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Netflix's scariest TV shows that will mess you up for days
If you're looking for a spooky binge watch, don't watch these shows alone.
Longform horror is an entirely different flavor of scary. A horror movie can keep you hooked for 90 minutes or two hours then leave you shaking in its aftermath, but a horror series has to both scare you in the short-term and provide enough story allure to keep you coming back for more in the long-term. It's a very particular art, and when you find a horror series with that power, you're glued to your couch until you're done with it. Thankfully, Netflix has quite a few such shows, from high-concept zombie series to movie sequels to one of the most popular streaming shows...well, ever. So, if you're looking for a horror show that'll keep you scaring you through a whole binge watch, here are a few rides worth taking on Netflix right now.
1. American Horror Story
Sure, it might be a very basic place to start, and the long-running FX anthology series is sort of famously uneven, but there's still lots to love about American Horror Story and the pop culture blender it activates with each new season of storytelling. From an ensemble stock company that includes the likes of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange to some truly effective creature designs, there's a reason this show has been on as long as it has. Plus, the anthology format means there's no shame in picking and choosing which seasons you'd like to binge, depending on your moods and particular subgenre tastes. I'm personally a Freak Show and Coven guy, but if you prefer the crumbling ambience of Hotel, have fun.
2. Archive 81
There's an undeniable allure to the very specific "creepy VHS tapes" subgenre, and the Netflix original series Archive 81 sets out to milk that allure for all it's worth. The story of a media conservator (Mamoudou Athie) hired by a mysterious benefactor to restore a damaged trove of tapes from a burned-down apartment building, the show immediately sets a spooky tone by isolating its central character and telling the dueling of stories of what the conservator experiences, and what the subject of his tapes is going through years earlier. Throw in some very impressive production design and the basic spookiness of a grainy, half-damaged piece of video, and you've got the ingredients for a slow-burn stunner.
3. Ash vs. Evil Dead
This TV continuation of the Evil Dead films skews more comedic than horrific, but for a certain kind of horror fan, there's something about a Deadite and the way it strips all the humanity out of a person with instant fury that will always be scary. Plus, all the comedy means that you're disarmed by the time the moments of true horror do come along, leaving you even more vulnerable to a scare. Throw in the always-welcome Bruce Campbell and a great supporting cast, and you've got a groovy good time.
4. Black Mirror
Though certain episodes lean more dark science fiction than all-out horror, Black Mirror was from its inception a show designed to explore all the ways technology can push us to the darkest parts of our souls, whether we're talking about microtransactions, monetizing our very existence, or tricking a politician into a very... humbling sex act. It might take a few episodes, but if you have any kind of relationship with modern technology at all, you'll find something to be scared of, and when the scares hit, they hit deep.
5. Black Summer
There are, of course, a ton of zombie shows floating around out there right now, but there's something about the immediate human impact of Black Summer that really hits home, no matter how tired of the subgenre you might be. It's a show that launches right at the start of the mass infections with some very relatable moments of panic, then chronicles one mother's (Jamie King) journey to find her daughter after an unfortunate bureaucratic panic means they're separated. The show's focus on family makes the horror that much more impactful, and if you were a fan of Z Nation, you might be interested to try this darker take on the apocalypse from many of the same creative personnel.
6. Brand New Cherry Flavor
You may have seen a good portion of Twitter freaking out about this show in 2021, and with good reason. Set in the 1990s, this miniseries follows an aspiring filmmaker (Rosa Salazar) as she heads to Hollywood with her new short film, attempting to impress a big-name producer enough to get a feature deal. When she ends up scorned, and turns to an eccentric witch (Catherine Kenner) for help, things go off the rails very, very quickly. Beautifully designed and full of jaw-on-the-floor moments, it's the kind of horror show you won't be able to look away from.
Though it certainly skews more dark fantasy than horror in some of its storytelling decisions, if you love monster movies, Castlevania will probably become a new obsession for you. Based on the legendary video game franchise of the same name, the story follows Dracula's quest for vengeance, and the band of monster hunters (including Dracula's own son) who band together to take him down. At least, that's where it starts. The creature designs alone are worth the price of admission, and the characters are so compelling that you'll soon see why this is the show that launched a million fan art tweets.
8. The Haunting of Bly Manor
After the runaway success of The Haunting of Hill House, creator Mike Flanagan turned his imagination to this narrative and thematic merging of the ghost stories of Henry James and made The Haunting into an anthology series worth remembering. Featuring many of the same stars from Hill House (including a towering central performance from Victoria Pedretti), as well as shining newcomers like Rahul Kohli, Amelia Eve, and T'Nia Miller, Bly Manor feels in many ways like a progression into more emotional horror after Hill House's more vicious scares. Still, if it's creepy atmosphere you want, you'll find it in spades.
9. The Haunting of Hill House
The original series that launched Mike Flanagan and Trevor Macy as the kings of longform Netflix horror, The Haunting of Hill House combines elements of Shirley Jackson's original novel with an all-new narrative centered around a family who must reckon with dark supernatural forces in both their past and their present. Full of delicious creepy visuals, emotional meditations on death and memory, and unforgettable performances, there's a reason it's gone on to be viewed as a modern classic of the genre. The episode "Two Storms" alone stands as a masterpiece of horror craft.
You might be forgiven for thinking the initial hook of Hellbound sounds a little... well, goofy. The Korean series begins with the idea that certain people will receive a warning telling them exactly when they're going to die, and then when that time comes, burly black creatures will emerge and drag them down to hell. That's a wild place to start, but the genius of the series lies in beginning with characters who also believe the idea is farfetched and weird. Until it starts happening to them. From there, the series dives headlong into existential horror with explorations of mortality, faith, and more.
"What if zombies emerged in Medieval Korea?" is an intriguing hook all by itself, but Kingdom is so much more than a single clever premise. Yes, taking the zombie paradigm outside of modern times is refreshing, but when you actually dig into the historical genre series, you'll find that the zombies become not just a great horror device, but a keystone for an exploration of the nature of power in a tumultuous time. Plus, even if you remove the zombies from the picture, Kingdom is a visual feast full of fantastic action, costuming, and production design.
12. Midnight Mass
Mike Flanagan's third Netflix series (because he's just that prolific) takes the action away from haunted house and into other genre realms with this story of an isolate island off the American coast, and the dark force that settles into the close-knit community. As with all of his Netflix series, Flanagan makes excellent use of an ensemble cast, including phenomenal performances by Kate Siegel and Hamish Linklater, and the horror elements are once again intertwined with emotional meditations on life, death, and faith. Plus, if you've made it this long without learning the twist of the show... well, we're still not going to spoil it for you, but rest assured you're in for quite the reveal.
If slasher is your horror subgenre of choice, this anthology series with a very appropriate name is exactly what you're looking for. Each season of Slasher follows a different story, a different cast of characters, and a different chosen slasher subset, complete with new killers and new costumes each time out. So, whether your preference is "small town girl returns home to the site of a years-old tragedy only to find the murders start back up again" or "camp counselors haunted by past mistakes and stalked by a killer seeking revenge," you'll find what you're looking for here.
14. Stranger Things
Yes, one of the most popular shows in Netflix history also still ranks among the scariest, depending on who's watching it at any given time. Stranger Things is so well-known at this point that even people who've never watched an episode are aware of the particular pop culture melting pot it's created, but there's more to the show than lots of '80s references. Spend a little time invested in the characters and concerns of Hawkins, Indiana, and you'll find a show devoted to very effective, very human horrors, even among all the extradimensional monsters and alternate realities.