With Halloween just around the corner, it's time to celebrate the scariest episodes of TV that ever aired. Here are the episodes that left a lasting mark in your nightmares. Some come from genre shows that always offered a scare or two and others come from shows that had no business treading into the horror genre but did so anyway.
And a special note: this list is deliberately not including episodes of anthology shows, so no 'Twilight Zone,' 'Tales From the Crypt,' 'Night Gallery' and so on. After all, we could fill this entire list with 'Twilight Zone' episodes. But we digress. Onto the list!
"Sylvia"'Little House on the Prairie'
It may seem weird for a show as generally harmless and kid-friendly as 'Little House on the Prairie' to have a spot on this list, but it more than earned it with "Sylvia."
A two-parter than aired halfway through the show's seventh season, the episode deals with a terrifying, black-clad man in a mime mask (!) terrorizing and raping (!!) a young girl named Sylvia, impregnating her and causing all kinds of additional stalking and horror movie shenanigans. Watching a gentle show about people trying to make a living on the American frontier transform into a low-rent, grossly tacky '80s slasher flick is odd (and a little hilarious) today, but for the countless oblivious kids who were tuning in to see what the Ingalls clan was up to that week, it was downright traumatizing.
'Fringe' eared its rabid following by journeying down the rabbit hole of truly weird science fiction, creating a complicated storyline that found its characters literally jumping between dimensions. However, the show was never afraid to get truly gnarly and it reached its horror apex with season three's "Marionette," which feels like a shockingly successful combination of 'Frankenstein' and 'Saw.'
The story finds the Fringe team tracking down a killer who is forcibly removing donated organs as part of a plan to resurrect the woman he loved. Of course, this plan also involves stringing her corpse up and manipulating it like a giant marionette. Yikes.
"The Man Behind the Curtain"'LOST'
Although 'Lost' was chilling from the very first episode (remember the fate of the pilot?), it rarely tread into genuine horror ... until season three's "The Man Behind the Curtain," which brought the series into genuine 'Evil Dead' territory for a few minutes. When the wily Benjamin Linus takes Locke to a cabin in the middle of the jungle with the promise of answers, he (and the audience) are only left with more questions.
Why is this cabin in the middle of the woods? Why does Ben insist the empty chair is inhabited by the mysterious Jacob? Why does a ghostly voice ask Locke to "help him"? Why does the cabin start to shake like it's full of poltergeists and why does the fire in Ben's broken lantern immediately extinguish itself and who is that man sitting in the chair that was empty just a moment ago?! Naturally, 'Lost' sidestepped any actual answers to these questions, but that doesn't stop the scene from being a sequence of pure terror.
"Everybody Loves a Clown"'Supernatural'
Although bookended by the dense mythology that would come to define 'Supernatural,' the second episode of the show's third season found time for a "monster of the week" that's as unsettling as anything ever seen on TV.
The ironically titled "Everybody Loves a Clown" find the Winchester brothers tackling a case that involves a string of murders that coincide with appearances by a traveling carnival. Children are seeing a clown that their parents can't see, a clown who they invite into their home late at night when he comes a'knocking. It's a decision they regret when this demonic, face-painted monster tears their mom and dad limb from limb and devours their flesh. 'Supernatural' may frequently deal with the forces of Hell and Satan himself, but even its writers knew that nothing is scarier than a clown.
'M*A*S*H*' began as a wacky sitcom about "meatball surgeons" on the frontlines of the Korean war, but over the course of its 11 seasons, it slowly evolved into a moving (and occasionally pretentious) anti-war drama that occasionally had a laugh or two. Although the show was rarely afraid to wallow in the horrors of war, it achieved its greatest horrors by taking a look into the subconscious thoughts of its cast.
In the season eight episode "Dreams," the surgeons, nurses and clerks of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital manage to slip away from 33 hours of nonstop surgery to catch a little shut-eye, only to find their dreams just as haunting as reality. Margaret Houlihan's wedding becomes a blood-drenched battlefield. Charles Winchester transforms into a magician, able to perform tricks but unable to save a dying man. Hawkeye is "punished" for not studying in medical school by having both of his arms removed. There's a reason this episode doesn't feature the traditional laugh track -- theres not a giggle to be had, only an examination of a group of people traumatized by war.
Like many of the shows on this list, "Blink" is a terrifying hour of television from a show that's rarely known for being scary in the slightest. With the introduction of The Weeping Angels in its third series, 'Doctor Who' created an iconic TV villain and scared the pants off sci-fi fans the world over. Although they look like angel statues, they're actually an ancient race of aliens that can only move when they're not being watched.
The result is a villain so creepy and unsettling that that episode has been consistently voted among the best of the entire series despite the Doctor himself only playing a small supporting role.
As problematic as the storytelling on 'The Walking Dead' is, the show has never had a problem being scary when it wants to be. In the season three premiere, the show catches up with Rick and his band of survivors some time after the conclusion of season two.
Although they're now an effective unit of zombie-killers, they live life on the run, always one step ahead of the undead horde. So when they see the chance to take over an infested prison and make it their home base, they take it. Of course, even the most assured killers of the walking dead aren't ready for pitch black, claustrophobic tunnels filled with an untold number of zombies and the result is the most intense extended sequence in the show's history. It's so good and so legitimately terrifying that it's profoundly disappointing that the rest of the season failed to live up to this promising start.
"Lonely Souls"'Twin Peaks'
Picking one episode of 'Twin Peaks' for a list of frightening TV episodes is a nearly impossible task since you could fill this whole thing with episodes of David Lynch and Mark Frost's groundbreaking series. Still, we have to go with season two's "Lonely Souls" for one reason and one reason only: the instant nightmare fuel that is BOB slowly approaching the camera in a series of jump cuts.
Screw it. This entry in the list is officially "Every Time BOB Appeared On 'Twin Peaks.'"
"Hush"'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Despite its premise and title, Joss Whedon's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' rarely went full-on horror. Instead, the show usually lived in a pop-fantasy groove, where vampires and other creatures of the night presented a legit threat while leaving plenty of room for quips.
That's not the case with the season four episode "Hush," which finds a terrifying group of well-dressed demons named The Gentlemen arriving in Sunnydale, where they steal everyone's ability to speak and begin a door-to-door murdering spree. Robbed of its trademark snarky dialogue, the show becomes a silent horror movie for 40 minutes, with its cast facing off against creatures that look like they were torn straight out of a 1920s horror flick. Fans of F.W. Murnau will certainly appreciate the nods to German expressionistic horror, but everyone else will just have to recoil at one of the creepiest hours of TV ever produced.
Due to the fact that cable shows can now feature graphic acts of violence, it's difficult to imagine an episode of TV ever being quite as shocking as "Home" was when it first aired in 1996. That the episode exists at all is surprising -- when it should have been coasting at the top of its popularity, 'The X-Files' chose to produce its most graphic, disturbing and controversial episode.
Entirely separate from the series' main mythology, the episode finds agents Mulder and Scully investigating the death of a hideously deformed baby, only to uncover a mystery involving an isolated house in the country and the homicidal, inbred family that lives there. To describe what happens as "Mulder and Scully vs. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" may not be entirely accurate (it's not set in Texas, after all), but it should give you an idea of the chilling and grotesque nature of what they discover. Every 'X-Files' fan remembers the first time they saw Mulder and Scully check under that bed and they flinch whenever they hear Johnny Mathis' rendition of "Wonderful! Wonderful!" Even today, the gruesome shocks of "Home" pack a punch.