“Horror is a reaction; not a genre.”—John Carpenter
The world of horror is extremely addictive and, once you enter, there is no coming back. Carpenter’s quote is spot-on; watching horror flicks or series, the jumpscares and spine-chilling scenes cause an unbelievable amount of adrenaline rush, which is quite pleasurable experience for certain people. It serves as an escape from their normal lives, where people finally get to live their dream sequence of being pursued by a crazy slasher, fuelling their ‘fight or flight’ reaction.
Is there a horror series that is spookier than 2020? Probably not. With Halloween parties being cancelled, horror fans are probably gearing up by watching scary movies and shows that give them this inexplicable high. Netflix is at the top of its game with plenty of bloody, nightmare-inducing shows that the aficionados of horror can binge on.
Before your favourite director releases a new episodic series based on this year of living horror itself, rewatch some of the creepiest series to scare yourself to the point of insomnia. If you are ready to stay up all night to replay the various disturbing outcomes in your head over and over again, here are our picks of the top 10 scariest series on Netflix that will surely rob you of your precious sleep.
Let’s get started.
Mike Flanagan’s 2018 Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, is spectacular in every sense. Time transcends linearity; the past seeps into the present which in turn blends with the future. The magnificent Hill House and the spirits trapped in it exists as an abject; jump scares and ghostly apparitions add to the psychological terror that manifests as a result of the supernatural disturbances, occult experiences and omnipresent tension the characters are exposed to inside the House. Brilliant visuals, fitting music coupled with an effortless transition into the past, elaborating on the development of each character, makes Hill House one of the finest horrors shows ever made. It is a masterpiece that will induce fear, sorrow and longing, and leave the audience mesmerized by the frailty and relatability of each character.
The series revolves around the Crain family who moves into the Hill House to renovate it. The children, as well as the parents, are forced to face their own anxieties which exist as the Bent-Neck Lady, the Smiling Man etc. After the mother, Olivia Crain, commits suicide, the father, Hugh Crain, is forced to leave the house with his kids; he never makes an attempt to clarify the events of the fateful night. Bearing the hefty burden of the traumatising events and the ghosts of their past, the children grow up in trepidation. As adults, they are dysfunctional and constantly at unease. Nellie and Luke, the twins, are the worst affected and their fearful plight permeates through the screen making the audience squirm in their seats.
The show reaches the zenith of fear when a terrifying twist pushes a lead character into insanity. The series compel the viewers to wonder if the real terror lies within themselves if they themselves are what they should fear the most. Extraordinarily deep and finely knit, The Haunting of Hill House is a series that needs to be experienced for its rich story-telling, beautiful execution and deft exploration of guilt and trauma—“a work of genius”, as said by the master of horror, Stephen King.
Contrary to the audience’s anticipation, The Haunting of Bly Manor is not a sequel to The Haunting of Hill House. Mike Flanagan’s 2020 Netflix series, however, manages to touch a chord with the audience yet again. Incredible cinematography and intricate storytelling along with stellar performances make the series compelling. Hill House ended on a bittersweet note; Bly Manor is absolutely heartbreaking. Cleverly crafted, the horror exists on three different levels as a story being narrated of a story within a story. Seamless and refined, the characters manage to enthral us with their heart-rending backstories. The child actors, especially Benjamin Amesworth, who portrays Miles, are brilliant and terrifying. Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the malevolent and manipulative Peter Quint basks in his own brilliance. If watched carefully, the audience can well identify the clever allusions to its predecessor; unlike Hill House, Bly Manor gives an insight into the past events that led to the manor being haunted. It tackles the subject of love and grief deftly while pushing forward a mind-boggling theory that every love story is a ghost story.
The series is set in a quaint fictional village named Bly and is focused on the various events that occur in Bly Manor over a certain period. Bly Manor, which stands majestic and proud amidst the lush greenery, silently witnesses the lives of the people residing there. The series follows the journey of a young American woman, Dani Clayton, nursing her wounds, travelling to Bly to look after two orphans, Miles and Flora Wingrave, and residing with them as their au-pair. As soon as Dani reaches Bly, the young and intriguing Flora mysteriously greets her by saying “You’re expected”, which is an unpleasant reminder of Olivia Crain’s ghost greeting Nellie before prompting her to commit suicide in The Haunting of the Hill House. It ominously predicts Dani’s fate, while preparing the audience for some spine-chilling, blood-curdling psychological rampage. Flanagan’s nearly perfect portrayal of the human mind grappling with the complex emotions of love and loss takes the audience for a rough rollercoaster ride that scars and heals them at the same time.
