The Gentlemen (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Despite its regular doses of vampires and demons, Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer rarely delivered anything to actually give you nightmares. That is, until season 4’s episode Hush, which introduced the Gentlemen, a group of ghoulish, levitating doctors who stole your voice prior to slicing out your heart with a scalpel while you were still alive. Perhaps the scariest monsters ever created for mainstream television, the well-dressed, Nosferatu-like Gentlemen are somehow rendered even scarier by their unfailing politeness and their chilling smiles, while the fact that the episode unfolds in near total silence is a stroke of horror genius.
The Weeping Angels sneaking up on Sally Sparrow (Doctor Who)
The Weeping Angels may have had some of their impact reduced by their subsequent appearances, but the episode that first introduced them (Don't Blink) stands as one of the scariest Doctor Who stories ever made. With the Doctor barely appearing in the episode, it's left to plucky Sally Sparrow (a then-unknown Carey Mulligan) to face off against a group of seemingly frozen weeping angel statues who come for you as soon as you stop looking at them. Instantly iconic, the Weeping Angels are especially terrifying because they take away the one defence you have against horror – the ability to look away.
Killer Bob climbing over the sofa (Twin Peaks)
Has there ever been a scarier character on TV than Twin Peaks' Killer Bob? Frankly, no, there hasn't. Pretty much every appearance of Bob (played by set dresser Frank Silva, cast by Lynch after accidentally appearing in shot) is a guaranteed nightmare-inducer, but one scene stands out above the rest. It begins with Madeleine Ferguson (Laura Palmer's identical cousin, played by Sheryl Lee) sitting in the Palmer's living room. Suddenly, a creepy figure emerges from behind the sofa and crawls right up to YOUR OWN TV SCREEN, pre-figuring Japanese horror Ring by a full seven years. Still terrifying.
Scully falls victim to a voodoo curse (The X-Files)
The X-Files was responsible for plenty of nightmares in its time, throwing up characters like scary, slithery killer Tooms or the murderous redneck mutants in Home. However, the scariest moment in the entire series occurs in the season 2 episode Fresh Bones when Scully becomes the victim of a voodoo curse and hallucinates (OR DOES SHE? etc) a man crawling out of a cut in her hand and strangling her. The utter terror on Gillian Anderson's face as the sequence begins still gives us the shudders to this day.
Twisty the Clown interrupts a picnic (American Horror Story: Freakshow)
American Horror Story has served up its fair share of gruesome characters over the last few years, but the show hit new heights of terror with its introduction to serial killer Twisty the Clown in season 4. Spotting a pair of lovers on a picnic, Twisty approaches slowly, indulging in a brief moment of performance before brutally murdering the woman's boyfriend. All that would be bad enough, but then the woman escapes and we see her point-of-view as Twisty turns and starts running full-pelt towards the camera. Aaargh! As if clowns weren't already scary enough.
Mr Pipes possesses Parky (Ghostwatch)
Broadcast on Halloween night 1992, Ghostwatch presented itself as a live-broadcast ghost-hunting special fronted by trusted TV presenters Michael Parkinson, Mike Smith and Sarah Greene. Though it was billed as a drama, many viewers missed that fact and the BBC got 30,000 calls from terrified viewers in the space of an hour. As Sarah investigated a suburban house in London, creepy things began happening, such as objects flying around the room and children getting possessed by malevolent entity “Mr Pipes”. The hour ended with a seemingly possessed Parkinson wandering around the empty studio while quoting a nursery rhyme.
Pennywise dragging Georgie into the sewer (IT)
Horror maestro Stephen King frightened the pants off an entire generation when his epic horror IT was turned into a TV mini-series and broadcast to unsuspecting viewers in 1990. The scariest moment occurs when terrifying clown monster Pennywise (a brilliant Tim Curry) pops up inside a drain where pint-sized Georgie has just lost his sailboat. After attempting to lure the little mite to his doom, Pennywise grabs hold of him and pulls him inside, baring his child-eating teeth as he does so. And if that wasn't enough to traumatise you, he shows up as a clown-spider hybrid later on.
Papa Lazarou (The League Of Gentlemen)
“Hello Dave...” With his minstrel's make-up, raspy voice and indefinable accent, demonic circus master Papa Lazarou (played by Reece Shearsmith) became an instant nightmare figure when he appeared in the second series of The League Of Gentlemen. Barging his way into a suburban woman's house, he spouts gibberish at her and attempts to persuade her to buy some pegs, before relieving her of her wedding ring and proclaiming, “You're my wife now, Dave”.
Noah's revolving door death (The Walking Dead)
By season five, you'd have thought that viewers of The Walking Dead would have become somewhat desensitised to gruesome zombie-related deaths. Perhaps the show-runners had that in mind when they came up with what was then, hands down, the most traumatic and terrifying death of a regular character they had ever done. When kind-hearted Noah (Tyler James Williams) gets trapped in a revolving door full of zombies, he's eaten alive right in front of Glen after cowardly Nicholas makes a run for it rather than secure the door. Brutal and deeply upsetting. You'll never look at a revolving door quite the same way again.
Recommended for you