Horror-Themed TV Binges: Ten New and Returning 2023 Shows That You Need to Stream This Halloween
Scary movies aren't the only way to stream your way through Halloween — add Edgar Allan Poe-worshipping thrillers, tech nightmares, vampires and body horror to your must-watch list, too.
October 27, 2023
When someone mentions watching horror on-screen at Halloween, eerie, creepy and unsettling films usually come to mind. Do you like scary movies? If so, October is your month to shine each year. But frights, bumps and jumps aren't just served up in 90- or 120-minute doses. On the episodic front, TV has more than a few highlights to add to your list for spooky season viewing.
Whichever fits, there's a new or returning 2023 horror-themed television show to watch his Halloween — and we've rounded up ten must-sees. Also on the list: body horror, fan obsessions, dystopian chaos, dark fairy tales and stranded-in-the-woods cannibalism.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Of the many pies that Succession's Roy family had their fingers in, pharmaceuticals wasn't one of them. For virtually that, Mike Flanagan gives audiences The Fall of the House of Usher. The horror auteur's take on dynastic wealth gets a-fluttering through a world of decadence enabled by pushing pills legally, as six heirs to an addiction-laced kingdom vie to inherit a vast fortune. Flanagan hasn't given up his favourite genre for pure drama, however. The eponymous Usher offspring won't be enjoying the spoils of their father Roderick's (Bruce Greenwood, The Resident) business success, either, in this absorbing, visually ravishing and narratively riveting eight-parter. As the bulk of this tale is unfurled fireside, its patriarch tells federal prosecutor C Auguste Dupin (Carl Lumbly, SWAT) why his children (including Pet Sematary: Bloodlines' Henry Thomas, Minx's Samantha Sloyan, The Peripheral's T'Nia Miller, iZombie's Rahul Kohli, The Wrath of Becky's Kate Siegel and The Midnight Club's Sauriyan Sapkota) came to die within days of each other — and, with all the gory details, how.
As with The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor before it, plus The Midnight Club as well, Flanagan's latest Netflix series finds its basis on the page. The author this time: Edgar Allan Poe, although The Fall of the House of Usher isn't a strict adaptation of the iconic author's 1840 short story of the same name, or just an adaptation, even as it bubbles with greed, violence and paranoia (plus death, loss, decay and the deceased haunting the livin)g. Character monikers, episode titles and other details spring from widely across Poe's bibliography. Cue ravens, black cats, masks, tell-tale hearts, pendulums and a Rue Morgue. What if the writer had penned Succession? That's one of Flanagan's questions — and what if he'd penned Dopesick and Painkiller, too? Hailing from the talent behind the exceptional Midnight Mass as well, plus movies Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald's Game and Doctor Sleep, the series that results is a gloriously creepy and involving modern gothic horror entry.
It isn't by accident that watching The Changeling feels like being read to, rather than simply viewing streaming's latest book-to-TV adaptation. Landing from the pages of Victor LaValle's novel of the same name, this horror-fantasy series is obsessed with stories, telling tales and unpacking what humanity's favourite narratives say about our nature, including myths and yarns that date back centuries and longer. Printed tomes are crucial in its characters lives, fittingly. Libraries, bookstores, dusty boxes stacked with old volumes, beloved childhood texts, a rare signed version of To Kill a Mockingbird with a note from Harper Lee to lifelong friend Truman Capote: they all feature within the show's frames. Its protagonists Apollo Kagwa (LaKeith Stanfield, Haunted Mansion) and Emma Valentine (Clark Backo, Letterkenny), who fall in love and make a life together before its first episode is out, even work as a book dealer and a librarian. And, The Changeling also literally reads to its audience, because LaValle himself relays this adult fairytale, his dulcet tones speaking lyrical prose to provide a frequent guide
In a show created and scripted by Venom, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Fifty Shades of Grey and Saving Mr Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel, there's nothing more potent and revealing than a story, after all — and The Changeling believes in the power of tales to capture, explain, transport, engage, caution and advise, too. Aptly, New Yorkers Apollo and Emma meet amid books, in the library where she works and he frequents. It takes convincing to get her to agree to go out with him, but that leads to marriage and a child. The Changeling's astute thematic layering includes Apollo's repeated attempts to wrangle that first yes out of Emma, however, setting up a train of thought that has many future stations. In-between early dates and domesticity, Emma also takes the trip of a lifetime to Brazil, where an old woman awaits by Lagoa do Abaeté. The locals warn the visitor to stay away but she's mesmerised. What happens between the two strangers sends the narrative hurtling, with the lakeside figure tying a red string around Emma's wrist, granting her three wishes, but advising that they'll only come true when the bracelet falls off by itself.
