the rest of the series and some of the images will haunt a viewer long after the credits roll. When I first saw this episode, I was seven years old, I have not been able to watch it since. – Marc
Hammer House of Horror Season 1 Episode 5: The House that Bled to Death”
Original Airdate: 10/11/1980
Hammer Studios became a legend by thrilling gore hounds in darkened movie theatres across the world, but the studio did not have much of a presence on television other than the short-lived anthology, Hammer House of Horror. “The House That Bled to Death” was truly worthy of the name Hammer, and was really the only haunted house tale the studio ever made, sort of unbelievable when one considers Hammer pretty much mastered every horror subgenre.
This atmospheric terror fest hits every note a good haunted house story should and it does it was class. The set design is perfect as ever dusty corner of the house seems like it could be filled with something unthinkable. I dare you to watch this one with the lights out this Halloween. – Marc
The Facts of Life Season 5 Episode 6: The Halloween Show
Original Airdate: 10/26/1983
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have this spooky episode from the long-running 1980s NBC series’ fifth season. It’s Halloween in Peekskill, and the girls become convinced that Mrs. Garrett has chopped up a missing visitor and used him as the ingredients in her bratwurst (Edna’s Edibles was apparently well known for its sausage treats).
Just as Jo, Blair, Tootie and Natalie prepare to go all Salem Witch Trials on Mrs. G, the truth is revealed: Nat set up the disappearance for a horror film she was making as a school project…singlehandedly creating the found footage genre in the process. The Facts of Life was video comfort food, and this episode is slice of pure nostalgia that is make just that much more enjoyable when you realize that its premise of Mrs. Garrett being insane is quite plausible. That lady was intense. – Chris
Tales from the Crypt Season 1 Episode 2: And All Through the House
Original Airdate 6/10/1989
In this reboot of a segment from the 1972 film, Mary Ellen Traynor reprises the Joan Collins role as a rotten, money-grubbing woman who, as luck would have it, murders her husband on the very night a crazed killer dressed as Santa escapes from a local asylum (why they aired this one in June is beyond me, given it makes for such heartwarming Christmas Eve viewing). What pushes this one above and beyond the original is the crazy Santa.
In the original, the murderous Santa looks so much like any run-of-the-mill shopping mall Santa it’s unclear whether he’s the nutty one or not until he starts doing bad things. The axe-wielding St. Nick here is so bedraggled and filthy and wild-eyed, rocking slowly back and forth on the front step that he’s terrifying long before he even has a chance to say boo. I forget how it ends (not well I’m guessing), but all I needed was that first, silent glimpse of nutty killer Santa through the window and I was gone. – Jim
Stephen King’s IT
Original Airdate: 11/18/1990
Whether you classify it as a movie, two-part movie, or miniseries, IT debuted on TV, so this 3 hour plus horror event belongs on this list. An inter-dimensional predatory life-form that can assume the identity of its victims worst fears starts feeding on children in the small town Derry, Maine. If that sentence doesn’t leave you intrigued, then obviously horror isn’t your bag.
Anyway, the creature, who typically takes the form of the horrifying Pennywise the Clown, is played with extreme gusto by character-actor extraordinaire Tim Curry, who delivers hair-raising threats with guttural, grimy menace. I usually tuned out after the story transitioned to the characters as adults, when things get melodramatic and Richard Thomas-centric, but the story’s first act is gripping, disconcerting, truly scary stuff. The big screen remake got the job done, but it’s tough to match the effortless terror Tim Curry created. – Nick
Tales From the Crypt Season 2 Episode 12: Fitting Punishment
Original Airdate: 6/19/1990
Tales from the Crypt was all about comeuppance. Ezra Thorntonberry was cheap ass funeral home director who cut corners at every turn to save a buck. You can imagine the comeuppance he suffers, and holy shit, is the episode freaking gory with almost constant dissections, embalming, and corpse violation.
