The ’90s and early 2000s are filled with TV shows that are now incredibly beloved and cherished – whether it’s a study of a mother-daughter relationship, a high school melodrama, or even a teen vampire horror. Nostalgia creates a quality to such cult shows of pop culture that make them memorable and irreplaceable amid more recent, newly released series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayeris a 1997 supernatural horror drama written by Joss Whedon. Following the life of Buffy, a mysterious warrior who battles supernatural forces including vampires, and an average high school student all at once, the show blends fear, humor, and drama for a compelling story that has stuck with popular media for decades. Her own iteration on horror is a unique tone, and here are our top 10 scariest Buffy episodes and her role in Slayer.
10 “fear itself”
This Halloween-themed episode (Season 3, Episode 4) isn’t scary with extreme jump scares but is psychologically tense while exploring the characters’ deepest fears and anxieties. In “Fear, Itself,” Buffy and her friends attend a frat party on Halloween in a haunted house that turns out to be literally haunted. Containing real supernatural elements, the house has characters that come to life and set the scene for a nightmare labyrinth of fears and phobias. The characters’ anxieties, insecurities, and fears become a terrifying experience that escalates in a comic tone that mixes the dark and the light. Although not intended for extreme horror, the episode is still a depiction of the harmful psychological aspects of phobias, especially in the context of Halloween.
9 “Same time, same place”
The third episode of Season 7, “Same Time, Same Place,” is another episode that wasn’t necessarily intended to scare its viewers. After Willow returns to Sunnydale from spending time away, she begins to regain control of her magical addiction as a demon preys on the town and kills people by eating their skins. Willow’s charm gradually becomes an obstacle in communicating with the people around her. Being invisible, Willow struggles with feelings of alienation and loneliness as her friends try to solve the mystery, and she is coincidentally left out. Willow’s disappearance is the cause of the episode’s constant unease. As it is a metaphorical representation of emotional distance, the physical problems only add to the sense of frustration and suspense as the story progresses.
On a more sentimental note, “Forever,” the seventeenth episode of Season 5, is set in the aftermath of Buffy’s mother Joyce. Dawn, Buffy’s younger sister, has become obsessed with the possibility of bringing her mother back to life through magical means. With the emotional implications and complex consequences of resurrection, challenging and manipulating the natural order of things becomes a disturbing bond. Also, as Dawn goes through her mourning, a vengeful demon named Gnarl begins attacking those who engage in resurrection spells. The suspense of Gnarl’s pursuit and Dawn’s desperate attempts combines the suspenseful side of the thriller with the sometimes unsettling elements of a psychology of grief and loss. The all-encompassing tension comes mostly from the horrific consequences of people trying to defy death and manipulate the natural order of existence.
7 “Conversations with the Dead”
In keeping with the name of the episode, “Conversations with the Dead” is the series’ seventh episode of the seventh season and focuses on several storylines that all feature communication with the deceased. In one storyline, Buffy encounters a vampire named Holden Webster and delves into deep conversations about her psyche. Meanwhile, Willow is contacted by Cassie Newton, a girl who has recently died, and they also engage in deep conversations about death and the afterlife. Finally, Dawn is visited by a mysterious entity who claims to be their dead mother, Joyce.
These conversations delve into the combative themes of death, loss, unresolved emotions, and the inevitable consequences of past actions. It’s a scary episode in the sense that the episode extracts the fears and faults from everyday life and emphasizes the inability to work it all out.
One of the series’ most pivotal episodes, “Passion” is the seventeenth episode of the second season and focuses on the actual quest to become an assassin. Buffy’s former love interest, Angelus, becomes obsessed with tormenting Buffy’s life and takes great pleasure in terrorizing her and her friends psychically in hopes of breaking her spirit and causing irreparable suffering. The torment caused by the angels is the main hook of the episode and layers horror with grief, loss, grief and revenge. The deaths of certain characters and their emotional impact on others pushes the weaker parts forward and further defines Angelus’ villainous status and evil abilities. With this episode, the season takes a turn towards darker stories and increased stakes throughout. He begins to view the consequences of becoming a real killer.