Twin gynaecologists at the top of their game. Blood-red costuming and bodily fluids. The kind of perturbing mood that seeing flesh as a source of horror does and must bring. A stunning eye for stylish yet unsettling imagery. Utterly impeccable lead casting. When 1988's Dead Ringers hit cinemas, it was with this exact combination, all in the hands of David Cronenberg following Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly. He took inspiration from real-life siblings Stewart and Cyril Marcus, whose existence was fictionalised in 1977 novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, and turned it into something spectacularly haunting. Attempting to stitch together those parts again, this time without the Crimes of the Future filmmaker at the helm — and as a miniseries, too — on paper seems as wild a feat as some of modern medicine's biggest advancements. This time starring a phenomenal Rachel Weisz as both Beverly and Elliot Mantle, and birthed by Lady Macbeth and The Wonder screenwriter Alice Birch, Dead Ringers 2.0 is indeed an achievement. It's also another masterpiece.
Playing the gender-swapped roles that Jeremy Irons (House of Gucci) inhabited so commandingly 35 years back, Weisz (Black Widow) is quiet, calm, dutiful, sensible and yearning as Beverly, then volatile, outspoken, blunt, reckless and rebellious as Elliot. Her performance as each is that distinct — that fleshed-out as well — that it leaves viewers thinking they're seeing double. Of course, technical trickery is also behind the duplicate portrayals, with directors Sean Durkin (The Nest), Karena Evans (Snowfall), Lauren Wolkstein (The Strange Ones) and Karyn Kusama's (Destroyer) behind the show's lens; however, Weisz is devastatingly convincing. Beverly is also the patient-facing doctor of the two, helping usher women into motherhood, while Elliot prefers tinkering in a state-of-the-art lab trying to push the boundaries of fertility. Still, the pair are forever together or, with unwitting patients and dates alike, swapping places and pretending to be each other. Most folks in their company don't know what hit them, which includes actor Genevieve (Britne Oldford, The Umbrella Academy), who segues from a patient to Beverly's girlfriend — and big-pharma billionaire Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle, She Said), who Dead Ringers' weird sisters court to fund their dream birthing centre.
Becky with the good hair gets a shoutout in Swarm. Facial bites do as well, complete with a Love & Basketball reference when the culprit flees. This seven-part series about a global pop sensation and her buzzing fans and stans also has its music icon unexpectedly drop a stunner of a visual album, ride a white horse, be married to a well-known rapper, become a mum to twins and see said husband fight with her sister in an elevator. Her sibling is also a singer, and plenty of folks contend she's the more interesting of the two. Still, Swarm's object of fascination — protagonist Dre's (Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah) undying obsession — sells out tours, breaks Ticketmaster and headlines one of the biggest music festivals there is. And, while they call themselves the titular term rather than a hive, her devotees are zealous and then some, especially humming around on social media.
Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, the show's creators and past colleagues on Glover's exceptional, now-finished Atlanta — Nabers also worked on Watchmen, too — couldn't be more upfront about who they're referring to. No one says Beyoncé's name, however, but Swarm's Houston-born music megastar is the former Destiny's Child singer in everything except moniker. In case anyone watching thinks that this series is trading in coincidences and déjà vu, or just failing to be subtle when it comes to Ni'Jah (Nirine S Brown, Ruthless), the Prime Video newcomer keeps making an overt opening declaration. "This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is intentional," it announces before each episode. From there, it dives into Dre's journey as a twentysomething in 2016 who still adores her childhood idol with the same passion she did as a teen and, instalment by instalment, shows how far she's willing to go to prove it.