When Ezra’s nephew threatens to report Ezra for his unscrupulous practices, Ezra takes matters into his own hands, but the dead don’t rest easy. The fate Ezra suffers is satisfying yet shocking as the Crypt claims another bad, bad human. You know, seriously, with comics ruling television right now, HBO needs to bring Tales from the Crypt back. – Marc
Twin Peaks Season 2 Episode 6: Double Play
Original Airdate: 2/2/1991
Although more a reasonably lighthearted mystery soap opera with some dark Lynchian elements than an actual horror series, Twin Peaks still had its deeply disturbing moments. Agent Cooper’s first dream of the backwards-talking midget in the red room always creeped me out, but that dribbles to the “merely quirky” when compared with this episode.
Madeleine’s (Sheryl Lee) rape and murder, stylized as it is with the intense light and washed out colors, the slow-motion and industrial noise soundtrack, remains more savage and brutal than most anything to sneak its way onto network TV at that point. That it explodes so quickly and so unexpectedly only makes the whole extended sequence that much more terrifying—espescially when you know who’s doing the raping and killing. – Jim
The X-Files Season 1 Episode 8: Ice
Original Airdate: 11/5/1993
“Ice” is an homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing if I’ve ever done seen one, and one of the best episodes of the earlier seasons of The X-Files. It was one of those rare monster-of-the-week episodes that also served as a bit of meat to the larger mytharc structure of the show. In this episode, Mulder and Scully are sent to an Alaskan research lab (always bad news in a horror anything) to investigate the violent deaths of a pair of scientists.
Little do they know that they’re about to encounter extra-terrestrial parasites that take control of human organisms and turn them into raging maniacs. It’s pretty great once shit really hits the fan and Mulder and Scully become part of the crippling paranoia that comes over the remaining survivors in the lab. It plays out perfectly, too. This is a must-watch! – John
Tales From The Crypt Season 5 Episode 9: Creep Course
Original Airdate: 11/10/1993
DoG contributor Marc Buxton recently wrote an article praising the often overlooked mummies of film, here I do my part to keep them alive (undead?) on television. A bone chilling double cross involving a mummy is found in this installment of the greatest horror television series of all time, it just also happens to be my personal favorite. – Vinny
The X-Files Season 2 Episode 2: The Host
Original Airdate 9/23/1994
What’s scarier than a human fluke worm? Not a whole hell of a lot as the Flukeman went down in history as the X-Files’ most freighting and memorable nightmare. Seriously, we dare you to watch this one without washing your hands.
The episode takes place in the sewers of New Jersey, which is terrifying enough, when Mulder delves into the muck and mire of the Garden’s State underground, he finds the human fluke on a mission to reproduce by attaching flukes to peoples’ livers. – Marc
Tales From The Crypt Season 6 Episode 2: Only Skin Deep
Original Airdate 10/31/1994
Tales from the Crypt was the innovator of late night horror in the early ’90s, often living up to the standards of the EC Comic that set the bar for four color horror in the ’50s. When brutish bully Carl (Peter Onorati) meets a young girl with a strange mask on Halloween things get insane quickly.
The episode is a perfect little horror tale with the story quickly establishing Carl as an utter prick, but don’t worry, Molly and her creepy as Hell mask soon balance the scales of justice. The episode is driven by Molly, what is she, what does she want, and why does she want human faces so bad? Poor Carl. – Marc
Are You Afraid of The Dark? Season 4 Episode 9: Tale Of the Ghastly Grinner
Original Airdate: 11/19/1994
Starting in 1991, Nickelodeon began running an anthology horror series imported from Canada titled, Are You Afraid of The Dark?. The series became a staple of the Saturday night Snick line-up, and boy, did it me sleepless most Saturdays as a kid.
My favorite episode, and a series highlight, is “The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner.” The story features a monster inspired by Batman’s villain The Joker and follows a boy who receives a special edition of a comic book titled The Ghastly Grinner, a book that featured a twisted, smiling ghoul who turns his victims into zombified, horrifically grinning idiots. Ghastly Grinner gets out of the pages and into the real world, where he starts wreaking havoc on the town. The most unsettling part is the blue ooze that seeps from the mouths of the Grinner’s victims. It was spooky stuff for a kid’s show. – Nick
Goosebumps Season 1 Episode 1: The Haunted Mask
Original Airdate: 10/27/1995
R.L. Stine’s horror books for kids were hot commodities in the ‘90s, and it made sense that Saban Entertainment would want to cash in with a TV adaptation of many of Stine’s best novels. There’s many memorable episodes with some truly whacky twists, but none perhaps matched the scares of the first installment, “The Haunted Mask.”
