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5. American Horror Story
I was tempted to put Jeremy Kyle in here first but had to resist for the sake of professionalism and journalistic integrity. And I’ve already got some hilarious entries. So instead I’d like to include American Horror Story.
The series each place at a traditionally ‘spooky’ location: a haunted house, an insane asylum and most recently a freakshow. The show explores the shared fears around these places that feature in so many horror films yet crop up time and time again. Featuring demonic possession, witchcraft, serial killers, voodoo, ghosts and a host of other horror film conventions, American Horror Story is one for the traditionalists.
And Jessica Lange’s evil icy stare is scary enough.
The inclusion of a handsomely dressed Mads Mikkelsen is almost enough to distract viewers from the bloodbath that is Hannibal. Almost.
A television series about the life of Hannibal Lecter, one of the scariest film villains in history, was never going to be an easy ride. But NBC have let rip with a series that’s as stylish when showing a grizzly murder scene as when it shows human labrador Will Graham in his cosy home.
If you’re not into gore then this show really isn’t for you. Impalings, incinerations, mutilations, flayings are all part and parcel of this shows appeal. As is the consumption of human flesh, lovingly crafted into all sorts of haute cuisine meals.
3. The Twilight Zone
Tapping into late 50s-early 60s paranoia, war trauma and fear of the future, The Twilight Zone presented viewers with a scenario that often seemed far from our own. But look closer and you’ll see that the fears were very much based on then present ones. From space travel to the broken American dream this show touched on all aspects of American life but with a sinister and thought-provoking overturn.
References and homages to this show can be found in The Simpsons, The A Team, Futurama, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Golden Girls and hundreds more.
Often parodied and rarely bettered, The Twilight Zone is in a league of its own.
2. Courage the Cowardly Dog
What was Cartoon Network thinking? Why did anyone ever think that this show was suitable for children?
Set in the jarringly empty landscape of an American prairie, the show followed the ironically named Courage as her attempted to protect his beloved owner Muriel and her cranky husband Eustace from whatever horrors befell them. And what horrors they were. A weremole, a sinister quack doctor who was a duck, the Chicken from Outer Space and an anthropomorphic, devilish cat named Katz.
Surreal, dark and sinister, Courage the Cowardly Dog is another show that you’ll never know how it got put on a children’s channel.
1. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Oh God. Oh God. The opening sequence of this so-called kids’ TV series was enough to make me wee myself nightly. An empty children’s playground, late at night, misty and spooky. Playground equipment starts moving by itself. Then an attic room with a terrifying clown doll. By this point I’m crying behind a couch and wishing something less nightmarish was on.
The 90s really did children’s television well and weren’t afraid to frighten the pants of innocent little cherubs. As a result we ended up with Goosebumps (and the retriever with the glowing eyes) and this treasure. If you have a sibling that you really don’t like, lock them in a room with a boxset of this show.
Are you afraid of the dark? I am now.