It's nearly Halloween, which means many TV shows are aiming for big scares or Halloween costume fun with one Halloween-themed installment to mark the occasion. And then there are the series that make Halloween a season-long affair, regularly delivering creepy, violent, scary characters that leave a memorable impression. We came up with a list of some of the most scary villains on television.
TV's featured some great villains, many with whom we wouldn't want to cross paths, but there are some bad guys that truly inspire nightmares, whether they're the product of supernatural/science fiction (Heroes, Fringe) or they're simply the scariest type of human in a more reality-based drama (Bones, Dexter). Here are seven of the scariest TV villains we've ever seen.
Spoiler warning - the entries for this list contain spoilers of varying degrees from their respective series. Please keep that in mind before reading each entry!
The Gormogon - Bones
Bones’ Season 3 big villain, The Gormogon, is a creepy serial killer with horrifically bad teeth and a giant crease in the middle of his forehead. Don’t get me wrong—it’s chilling in the few moments we get to see him—but he mostly works in the shadows and the man never really speaks onscreen. Why Gormogon is so scary, and why he succeeds in making this list, is his manipulation prowess. The man actually convinces one of the sanest and most rational doctors at the Jeffersonian to become his apprentice. There’s nothing more unsettling than the moment we know for certain Dr. Zach Addy has turned traitor, except for maybe the moment we realize the serial killer is using the actual bones of his victims to create artistic sculptures.
It gets worse. On top of all this, the man proves himself to be a cannibal, who consumes human flesh after choosing and taking the life of his villains. He’s a terrifying wild madman, and a bit of a student of mysticism whose obsession with (and dislike of) organizations like the freemasons gives him an educated side that’s scary as well. I have no doubt that if Gormogon had not eventually been caught by the team, I’d still have bad dreams about the creepster coming to eat me and send my mandible to the FBI.
Baby Boy Hughes - Fringe
Even though Fox’s Fringe slants far more towards hard science-fiction that horror, in many ways it’s still the heir apparent to The X-Files and contains more than its fair share of terrifying bumps in the night. And bump makers. Obviously a show based on abnormal or unexplained events would offer up a whole host of unusual beings and over the course the the four plus seasons there are many contenders for the creepy crown; the shapeshifters are uncanny as hell as are most of the creatures but the ‘Scorpion-Mole-Rat’ from “Night of Desirable Objects” stands out. With a name like that, how could he not?
His real name is ‘Baby Boy’ Hughes (creepy) because, well, thats’ what it says on his tombstone (even creepier). The genetically experimented on ‘boy’ didn’t turn out exactly how Dr. Hughes had planned and, after having a little baby funeral, he’s been trying to hunt down his rogue monster son ever since. Until Fringe Division is called into investigate which eventually leads the father to the end of a rope and Olivia down into the dark subterranean tunnels with only a flashlight. The story already invokes so many primal fears before being topped off with a disgusting looking creature, culled right from The Descent, dragging Olivia further into the house’s bowels. Good thing for her that he’s soon hoist with his own petard! (opens in new tab) Still gross.
Trinity (Arthur Mitchell) - Dexter
We've seen some very creepy people cross paths with Dexter Morgan over the course of Dexter's more-than-seven season run, but Trinity tops them all, and likely out-creeps most other TV villains. Played by John Lithgow, Arthur Mitchell (otherwise known as the Trinity Killer) was introduced in the series' fourth season and served as an example to Dexter a serial killer who was also a family-man. When he wasn't busy being an occasionally friendly, occasionally abusive husband and father, he was killing women in their bathtubs, making them fall to their deaths and bludgeoning men with a hammer.
Trinity's ritualistic triple-murders were creepy enough to put him high on any villain list, but what made him truly scary was the way he engaged with his victims. This included making the "mother" victim fall to her death, and climbing naked into the bathtub with his young female victim, then slicing her femoral artery so that she'd bleed out. This victim's last memory would be of some creepy naked stranger embracing her in a bathtub and holding up a small mirror so he could watch her die. Poor Rita learned just how disturbing this experience was when Trinity paid her a visit and left Dexter with a bathtub surprise at the end of the series' fourth season. A truly shocking and disturbing conclusion to what is arguably the best season of the series. Trinity may be gone but he won't soon be forgotten by Dexter fans thanks as much to the writing as to Lithgow's fantastically disturbing portrayal of the character.