After being bullied, a young girl decides she really needs to scare her tormentors on Halloween with an extra spooky costume and steals a particularly hideous mask. Once she puts the mask on, she realizes that she cannot take it off and its even changing her voice and causing her to act out violently. For young kids, the mask is really a sight that scares. The costume production for the series was always quite good for a TV show that assumingly had a modest budget. For horror entertainment for children, you really can’t go wrong with any episode of Goosebumps. – Nick
The X-Files Season 4 Episode 2: Home
Original Airdate 10/11/1996
When a deformed corpse of a newborn child shows up in a field. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully must investigate the crime and discover the true horrors of rural America. Their quests leads the two beloved FBI agents to three brothers who the local constabulary don’t want to disturb. The brothers were simple they said, they live alone.
When Mulder and Scully enter the house, the boundaries of television horror were pushed to the limit. The episode was so hardcore, the FOX Network refused to rerun it. For years, the only place to see the introduction of the Peacock Family was on syndicated cable. You’ll never look under a bed again. – Marc
The X-Files Season 4 Episode 12: Leonard Betts
Original Airdate: 1/26/1997
The X-Files featured countless memorable murderers and monsters, but with “Leonard Betts,” the show that scarred the shit out of mainstream television, it reached a whole new level. The episode opens with Betts, a paramedic, being decapitated. At the morgue, Betts’ body eerily rises headless from the slab. When Mulder and Scully are called in, they find Betts’ head and perform an autopsy. During the procedure, the eyes suddenly open and when the episode originally aired, you could hear sphincters all across America slam shut.
You see, Betts was able to regenerate any injury and achieve long life by consuming cancer. Yes, X-Files introduced a cancer eater. When Betts confronted Scully and tried to consume something inside her, fans were left with the revelation that their beloved first lady of the paranormal was stricken with the deadly disease. Betts was one of the most disturbing monsters on television and the image of him rising from the morgue to find more tumors to consume was beyond scary. – Marc
Batman: The Animated Series Season 1 Episode 4: Never Fear
Original Airdate: 11/1/1997
Scarecrow has been one of the most frequently animated Batman villains, but he was never quite as scary as this. With one of the most disturbing designs to ever appear on Saturday morning and the creeping voice of Jeffrey Combs, “Never Fear” showed us how good fear can be, both in the narrative and in reality. – Vinny
Boy Meets World Season 5 Episode 17: And Then There Was Shawn
Original Airdate: 2/27/1998
Boy Meets World was a staple of ABC’s T.G.I.F. line-up throughout the ‘90s. Having an older sister, I was subjected to every episode of the family-friendly teen dramedy, multiple times. Most fans can agree that the best episode of the show’s run is the Halloween episode “And Then There Was Shawn,” which aired in 1998.
When the students get stuck in detention after school hours, a killer begins picking off the kids one by one. Coming out during Scream-mania, the killer is a skull-masked baddie in a black cloak. The episode is genuinely frightening in parts, but with enough jokes and period South Park references to keep things light. Even ‘90s horror queen Jennifer Love Hewitt guest stars. – Nick
Millennium Season 2 Episode 23: The Time is Now
Original Airdate: 5/15/1998
Everyone who watched the Chris Carter series religiously knew it was building to something, but no one could have predicted this. With a plague unleashed around the globe, our hero, forensic psychologist Frank Black (Lance Henrikson) plunges into the woods to find his wife and daughter and make sure they’re safe. From that moment on, the last 20 minutes of the show devolves into absolute chaotic, even breathtaking madness as the world presumably comes to an end.
