Horror fans tend to be cautious when it’s announced that a beloved horror film is about to become a TV show. We can’t blame them for that. So many attempts to make a weekly program based on a movie fall flat. Friday the 13th was an insult to what came before. Freddy’s Nightmares was a little closer, but still didn’t achieve greatness. Every so often, though, you get an utter gem like Hannibal or Bates Motel. These truly wonderful adaptations brought fresh blood to an old story while staying true to the subject matter.
It’s our hope that great horror movies will continue getting the TV treatment—especially on premium cable channels like HBO or Showtime, or increasingly prominent networks like A&E, FX, Hulu, and Netflix. Stephen King’s The Mist premieres as a TV series this summer on Spike, and we’re hoping for good things. But there are plenty more movies that deserve a TV treatment.
Here’s our list of horror movies that would make for great TV series.
20 Child’s Play
When we talk about the saga of Charles Lee Ray, it’s difficult to restrict ourselves to just the first film in the series. After a time, Chucky became more hilarious than horrific. Fans never seemed to mind this. No matter how much laughter Chucky (and later Tiffany) inspire, there was always plenty of bloodshed to go around. This series is beloved for its wise-cracks, over the top violence, exploitation-cinematic sensibilities, and for the exceptional voice work of Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly.
We suggest a TV series using the first two Child’s Play films as the basis for an opening season. This would focus on hapless child Andy and his mom, who would be terrible and abusive in this version. By keeping the basics of the story the same, that one change could mean that Chucky actually improves Andy’s life rather than scaring the hell out of him. Andy and Chucky would split up amicably at the end of season one, leaving the still-animated doll alive and searching for love. We think Spike is probably the right network for this one.
If you’re a fan of cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers—and come on, why wouldn’t you be--you no doubt love the C.H.U.D. movies. While not for everyone, these films walk a fine line between horror and black comedy. C.H.U.D.s come up out of the sewer, which means they can live pretty much anywhere in the developed world. Horror fans are teased occasionally with talk of a C.H.U.D. remake, though such rumors never seem to materialize into anything.
We suggest a C.H.U.D. TV series based loosely on the original film. After finding just the remains of C.H.U.D. attacks for the first few episodes, we could discover and plot against the C.H.U.D.s for most of the first season. If the show is renewed for another season, that’s when we could meet Bud the C.H.U.D., and perhaps even learn to empathize with him. Humans and cannibals are natural enemies, probably. But that doesn’t mean we can’t team up for a little dark comedy. A weekly C.H.U.D. show might be good for IFC network.
18 The Purge
Fans of this franchise enjoy the sociopolitical commentary, the extreme brutality, and the lingering fantasy that that one character you like might actually make it. One can argue that this horror series got better as it went on, a rarity in any genre. The Purge introduced us to the concept of its world, though it wasn’t fully realized until Anarchy and Election Year, the two sequels we've received thus far. The third entry in the series is considered the best by a wide margin, and not just because it contains the hunkalicious Kyle Secor. In addition to big social issues, The Purge films also explore themes related to family, community, friendship, questioning authority, and what it means to be part of society.
A good route for a Purge TV show might be to follow a variety of characters in the weeks and days leading up to the annual Purge. The more we know about these people, the more planning we see, and the more agendas are revealed, the more impact the actual purging will have. Starz seems like the ideal network for this. Wait--is it possible that someone already stole our idea?
17 Series 7: The Contenders
This low-budget modern classic is one every horror fan should track down if they haven’t already done so. The ensemble cast includes Brooke Smith (Silence of the Lambs), Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie, The Walking Dead), Mary Louise Burke (Into the Woods), and Will Arnett among others you’ll no doubt find familiar. Series 7: The Contenders is a reality TV show of the near future where contestants win by being the last one left alive. So yeah, the show is about them literally running around murdering each other, and it’s a reality show.
Obviously, we’re suggesting a scripted show and not some kind of pay-per-view killfest. A weekly show in the same general vein of the movie would let us spend more time with each character, making each death more impactful. We’d all stand to benefit from juxtaposition between our fascination with violence and our disgust with how often we indulge or even celebrate it. This won’t be high drama, but the heavy themes would make this show a good match for A&E original programming.
