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Home » Culture and Criticism

All-time scariest TV episodes

Submitted by on October 11, 2012 – 1:10 PM114 Comments

Hey, folks. I’m sourcing a story for Yahoo! about the all-time scariest TV episodes, and I just know I’m forgetting some obvious ones. (I’m also a bit embarrassed that finding clips from Star Trek: TOS‘s “A Wolf in the Fold” online made my arm hairs stand up.)

What’s on your “three scariest episodes” list? It doesn’t have to be a show that identified as horror, either. One of mine is that Sopranos episode where Tony’s dreaming he’s a long-ago laborer, and that figure comes to the top of the stairs, and WIGGINS.

Plus I just love this stuff. ‘Tis the season. Let’s dare each other to watch things.




  • Megan says:

    There was a Punky Brewster episode that involved a gigantic spider (pretty sure it was in Punky’s nightmare). It took me years to get over that.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I was JUST reading about that one on AV Club.

  • Liz says:

    Hmmm… The Buffy episode “Hush”, the Dr. Who episode “Blink,” and the classic XFiles episode “Home”.

  • Kari says:

    The ER episode where Carter gets stabbed at the end scared the ever loving crap out of me. I had to sleep with the lights on and check behind the doors for a good long while.

  • Mika says:

    I’m sure its already on your list, but the Twin Peaks episode where we find out that the killer is Leland Palmer (possessed by Bob) and he beats up his wife and she crawls down the stairs. And then he crawls to the camera too at one point. I literally backed out our family room shrieking in horror .

    Little House on the Prairie and the raping clown dude. Enough said.

  • WendyD says:

    Forever and always: The X-Files episode “Home”. To this day, if I hear the song that is played at the end, I get goosebumps. SO WRONG.

  • Anne says:

    I’m a complete wimp when it comes to scary TV, so calibrate your expectations accordingly, but…
    – The X Files episode with the trees that killed people – looks like the title is “Schizogeny”, though I saw it ages ago (and will NEVER WATCH IT AGAIN) so I can’t swear to that being the right one.
    – Torchwood – “Countrycide”
    – Doctor Who – “Midnight”

  • Penguinlady says:

    Have to second “Blink”. Soooo good.

    I found the Battlestar Galactica ep “32” incredibly scary. I actually held my breath at the end of the story, wondering if they succeeded or not.

    I’m a wimp, and the first ep of Supernatural scared the pants off of me.

  • drsue says:

    100% agree on Doctor Who ep “Blink”. I am drawing a blank on any others, so i’ll just go with that one.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Anyone remember Night Gallery’s “The Cemetery”? It sounds a lot like Stephen King’s “The Road Virus Heads North” story, and if it’s the one I’m thinking of, I definitely do not want to watch it again. Or even think about it anymore.

  • Whitney says:

    Oh, Kari, yes! I was in college when it first aired and my mother happened to call right as the scene started. I had to tell her to stop talking for a minute because “I’m watching ER and someone just got stabbed and OHMIGOD LUCY’S BLOODY ON THE FLOOR.”

  • Maura says:

    Ok, this might not fit exactly, but there was a 3-2-1 Contact episode where they dissected a cow eyeball that scarred me for life. Also, anything HR Puffenstuff used to freak me out.

  • haras says:

    Mine is a Star Trek TNG episode called (I think) Night Terrors. Maybe it isn’t as scary as I thought it was at the time, but I haven’t revisited it to find out. brrrr.

  • Matthew E says:

    There was a two-part Happy Days episode that involved a crook named the Candy Man who had some kind of counterfeiting scheme that was based in the funeral home he ran. I liked it okay, but my brother was terrified by it.

  • Jenn says:

    I agree about the Buffy episode “Hush,” and I would add “Same Time, Same Place.” The demon in that episode is one of the grossest and creepiest ever to appear on the show.

  • Keckler says:

    I am so very much not the biggest Firefly fan, so you have to understand where it comes from for me to say that “Bushwhacked” (the Reavers episode) scared the pee out of me and literally gave me nightmares for three nights.