THE LAST OF US
If the end of the world comes, or a parasitic fungus evolves via climate change, spreads globally, infests brains en masse and almost wipes out humanity, spectacular video game-to-TV adaptation The Last of Us will have you wanting Pedro Pascal in your corner. Already a standout in Game of Thrones, then Narcos, then The Mandalorian, he's perfectly cast in HBO's latest blockbuster series — a character-driven show that ruminates on what it means to not just survive but to want to live and thrive after the apocalypse. In this smart and gripping show (one that's thankfully already been renewed for season two, too), he plays Joel. Dad to teenager Sarah (Nico Parker, The Third Day), he's consumed by grief and loss after what starts as a normal day, and his birthday, changes everything for everyone. Twenty years later, he's a smuggler tasked with tapping into his paternal instincts to accompany a different young girl, the headstrong Ellie (Bella Ramsey, Catherine Called Birdy), on a perilous but potentially existence-saving trip across the US.
Starting to watch The Last of Us, or even merely describing it, is an instant exercise in déjà vu. Whether or not you've played the hit game since it first arrived in 2013, or its 2014 expansion pack, 2020 sequel or 2022 remake, its nine-part TV iteration ventures where plenty of on-screen fare including The Road and The Walking Dead has previously trodden. The best example that springs to mind during The Last of Us is Station Eleven, however, which is the heartiest of compliments given how thoughtful, empathetic and textured that 2021–22 series proved. As everything about pandemics, contagions and diseases that upend the world order now does, The Last of Us feels steeped in stone-cold reality as well, as spearheaded by a co-creator, executive producer, writer and director who has already turned an IRL doomsday into stunning television with Chernobyl. That creative force is Craig Mazin, teaming up with Neil Druckmann from Naughty Dog, who also wrote and directed The Last of Us games.
When Ron Swanson discovered digital music, the tech-phobic Parks and Recreation favourite was uncharacteristically full of praise. Played by Nick Offerman (The Last of Us) at his most giddily exuberant, he badged the iPod filled with his favourite records an "excellent rectangle". In Black Mirror, the same shape is everywhere. The Netflix series' moniker even stems from the screens and gadgets that we all now filter life through daily and unthinkingly. In Charlie Brooker's (Cunk on Earth) eyes since 2011, however, those ever-present boxes and the technology behind them are far from ace. Instead, befitting a dystopian anthology show that has dripped with existential dread from episode one, and continues to do so in its long-awaited sixth season, those rectangles keep reflecting humanity at its bleakest.
Black Mirror as a title has always been devastatingly astute: when we stare at a TV, smartphone, computer or tablet, we access the world yet also reveal ourselves. It might've taken four years to return after 2019's season five, but Brooker's hit still smartly and sharply focuses on the same concern. Indeed, this new must-binge batch of nightmares begins with exactly the satirical hellscape that today's times were bound to inspire. Opening chapter Joan Is Awful, with its AI- and deepfake-fuelled mining of everyday existence for content, almost feels too prescient — a charge a show that's dived into digital resurrections, social scoring systems, killer VR and constant surveillance knows well. Brooker isn't afraid to think bigger and probe deeper in season six, though; to eschew obvious targets like ChatGPT and the pandemic; and to see clearly and unflinchingly that our worst impulses aren't tied to the latest widgets.