16 Needful Things
Just to get this out of the way, you’re gonna find a few Stephen King movies on this list. We defy anyone to deny his importance to the horror genre. That said, anyone who watched Under the Dome doesn’t need to be told that Stephen King source material doesn’t necessarily guarantee a great show. Needful Things is one of those sprawling stories where intertwined lives weave together to scare the hell out of us. It’s like watching a train wreck that ends in cleaver fights and surprise hammerings.
A Needful Things TV show could use a formula similar to American Horror Story. A new incarnation of (Spoiler Alert) The Devil every season, in a new location with a new bunch of unsuspecting antique-lovers. Wouldn’t that be great? Each season could stand alone—but also like American Horror Story, eagle-eyed fans could spot connections between seasons. A show like this is probably best suited to an FX competitor like AMC.
15 The Descent
Some say people are getting tired of zombie shows. We can’t deny that there’s a bit of oversaturation happening. Maybe soon we can shift the horror landscape toward more C.H.U.D.-like monsters, not unlike the ones encountered by ill-fated spelunkers in the original film, The Descent. This movie also features themes of betrayals, family, friendship, and loss amid terrifying monsters in an already horrific and deadly environment. Admittedly, the claustrophobic visuals in The Descent might have to be toned down for TV audiences.
The difficulty in making a show like this lies in the focus. Do you center on the creatures and put them in new scenarios? Or should the story stick to groups of humans we can follow and empathize with? Does it need multiple perspectives to work? How do you make a blind, speechless albino ghoul appeal to the 18-35 demographic? These are questions Spike TV might be best fit to answer.
14 District 9
Sci-fi fans either loved or hated District 9. Neill Blomkamp was not messing around when he co-wrote and directed this allegorical tale about alien refugees from outer space. This movie is filled with hard-hitting social commentary, since it’s essentially an allegory for apartheid. But the character-driven parts of the narrative will bring you in and make you root for Christopher and even Wikus--when you know he’s kind of an a-hole.
A TV version of District 9 would have to expand beyond an apartheid narrative. That wouldn’t be too difficult given how much unrest there is to draw from in the world. Military metaphors would no doubt abound. They’d certainly have to work more women into the story, since the movie has precious few. Whether they invent new characters, follow up on Wikus or Christopher and his son, we’ll surely need strong leads to root for and a setting that can accommodate both tranquil moments and intense peril. We think Hulu would make a good home for this one.
13 The Running Man
The 1987 film The Running Man came together with a cast and team that can only be described as highly random. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser (then only known from the original Starsky and Hutch), and featuring choreography by Paula Abdul, it portrays a reality TV show that again, involves murder. This time, though, it’s convicted criminals (in a wildly corrupt legal system) running from “stalkers”—killers paid by the network to murder guilty people on live TV. Cast members include game show host Richard Dawson, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Yaphet Kotto, Dweezil Zappa, and Maria Conchita Alonso in addition to the former California governor/Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A TV show based on this movie would probably continue with the stylized look and bright color pallet not found in the Stephen King (AKA Richard Bachman) short story. Strong leads and frequent political commentary would actually make a Running Man TV show a good fit for The History Channel.
Even for seasoned horror fans, Vacancy can be a difficult watch. Take an ordinary but essentially likeable couple, smack them in the middle of a believable nightmare full of nearly senseless brutality, and watch the horror ensue. The film Vacancy revolves around a cheap, skeezy motel where occupants are horribly murdered. Worse, their murders are captured on hidden cameras that are then sold to snuff enthusiasts. Terrifying, right? The DVD extras contain unedited footage of movie murders that seem chillingly un-movie like.
A TV series using this concept would probably focus on the task force assigned to hunt down this syndicate. Various people—single travelers, couples, families, or secret lovers, would all encounter the amateur snuff film makers with varying degrees of survival. However you slice it, this show would be bloody, terrifying, and deeply disturbing. The network that picks it up would have to be ready to face heavy critique and maybe even boycotts. We think a 10pm slot on FXX would be good for this.
11 The Birds
Normally it’s a good idea to leave Hitchcock films alone. Most of them are damn near perfect as it is. 1963's The Birds was made on a modest budget and without a musical score. While that might be a tough sell for a TV series, we think it can be done. The tale of birds losing their tolerance for humans taps into primal fears of being at nature’s mercy, eaten alive, or utterly surrounded by enemies with no hope of escape. Honestly, how do you evade an army of creatures who can literally fly?
