TV shows you should never watch alone

After a long day at work, nothing beats kicking back with a cold drink, a hot plate of food, and flipping on the old idiot box before promptly wetting yourself from fear. On second thought, maybe that isn't such a great idea. After all, some TV shows encourage you to turn your brain off, while other shows are meant to turn your knuckles white. Programs loaded with jump scares, formless figures lurking around blind corners, and flesh-eating zombies aren't exactly ideal for chillaxing solo. And without a doubt, the freaky little gems below are all incredibly creepy TV shows that you should never watch alone.

The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964)

Catching an episode or three of that "twilighty show about that zone" late at night is always a great way to fray the nerves, especially with a storm brewing outside. Maybe it's Rod Serling's Mr. Rogers-meets-doomsayer voice or the heaping helpings of irony available during any given episode, but The Twilight Zone is oddly comforting in its eeriness, at least when it isn't freaking us out.

Naturally, some might harrumph, asking, "How can a nearly 60-year-old anthology series still make me change my underwear between episodes?" Well, dim the lights and turn on "Living Doll." In this particular episode, Telly Savalas plays an angry stepfather who rages out on his stepdaughter's new doll. Of course, the toy responds, quite matter-of-factly, "My name is Talky Tina…and I'm going to kill you."

Killer dolls not freaky enough? Try catching a flight after William Shatner gets tormented by a fuzzy gremlin on the wing of a plane. Okay, we admit that "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is pretty amusing now, but for all his over-the-top acting, Shatner really sells the fear in his own hammy way. Of course, Serling has quite a few freaky tricks up his sleeve. For instance, after watching "The Hitch-Hiker," nobody in their right mind would pick up a roadside stray, and if you're looking for lesser-seen-fare, check out "When the Sky Was Opened," an episode that'll have you questioning reality in no time.

Tales from the Crypt (1989 - 1996)

Getting your first glimpse of the Crypt Keeper, as his puppet form pops out of a coffin, is pretty darn freaky. Sure, his monologues are filled with corny wordplay (right, boils and ghouls?) and innuendo, but fans of this classic HBO series soon learned not to judge a tale by its bookends.

Compiled from the vaults of EC comics, Tales from the Crypt really knew how to spin a morality play. Each episode dug up the life of some unfortunate schemer or dreamer and flipped the script on their dubious plans, and the show regularly trotted out a long list of ghouls, ghosts, and monsters. Tales also used some frighteningly impressive directors like Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, and Walter Hill. It also employed some pretty great actors, from legends like Kirk Douglas to up-and-comers such as Bill Paxton and Demi Moore.

But was the show petrifying? Well, does a werewolf do its business in the woods? Well, possibly, but Tales from the Crypt was definitely a fright fest. For example, the classic haunted house caper, "Television Terror," lampoons the popular daytime talk format and "investigative journalism" of the early '90s, all while scaring the crap out of couch potatoes. And then there's "Abra Cadaver," a season three thriller that focuses on two brothers (who are also doctors) trying to discover the secret of reanimation. Trust us, this skin-crawling episode will cling to you long after the glow of the TV has faded away.

Paranormal Witness (2011 - Current day)

Admittedly, it's easier to discuss scary TV shows from a fictional standpoint because paranormal "reality" shows are pretty controversial. At the same time, ghoulish "true stories" have a long history of freaking us out, including classics like Unsolved Mysteries and In Search of… In that same vein, Paranormal Witness certainly knows how to spin an uncanny yarn.

Featuring ostensibly true ghost stories, each episode follows the same premise. A victim unravels their tale of terror as actors recreate the story on-screen. It's a familiar gimmick, but the show's true strength comes from creating an empathetic bond with audience and storyteller, all while spinning cinematic docudramas. Episodes like season two's "Capitol Theater Haunting" exemplifies the show's scary movie approach, ramping up suspense before splicing in some seriously effective jump scares and creep-out moments. Season four's aptly titled "Demon House" also feels like a condensed but extremely tense version of 1982's The Entity. And for pure nightmare fuel, check out "Suzy Doll." Of course, if the image above freaked you out, then you might want to pass on this particular episode.

The X-Files (1993 - 2002)

For a show that aired on prime time television, Fox's breakout spookfest, The X-Files, was way ahead of the curve. Creator Chris Carter got away with all kinds of boundary-pushing stuff throughout his years on the show, and while not every episode is freaky, some of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully's best investigations made us want to sleep with the lights on.

Throughout the show's extended run, the writers delighted in spinning horror, thriller, and sci-fi tropes on their head or exploiting them for maximum amusement or shock (sometimes both). Anyone who's seen the censor-stretching season four episode "Home" would never question that assessment. Even without the supernatural tinge, The X-Files properly freaked us out with a borderline necrophiliac serial killer in season two's "Irresistible." Workplace dramedy, "Folie à Deux"—where an office worker discovers that his boss is literally draining him dry—also built a sense of dread and paranoia to an unnerving crescendo.

