Lights out, volume up, eyes open: here are some of the best series available now for a spooky binge.
Because what better way to celebrate Halloween than to scare the living daylights out of yourself for hours on end?
The discovery of a woman’s corpse crowned with antlers, bound to a tree in a worshipful pose and surrounded by Cajun bird traps sets the stage for one of the eeriest detective dramas in recent times.
Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) partners up with Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) to take on the case, traversing the desolate Louisiana landscape in search of the cult killer.
If the vile crimes, occult crime scenes and bleak backdrop somehow don’t find a way of creeping under your skin, then you can rely on Rust and his incessant pessimistic ruminations to drag you down into his own depths of despair at the case and the world at large.
Blackmailed by stolen webcam footage, traumatised by personalised horror virtual reality, driven to suicide by drone insects: Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is an anthology of futuristic nightmares that torture its characters and turn all viewers into technophobes.
But they are not simply speculative tales of potential technological dystopias, as they tap into today’s society and its many anxieties and moral violations. We are already experiencing the rampant distrust of government explored in ‘The Waldo Moment’, the image obsession provoked by social media in ‘Nosedive’, and the rise of xenophobia in ‘Men Against Fire’.
Often the real antagonists - the scariest monsters - are not the technologies but its users: the ones staring back at us when we look into the black mirrors of our smart phone screens.
Stranger Things, Netflix’s 80s-set sci-fi phenomenon, often looks and feels like a fun Spielbergian nostalgia trip. But it is also scary.
The story begins with a parent’s worst nightmare - the disappearance of a child, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) - the trauma of which is painfully realised by Winona Ryder as the boy’s mother Joyce. She searches for Will with the town’s police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), as do Will’s friends with the help of a young psychokinetic girl called Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).
As the supernatural events unfold and the monsters are uncovered, there are many scenes that escalate into full-blown horror. And at its core is an evil, all-devouring superorganism to rival John Carpenter’s The Thing.
FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to investigate the murder of a small-town girl: a standard premise for any detective drama. But it’s not long before Twin Peaks takes a sharp left turn into Lynchian weirdness.
So idyllic is the town and so hard does the grief hit its inhabitants that you’d be forgiven for thinking they have never experienced a death of one of their own. The horror clearly doesn’t belong among all those fir trees, cherry pies and damn good cups of coffee.
With the town’s big close-knit community of idiosyncratic characters played melodramatically, Twin Peaks often resembles a soap opera. But even when it’s at its most comic or most camp it keeps the same creepy undercurrent that implies something could go wrong - or evil could emerge – at any moment.
An icy Mads Mikelsen is perfectly cast as the notoriously bone-chilling Hannibal Lecter in this prequel series to Silence of the Lambs.
When Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is recruited by Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of Behavioral Sciences at the FBI, to investigate a serial killer in Minnesota, the case weighs heavy on the severely empathic profiler. The unsuspecting Crawford therefore has him supervised by the forensic psychiatrist Dr. Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer himself, who develops a dangerous fascination with Graham.
The crime scenes are disturbing, but between all the ‘death tableaus’ (corpses turned into sculptures by their murderers) and Lecter’s instaworthy dishes, Hannibal uses the bloodiest of palettes to paint the most grotesquely beautiful scenes on TV.
American Horror Story
Over ten self-contained, scare-packed series, American Horror Story has seemingly catered for every phobia.
Exploring all of haunted houses, asylums, supernatural hotels, freak shows, cults, covens of witches and even presidencies, the returning cast go big and wicked playing anything from evil nuns to the grim reaper herself.
It is lurid, lustful and campy, but the sheer strangeness of some scenes (a bloody picnic, a colonial impaling) and the unnerving realism of others (a school shooting, Trump winning the 2016 election) will ensure a fright or three.
The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson’s story of psychic researchers studying a supposedly haunted house is widely considered one of the greatest - and scariest - novels of its kind.
Netflix’s adaptation reimagines the story for the modern day, jumping between two timelines to follow the lives of five siblings (the Crain family) whose experiences of the house still haunt them.
And they will haunt you too as it flashes back to the events that led up to their escape in 1992, as the paranormal phenomena multiply and the paranoia mounts, with the Crains drowning in the House’s daunting, shadowy spaces and rattled by the sound of a scratch or the opening of a door.