A TV series based on The Birds would probably have to change locations from one season to the next. That would bring about a new main cast, while probably keeping a core cast of ornithologists, CDC reps, government officials, or concerned citizens who want to get to the bottom of things Scooby-Doo style. A show like this might be a fun way to showcase an upcoming actress. Being a timeless classic, horror mainstay, and high-ranking entrant on AFI’s list of best films—we think Bravo network would make a wonderful home for this show.
10 Salem’s Lot
It’s true that both versions of TV’s ‘Salem’s Lot comes up on our horror lists fairly often. That’s because the 1978 Tobe Hooper version is brilliant, and the 2005 remake has much to enjoy. As loyal Stephen King readers know, this story ends with main characters Ben and Mark traveling back to the town to destroy the last of the vampires. Some say killing the Head Vampire brings everyone else back to normal. Poppycock, says this milieu.
Ben and Mark could conceivably travel the world destroying vampires and men like Straker. Or a new team could take over, perhaps led by the priest the pair tell their story to. Either way, a ‘Salem’s Lot TV show could remind people that not all vampires are sex-crazed hotties looking to pick up on high school girls. With that in mind, the best place to put a show like this might be on MTV networks. They seem to be doing pretty well with horror skewed toward their more coveted demographics.
It’s been argued by some that there’s too much Alien-related material already. We don’t think so. Like vampires or zombies, we think there’s plenty of room for the humble xenomorph on TV as well as in film, comics, tie-in novels, and merchandise. Ever see that build-your-own Alien kit from the late ‘70s? It’s amazing. We suggest focusing on the sequel to Alien, since Aliens is the one with all the action, the big cast, and the grand locations. So how could one make an Aliens TV series?
We love the colonial marines. But all of sci-fi has taken the Aliens marines and made them the model by which we judge all other government-sanctioned space soldiers. That might mean it’s time for something totally new. It might be fun to have a team of egghead scientists beat back the alien threat. It might also be terrifying to spend a few episodes really getting to know and like the characters—so that when one of them gets their face hugged, we can feel it down to the bone. CBS might be a good choice for a show like this, since they’ve been pretty fearless about horror shows in the past.
We say, if you’re going to roll with that narrative trope (and we’re not necessarily saying you should), make one of them the lead once in awhile. Carrie White recast as a person of color would allow for more modern social commentary (the original film Carrie came out in 1976—and is 100% white), and a look at how race can impact social standing, access to mental health care, and social services (surely someone would have called CPS on Margaret White at some point). And of course, cell phones can play a huge part in a story about high school bullying and dysfunction. We’d actually suggest toning down the violence and putting an African American Carrie on Oprah’s network: O!
7 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Talk about a story that’s always been steeped in social commentary, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was originally about the red menace of communism, and how The Russians can infiltrate America to make us do their bidding without anyone knowing. Thank goodness that isn’t relevant to politics today. ** ahem **
A modern TV show based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers could talk about technology, Black Mirror-style, or media, or how those awful millenials are so much worse than previous generations. Honestly, there are so many aspects of contemporary society that are ripe for skewering by a satirical or black comedy based on the subject of people slowly being replaced by replicas. Who knows, Donald Sutherland (star of the 1978 remake of the original film) might even make an appearance if the writing is compelling enough. A TV version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers would be well-suited to a network like History Channel or TLC.
A classic of both horror and spoofery, Creepshow is probably the most beloved anthology film of all time. Five stories and a wraparound featuring novelist Joe Hill as a tiny abused boy combined to remain a fan favorite for decades. Tales of revenge zombies, invasive alien elements, insanity, and murderous arctic gorillas are no doubt just the beginning of where this sub-subgenre could take us. Would George Romero be involved in such a show? Would Stephen King? We have to think they would, at least briefly.
Like Tales from the Crypt, a Creepshow series would feature a new story with a new cast every week. It’d be a great place to showcase new actors, and more importantly, up and coming directors. Matthew Grey Gubler leaps out as a director who should immediately helm an episode. He’s directed several of the best and scariest Criminal Minds episodes, including "Mosley Lane" and the first episode featuring "Mr. Scratch". FearNet would be a great place to put this show—if they’re still making original content.