Plus, all the conspiracy theory stuff really gets under the skin. There's no shame in admitting to glancing through the blinds, checking for men in black, after a particularly insidious episode. After all, the truth is out there. In fact, it could be standing behind right you now.

Channel Zero (2016 - Current day)

Without a doubt, creepypastas are the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark of the internet generation, and filmmakers are just beginning to mine these contemporary urban legends. There's HBO's Beware the Slenderman documentary, and then there's Syfy's super spooky Channel Zero.

Debuting in 2016, the anthology series took a page from American Horror Story, creating a season-long story arc that changes each year. Limited to six episodes, each run may seem short, but they pack in a lot of slow-burn strangeness and outright scares. The first series centers on the creepypasta known as "Candle Cove," which tells the tale of an obscure '80s kids show linked to a series of murders. Paul Schneider, who plays Mike Painter, returns to his tiny burb to investigate his vanished twin brother. Along the way, he uncovers more than a handful of unnerving connections to the local kiddie show.

Finding success with its first season, Syfy greenlit another round, this time based on the web-tale "The No-End House." If the second season is as genuinely disturbing as its predecessor, there will be plenty of well-lit houses every night Channel Zero airs.

Twin Peaks (1990 - 1991)

David Lynch and the horror genre have always seemed to skirt around one another like kids wrapping a maypole in the background of The Wicker Man (the original, not the Nic Cage remake). While the auteur rarely dabbles in straight-up fear fare, his surrealistic approach gives just about everything he does a nightmarish element. Take, for instance, his seminal slice of disturbia, Twin Peaks, a show that'll keep you on edge from its first slice of cherry pie to its last kernel of garmonbozia.

Seriously, visiting this tiny town seems like a terrible idea, as half of the populace wants the other half dead, but it makes for great viewing. Its two seasons turned our concepts of Americana upside down, while simultaneously creating some of the creepiest characters on any screen (like "Mairzy Doats" Leland Palmer). Twin Peaks also reveled in the esoteric, as Kyle MacLachlan's FBI agent, Dale Cooper, flitted in and out of the spirit realm in his search for Laura Palmer's (Sheryl Lee) killer.

Of course, the show ended on a pretty disturbing cliffhanger, so fingers crossed we'll get some sort of an answer in the upcoming Twin Peaks revival. And if it's anything like Lynch's previous work on the series, we expect to be thoroughly unnerved.

The Walking Dead (2010 - Current day)

Ask the average person what they're afraid of, and you'll hear answers like "public speaking," "spiders," and "the dark." Of course, we all know the big one is "death," and that's what makes The Walking Dead truly tick. The show is all about death personified. And not only does AMC's seminal walker romp hit us where it hurts, merging our necrophobia with our fear of wide open spaces and infectious diseases, but it also tacks on the whole end-of-the-world scenario. Empty post-apocalyptic fields filled with highly infectious zombies. Sounds like good times.

Based on Robert Kirkman's comic book series, The Walking Dead staggered onto TV courtesy of Frank Darabont, and despite a few lousy episodes along the way, the show hasn't ever looked back (except while reloading). Each season adds more melodrama to the nihilistic body pile of a premise, as Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his ragtag band seek a motive to keep on living. But that gets even more complicated when you're dealing with villains like Negan and the Governor…or what happens to human morality in a world where it's kill or be killed.

In addition to those heady issues, there are also plenty of walkers hiding away in thickets or darkened rooms, just waiting to jump out at your screen. So after an hour of z-world intensity, thoroughly checking your house for flesh-hungry corpses is perfectly acceptable behavior.

Millennium (1996 - 1999)

Back in the mid-'90s, X-Files guru Chris Carter could do no wrong. His paranormal creation was tearing up cathode ray tubes across the country. As a result, he managed to parlay his influence into several additional TV series, including Harsh Realm, The Lone Gunmen, and the dour yet disturbing Millennium.

Starring genre favorite Lance Henriksen as former FBI profiler Frank Black, the series dove into the dark waters of psychotic criminal minds (profiling was big back in the '90s), as well as more supernatural areas. It also enjoyed a tenuous connection to The X-Files and managed to establish several connections, like the very not-scary Jose Chung, played by Charles Nelson Reilly.

But far and away, Millennium was at its finest when it was freaking out viewers. For a good introduction to the darkness, look no further than the pilot, which gives viewers a terrifying peek into the show's apocalyptic mythos. Also, the Internet-savvy episode "The Mikado," with its murderous Mystery Room, still chills the blood, especially thanks to its prescience of our deep-web aware era. But in an ironic twist of fate, Millennium was cancelled in 1999, right before the actual millennium.

The Hitchhiker (1983 - 1991)

The '80s was a hotbed of suspenseful television anthologies. The Jazzercise era spawned several perennial favorites like Tales from the Darkside and Amazing Stories, as well as short-lived series like Freddy's Nightmares and Darkside-spinoff Monsters. But while it wasn't as well known as some of its contemporaries, The Hitchhiker still managed to add tons of terror into its six season run.