Flashes of light, strange and vague images, Frank, treezs, rain, words, all in frenetic quick cuts. It’s incoherent and terrifying, and the entire mind blowing sequence is accompanied by Patti Smith’s “Horses,” played in its entirety on the soundtrack. In a perfect world, this is where the whole series would have ended, leaving viewers stunned. But no, the dummies had to come back for a third season and ruin everything. – Jim
Boy Meets World Season 6 Episode 21: The Psychotic Episode
Original Airdate 5/7/1999
Though Boy Meets World isn’t exactly known for violence, in this episode, things get down right horrific. Through a series of dream sequences (ultimately a commentary on relationships), Cory murders most of the cast by episode’s end. Not to mention Eric’s weird roommate who shares somethings in common with one proprietor of a notorious motel. – Vinny
Freaks and Geeks Season 1 Episode 3: Tricks and Treats
Original Airdate 10/30/1999
Yes, 15 years after its cancellation and we still mourn the early demise of Freaks and Geeks. And why wouldn’t we? Even if you somehow ignore the fact that the series was the biggest starting point for fresh talent since Fast Times at Ridgemont High, you’d be hard-pressed to think of another recent series that had the right combination of perfect scripts and great acting across the board. (Maybe My-So Called Life, but their Halloween episode is nowhere as good as this one). When their English teacher tries to make them put aside so-called childish things like Al Jaffee’s Snappy Answers for Stupid Questions and the novelization of Star Wars, for the more adult (we disagree) War and Peace, Sam, Neal and Bill decide that maybe they aren’t too old to trick or treat after all. Meanwhile, Lindsey rather hang out with her new burnout friends then dispense candy with her mom who, as the episode points out, looks like Richard Benjamin in Westworld. God, this show.
Spoiler alert: Both plotlines converge with both sets of characters having the shittiest Halloween since Laurie Strode decided to babysit Tommy Doyle. What’s particularly great about this episode is the little touches: Bill dressing as the Bionic Woman, Joe Flaherty subtly referencing his SCTV Count Floyd past, and the hysteria over poisoning that marred early 1980s Halloween celebrations. Plus, it’s yet another example of how the series illustrated that deep down, the Weirs really love each other in a way that never felt schmaltzy. – Chris
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer Season 4 Episode 10: Hush
Original Airdate: 12/14/1999
Who can forget the Gentlemen? Those leering smiling freaks, they would give nightmares nightmares. The scariest thing about these well dressed ghouls is that they steal peoples’ voice so when they kill you, you can’t even scream.
The makeup, design, and concept were so out there, that the episode set a new standard for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fans knew that the show could be hilarious, but this episode showed them that it also knew how to push the envelope of cutting edge horror. – Marc
Angel Season 1 Episode 14: I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Original Airdate: 2/15/2000
We have all seen the demonic possession arc in many genre series and films. It’s old hat at this point, right? Not in this episode of Angel that saw an Ethros Demon possessing the body of a seemingly innocent child. When Angel and friends show up for an exorcism, one of the greatest twists in horror TV history occurs, a twist that is as bone chilling as it is surprising. What follows is an honest look into the nature of evil and mental illness that proves that real world horrors are always the most potent kind. – Marc
Supernatural Season 1 Episode 5: Bloody Mary
Original Airdate: 10/11/2005
Supernatural in the early days was actually scary. Early in the first season, the Winchesters are confronted by the very famous ghost of Bloody Mary. All the pants-wettingly terror that we experienced as pre-teens is suddenly brought to life—but with a twist.
Not only does this spectral being make blood run from her victims eyes, she also brings about their greatest regrets, notably guilt towards accidental murder. This is the moment when we learn of Sam’s visions (hey, remember those days?) and the searing guilt of how he knew she would die, days before it happened. – Bridget
Masters of Horror Season 1 Episode 1: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Original Airdate: 10/28/2005
Based on a short story by horror icon Joe R. Lansdale, “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” takes the slasher genre and turns up the volume to 11. The episode introduces Moonface, a relentless killer that pursues a young woman who breaks down on a mountain road. The following fifty minutes are relentless as Moonface chases the girl. through one horrifying set piece after another.
Director Don Coscarelli takes audiences on a road from hell as Moonface just cannot be stopped and will do anything to bring down his innocent victim. Did we say innocent? The episode contains a third act twist that will shock even the most jaded gore hound as well as a revenge sequence that can’t be forgotten. Not all killers are obvious, and this episode of Masters of Horror shows that killers can wear many skins. – Marc
Masters of Horror Season 1 Episode 10: Sick Girl
Original Airdate: 1/13/2006
From the mind of May director Lucky McKee comes Sick Girl, a wonderfully gross romantic comedy about the love between a young scientist and her girlfriend, the exotic Misty Falls. The scientist is a bug collector and when one of her pets bites Misty, the romance takes a turn for the gross. The episode is as sweet as it is disgusting as McKee brings the grue and the tears.
