Benny Benassi opined in his 2010 hit, “Cinema,” the appeal of voyeurism, using the process of a consumer watching film as a metaphor. Similarly, there is a perverse pleasure in watching other people—or in this case, sometimes animals and monsters—in pain, at least fictional ones. Therapist Kati Morton recently theorized that we like to watch scary films or shows because we are in a safe environment but still feel the body’s trauma response, such as a dopamine rush, without the presence of an actual threat. With that in mind, here is some of the best horror to watch on TV:
Happy Tree Friends
Though it is Western animation, the Japanese aesthetic, “yume kawaii” (sick cute), accurately describes “Happy Tree Friends.” This splatterpunk show features cute animals, each with their own idiosyncratic personality traits, getting violently mutilated. One episode, “As You Wish,” is a retelling of “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. My favorite character is Nutty, a squirrel who loves candy.
Parasyte: The Maxim
This show is so gory and psychological that it was banned in China. Don’t worry, the way the characters get dismembered isn’t grounded in reality. In this show, there are parasitic beasts that take over the host’s body, and when they do, they can change the configuration of all the organs in the body. This includes the brain, allowing the host to become extremely agile and develop sinewy threads tipped with metal talons that have the power to eviscerate the parasite’s target. Shinichi, the protagonist, is a rare exception to the parasites’ plight because when his parasite, Migi, tries to take over his brain, there is a malfunction that makes it so that Migi only has control of Shinichi’s arm. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship, both in the biological sense and the game-theory sense. As this happens, Shinichi’s clandestine knowledge of the parasites’ existence and how they affect people takes a toll on his mental health and interpersonal relationships, which leads to a type of character development that is incredibly satisfying to watch.
“Black Mirror” is a cerebral anthology show that explores the human relationship to technology. Each hour-or-so-long episode asks a different question, such as, “How do helicopter parents affect their children?” or “Should we judge people by how many likes they get on social media?” or most notably, “What does it say about me if I like watching a horror anthology series, like ‘Black Mirror?’” The scariest episode is probably “Playtest,” for reasons that are spoilers.
This splatterpunk show with a nauseating art style is about a Satanic dog who has an underground lair of corpses under a graveyard. No one in his family—except for Grandpa, who all of the other characters think is senile—believe Mr. Pickles is evil. In addition to violence, Mr. Pickles engages in sexual immorality. The other characters also engage in immoral and sometimes nihilistic behaviors, especially in the first episode, “Tommy’s Big Job.”
Speculative fiction usually involves some sort of element that defies the laws of physics, but some speculative fiction, such as “Upright Women Wanted” by Sarah Gailey, reimagines political systems. “The Purge” does exactly that, as legislated catharsis is taken to an extreme. Probably not the best show for any sort of libertarian or anarchist, since it explores a myriad of concepts, such as the emergence of new religions as laws change and whether society can find alternatives to governmental police and paramedics.
There are so many queer theory essays I could write about this show, from the otherization and demonization of characters who are externally identical to but different than the humans, to the parallels between the depiction of ghouls and the AIDS crisis. Kaneki, a sensitive college student who loves reading, is turned into a ghoul when he is lured on a date with Rize and given ghoul transplants at the hospital. To survive, he must eat human flesh—and for some reason, coffee—though he does not want to because he is moral and has a conscience. The antagonists are other ghouls who Kaneki has to fight that are remorseless about murder.
Courage the Cowardly Dog
Courage is an anxious dog who must protect his elderly owners, Eustace and Muriel, from imminent threats in a rural town called “Nowhere.” Some fans have theorized that the show is just mundane experiences, filtered from Courage’s perspective, that are only scary because he is a dog who has no idea what is going on. The two-parter, “The Mask,” is about a battered woman’s trauma response to gang violence—her abusive ex-boyfriend also shares a name with a real-life drug dealer.