The Borg - Star Trek: The Next Generation
While the Borg have become something of a pop culture anecdote over the years, when Star Trek: The Next Generation brought them to life, they were the stuff of nightmares. “Resistance is futile” has become a joke, but it came from one seriously scary source. The Borg took away from anyone they assimilated everything that made them human and individual, and turned them into a part-human, part-machine drone in the name of creating their collective. It wasn’t just the fact that they looked seriously creepy. What made the Borg scary was that they tapped into the fundamental human fear of losing your mind and your soul. And they were an emotionless juggernaut of soul thievery that couldn’t be stopped, moving through space in a huge cube that made the Death Star look friendly. Their scariest television moment came in the Season 3 cliffhanger finale, in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard is captured and assimilated, turning on his crew and preparing to assimilate them as well.
If there is anything that is more frightening than death, it’s the kind of half-life that the Borg forced upon those it assimilated. Still living, but no longer in control of yourself, lost to the people you love and lost to yourself. The Borg took the classic scary monster – the zombie - and gave it a cold, modern edge. While Picard survived his encounter, he was never quite the same (and who would be?). The Borg remain Star Trek’s scariest bad guys, and among the scariest on television.
Caleb - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
We've seen a number of truly disturbing demons throughout Buffy's seven-season run, including the heart-jarring Gentlemen and the skin peel-n-eating, creepy-rhyming Gnarl, but Nathan Fillion's Caleb crossed over into nightmare territory. For a show filled with monsters, it was a human villain with ties to The First that topped them all in the scare department. The defrocked priest gets scare points for the ruthless way he carried out tasks on behalf of the incorporeal First Evil, and for his strength, which made him a strong opponent against Buffy. But where he really earned his nightmare status was in his creepy-preacher approach and the joy he took in his brutality and misogyny. Caleb was a man who took pleasure in the violent way he served the First, casting judgment as though every act was a creepy, violent sermon.
Even after Fillion further established himself in geek culture with roles like Malcolm Reynolds and Captain Hammer, Caleb's evilness still resonates in re-watches of Buffy's seventh season. Gone is the occasionally cocky swagger and amusing charm we've come to know and love from the actor in some of his other roles, and in its place is a bible-spouting, judgmental angry character who seems to be looking for any excuse to beat up women, making Caleb a nightmarish monster of a man who just so happens to resemble the guy from Firefly and Dr. Horrible. Plus, he poked Xander's eye out, which was probably one of the most horrifying moments of the series. So there's that.
The Peacock Family - The X-Files
The X-Files featured plenty of scary characters over the years, but there’s one particular episode that stands out among the rest. In fact, there are images from that episode that once seen can’t be erased from your mind – or your nightmares. It was "Home," the second episode of Season 4, and it featured the Peacock Family. Mulder and Scully are brought in to investigate a severely deformed newborn body found buried in a field next to a decrepit house, home of the Peacock boys. They are an insular group of brothers living without running water or electricity, all with marked deformities – just like the baby. But there’s no sign of a woman who might have birthed it. As the agents get closer to the truth about the Peacocks, people start to die as the brothers try to protect a secret is so terrifying that it trumps everything leading up to it. The Peacock boys, bent on keeping their line pure, have been procreating with their mother, who lost her limbs in a car accident and is kept hidden under the bed on a board with wheels.
The moment you see her roll out from under the bed and the realization hits you is a moment you can’t take back. The fear factor here was that this was no supernatural being, but real people engaging in unspeakable acts that somehow seemed plausible. It’s the mixture of evil combined with the sadness of such an existence that climbs into your psyche and never leaves.
Sylar - Heroes (Season 1)
So NBC’s Heroes probably isn’t the first series that comes to mind of when thinking about horrifying television shows, unless, you know, you’re discussing the quality of the later seasons, but there are are actually quite a few terrifying characters (the possibly pedophilic Puppet Master immediately strings, sorry, springs to mind) on the cancelled drama. Most superheroes come complete with matching villains, and the genre certainly isn’t short on psychopaths thanks to evil like The Joker, but rarely do they so closely follow the tropes of the ‘slasher’ like Sylar did throughout most of Season 1.
At first Sylar was seen only in shadows, sporting a Prom Night-esque baseball cap to further conceal his face and make him that much scarier (not to mention hide the fact that Zachary Quinto had yet to be cast). Then, instead of only seeing the bloody aftermath of his, originally thought to be cannibalistic, decapitations, Quinto brought his gory show center stage as well as demonstrate all the typical traits of sociopaths; a traumatic childhood, fierce intelligence, and an insatiable desire to exert his power over the weak. He doesn’t just brutally kill you alone, screaming for help in the dark, but his powers also allow him to accomplish the even more perverted, sadistic and invasive act of taking (what is essentially) their souls. Superhero horror!
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