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The 20 Best Horror TV Shows of the Last 20 Years

Sustaining terror over hours, weeks, and years is no easy task, but these TV shows are a permanent part of our nightmares.

Bates Motel Hannibal Black Mirror

A&E Networks / NBC / Netflix

15. “Ash vs. Evil Dead”

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 2016

Perhaps the funniest show to ever make you physically nauseous, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is all about the extremes: You’ll laugh ’til you cry. The action is as inventive as it is thrilling. And there’s enough blood to fill Ash’s hometown pond — also known as Lake Michigan. Developed by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and “The Leftovers” EP Tom Spezialy, the half-hour Starz series has plumbed the depths of a character Bruce Campbell first played in 1981, but kept Ash the do-good, ass-kicking, party animal fans know and love. That means the quips fly as fast as bullets from his boomstick, making for a fun time no matter what. That being said, “Ash vs. Evil Dead” knows how and when to turn on the spook machine. Its first season is especially unsettling as the deadite army takes over enough unsuspecting humans to keep the audience gasping when the evil dead unveil themselves. Good thing El Jefe is there to protect us all.

14. “Being Human”

Being Human

“Being Human”

A very simple premise — a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost become roommates — gave birth to not one but two different series, and while the British and American versions ended up becoming very different, one thing they had in common was their engagement with how these characters’ innate nature conflicted with their very relatable desire to fit in with the so-called “normal” world. No matter who was living in the apartment, or where the apartment was, the story remained grounded in a very simple goal: to find something resembling contentment. Not being able to do so? A great source of fear.

13. “The Walking Dead”

"The Walking Dead" Season 7

“The Walking Dead”

Gene Page/AMC

100 episodes over eight seasons is a helluva accomplishment for any TV show, but “The Walking Dead” will always be truly memorable for how it engaged a mainstream audience with a very genre-centric premise; for years, this show has been appointment viewing for millions of viewers, and a large part of that comes from how every moment of awfulness was grounded in human emotion. “The Walking Dead” is, at its best, a show about real people dealing with unreal situations in a believable and relatable way. When it becomes inhumanly brutal, it’s easy to understand why fans drift away, but this is still a show we’re paying attention to.

12. “Angel”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Warner Bros TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885508ar)David BoreanazAngel - 1999-2004Warner Bros TVUSATelevision

“Angel”

Bros TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin-off “Angel” played with the supernatural. But as a show that semi-regularly descended into hell over the course of five seasons, “Angel” was the darker, more adult series by comparison to “Buffy,” engaging a lot more with horror tropes (including a fourth season arc that led to a literal demonic goddess taking over Los Angeles for several episodes). “Angel” was a show that took a lot of chances, and not all of them worked as well as they might have, but this show really knew how to balance real-world storytelling with the fantastical.

11. “Dexter”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock (2102883gw)Michael C HallDexter - 2006

“Dexter”

Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a blood-spatter expert for the Miami PD who moonlights as a vigilante serial killer eliminating other serial killers. While the show plays with the familiar cat-and-mouse tension of tracking down a deranged and dangerous psychopath, the most disturbing part is when the viewer realizes its hero isn’t too different from is prey.

Darkly humorous, yet bizarre and grisly, “Dexter” delves deeply into the ugliest parts of the psyche and reveals how one can sympathize with a cold-blooded (fictional, at least) killer. Part thriller and part morality play, the show never stops reminding viewers that Dexter himself is capable of wanting to kill. Remove the legitimacy of his job and rationalized ethical loophole, and he’s still a guy with an overwhelming bloodthirsty compulsion, a very charming guy we still root for. Perhaps we’re all monsters.

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