  • Dave P. says:

    Twilight Zone. All of the Twilight Zone you have. But especially “It’s a Good Life”, where Anthony will think you into the cornfield if you are a bad man.

  • Keckler says:

    Ooh, and Supernatural has some real creepshows: “No Exit” (evoked by real life serial killer H.H. Holmes), “Scarecrow,” and “Everybody Loves Clown.”

    I believe you can watch all those eps streaming on Netflix Instant.

  • Cat (from Canada) says:

    The Outer Limits episode Quality of Mercy. Two prisoners of war are captured by the enemy aliens. One is slowly being turned into an alien. Just before she completely turns, the other reveals a major military secret to give her hope. It turns out she was really an alien disguised as a human, and he’s just doomed Earth by revealing their plans.

    Scared the bejeesus out of me and turned me off alien pop culture for quite a while!

  • Kristin says:

    You probably already have this one, but old school style – the episode of The Twilight Zone with Burgess Meredith playing the guy who only wants some peace and quiet to read. He gets it (thanks to a, you know, little nuclear holocaust that only he survives) but then breaks his glasses and can’t see.


  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Y’all can vote/comment here:

    And “Be Still My Heart,” OMG. Wing and I had to recap that, and we were on the phone wailing at every commercial break.

    @haras, do you mean “Phantasms”? I didn’t really dig that show, but that shit was scary.

  • Keckler says:

    Phantasms was about Data’s surreal dreams and Night Terrors was about the crew going nuts because of a lack of REM sleep.

    I was trying to remember which TNG freaked me out and Schisms is what got me. That’s where various members are being abducted from the ship while they sleep to have operations performed on them and htey have to recreate the memories in a holodeck. The clicking and the dreams and the OPERATIONS!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    The ST:NG episode when the crew is being kidnapped and experimented on by extrademensional aliens. The scene in the holodeck when they’re trying to remember and recreate the room they were held in–the table, the clicking noises. NOOOOO.

    And of course, X Files “Home.” When they pulled Mrs. Peacock out from under the bed I jumped a friggin’ mile.

    Penguinlady, as much as I loved Battlestar I was actually relieved when it ended, because I literally could not get to sleep after watching an episode. I’d just lay there with my heart pounding out of my chest.

  • John Ramos says:

    When I was 11, there was a very short-lived show on called Darkroom, which was an anthology horror offering. ( There was an episode where this girl started thinking her boyfriend was a vampire, and all this creepy stuff happened and people died, and then he finally proved to her that he wasn’t — by turning into a werewolf and killing her. TRAUMATIZED.

  • Becca says:

    I remember watching the Facts of Life Halloween episode (maybe? It might have just been a random scary episode?) in which at one point Blair spins around in her chair and has huge hair and scary eyes (some incident with a blow dryer). And at some other point, George Clooney ends up dead and hanging up in the closet. Terrified me FOREVER.

  • Isabel C. says:

    Little House on the Prairie and the raping clown dude. Enough said.


    My scariest: “Blink”, any Twin Peaks episode featuring BOB but mostly the one where he climbs over the couch and comes right toward the camera and OH MY GOD THE TEETH, and Buffy’s “What’s My Line Part 2”, because worm fear.

    Also, a point of vague pride: I vacation in the actual Home, PA. No incest mutants that I knoooooow of.

    Oh, Jesus, and also an episode of an anime called Serial Experiments Lain. Mostly the show was just trippy, but there were a couple episodes featuring an alien in a Freddy Kreuger shirt that scared the hell out of me. (Did not help that it was a college marathon, and the friend who’d seen it before me was all “Don’t worry, Izzy, that doesn’t show up again…” after the first time. Honest mistake, which saved him from pizza directly to the face.)

  • Lulu says:

    Oh man, I was REALLY frightened by that Punky Brewster episode. I believe Margo was eaten and they found her bones, or something. I don’t know, maybe not, but it was really a poor choice given that their audience was little kids and the rest of the show isn’t anything like that!