5 “normal again”
Given the blurring of reality and fantasy, Season 6, Episode 17 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been dubbed “Normal Again”. In this episode, Buffy encounters a disturbing alternate reality after being injected with demon venom during a fight. In this bizarre reality, Buffy is a patient in a mental institution who fantasizes about her life as a Slayer. While her parents are still her parents, her group of friends are now part of the hospital staff and the other mentally ill. The episode hints at a possible meta nature and raises questions about what is real and what is not. Perhaps the most terrifying part of it is the portrayal of someone who loses touch with reality and has mental breakdowns completely over it. And the cold, sterile, and detached atmosphere of the mental institution also adds to the gritty, disorienting, and unnerving feel of the entire narrative.
Episode 11 of Season 2, “Ted”, Buffy’s mother Joyce is dating Ted – apparently the perfect guy. With his charm, wit, and attentiveness, Ted creates the illusion of the perfect partner, though as the episode progresses, his darker side emerges. Beneath this deceitful exterior lies a controlling, manipulative, and physically abusive man who inflicts such things on both Joyce and Buffy. t
The supernatural elements in this episode are not at the fore, and evil forces or mysterious beings do not terrify. It is primarily a depiction of the psychological horror that follows an abusive domestic relationship. The manipulation, control, violence, and emotional turmoil surrounding such toxic relationships depict horror extracted from real life, making them deeply jarring. The episode almost works as a cautionary tale about the realization, confrontation, and escape required in abusive environments, especially when it’s played out behind an unflinchingly ordinary façade.
3 “killed by death”
In the eighteenth episode of season two, Killed by Death, Buffy becomes very ill with the flu and is eventually hospitalized. While there, a ghostly figure known as Der Kindestod begins stalking and attacking the children of the children’s ward. The name translates to “death of children” in German and depicts a supernatural entity that haunts sick children. As Buffy tries to battle her illness and the horrific consequences of a relentless threat, the fear and anxiety radiating from Der Kindstud’s prey grows stronger by the minute.
The frailty and helplessness of the children and patients combine to heighten the tension while Buffy’s emotional and physical vulnerability also remains at stake. Scary installment is one of pure psychological horror, emotional depth and supernatural horror. Finally a great watch.
2 “Listen to Fear”
In “Listen to Fear”, Season 5, Episode 9, Sunnydale is plagued by an evil slug-like entity that arrives in a meteor. The demon targets hospital patients and viciously attacks them by laying eggs in their bodies. One of the people in the hospital is Buffy’s mother Joyce, who has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. With his unusual and deeply disturbing style of attack, the demon becomes a terrifying threat, and the profound horror wrought by these attacks affects not only the vulnerable patients but the entire city.
The combination of fear and mental and physical illness increases plot tension and uses to complicate family dynamics, especially when one member is ill. The emotional tension, helplessness, and anxiety caused by an unknown force of fear leave the audience emotionally drained after the episode ends.
Possibly one of the most memorable, the tenth episode of Season 4 is the critically acclaimed episode “The Silence.” A group of supernatural beings known as The Gentlemen render people in the town of Sunnydale unable to speak or scream shortly after their arrival. City gentlemen silently move around with their henchmen and prey on people by removing their hearts. Interestingly enough, the episode has minimal dialogue and really benefits from the silence factor of the main villain. The characters are left to communicate through non-verbal means and rely heavily on gestures, facial expressions, and written communication. While new and eye-catching, Silence eventually begins to amplify the feeling of helplessness and vulnerability when fighting a mysterious threat.
The Gentlemen’s physical appearances are also a primary intimidation factor for the episode with their sharpened teeth, uncomfortable grins, and odd contrast to their uniforms. Silent Grace creates a terrifying environment in which evil works in the shadows, lurking beneath the surface.