Concepts of supernatural elements, time travelling, bootstrap paradox, Schrödinger’s cat, and predestination trapped in remarkable story-telling and camera work as well outstanding performances make Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s German series, Dark, a masterpiece of its own kind. It premiered in 2017 and ran for three seasons up to 2020 is a visual treat for sci-fi connoisseurs. It is a sci-fi thriller based in the fictional town of Winden where the mysterious disappearance of two children exposes the deadly past of the town as well as the web of lies the dysfunctional families are trapped in. It is a continuous movement between the events of 1986 and the present, as well as the future, where complex relationships are formed and the characters meet their past or future selves. Unpredictable and complicated, Dark might seem quite confusing at first for it sprouts multiple questions in the minds of viewers. Seasons two and three ties the loose ends together and manage to be as promising as the debut season. The series witnessed an ingenious blend of anxiety, guilt, emotions as well as sci-fi concepts which make it intriguing and exemplary.
The background score manages to set the melancholy mood and the characters are rightfully sullen and sombre. The families are a part of a vicious 33-year-old trauma cycle and are constantly trying to get a grip over time. The inter-personal drama, the existence of a wormhole beneath the nuclear power plant as well as the morbid progression of the story puzzles yet engrosses the audience. Louis Hoffmann deserves special mention as he effortlessly plays the role of a troubled teen, Jonas Khanwald, documenting his anxieties and perplexities with utter ease. Each word uttered by the characters adds meaning to the twisted plot. Entangled in sinful secrets and horrifying tragedies, the characters race against time, sending chills down the audience’s back; the series begins with Einstein saying how the difference between past, present and future is just an illusion.
“How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?”
Mindhunter’s riveting storyline delves into the criminal psyche to explore the wondrous minds of serial killers, and their motivation. FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Trench investigate grizzly murders while trying to uncover the secrets of the criminal mind. Dangerous criminals are interviewed in long, gruelling sessions to help the men understand their thought process, motives and compulsions and the knowledge of which can be used to prevent further crimes in future. The horrors of the human mind, the darkness it manifests within itself as well as the twisted contemplations that reside within it are enough to trouble the audience. The actors are exceptional—Cameron Britton as Edmund is perhaps the most interesting—cold-blooded and dignified, his words unsettle the agents with their tension and anxiety sending the audience into panic and frenzy. The scene where Charles Manson is interrogated is tense and ominous as he mocks the agents pompously.
The two seasons are grappling with wonderful direction, excellent visuals and stellar performances. Gruesome and vile, it is quite depressing as well. Psychological horror stumps the bravest of minds and Mindhunter is a show that crawls under one’s skin and settles in a minute at a time, terrifying them. The series lacks violence and gore; the criminal psyche is complex enough to trigger a psychological turmoil in the viewers’ minds. The raunchy scenes add to the oomph factor; the private lives of the agents humanise them. This crime thriller is meticulously designed with respect to the time period it is set in, and elaborates on how the behavioural science unit was conceived in detail. The show is executive produced by the great David Fincher who delivered some heartbreaking news that the show would not return for season three given its high budget.
Scary yet terrific, creepy yet realistic, Charlie Brooker’s British sci-fi anthology series is set in a dystopian future modelled on the contemporary world. It unveils and analyses the problems of modern society while portraying the ugly face of technology in our lives. It mirrors a future that is right around the corner and fuelled by technology; a future where inter-personal and social relationships are manipulated by advancing technology. Being an anthology series, each episode focuses on a different character, the stories of which have a lingering presence on the minds of the viewers. Interactive and provocative, Black Mirror elaborates on the changes in human behaviour when mind-controlled by technology.
The series is brilliant, with superb visuals and amazing performances. However, some of the best episodes are ‘The Entire History of You’, ‘White Bear’, ‘San Junipero’, ‘Arkangel’ and ‘Striking Vipers’ among others. Memory, mind control and trust form an integral part of all these narratives. Living in a world where there is the rapid advancement of technology in the formation of AI and the like, Black Mirror advises people to slow done, lest they face fateful outcomes like that of the characters.
Unique and terrifying, Creeped Out is a British-Canadian horror anthology series that delves deep into the psyche of teenagers. The eerie atmosphere is an added bonus to the already relatable setting of the show which elaborates on problems teenagers go through on a daily basis, including addiction to smartphones, a difference of opinion with parents, online trolling etc. It is well-crafted and the actors do a brilliant job. The premise of the show is quite similar to other teen shows like Goosebumps or Are You Afraid Of the Dark? The music is befitting and adds to the sinister buildup of the story. The Curious is a masked child who collects creepy stories; it usually poses a question important to the moral of each episode.
Production quality is quite good, though some of the cast members fail to live up to the expectations. The show is however quite scary as it has an uncanny similarity with the daily lives of the viewers. Episodes like ‘Marti’, ‘Slapstick’, ‘Cat Food’, ‘Trolled’, ‘Help’, ‘No Filter’ etc stand out from the rest. Next time someone cries about their new selfie on Instagram not getting too many likes, Kiera’s predicament in ‘No Filter’ is sure to change their mind about online validation. The show warns the audience against the ill effects of technology without explicit moral policing. Entertaining, this show is surely a delicacy for viewers irrespective of their age.
