The History of Horror: Exploring Terrifying TV Shows Throughout Time

Every creative story begins with the writer asking, “what if?”. Like most storytelling genres, horror seeks to expose various truths of humanity… but in the most twisted and creative way possible. 

It seems that since the beginning of television’s history, shows have come out with “Halloween specials” and already scary shows elevate their ‘scare factor’ and become even scarier. The definition of what is “scary” changes all the time. Let’s take a look at the history of horror on TV.

  1. The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
    1. “The Twilight Zone” is one of the most innovative live-drama shows to come out of television’s golden era, with the show running from 1959 to 1964. The show’s creator Rod Sterling aimed to tell stories with harsh truths about society that wouldn’t be censored, so he chose to do it through horror. Episodes would feature otherworldly creatures or a dystopian society to disguise its intention, which was to expose or make a comment about some harsh truth about society. Isolation seems to be a recurring theme throughout time, starting from the 1960s and developing into the modern COVID-19 pandemic. There’s an episode called “Where Is Everybody?” that features a man who goes crazy when he finds that he is the only man left on Earth. 
  1. “The X-Files” (1993), (reboot: 2016)
    1. Who knew a show typically about aliens and other extraterrestrial beings would also contain relevant themes? With the 2016 reboot, the show followed in “The Twilight Zone”’s footsteps and began to focus on current issues. There’s a scene in the episode titled “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” where Mulder and Sculley interact with an alien that wanted to build a wall around Earth. Sound similar to something a former president did? 
  1. Black Mirror, “The National Anthem” (2011)
    1. An world where the Prime Minister has to have sex with a pig is quite the opening episode for a show in a different setting every episode. But, like all horror, the show’s horrid premise holds a deeper meaning. The president of this country, desperate to be seen as a worthy leader in the public eye, is met with a tough decision: have sex with a pig on live television or lose his daughter. This episode tackles politicians’ eternal want to appeal to the majority and also plays with the idea of free speech and free will.
  1. American Horror Story: Cult (2017)
    1. Ryan Murphy’s thoughts on the result of the 2016 presidential election are twisted in the most Murphy-esque way in American Horror Story’s seventh season, “Cult”.When Donald Trump is announced the winner, the season revolves around a group of disappointed citizens and Evan Peters’ character Kai, who embraces the idea that fear is running their society. 
  1. The Terror: Infamy (2019)
    1. It seems the result of the 2016 presidential election spurred a lot of horror-based stories,  and “The Terror”’s second season is heavily inspired from it. The sophomore season revolves around Japanese-Americans’ experiences in internment camps during World War II, which is a nudge to the former President’s attempt to build detention camps along the United States’ southern border. 
  1. Them (2021)
    1. When a Black family moves to an all-white neighborhood, terrors beyond imagination ensue. “Them” provides commentary on racism in the 1950s through traditional horror concepts such as supernatural forces threatening to harm the main characters. Despite the show’s setting taking place in the 1950s, the show gets viewers thinking about how relevant certain themes of the show are to the present day.
  1. Squid Game (2021)
    1. On its way to becoming Netflix’s most watched show, “Squid Game” juxtaposes the debate of whether man is good or bad with adults playing kid’s games. When a desperate man enters a ‘game show’ for money, he finds out that the games he’s playing are for more than money– it’s for his own life. With plot twists and turns at every corner, viewers are constantly at the edge of their seats, observing like the VIPs. With streaming, viewers don’t have to anxiously wait every week for a new episode- they can face all the horror in one night!

The evolution of horror in shows will never end, as long as there are still things for people to be afraid of.

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