    As an older kid, I was more pleasurably freaked out by a number of old Twilight Zone episodes; the only one that springs to mind right now is “Midnight Sun,” where the Earth is hurtling into the sun and things are getting hotter and hotter, and the lady’s paints melt right off the canvas.

  • Erin W says:

    The ER stabbing really was terrifying. I have never forgiven David Krumholtz for that, really. “Stop talking about math, dude. You killed Lucy!” Nor his wife, Paris Geller, for ignoring the symptoms of his budding schizophrenia.

    I actually find “Home” to be one of the more overrated X-Files episodes. It’s a little too campy to be scary to me. Now “Unruhe” is a different story, that episode will keep me awake nights.

    Also, what about Fringe? “Marionette,” maybe?

  • Erin W says:

    OK, just visited the Facebook page and “Marionette” is on there! Good call!

  • Sara J. says:

    Before I even read the comments I was thinking exactly what Liz said–Doctor Who’s “Blink”, X-Files’s “Home” (I used a clip from it in my high school Spanish class for an oral presentation on la violencia en la televisión. Not sure how I got away with that.), Buffy’s “Hush.” Doctor Who’s “Midnight” is a close runner up, though. The Doctor’s FACE when he can’t talk, y’all. He’s not supposed to be scared, dammit!

  • Allison says:

    “Home” gets a lot of play for The X-Files, but for me it’s all about “Squeeze.” Lock yourself in–it doesn’t matter. Doug Hutchison is coming to get you and feast on your internal organs. I watched that on the couch with a knife in my hand.

    Though nothing beats The Gentlemen episode of Buffy, “Passions” was really scary, too. The scene where Angel chases poor Jenny Calendar through the school before breaking her neck was horrifying. Oh! Also that one with the demon that was eating Willow’s skin right in front of her and she couldn’t make the rest of the Scoobies hear her. Gah! Nightmares. Forever.

    Do you do overseas shows? Because the Christmas Special of The League of Gentlemen is horrifying. Papa Lazarou kidnapping Bernice after the flashbacks of kidnapping her mother, and the hideous sequence with the German vampires and the boy dreaming that he opens the cupboard and out falls his own corpse, all blue and stiff with the eyes and lips sewn shut! Aaaahhh! Merry freaking Christmas.

    Finally, there was an old episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour called “An Unlocked Window.” It was legendary amongst my aunts for the terror it inflicted in their childhood, so I tracked it down online. It does not disappoint. I highly recommend it if you want to give yourself a fright.

  • Jo says:

    I’m not easily scared and I love horror movies, so it’s hard for me to pick TV episodes.

    Add me to the list of people who were terrified by the ER where Carter and Lucy get stabbed.

    I’ll also add the Punky Brewster episode where Cherie gets stuck in the old fridge during hide-and-seek. NOW it’s not scary, but at 8 years old it sure horrified me.

    And even though the over-the-top mess that has become Grey’s Anatomy shouldn’t be taken seriously, I thought the shooter in the hospital plot was really scary. The show has gotten ridiculous with the trauma-of-the-year plotlines, but the tension of people hiding from the shooter felt real. Even though I knew who was or was not leaving the show, the minute or two of Bailey hiding under the bed had me holding my breath.

  • Sharon says:


    I’m sure its already on your list, but the Twin Peaks episode where we find out that the killer is Leland Palmer (possessed by Bob) and he beats up his wife and she crawls down the stairs. And then he crawls to the camera too at one point. I literally backed out our family room shrieking in horror .

    YES!!! That’s certainly my pick!

  • Kim says:

    It wasn’t an episode, but the promo for “American Gothic” with the voice repeating “There’s someone at the door” scared the hell outta me.

    @ Erin W I always thought “Unruhe” was scarier than “Home” too. Something about the ice pick near Scully’s eye terrified me.

  • Nicole says:

    X-Files, Home (I was teenager babysitting watching the episode by myself. My lovely parents called me and played the Johnny Mathis song over the phone when I picked up. That song still creeps me out)

    Fringe, Marionnette:

  • Sara J. says:

    Eeuruugfh @Allison, I had to turn off that episode of “The League of Gentlemen”. Blergh.