The true horror of the episode is how quickly a romance can turn into an obsession, but at its heart, “Sick Girl” is the story of two lost souls who find solace in each others’ arms no matter how gross it gets. There is a surreal flavor and a humor to this episode that makes it a step above the usual anthology horror piece, plus the brilliant performance of Angela Bettis as the scientist solidifies “Sick Girl” as a part of the television horror hall of fame. – Marc
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Season 4 Episode 19: Insane in the Membrane
Original Airdate: N/A was supposed to be 3/4/2006
Usually, when Standards and Practices censors or outright bans an episode of a cartoon, we can’t help but think that they’re overreacting. They can’t show a real gun or say “kill” or whatever. In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode “Insane in the Membrane,” Fox’s suits were 100% in the right to pull the episode before airing because Jesus Christ, what were the 4Kids employees even thinking?!?
Throughout the series, Baxter Stockman would pay for constantly failing Shredder by having pieces of him removed off-camera and showing up in the next episode with an eye patch, missing arm, etc. By this point, he’s just a brain inside a robot. He does the logical comic book thing by just cloning a body and putting his mind into it. He’s a genius and this is a kids’ cartoon. Sounds reasonable. Only his body starts falling apart. Literally. And we get to see it with gory close-ups accompanied by Baxter’s horrific screams. Baxter spends the episode fruitlessly trying to find a cure while stitching and stapling his fingers and jaw and so on back in place, all while continuing to go more and more insane, to the point that he keeps reliving the death of his mother and can’t tell reality from memory. It’s pure nightmare fuel. – Gavin
Supernatural Season 2 Episode 6: No Exit
Original Airdate: 11/2/2006
When Jo beat the boys to a hunt, she happened to pick the location of America’s first serial killer H. H. Holmes. The terror comes from the feeling of always being watched. You know the ghost is picking his kills one by one and relishing the opportunity of wrapping decaying fingers around Jo’s blonde hair.
The cramped passageways between the walls of the apartment building give the episode title its weight. The visuals lead us to some uncomfortable claustrophobic moments. There really is no escape from the creepiness of this episode. – Bridget
Supernatural Season 2 Episode 9: Croatoan
Original Airdate: 12/7/2006
You can’t win ‘em all. The most frightening realization in this episode is the helplessness. The boys have no chance to win the battle against mass-demonic possession passed through a blood-borne virus. Part of the spookiness is due in fact to the historical connection to the lost colony of Roanoke.
The first English settlement in America disappeared, with only the word “Croatoan” left behind. The Supernatural episode uses this mystery as a way of foreshadowing what will happen to this modern town, when the word Croatoan is found written in the town. – Bridget
Doctor Who Season 3 Episode 10: Blink
Original Airdate: 6/9/07
Ah, the Weeping Angels, by far the best New Who monster created thus far. Again brought to you by Moffat, “Blink” is one of those rare Doctor Who episodes that really deconstruct the structure of then typical New Who episode and then build something really special. There’s barely any Tennant in this episode. Instead, there are several threads that make up the story of a group of characters who have become the prey/victims of the Weeping Angels.
These monsters are brilliant: they’re basically gargoyles who can sneak up on you and send you back in time (they feed on your energy this way), leaving your loved ones distraught by your disappearance. Perhaps it’s not as scary as it is sad at its core. By the end, we’ve seen an episode in which monsters rip people away from their lives and force them to tie up loose ends with their loved ones once it’s way too late. – John
Doctor Who Season 4 Episode 10: Midnight
Original Airdate: 6/14/2008
Sometimes, the best scary material is not a traditional horror story. Take “Midnight” for example. “Midnight” proved it could frighten viewers to the very core by the dark possibilities of the unknown. A group of passengers on a space shuttle have their vacation cut short by a otherworldly creature who takes over.
