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Horror’s on the rise in television these days, with numerous TV shows giving us a scary alternative to the funny or dramatic fare that TV usually offers. With Halloween just a day away, we thought we’d share our list of the current -- meaning they've aired new episodes at some point this year -- TV shows that scare us the most, whether it be because they tap into our deepest fears, cause our stomachs to turn or simply because they keep us on the edge our seat, holding our breaths and wondering what might happen next, here are our five favorite scary shows.
Jessica’s Pick: Bates Motel
There are plenty of different ways to scare television audiences. Typically, cable houses more of the gorier and bizarre entries. In recent years, network TV has started to amp up the creep factor a bit, but the program that scares me the most still resides on cable and thankfully, was renewed for a second season last spring. Bates Motel is a modern-day, sort-of Psycho prequel that creates an unsettling mood via a slew of icy, withdrawn characters, an isolated setting and some stories straight out of a depressing nightmare.
Bates Motel may be somewhat of a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film, but it is very much a product of this era of television. From secret weed farms to oppressive sex slave regimes, White Pine Bay, Oregon is a nightmarish small town with a tranquil surface. When Norman Bates and his mother, Norma, move into a brand new town to start up a brand new business, audiences might initially expect they’ll be the creepy oddballs, but amidst the sleazy underbelly of the town, they actually fit right in. If you like your relationships dysfunctional and your horror sleazy, you’ll want to catch A&E’s drama when it returns to the schedule in 2014.
Jesse's Pick: Hannibal
Based on Thomas Harris' best selling novels, NBC's Hannibal is a more than worthy adaptation of the iconic character often regarded as the scariest movie villain of all-time. Granted, a network television version of the slasher seems like a terrible idea (no one wants a watered down version of the cannibal) but Bryan Fuller, the genius behind the delightfully macabre Pushing Daisies, has managed to create a terrifying yet beautiful small-screen nightmare. Inspired by great works of atmospheric and psychological horror like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Fuller's vision is the most rewarding scary show currently on TV.
From the first shot of the first season, it was pretty obvious that Hannibal was going to be markedly different than all the other hour-long network dramas, focussing more on mood and composition than simply solving a mystery of the week. Although, there is that as well. The dark drama about Dr. Lecter mixes episodic and serialized storytelling, introducing a creepy case for the increasing unstable Will Graham to solve every week while also furthering the 'bromance' between him and the titular serial killer-slash-foodie. If you're looking for something scary to watch on Halloween, I prescribe a marathon of the graphic horror series. Bon appétit!
Kelly’s Pick: American Horror Story
American Horror Story knows no bounds, and that’s a key ingredient to the most twisted kind of horror. Another great thing about the series is that it resets each season, allowing the writers to explore a new story and new horror each Fall. American Horror Story: Coven is exploring the subject of witchcraft, which in itself can be scary, depending on how the magic is used. But the premise of each season is really just a backdrop for whatever horrifying scenarios Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are able to dredge up, and as I said, there are no limits to this series. It taps into the darkest side of humanity, often making people the scariest thing about the series at its core.
We’re only a few episodes into Coven and the show has already included (vague spoilers) murder, death by sex, minotaur sex, incest, the reanimation of a Frankensteined frat boy and throat-slashing, not to mention all of the horrific things Kathy Bates’ character did to her slaves in the first episode. Does American Horror Story aim for shock-value and literal over-kill? Yes, of course. But it still manages to creatively work some of the most horrible things imaginable into a story that keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering if we’ll be able to stomach whatever’s coming next. It’s dark, it’s dramatic, and sometimes it’s even a little bit funny. But most of all, it’s scary and unpredictable in all the (so-wrong-it’s)right ways.
Mack’s Pick: True Blood
True Blood might boast vampires, witches and a whole host of other horror genre staples, but the longtime HBO program isn’t particularly scary in any sort of conventional way. Rather than living in the shadows or relying on jump scares, the camera is often a little more overt in showing what’s happening. Beyond that, the basic plot trajectory is sometimes so absurd as to almost be comical. So, why the hell is it on here? Because it’s constantly, aggressively and with every last fiber of its being, creepy. Really fucking creepy.
From parents attempting to drown their children to haggard family members popping through portals to forced sexual experiments to smelling pregnancy on women, at any given time at least thirty percent of True Blood’s general vibe is creepy as hell, and honestly, that’s what scares me. I can handle serial killers. I can handle things that go bump in the night. What I can’t handle are gay reverends trying to start drama, cooks getting possessed by ornery spirits and shapeshifters waking up naked on the feet of people’s beds. When in doubt, True Blood takes the road no one else would even think to travel, and more often than not, it makes me uncomfortable.
Kelly’s Other Pick: The Walking Dead
On the surface, what makes The Walking Dead so scary are the angry zombies in varying states of decay, lurking in every dark space available. After all, what’s scarier than the fear of being eaten alive by a person with bloodshot eyes and peeling skin? There is an answer to that question, and it’s part of what makes The Walking Dead so scary to me. Sure, the thought of being attacked by zombies is a terrifying one, but more terrifying that is the prospect of trying to stay alive in a reality that’s crumbling day by day. With each season of The Walking Dead, the characters are put into continuously terrible situations, which on occasion involve having to put a bullet in the brain of a loved one, and we’re constantly forced to question whether or not there’s any chance at a happy future for the living in this zombie-soaked world.
Characters continue to die in gruesome fashion, while the rest try to get through the day without being eaten. And this season they can add a deadly flu-virus to that threat. A simple cold is killing people (and making zombies out of them). No one is ever safe. Zombies are scary, and The Walking Dead delivers weekly doses of gore and horrific situations involving reanimated corpses biting into the flesh of the remaining survivors in this dark world, but hopelessness and grief bring their own kind of terror, and there’s no shortage of either in this series.