Made-for-TV movies cross a separate entertainment territory. In order to entertain audiences enough to not just switch channels for a potentially boring moment, these movies need to be as interesting upfront as they are continually engaging through plot progression. Many of these examples draw on familiar stories told over the years, inviting audiences to see what new ways each story could twist and turn on the small screen. While some stay true to their source material, others forge new paths with more original setups and results.
Since streaming services now seem to dominate the world, the glory days of true made-for-TV movies in the horror genre basically exist in previous decades. Families and friends still gather around the TV to get their fill of spooky stories, and many of them remain classics that still scare viewers whether or not they still have cable. These are the best made-for-TV horror movies, ranked.
7/7 The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968)
Originally written by Robert Louis Stevenson, ABC’s take on this timeless story brings the chilling delineation to life on the small screen. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde captures a dangerous experiment in an attempt to explore the duality of humanity, which goes horribly wrong. Dr. Henry Jekyll’s consciousness fractures into two figures, on opposite positions on the spectrum of morality. Of course, things escalate far too quickly, resulting in a hauntingly hazy portrait of Mr. Hyde’s malevolent escapades. Approaching a concept as devastating as it is frightening to behold, this adaptation brings domestic audiences to the forefront of a man’s dark mind.
6/7 The Turn of the Nut (1974)
Before the more recognizable, recent releases of adaptations like The Turning and The Haunting of Bly Manor, The Turn of the Screw took author Henry James’ gruesome short story to a cinematic new level. Although the story has been told many times through visual media and performance, the 1974 film brought it fresh to home audiences. Typical horror tropes come straight from the source here, under the ABC label. An unsuspecting governess is thrust into more than just her new job description when she comes into contact with a few creepy kids she now has custody of. The gathering of paranormal presences threatens to uproot any sense of the idyllic. As viewers follow Miss Jane Cubberly (played by Lynn Redgrave) through the dark mapping of the family mansion, this story will remain etched in your mind.
5/7 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980)
National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a solid adaptation of the horrific haunting of the Headless Horseman. Featuring a more underrated performance from Jeff Goldblum, Ichabod Crane comes face to face with the terrors that unfold from the outlandish storytelling. You might think you know the imaginative legend of Washington Irving pretty well, but this film reintroduces that ancient story to mainstream television audiences. It takes advantage of the early 80s aesthetic, first airing on Halloween in 1980. This Emmy-nominated program can still be enjoyed by all varieties of viewers, despite being named an Outstanding Children’s Program. Goldblum’s portrayal of Crane opposite Dick Butkus as Brom Bones brings an air of cerebral expertise to a timeless story.
4/7 Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
Bad karma often strikes those who prey on the most vulnerable members of society, and Dark Night of the Scarecrow allows viewers to examine those consequences. CBS originally shared this story with viewers in the early ’80s, and its important lessons are still useful to audiences today. Bubba, a disabled man, is fabricated to have committed a crime of which he is innocent, meeting his tragic end at the hands of others. Eventually, those who pointed it out are mobbed by a malevolent being, appearing in familiar scarecrow attire. Back to teach them a lesson, the gruesome force runs down the list of accusers responsible for Bubba’s discriminatory death.
3/7 Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Alex and Sally move into Sally’s grandmother’s old house after her death, finding themselves in an increasingly disturbing environment. Curious to know what is hiding behind the chimney filled with bricks, Sally ends up discovering the lair of mysterious little monsters reminiscent of goblins. She questions the clarity of her own mind as she begins to see their evil influence creep over the mansion, hearing their dastardly goal of converting her into one of their own. Distributed by ABC, the film capitalizes on a genuinely dark premise, isolating viewers at home alongside Sally as the story turns into true horror within the house. A Dread Central reviewer remembers it as “an effective example of top-notch terror on a modest budget.”
2/7 Terror Trilogy (1975)
In terms of anthology movies, horror movies, and the in-between zone, Trilogy of Terror is a benchmark of what a great made-for-TV horror movie should look like. Comprising three individual stories that capture the heyday of horror movies in the ’70s, the film has scared viewers for generations, thanks to one particularly iconic episode – “Amelia.” This particular tale zooms in on a woman stalked by a Zuni fetish doll who is alive and well, wielding a spear, sharp teeth, and a bad attitude to prove it. The movie first aired on ABC in 1975, terrorizing the generation who often still remember the doll’s gruesome screams and ominous presence decades later.
1/7 The Night Stalker (1972)
American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
Among vampire films, The Night Stalker is one of the most unique entries over the decades, alongside a stellar reputation that often predates the film itself. In the metaphorical and literal darkness of Sin City, journalist Carl Kolchak investigates a potential vampiric presence lurking in the shadows of Las Vegas. Performers from the Strip and beyond leave behind bloodsucked corpses, uncovered as Kolchak eventually becomes a lone beacon of the whimsical truth behind these murders. With a spooky atmosphere and visually startling scenes, this film can still scare audiences to this day. Worcester Magazine states that The Night Stalker was “the highest-rated original TV movie on American television to date”, when it was released in 1972. It could earn it the title of potentially the greatest horror movie made for TV. nowadays. .