One of the biggest problems facing horror films is the need to tell a story, provide a few scares and wrap it up all in about 2 hours. Then the inevitable seven sequels, sure, but you get the idea. TV shows give the horror genre more room to breathe, expand, build character, build tension and the pay off is often in more unique and complex storylines.
In the last five years, the genre of TV horror seems to have enjoyed a resurgence. We’ve put together a list of the ten most underrated horror TV shows of the last ten years (that means no Walking Dead or Stranger Things, I’m afraid).
10 Z Nation
Even though Z Nation recently met its end when it was canceled by SYFY at the end of 2018, this competitor to The Walking Dead held its own for five seasons. The show is set three years into the apocalypse, so everyone knows where they stand. Except for Murphy, a zombie bite survivor who seems to exist somewhere between human and zombie, and as such, has gained a few unique powers that the group hopes will solve their zombie problem.
The show doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Walking Dead at its peak, but its five seasons have a lot more consistency in their action, tension and comedy than Walking Dead does these days.
From the title, you might expect an intense, zombie-filled action series akin to The Walking Dead. However, on watching iZombie, you quickly realize this isn’t your everyday zombie flick. Technically, it’s nothing more than a crime show adapted from a comic book.
The main idea behind the show is that Liv is a zombie. However, she isn’t a proper “Full Romero” zombie, so long as she satisfies her desire from brains every now and again. In a pretty clever move, she takes up a job in a morgue and eats the brains of the bodies stored there. It’s her ability to take on personality traits and memories of the brain she is eating that sets up most of the show’s storylines.
8 Ash Vs Evil Dead
Designed as a sequel/reboot to the original trilogy of Evil Dead films, Ash Vs Evil Dead takes comedy horror to the next level.
Ash, the protagonist of the main series, returns and has done pretty much nothing with his life. Before long, he has to get back to business and take on Evil Dead once again. The show has been praised for combining brutality, tension and comedy in a convincing way throughout, but still ended up getting canceled in 2018 after its third season.
7 Santa Clarita Diet
While Santa Clarita Diet is more of a comedy than a horror, surely the very premise gives it enough spine-tingling tension to call it a horror show. It’s also very gory, albeit completely over the top.
In the opening moments of the show, Sheila turns into a zombie-like being who craves human flesh. Her husband and family spend their days trying to navigate the social issues that come with being a zombie, while uncovering a strange mythological mystery. The show didn’t last and was canceled in 2019, despite positive reviews across the board.
6 Penny Dreadful
Taking on the unique approach shows like Once Upon A Time have in their incorporation of public domain characters, Penny Dreadful is the perfect example of horror that would only work as a TV show.
During the three-season run of the show, we encounter the likes of Dorian Dray, Count Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster with the acting talents of Billie Piper, Jessica Barden and Timothy Dalton playing particularly interesting characters. Even if it isn’t the most spine-chilling horror of all time, it’s a very well made piece of character-driven drama.
5 Bates Motel
Focusing on the iconic Norman Bates, Bates Motel is fronted by the child actor Freddie Highmore (known for his work as Charlie in 2005’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory) and Vera Farmiga, famed for her role as Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring series.
Though they have the immense pressure of providing the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho with a prequel, the writing team do it an incredible justice. The tension comes thick and fast in every episode, while the central characters of Norma and Norman are convincing throughout. The final season even semi-adapts the original film and does so surprisingly well.
Fronted by Mads Mikkelsen, arguably the only actor in the world with the ability to live up to a role first portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal’s cancellation is one of the great mysteries of TV.
The show does well to avoid Silence Of The Lambs and its legacy but employs various plot points and characters from the slightly less iconic Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising. While the show was canceled without wrapping up many storylines, the cast have all expressed an interest in returning to the show one day. We can only hope.
3 The Exorcist
TV remakes aren’t always the greatest thing in the world. Take for example when Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining and made his own shambolic TV adaptation. Despite coming from the scariest horror film of all time, The Exorcist does remarkably well to live up to its source material.
This probably comes from the fact that it doesn’t attempt to remake anything. The show (wisely) ignores all of the sequels to the original Exorcist, and instead acts as a direct sequel to the 1973 original. And it works. A lot better than the sequel films, anyway.
2 The Sinner
While The Sinner isn’t billed as a horror, it’s pretty scary at times. Much of the show is built on the investigations of Bill Pullman’s Harry Ambrose into the strange crimes of Cora Tannetti (season 1) and Julian Walker (season 2).
The show is seriously dark, with unexpected violence, shocking twists and horribly blood-curdling reveals very slowly exposing themselves over the course of the show’s tension building and unraveling. Despite its perfect writing and unique tone, the show have received a strange lack of attention.
1 The Haunting Of Hill House
In a way, The Haunting Of Hill House isn’t underrated. In fact, it was lauded as exceptional by everyone who saw it, including Stephen King. However, it pretty much needs to be seen by anyone who cares about horror. Its characters are perfect, every actor (including all of the child stars) are brilliant, the storyline is gripping, and, more than anything, it is absolutely hauntingly scary.
Episode five ends with one of the most chilling scenes in the history of horror, with the tormented Nell returning to Hill House to dance around its decaying rooms, before one of the most exceptional twists is revealed in a few gut-wrenching moments.
NEXT: 10 Most Terrifying Ghosts in Horror TV History