The cool thing about Fido is that even people who feel completely oversaturated by zombie stories could enjoy it. The movie Fido takes the dominant zombie mythos and…doesn’t change it much. What makes this movie unique is the way humans have responded to the shambling, cannibalistic undead. In the ‘50s style suburban spoof, zombies are now pets (after a zombie war that humans astonishingly won) or used for domestic or menial tasks. Every so often, human stupidity or tech malfunctions cause an outbreak.
One of the noted influences of Fido is Peyton Place, essentially an ensemble story that follows the dramatic goings on of a diverse group of townspeople. A TV show based on Fido could follow all the normal drama of an average suburb, with all the mundane intrigue that entails. Then we’d have a few zombies to focus on, and the occasional bout of carnage. If we were casting, Doug Benson would be the perfect lead for Fido, and their home could only be Comedy Central.
4 The VVitch
Witch stories these days are often reduced to attractive young women using their powers in petty ways—to avenge slights, gain the affection of a love interest, or accomplish some minor goal. If viewers aren’t attached to the witches right away, it’s a big fail. But in The VVitch (also called The Witch in less interesting parts of the world), Tomasin is by no means comical as the young woman who may or may not be in league with Satan. Sure, real life witches aren’t generally Satanists, but in horror cinema, they can be.
Black Phillip is the striking horned goat who turns out to be a manifestation of the Lord of Flies. That probably means that any number of people or animals could be Satanic hosts, and they’d change often through the course of the series. A VVitch TV series could answer big questions about Satanic witchcraft. Are the witches ever benevolent? Are they ever men? What can anyone do to protect themselves? Silly as it may sound, this might make a good show on Disney Channel or Nick at Night, not unlike Pretty Little Liars.
3 The Babadook
No doubt, the buzz about this film reached everyone with an affinity for horror, single moms, or movies with annoying screaming children. In truth, The Babadook is a brilliant depiction of clinical depression as a movie monster. It doesn’t shy away from the dangers of depression, or the mortality and homicide rates associated with depression and bipolar disorder. It also features stellar performances by the two leads.
A TV show based on The Babadook could focus on more people and families impacted by the depression monster. Because depression can strike people of all ages, ethnicities, social groups, and genders, the possibilities for storylines are essentially endless. Because the manifestations and treatments for bipolar and depression are so varied, it would literally never get boring if the writers had even a modicum of talent. We suspect that the show would focus more on female depressives because statistically, they’re more likely to seek treatment. Given that, Lifetime network would be an interesting fit.
2 The Overlook Hotel
Before you scream that there’s no movie called “The Overlook Hotel,” let us assure you that we already know that. The novel version of The Shining already has a fine sequel (depending on who you ask—reviews were mixed), but that wouldn’t preclude a TV show that focuses on the long life and legend of the Overlook Hotel. The Stanley hotel (King’s inspiration for The Overlook”) is still standing, and it still hosts events. There’s no reason at least the pilot ep of an Overlook Hotel series couldn’t be shot there.
The show would, of course, focus on the hotel and grounds. Expect maze animals that attack, insane amounts of snow, and maybe even those oral sex loving furries that totally freaked us all out as kids. A show like this would no doubt need ongoing cast members, maybe even a guest coordinator who later turns out to be in league with the evil forces in the hotel itself? Ideally, The Overlook would burn to the ground in the series finale. A show like this would probably be tame enough for network television; we think NBC, since a Law & Order crossover would be inevitable.
1 It Follows
Movies set in Detroit are few and far between, so Michiganders were delighted when this inventive horror thriller featured familiar scenes and local commercials. This haunting film about a low-key monster whose attention is passed on via sexual intercourse made a big splash among genre fans. Offputting elements and weird future tech punctuated a story designed to keep you off your game.
A TV show based on It Follows would have to stay firmly planted in Detroit (then again, Sleepy Hollow has pretty much torn up stakes and headed to Washington DC) to retain its Michigan fan base. Because pretty much everyone has sex in real-life, the pool of characters to draw from could be huge. We suggest skewing young, suburban, and middle class. Since sex gets a lot of people in trouble, the stakes would always be high. A show like this would be a smash on The CW, who could probably use another show or two that doesn’t revolve around superheroes.
Which of these shows would you most like to see? Which would you never watch on a bet? Tell us all about it in the comments.