It’s a creature that at first mimics its victims, then says things at the same time, then steals a voice (the Doctor’s voice). It’s what it would do if it got back to civilization that scares the bejeesus out of us. This episode got away with never actually showing us the creature yet making it terrifying, and it did it well with suggestion and mystery. – Bridget
Fringe Season 2 Episode 2: Night of Desirable Objects
Original Airdate: 9/24/2009
Fox describes this episode with the following “A highway construction worker in rural Pennsylvania goes missing when he is mysteriously drawn into an underground tunnel filled with human remains.” What it doesn’t tell you is just how nasty and claustrophobic this episode is.
Something is dragging people underground, something that was born from a twisted experiment, something that should have died in childbirth. The episode explores what happens when a child goes bad. Very, very, grab innocent road walkers and devour them underground kind of bad. – Marc
Dexter Season 4 Episode 12: The Getaway
Original Airdate: 12/13/2009
Many Dexter fans feel that the show’s greatest season was season 4. The war of attrition between Dexter Morgan and The Trinity Killer, Arthur Mitchell (brilliantly played by John Lithgow) was the high point of the series and the stuff from which legendary horror is crafted. The climax of their battle shook the very fabric of the series as Miller’s final act will be forever burned into the minds of fans.
The ending is something you can’t look away from but something you are forced to witness as Dexter and fans had one of the series’ most beloved characters ripped away in one last act of vengeance. Really, the entirety of season four is worthy to be on this list thanks to the chilling brilliance of Lithgow, but it’s the final moments of this season that will stay with fans forever.
The Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 1: Days Gone By
Original Airdate: 10/31/2010
All this is almost completely ripped out of 28 Days Later, which arrived a year before Robert Kirkman’s comic book, but it was still a very effective way to introduce the postapoclyptic world of The Walking Dead to Rick Grimes, who slipped out of his coma at the most inopportune time. Why not wake up in time to run away, dude? The series premiere was expertly written, as we learned what had happened to the world along with Rick. We knew no more information than poor Rick did.
When we approached the door that read “Do Not Open — Dead Inside,” we weren’t really sure what the hell was happening, but we were smart enough to yell at Rick to run away. It was a communal experience, and since the first episode, Walking Dead fans have come together to yell at Rick and the other survivors as danger creeps ever closer. – John
The Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 2: Guts
Original Airdate: 11/7/2010
Ah, this is another set piece we first saw in a funny moment in Shaun of the Dead. Rick and Glenn need to get past the hordes in Atlanta, so Rick comes up with a pretty fantastic idea: they’re going to rub zombie guts on themselves to hide their yummy human scent from the monsters outside.
While it sounds like a good idea and it works (for the most part), it makes for the most nerve-wracking couple of minutes I’ve ever seen on The Walking Dead. This scene, and the rest of the episode, did a great job of making us care about characters (especially Rick) we knew nothing about. We hoped everyone would get out of Atlanta — except for racist Merle. – John
Fringe Season 3 Episode 9: Marionette
Original Airdate: 12/9/2010
God, I miss Fringe, a series that was comfortable in any genre. When Fringe did horror, it did it right as evident by this haunting episode, “Marionette.” This episode centers on a thief who stole organs from innocent people to give to his marionette, a corpse made up of the parts of various victims. The organ thief has rigged the body to a series of string and delights as he makes it dance for him. Yeah, that’s unsettling.
Fringe’s take on Frankenstein was fraught with a dark beauty and a twisted sense of romanticism. When the marionette gets zapped with electricity, you can just imagine what happens next. Fringe had many unforgettable moments, but the image of the dancing amalgam of organs might be the most memorably twisted. – Marc
Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 2: The Impossible Astronaut
Original Airdate: 4/23/2011
Not since the Weeping Angels back in series 3 had Doctor Who introduced a truly terrifying villain. That all changed in the series 6 premiere when The Silence stalked the corners of the White House and the dust bowl of Colorado. The Silence is a quintessential Moffat creation. The showrunner is all about introducing monsters that mess with our senses and/or physiology. This time around, it was the amnesia-inducing haunts of these mouthless villains that made for a very scary episode of Who.