For Shauna (Melanie Lynskey, The Last of Us), Natalie (Juliette Lewis, Welcome to Chippendales), Taissa (Tawny Cypress, Billions), Misty (Christina Ricci, Wednesday), Lottie (Simone Kessell, Muru) and Van (Lauren Ambrose, Servant), 1996 will always be the year that their plane plunged into the Canadian wilderness, stranding them for 19 tough months — as season one of 2021–2022 standout Yellowjackets grippingly established. As teenagers (as played by The Kid Detective's Sophie Nélisse, The Boogeyman's Sophie Thatcher, Scream VI's Jasmin Savoy, Shameless' Samantha Hanratty, Mad Max: Fury Road's Courtney Eaton and Santa Clarita Diet's Liv Hewson), they were members of the show's titular high-school soccer squad, travelling from their New Jersey home town to Seattle for a national tournament, when the worst eventuated. Cue Lost-meets-Lord of the Flies with an Alive twist, as that first season was understandably pegged.
All isn't always what it seems as Shauna and company endeavour to endure in the elements. Also, tearing into each other occurs more than just metaphorically. Plus, literally sinking one's teeth in was teased and flirted with since episode one, too. But Yellowjackets will always be about what it means to face something so difficult that it forever colours and changes who you are — and constantly leaves a reminder of who you might've been. So, when Yellowjackets ended its first season, it was with as many questions as answers. Naturally, it tore into season two in the same way. In the present, mere days have elapsed — and Shauna and her husband Jeff (Warren Kole, Shades of Blue) are trying to avoid drawing any attention over the disappearance of Shauna's artist lover Adam (Peter Gadiot, Queen of the South). Tai has been elected as a state senator, but her nocturnal activities have seen her wife Simone (Rukiya Bernard, Van Helsing) move out with their son Sammy (Aiden Stoxx, Supergirl). Thanks to purple-wearing kidnappers, Nat has been spirited off, leaving Misty desperate to find her — even enlisting fellow citizen detective Walter (Elijah Wood, Come to Daddy) to help. And, in the past, winter is setting in, making searching for food and staying warm an immense feat.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Following in Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's footsteps isn't easy, but someone had to do it when What We Do in the Shadows made the leap from the big screen to the small. New format, new location, new vampires, same setup: that's the formula behind this film-to-TV series, which is now in its fifth season. Thankfully for audiences, Matt Berry (Toast of London and Toast of Tinseltown), Natasia Demetriou (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga) and Kayvan Novak (Cruella) were enlisted as the show's three key bloodsuckers in this US spinoff from the New Zealand mockumentary, all in roles that they each seem born for. The trio play three-century-old British aristocrat Laszlo, his 500-year-old creator and partner Nadja, and early Ottoman Empire warrior Nandor, respectively, who share an abode and the afterlife in Staten Island. In cinemas, the film already proved that the concept works to sidesplitting effect. Vampire housemates, they're just like us — except when they're busting out their fangs, flying, avoiding daylight, sleeping in coffins, feuding with other supernatural creatures and leaving a body count, that is. On TV, What We Do in the Shadows has been illustrating that there's not only ample life left in palling around with the undead, but that there's no limit to the gloriously ridiculous hijinks that these no-longer-living creatures can get up to.
It was true as a movie and it's still true as a television show: What We Do in the Shadows sparkles not just due to its premise, but when its characters and cast are both as right as a luminous full moon on a cloudless night. This lineup of actors couldn't be more perfect or comedically gifted, as season five constantly demonstrates via everything from mall trips, political campaigns, pride parades and speed dating to trying to discover why Nandor's long-suffering and ever-dutiful familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén, Werewolves Within) hasn't quite started chomping on necks despite being bitten himself. Berry's over-enunciation alone is the best in the business, as is his ability to play confident and cocky. His line readings are exquisite, and also piercingly funny. While that was all a given thanks to his Toast franchise, Year of the Rabbit, The IT Crowd, Snuff Box, The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace history, What We Do in the Shadows is a group effort. Demetriou and Novak keep finding new ways to twist Nadja and Nandor's eccentricities in fresh directions; their characters have felt lived-in since season one, but they're still capable of growth and change.