Ghoul is not a classic horror show: it is more of a political commentary on contemporary issues in India disguised as a horror story. The story borrows heavily from the events that occurred in Nazi Germany and a dystopian future ruled by a fascist government where Muslims are mercilessly persecuted. Nida Rahim, a faithful and dedicated military official of the authoritarian government is assigned the task of interrogating a deadly terrorist, Ali Saeed. Things go awry when Saeed exposes the darkest secrets of the interrogators and chaos ensues as Nida arrives at the conclusion that Saeed is possessed by an otherworldly, sinister entity. The three-episode miniseries is quite short to explore the concept based on the Arabian folklore; however, it is quite interesting to see Indians stepping up their game to compete with other horror shows.
Radhika Apte steals the show with her commendable performance. She is fierce and untamed, the wild look in her gloomy eyes set the mood for the show. Manav Kaul is promising in his assigned role and had the script been stronger, the series longer, the actors would get ample space to express themselves. Lack of jumpscares is made up by the gory scenes, unnerving interrogation and background score. A first of its kind in the Indian horror genre, Ghoul has many loopholes yet is a must watch due to the underlying message, the powerful performances, and the somewhat gripping storyline as presented by Patrick Graham.
Marianne is an intense and well-executed series in the French neo-Gothic genre, where the narrative keeps the audience hooked until the very end. Jumpscares abound in plenty, and the overall setting is creepy and terrifying. It is based on the life of a horror story writer, Emma Larsimon, who is plagued by nightmarish visions of Satanic evil and uses it as an inspiration to write her book. Sinister events begin to unfold at her hometown and Emma, along with her faithful aids, are pitted against demonic entities that they have to fight in order to save themselves. Borrowing heavily from other popular horror flicks, the creators manage to tell a captivating tale ending on an ambiguous note.
The background score is nearly perfect and manages to add a sense of eerie calm to the show. Suspenseful and unpredictable, the series has quite a few hair-raising scenes that will surely have the audience standing on eggs shells. The actors are exceptional, especially Mireille Herbstmayer playing Mrs Daugeron. It is a thrill ride laced with moody tones and altered reality. It is quite disturbing as is a portal to torturous hell where nobody is spared of death, torment, despair and anguish.
A marvellous creation by the Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things is an engaging American sci-fi show set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s. It involves a group of children investigating their friend Will Byers’ disappearance which leads them to befriend a girl named Eleven, who has psychokinetic abilities, as well as uncover dark secrets of the government. Gradually, they find out about The Upside Down which is a portal into the alternate universe; Will is held captive by a creature from the Upside Down. The three-season show is based on Will’s rescue and the subsequent events that follow where the lives of the Hawkins resident are plagued by supernatural monsters from the Upside Down. Although the story involves certain complex elements, the narrative is spun flawlessly and intricately, and in no way is it unbelievable.
The show is a success due to the superbly crafted characters, played by an uber-talented cast. Millie Bobby Brown thrives as Eleven and the depth of her emotions and expressions do most of the talking. Character arcs are well developed over the seasons and Duffer brothers do an exceptional job with the distribution of the plot over the episodes. Monsters as well as human antagonists like that of Billy have the prowess to unnerve the audience. The characters are indefatigable in their pursuit of the truth and are thus doomed to bloody endings. The background score is refreshing; the visuals are engrossing. It is a relatively pleasant experience for the audience who are touched by the 80’s nostalgia entwined with comedic scenes, wonderful VFX and grappling horror-mystery- occasional gory scenes and the spooky atmosphere makes this steady paced show one of the best of its kind.
Sujoy Ghosh’s mini-series spread over five episodes is yet another brave attempt at producing a horror show. The execution is neat with a captivating yet cliched narrative. Palomi Ghosh, Purab Kohli, Jisshu U Sengupta as well the child actors do a spectacular job and are quite compelling as the characters. The episodes end with cliffhangers, leaving the viewers hungry for more. The children are braver than the adults, laden with innocence and curiosity, nothing can stop them from uncovering the truth. It is executed as a crime drama with occasional scares along the way. The ending is quite cliched, influenced by various Indian urban legends, however, the show is worth the watch due to its enticing narrative and good character development—though it is predictable, the fast screenplay makes it interesting.
It is quite Stranger Things-esque with a similar group of children behaving as paranormal investigators. Intrigued by a book named The Ghost of Sultanpore, the children hope to discover the secrets of the villa their new friend moves into. Sinister events unfold, as past secrets are discovered and the story wavers steadily between the past and the present. Ghosh, who is well known for his short film Ahalya and his blockbuster movie Kahaani does a great job, leaving room for improvement in his future horror ventures.
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