The Silence have preyed on humans since the beginning of time. You would think that people would’ve noticed, but as soon as you catch a glimpse of the debonair monsters, you’re dead. And if you’re lucky enough to survive, you’ll forget the Silence as soon as you look away. The Silence were a constant threat throughout series 6 and make a smaller appearance in series 7. They remain one of Moffat’s more welcome creations. – John
Supernatural Season 7 Episode 2: Hello Cruel World
Original Airdate: 9/30/2011
Sam is losing his marbles and being heckled by Lucifer. Or at least, he thinks he is. He doesn’t know what’s real, and that’s a bad thing for someone with a gun and paranoia. As Sam is assaulted by internal horrors, we are too. The disturbing transformation of our beloved Castiel into the bearer of the Leviathan leaves little room for hope.
The Winchesters have been at a disadvantage in their fights before, but never this bad. How can they hope to defeat monsters older than time itself? – Bridget
American Horror Story Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot
Original Airdate 10/5/2011
The episode that began it all. Who can forget the first time they journeyed into the fevered world of American Horror Story? The first episode warned fans that this ride was for real and there was no turning back. This was the episode that taught the world that Jessica Lange was one of the greatest genre actors who ever lived and that this series would show fans things they never will be able to forget, no matter how much they want to.
The whole episode was a celebration of the horror genre, a mash up of ghosts, serial killers, medical nightmares, and monsters. The episode features the main cast moving into the most haunted house ever. A house infected by generations of ghosts and something called the Leatherman. This is the episode that showed the world that on this show, there would be no taboo, no image or act that would too perverse, and no horror that would be too hardcore for exploration. – Marc
Regular Show Season 3 Episode 4: Terror Tales From The Park I
Original Airdate: 10/10/11
Regular Show is more often than not the best kid’s show on TV. Yes, Adventure Time may be more popular, but Mordecai and Rigby are relatable slacker heroes and the show features great throwbacks to ‘80s films and cartoons. Similar to The Simpsons, Regular Show does annual Halloween installments titled Terror Tales of the Park.
Most of them are pretty great, but season three’s inaugural episode features one of my favorite vignettes, “Creepy Doll,” where supporting character Pops, the big-headed, gentlemanly softie of the group is terrorized by a doll from his youth. Forget Annabelle, Regular Show has been there, done that. – Nick
American Horror Story Season 1 Episodes 4 and 5: Halloween
Original Airdate: 10/26/2011
What’s better than American Horror Story? How about American Horror Story on Halloween. The sick and twisted talent behind modern television’s premiere frightfest knew they were going to have to up the ante for Halloween, and in the first season of AHS, dear God, did they! The episode starts out with a flashback to the original owner of the haunted house the served as the centerpiece for the first season, and morphed into a modern day tale of the night where the veil between the real world and the land of the dead blurs.
This two part episode featured the death of a character no one ever believed the show would dare kill, the origin of the Rubberman, and more scares per capita than any horror fan could want. By the end of AHS’s inaugural Halloween, fans realized that this was a show that would continue to shock and would dare to do anything. The episodes also revealed the origin of the thing in the basement. Yeah, it’s F’d up. – Marc
American Horror Story Season 1 Episode 6: Piggy Piggy
Original airdate 11/9/2011
The thing about Ryan Murphy shows is that they’re all so damn over the top that even at their most depraved, the best thing to do is smile and laugh along. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the school shooting scene from American Horror Story’s first (and by far best) season is so damn creepy. For a half-dozen episodes, we have been led to think Evan Peters’ moody and troubled teenage heartthrob, Tate, is a ghostly victim of the house, and is definitely Violet’s soul mate.
But in this flashback, it finally dawns on us that this ain’t Glee, and Murphy never intended this kid to have a soul. The murders are crystallized with an irony-free coldness and detachment that would do David Cronenberg proud. It is ugly, unflinching, and stomach-churning in its realness. In fact, it might be the most horrifying scene ever put on a scripted TV fiction. – David
American Horror Story Season 2 Episode 11: Spilt Milk
Original airdate: 1/9/13
Ryan Murphy’s ability to “borrow” from nearly every horror movie cliché and trope imaginable is what makes American Horror Story so much fun (at least during its first few seasons). And his use of Texas Chainsaw Massacre imagery in season two was one of the best. Clearly somewhat inspired by Leatherface, Bloody Face’s reign of terror all season in a human-skin mask was a repulsive joy to behold. However, it is not until the last few minutes before the big reveal that any viewer could piece together Zachary Quinto’s kindly and sole “nice guy” psychiatrist (the only seeming good person of the season) is actually the serial killer with mommy issues.