When M Night Shyamalan (Knock at the Cabin) earned global attention and two Oscar nominations back in 1999 for The Sixth Sense, it was with a film about a boy who sees dead people. After ten more features that include highs (the trilogy that is Unbreakable, Split and Glass) and lows (Lady in the Water and The Happening), in 2019 he turned his attention to a TV tale of a nanny who revives a dead baby. Or did he? That's how Servant commenced its first instantly eerie, anxious and dread-filled season, a storyline it has followed in its second season in 2021, third in 2022, and then fourth and final batch of episodes in 2023. But as with all Shyamalan works, this meticulously made series bubbles with the clear feeling that all isn't as it seems. What happens if a caregiver sweeps in exactly when needed and changes a family's life, Mary Poppins-style, but she's a teenager rather than a woman, disquieting instead of comforting, and accompanied by strange events, forceful cults and unsettlingly conspiracies rather than sweet songs, breezy winds and spoonfuls of sugar? That's Servant's basic premise.
Set in Shyamalan's beloved Philadelphia, and created by Tony Basgallop (The Consultant), the puzzle-box series spends most of its time in a lavish brownstone inhabited by TV news reporter Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose, Yellowjackets), her celebrity-chef husband Sean (Toby Kebbell, Bloodshot), their baby Jericho and 18-year-old nanny Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free, Too Old to Die Young) — and where Dorothy's recovering-alcoholic brother Julian (Grint, Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities) is a frequent visitor. That's still the dynamic in season four, which slowly and powerfully moves towards its big farewell. Dorothy is more determined than ever to be rid of Leanne, Leanne is more sure of herself and her abilities than she's ever been — in childminding, and all the other spooky occurrences that've been haunting the family — and Sean and Julian are again caught in the middle. Wrapping up with one helluva ending, Servant has gifted viewers four seasons of spectacular duelling caregivers and gripping domestic tension, and one of streaming's horror greats.
THE HORROR OF DOLORES ROACH
It takes place in New York, not London. The era: modern times, not centuries back. Fleet Street gives way to Washington Heights, the demon barber to a masseuse nicknamed "Magic Hands", and pies to empanadas. There's still a body count, however, and people end up in pastries as well. Yes, The Horror of Dolores Roach namedrops Sweeney Todd early, as it needs to; there's no denying where this eight-part series takes inspiration, as did the one-woman off-Broadway play that it's based on, plus the podcast that followed before the TV version. On the stage, the airwaves and now via streaming, creator Aaron Mark asks a question: what if the fictional cannibalism-inciting character who first graced penny dreadfuls almost two centuries back, then leapt to theatres, films and, most famously, musicals, had a successor today? Viewers can watch the answer via a dramedy that also belongs on the same menu as Santa Clarita Diet, Yellowjackets and Bones and All. Amid this recent feast of on-screen dishes about humans munching on humans, The Horror of Dolores Roach is light yet grisly, but it's also a survivalist thriller in its own way — and laced with twisted attempts at romance, too.
That knowing callout to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street comes amid an early banquet of knowing callouts, as The Horror of Dolores Roach begins with a play based on a podcast that's wrapping up its opening night. Newspaper clippings in actor Flora Frias' (Jessica Pimentel, Orange is the New Black) dressing room establish that the show takes its cues from a woman who got murderous in the Big Apple four years prior, and helped get unwitting NYC residents taking a bite out of each other. Meet the series' framing device; before the stage production's star can head to the afterparty, she's face to face with a furious Dolores (Justina Machado, One Day at a Time) herself. The latter isn't there to slay, but to haunt the woman spilling her tale by sharing the real details. Two decades earlier, Dolores was a happy resident of Lin-Manuel Miranda's favourite slice of New York, a drug-dealer's girlfriend, and a fan of the local empanada shop. Then the cops busted in, The Horror of Dolores Roach's namesake refused to snitch and lost 16 years of her life. When she's released, gentrification has changed the neighbourhood and her other half is nowhere to be found. Only Luis Batista (Alejandro Hernandez, New Amsterdam) remains that remembers her, still in the empanada joint, and he couldn't be keener on letting her stay with him in his basement apartment below the store.
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