This month we’ve been counting down 50 Essential Horror Films, but if you’re more of a TV fan or find yourself short on time, we recommend checking out one of these terrifying episodes. Are you afraid to drive on highways at night? Do you find mirrors inherently scary? Have you contemplated zombie attack escape routes for multiple occasions? From classic Hitchcock and David Lynch to CW monsters and Masters of Horror pulp, there should be something here to suit everyone’s horror tolerance. So turn out the lights, crawl into your prefabricated blanket fort, and follow the links to get spooked. Is there a TV episode that still haunts you to this day? Let us know in the comments!
The X-Files: “Home” (1996)
Lauded by critics as one of the scariest TV episodes ever made, “Home” finds Mulder and Scully visiting a small rural town in Pennsylvania to investigate the death of a deformed baby who has been buried alive. Soon, they’re tailing the town creeps, or “the Peacock boys,” trying to figure out how the inbreds produced a child with no female in the household. The answer is disturbing, to say the least.
It’s also worth mentioning that “Home” has some neat TV trivia behind it: It was one of two X-Files episodes to get a viewer discretion warning and was all but banned from re-runs by Fox for its content. You can watch on either Hulu or Netflix.
Twin Peaks: “Lonely Souls,” or the one where we find out who killed Laura Palmer (1990)
“Lonely Souls” is a perfect example of how Twin Peaks could be as beautiful as it was terrifying. The entire episode builds to one of the most disturbing slo-mo murders in TV history, and then concludes with Julee Cruise’s haunting”The World Spins” at the Roadhouse. You can watch the last ten minutes above, but for the full effect we recommend the entire episode, which will haunt you forever (if it doesn’t already) for its surreal images, graphic violence, and record-player-jam sound effects. In fragments this show might seem cheesy by today’s standards, but if you allow yourself to get swept up in Lynch’s world, the experience is unlike any you’ll have with TV now (excluding of course the recent Louie homage). You can watch Twin Peaks in its entirety on Netflix.
The Twilight Zone: “The Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963)
It was hard to pick just one classic Twilight Zone episode, but we’re going with this one because fear of flying is universal, and anyone who’s dubiously inspected their plane wing on an especially turbulent flight can probably cite this episode. To be clear, this is the version with a young, svelte William Shatner. For the John Lithgow version (also scary) go here. Find the hilarious SNL riff with Jude Law here.
At 25 minutes a pop, we also recommend the episode “Eye of the Beholder.” If you’ve some how avoided the twist ending all these years, go watch now and don’t cheat! You can see the majority of the original series at Netflix.
The Walking Dead: “What Lies Ahead” (2011)
The Season 2 premiere was a memorably scary one, particularly for the opening highway zombie attack, in which the group hides underneath abandoned cars and in the teeny RV bathroom to wait out the herd. Just like the aforementioned “The Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” this episode (and entire show, for that matter) plays on one of the scariest human experiences of all: being trapped. And zombie dead eyes are pretty scary too. You can watch it at Netflix now.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “One More Mile to Go” (1957)
You can get your Hitchcock fix in less than 30 minutes this Halloween with this episode, which holds up pretty well today. It has the auteur’s suspense-heightening austerity (there is no coherent dialogue in the first ten minutes) and hints of Psycho, which would come out three years later (specifically in the episode’s second half, a handwringing body-in-the trunk deal). We also recommend the famous murder-weapon ruse “Lamb to the Slaughter.” The detective dialogue in the latter is cheese (see: “For all we know, it might be right under our very noses”), but this is a must for anyone’s pop culture repertoire. You can watch both episodes at Hulu.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Hush” (1999)
Widely regarded as the scariest episode in Buffy history, Emmy-nominated “Hush” takes the horror maxim “no one will hear you scream” to a new level, posing the philosophical quandary: what if you can’t scream? What results is a pretty scary, and since this is Buffy, sexy episode. Check out on Hulu or Netflix now.
Masters of Horror: “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (2005)
If you like serial-killer chase scenes in storm-lit woods, corpse-filled hostage situations, and REALLY disturbing operating-table torture scenarios, see the first episode of this mid-aughts Showtime series, which featured original one-hour films from cinema’s best “horror masters.” This is certainly the most graphic selection on this list, and not for the faint of heart. Hardcore horror fans proceed to Hulu for the entire series.
Supernatural: “Bloody Mary”
This episode may only be “CW scary,” but we think it’s good enough to spook anyone who ever said the eponymous ghost-lady’s name three times into a mirror and freaked the eff out (present company included). So head on over to Netflix to relive the scariest game of childhood, and stick around if network-y monster-of-the-week horror is just your pace.
The Outer Limits: “The Sandkings”
This one is for George R.R. Martin fans or anyone who likes a good creepy-crawly, science experiment gone wrong type of horror story. Based on Martin’s 1979 novelette Sandkings, this was the first episode of the series’ revival, and actually holds up pretty well for a mid-’90s feature-length TV episode. It’s heavy on message (i.e., “this is what happens if you play God!!!”), but thankfully leaves little room for bad special effects (we vetted, and the alien colonies are still more creepy than funny). You can watch on Hulu and see the short story for a companion.
Dawson’s Creek: “The Scare” (1998)
We’re going to get flack for this, but believe us when we say “The Scare” is actually pretty… scary, escalating from the typical Friday the 13th séance with your closest high school friends to “there’s a crazy person trying to get into the house” sitch. And did we mention there’s a serial killer on the loose in Capeside? It has that rough-around-the-edges, vintage-DC feel, and was written by showrunner Kevin Williamson, who also happened to write late-’90s horror classics I know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, the former of which gets a cameo at the beginning of the episode (see above). Proceed to Netflix to indulge, appropriately, in the most terrifying period of growing up.