We quickly realize with Victoria that his candy bowl looks like it is made from bone, and that his lampshades have an eerie humanity to them. When the penny finally drops moments later that her savior is actually a serial killer, only then does Asylum enter its darkest and most grotesque cellars of despair. – David
Black Mirror Season 2 Episode 2: White Bear
Original Airdate: 2/18/2013
Black Mirror garners enough well-warranted praise at this generation’s Twilight Zone successor. Charlie Brooker’s “speculative fiction” is the logical next step in our evolution as creatures growing alongside technology. In spite of the shallowness Brooker often conveys as a product of our online culture, the show at times reaches for far greater emotional depth than Rod Serling’s seminal anthology (Episodes like “Be Right Back” and “White Christmas” are absolutely gutting).
Black Mirror becomes more predictive as the years go on (several plots or tech ideas have become reality since the show debuted in 2001), yet season two’s “White Bear” is as cruel as it is far fetched. When a disoriented woman wakes with no memory, she’s confronted by a group of masked hunters who are trying to kill her. Looking for help all around, the public just stands idol and attempts to capture the killing on their smartphone.
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, Brooker plays a twisted game with the precision of a puppet master, ultimately taking the focus off the little black screen and to a place where the late Serling would be proud… a referendum on human decency. Truly frightening stuff. – Chris
Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 2: Playtest
Original Airdate: 10/21/2016
It may not reach the skin-crawling emotional heights of “White Bear,” but Black Mirror gives us reason to be skeptical about Virtual Reality in the chilling season three episode “Playtest.” A cash-strapped traveler agrees to let a VR company test a new horror game by using his memory to provide the game’s freights. What ensues is an escalating series of mindfucks that reduces a man to the mercy of the darkest corners of the human psyche.
The characters are a little thin here, even with the longer runtime with Black Mirror switching over to Netflix for season three. The threats our character faces in VR are anything but holographic, however. It’s an episode that won’t leave your headspace for awhile after viewing, and apparently they had to dial this one back from their original plan. – Chris
The Haunting of Hill House Episode 5: The Bent-Neck Lady
Original Airdate: 10/12/2018
Sometimes excellent television horror just needs a monster and The Haunting of Hill House understands that to a terrifying extreme. The fifth episode of Netflix’s excellent horror series, “The Bent-Neck Lady” pulls double duty in exploring the tragic origins of both Hill House’s most horrifying specter and the sensitive youngest Crain sibling Nell.
“The Bent-Neck Lady” marks the de facto end of Hill House’s expository first half and it does so in terrifying, thrilling fashion. Very few horror scenes on television (or anywhere else) are as unforgettable as this episode’s final moments. – Alec
The Haunting of Hill House Episode 6: Two Storms
Original Airdate: 10/12/2018
“Two Storms” a.k.a. “The One With That Awesome Single Take” immediately follows the also brilliant “Bent-Neck Lady” and somehow ratchets up the horror of The Haunting of Hill House, with only the benefit of two sets.
The Crain children (and father) have gathered at Shirl’s funeral home to say goodbye to one of their own. While there they confront the traumas of their past, issues with one another, and even a handful of ghosts along the way. “Two Storms” is both a technical and emotional achievement in TV storytelling. But don’t let that distract you from how terrifying it can be. “Two Storms” puts the viewer in the perspective of the Crain family, where rotting ghosts are always following you, just on the periphery of your vision. – Alec
Creepshow Episode 1: The House of the Head
Original Airdate: 9/26/2019
With all due respect to the first half of this anthology show’s two story episode, “Gray Matter,” which is based on a story by Stephen King and brings with it plenty of atmosphere and gross out scares on its own, the real star of Creepshow’s first episode is “The House of the Head.”
Creepshow has been a wonderful love letter to the practical effects and atmospherics so synonymous with the horror movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and “House of the Head” is no different. What sets it apart is how understated it is, and how it uses the seemingly simple concept of a “haunted dollhouse” in unique and unsettling ways. – Mike