TV has become a master of creating spine-chilling thrills and scary characters that have viewers reaching for pillows in protection. From blood-curdling adult dramas to terrifying kids’ shows, it has kept viewers haunted for days and nights.
From the creatures and creations from Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to blood thirsty serial killers and corrupt authority figures, TV sure knows how to scare viewers. With Halloween right around the corner, we count down the top ten most terrifying:
10. Richard Harrow from Boardwalk Empire
Richard Harrow’s war-torn facial disfigurement is proof that scary isn’t only skin deep. Playing the right-hand man to Atlantis City’s badboy, Jimmy Darmody, Harrow (Jack Huston) is set upon anyone that meddles in their business on the boardwalk. Harrow’s haunting presence is enough inspire fear and as much as he may be mild mannered and good with kids, there’s no limit to the brutality this menace is capable of. Watch him scalp a man and you’ll know you’ve seen the true face of terror.
9. Inhabitants of Royston Vasey from The League of Gentlemen
A simple Northern village where everyone keeps themselves to themselves is a hilarious yet horrific show from the BBC. Featuring characters such as outsider haters Edward and Tubbs, Papa Lazarou with his menancing ‘Hello Dave?’ catchphrase, sadistic restart officer Pauline and local butcher, Hilary Briss, serving ‘special stuff’ to the inhabitants. It had viewers cringing in horror as well as doubling over in laughter.
8. Slappy the Dummy from Goosebumps
The ventriloquist dummy from the popular children’s series of books was adapted onto the small screen to strike fear in children. Slappy is brought to life with an incantantion, which sets him on a quest to find a slave (usually the child that unknowingly utters the words). He is a rude, sadistic control freak who enjoys pulling mean pranks framing the child protagonist.
Three of the episodes featuring Slappy were banned under the UK’s stringent censorship guidelines because they were considered too scary for young or sensitive viewers.
7. The Headmaster from The Demon Headmaster
The Headmaster (Terrence Hardman) is a strange being with the powers of hypnosis who has a compulsion to take over the world because he believes it will better under his rule. The removal of his dark-tinted glasses reveals piercing light green eyes that he uses to hypnotise his victims.
Adapted from a book series for television, viewers sided with heroine, Dinah Hunter, as she tried to thwart his plans and save the world. The Headmaster’s revealing of his hypnotic eyes had children flinching from their TV sets as they thought they’d be placed under his ruling like the characters were.
6. The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who
These stealthy statues bring change to the old age saying of ‘anything can happen in the blink of an eye’. Only able to move when not being observed, the Angels force victims to throw away all their former beliefs about statues to live through the encounter. Very few characters survive an encounter with these horrifying masters of the sneak attack as the only rule to survive is: Don’t blink.
Viewers can’t take their eyes off the screen when these stony faced menaces are on, in fear that the Weeping Angels will get their cold, hard hands on them too.
5. Moriarty from Sherlock
Associated with death at a young age, Moriarty is a criminal mastermind that matches our favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes, in intelligence and deduction skills – “Every fairytale needs a good old-fashioned villain. You need me, or you’re nothing”. Not one to get his hands dirty, Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott) pulls the strings behind multiple personas and it’s not until he becomes obsessed with Holmes that we see how truly ruthless and scary he can be.
In Elementary, the American interpretation of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Moriarty is a woman who seduces the detective in the guise of Irene Adler, the literature great’s one true love.
4. King Joffrey from Game of Thrones
Concieved in an incestuous relationship between twin siblings, Joffrey Barantheon is the cruel, arrogant and tyrannical ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His incompetence, naivety and petulance together with severe defects in his sanity means he is prone to outbursts of violence and his nonchalance ordering of the beheading of Ned Stark shows his heartlessness.
His scariest trait is his appearance. His youthful appearance, fair complexion and blond locks procure a sinister feeling whenever he is present, which is down to the brilliant casting of Jack Gleeson as the preteen.
3. Zombies from The Walking Dead
Pick a zombie, any zombie, they’re all undead and all scary as hell. Officer Rick Grimes wakes up to a new world infested by the walking dead, teaming up with a scrappy band of survivors they try to forge a life in the zombie apocalypse.
Reverting to the original slow moving (and creepier) zombie convention, the flesh eaters aren’t afraid to take a bite out of anyone to add to the ranks of the growing undead army. The Walking Dead manages to expertly balance blood and gore horror conventions with melodramatic storylines to give the audience a fright.
2. The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Can’t even shout, can’t even cry. The Gentlemen are coming by.” That’s the haunting nursery rhyme from “Hush”, one of the many outstanding episodes of this influential cult show, which features the ultimate hunters – The Gentlemen. The enigmatic and grinning villains floating through Sunnydale steal inhabitants’ ability to scream so no-one can hear as they rip the still beating heart from your chest.
Three quarters of the critically acclaimed episode is blanketed in silence that makes for a truly palm-sweating experience for viewers as you don’t quite know when the suited demons will appear to take their next victim’s life and whether Buffy and the Scooby Gang will save the day.
1. Hannibal Lecter from Hannibal
There is something grossly intriguing about a man who is charming and intelligent yet cold, calculating and feasting on human flesh. But it’s not the obvious that makes him a great horror figure. Lecter is shown playing both sides by helping and psychotically toying with the police force, in particular Will Graham, which provides an unsettling feeling for the audience. He also regularly feeds his guests his latest victims in systematically prepared and presented dishes forcing viewers to scream at the unbeknown characters to throw down their cutlery.
The well-known cannibal has instilled fear on millions in films, including The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon, where he was excellently portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. But now the blood thirsty, enigmatic, cannibal psychologist has a whole new generation to scare the pants off as Mads Mikkelsen has taken up the mantle for the small screen; making him TV’s most terrifying character.