Certainly not novel in its approach, HBO's first dramatic series bookended each fright fest with words of wisdom from mulleted hitchhiker. The oft-terrifying tales attracted burgeoning talents like Willem Dafoe, Kirstie Alley, and director Paul Verhoeven, and also boasted cinematic production values. Since the network was testing the waters of dramatic TV (and not stymied by basic cable censorship), episodes ran the gamut from corny to creepy, but they were often gratuitously gory and naked affairs. Classics like "Nightshift" featured Margot Kidder as a predatory nurse, while "WGOD" showed off Gary Busey's range as a minister who receives an undesirable on-air confession.

Whether you experienced the show as a jittery kid at a slumber party or as a Members Only-rocking adult, The Hitchhiker resulted in more than a few hands-over-eyes viewings and a serious reluctance to let guys with hockey hair into our cars.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 - 1975)

If you only know Darren McGavin from A Christmas Story (he was the foul-mouthed dad), then you might not associate the guy with the horror genre. But anyone who's clutched their blanket tight while watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker knows McGavin has faced down far scarier foes than that smoky furnace.

Often cited as a major influence on The X-Files, the show was inspired by two made-for-TV movies and featured a protagonist named Carl Kolchak, a sardonic reporter who's Mulder and Scully rolled into one. Using his open mind and biting wit, this Chicago-based journalist tracks down potential paranormal oddities, and while often tongue-in-cheek, the show played his investigations (relatively) straight. This led to more than a few riveting encounters, like the time the intrepid reporter was stuck in an underground tunnel with a lizard creature bearing down on him. The straw hat enthusiast also found himself at odds with Cathy Lee Crosby as a youth-draining goddess in "The Youth Killer" and on the wrong side of a headless biker in "Chopper." On top of all that, his boss was constantly vexing him, which might have been the most nightmarish aspect of the show.

Fringe (2008 - 2013)

On the heels of paranormal procedurals like The X-Files and Torchwood, Fringe followed the lives federal agents operating along, well, the fringe edges of science. Created by J.J. Abrams (along with Star Trek cohorts Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci), the show focuses on members of the Fringe Division, an FBI group that investigates all kinds of fun stuff like genetic experimentation, time-traveling robot shapeshifters, and parallel universes. Although the show tended to stick closer to the sci-fi side of things, it often skewed towards supernatural elements—such as psychic powers—creating a distinctively off-kilter viewing experience.

Although initially a little lost within its own world-building, Fringe picked up steam after its first season, developing a serious cult following. The series also established a freaky internal mythology, which kept audiences riveted throughout the standalone plots and larger story arcs. One of its creepier entries comes from the second season episode "Night of Desirable Objects," where the feds investigate a spooky old farm in Pennsylvania with some gene-splicing secrets. "Welcome to Westfield" also details a Twilight Zone-style town where everyone goes cuckoo for killing, but nobody can leave.

American Horror Story (2011 - Current day)

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's twisted and utterly addictive American Horror Story sprang into existence with a sadomasochistic take on classic ghost stories, and it hasn't stopped scaring us since episode one. Although some moments are better than others, the show's contemporary attitude blends well with its varied settings and eras, meaning each season is loaded down with extra creepy characters and visuals.

While just about any season of American Horror Story offers its fair share of why-the-heck-am-I-watching-this-by-myself segments, certain episodes really upped the disturbing ante. Even skipping over the obvious choices—like anything with Twisty the Clown from Freak Show or murder Santa from Asylum—still leaves plenty of pants-dampening moments. Chloe Sevigny's horrifying crawl up the stairs certainly gooses up the flesh. Similarly, the Bloody Face reveal sequence still sends the shudders up and down the most stalwart horror fan's spine. And frankly, the Murder House season was built entirely around ratcheting up suspense, before taking audiences one step beyond their threshold. Seriously, who can forget the horrifying birth scene or Tate's far-too-lifelike killing spree in "Piggy Piggy"?

Sure, some episodes are pure camp, but binging an entire season of American Horror Story alone in the dark sounds like a sure case of the willies to us.

Tales from the Darkside (1983 - 1988)

If The Twilight Zone is the perfect example of a '50s thriller anthology and Tales from the Crypt hit the '90s vibe on the head, then Tales from the Darkside is the definitive '80s horror scare-a-week series. Born from the wondrously twisted mind of zombie-maestro George A. Romero, the series debuted in 1983. Even though some episodes look a little dated and seem goofy compared to modern fear offerings, the show still packs a seriously scary wallop at times.

With Romero at the helm, Darkside crammed a lot of creepiness into its short format. Some perfect examples of the scare fare '80s horror fans feasted on are episodes like "Inside the Closet," where Tom Savini's devilish wardrobe dweller stole the show (or at least became its mascot). Also, fans of Seth Green and archetypal horror tales need to check "Monsters in my Room" off their list, which deals with a kid whose fear of the dark is very well-founded.

Tales from the Darkside also employed a lot of famous horror and sci-fi scribes, including Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, and Clive Barker. It even featured an adaptation of a John Cheever tale. The show also proved that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only basketball star who should ever portray a genie. Sorry, Shaq.