    @Jo, there are two lessons from PSA tv episodes that I still talk about: Don’t ever get in a refrigerator from Punky Brewster, and don’t take caffeine pills from Jessie “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so scared” Spano on Saved by the Bell.

  • Cora says:

    Count me in on the Carter-and-Lucy-get-stabbed episode of ER. Also, did anyone else ever watch the Sherlock Holmes adventures on PBS in the late 80’s, starring Jeremy Brett? The episode “The Devil’s Foot,” from The Return of Sherlock Homes has a scene of Sherlock on an acid trip that scared the BEJESUS out of me when I saw it. Ring any bells for anyone?

  • Laura says:

    Another vote for X-Files “Home” plus whichever Twilight Zone it is where the little girl ends up with no mouth. As they say over at The Hairpin, *tiny screams*

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Laura, I think that’s a segment of the movie, and I am haunted by that shot to this day. (I believe it’s Cherie Currie.)

  • Matt says:

    X Files ‘Home was creepy, but Donnie Pfaster in ‘Irresistible’ was worse. He looked so normal, and he was running around Minneapolis, where I lived.

  • CherylS says:

    The “X-Files” episode “The Host” scared the mess out of me. Appropriate, as it was about a huge parasite that would come up from the sewers while you were sitting on a toilet or in a porta-john. I cannot use a porta-john to this day because of that episode. I’ll also vote for the Twin Peaks/Leland Palmer reveal episode and for “Hush” on BtVS.

  • Mary says:

    I agree with those who have mentioned the Dr. Who episode “Blink”. “The Empty Child” also freaked me the hell out when I watched it.

    The episode of Star Trek: TNG that scared me the most was “Conspiracy” – it was the first episode I ever saw and I didn’t watch the show again for a few years – when I started watching and fell in love with the show I never watched that episode again when it came around in reruns.

    When I was a kid I loved MacGyver – the episode “Ghost Ship” freaked me out when a huge sasquatch leaped out at MacGyver when he was exploring an abandoned ship. I had nightmares that night and wasn’t allowed to watch the show for a few weeks.

  • MJC64 says:

    There was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from ’85 called “The Final Escape” that totally messed with my mind. SPOILER ALERT! So a prisoner makes an arrangement with the prison’s gravedigger to escape inside the coffin of the next prisoner who dies. The plan is for the gravedigger to return to the graveyard after the coffin is buried to dig her out. The death knell clangs, the prisoner climbs inside the coffin, and then waits. And waits. She finally lights a match inside the coffin to see the poor dead guy whom she’s lying on top of, and YOU GUESSED IT: It’s the gravedigger who was supposed to come get her out. Buried alive atop a corpse with no chance of escape!!! AGH!

  • Kristen says:

    Buffy, season seven, “Conversations With Dead People”. That season was so-so, but that episode never fails to creep me the hell out.

  • Caitie says:

    It’s not a tv show, exactly, but…

    The TimeLife “Mysteries of the Unknown” commericals. Man, they freaked me out so much I voluntarily stopped watching television for almost a month. I think there were a couple versions, and the one with the guy floating in the forrest… I couldn’t.

    Also, the Star Trek: TNG episode “Genesis” where the crew de-evolves? I would deliberately flip past the episode descriptions in my end-of show tribute magazine it so disturbed me.

  • Claire says:

    “Hush” legit made me scream the first time I saw it. I knew that one of the Gentlemen would float by the window when Giles’s girlfriend was looking out, and yet I was still terrified.

    To add to the list of Twilight Zone episodes, “Stopover in a Quiet Town” really freaks me out, for some reason. Just the part where they get on the train and they realize the track is in a circle and they’re stuck. There’s something really scary about that to me.

  • CanuckMom says:

    That episode of Jim Henson presents with death in a bag..
    Most episodes of criminal minds….
    That short lived TV series from several years back The Others also had some good scare factor

  • Daisy says:

    Not exactly an episode, but I always get freaked out by watching the video of when that guy hijacked the TV airwaves for a little while? This?

  • Naomi says:

    Halloween Quantum Leap episode.

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