Has TV finally figured out how to do horror? ‘Hill House,’ ‘Sabrina’ have us hopeful

Something scary is happening on TV. 

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is back, but now she’s dealing with Satan instead of mean teachers. “The Purge” has come to prime time. Even “The Twilight Zone” will be gracing your TV screens again. 

We’re in the midst of a mini-boom in horror on TV that’s fueled greater diversity in storytelling. Horror is streaming, on cable, on premium cable. Horror even has Shudder, its own dedicated streaming service. 

October saw the premieres of two buzzy horror shows on Netflix, “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Syfy’s latest season of anthology series “Channel Zero” premiered Oct. 26.

Horror isn’t exactly new to television, but it’s certainly more acclaimed, more successful and more prolific than ever. Unlike its big-screen counterparts, horror shows are harder to pull off convincingly. Jump scares, a staple of many horror films, are less scary when done repeatedly over 10 hours. The communal experience is also lost when fans are isolated at home instead of feeling the fear with fellow moviegoers.

But horror TV is thriving, and it can do things that films can’t. 

“TV offers you (the ability) to do a deep dive into character, it offers you the chance to braid in threads of things that you can pay off much later,” says “Hill House” producer Trevor Macy, who has worked on horror films including “Oculus” and “The Stranger.” 

“Generally speaking there’s a lot more creative storytelling going on in television right now than there is in film, and I think that’s true for horror just as much as it’s true for anything else,” he says.   

Like high-profile hits “The Walking Dead” or “Stranger Things,” many series borrow horror tropes but stay in more conventional action-adventure lanes. Shows that wear the horror label with a badge of honor, moving from unsettling to downright terrifying are rare, but they’re climbing out of the shadows.

“Hill House,” “Zero” and AMC’s recent “The Terror” are all excellent examples of how television can make horror better, allowing psychological and character-driven stories to scare you more than any monster hiding behind the door could.

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