Buffy the Vampire Slayer still enthralls the world, years after the teenage slayer first appeared on screens. The show serves as a commentary on the growing pains of teenage years, the challenges of young love, the causal misogyny of our world, and so much more, so it’s no wonder the world still loves Buffy and the “Scooby Gang.”
With fall in the air and the spooky season around the corner, check out the spookiest Buffy episodes that stand out from the seven-season run.
1. “Hush” (4×10)
No contest – the world agrees that “Hush” stands out as the scariest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It opens with a dream and spirals into one of the show's most terrifying and haunting episodes. “The Gentlemen” exist as only a named group and nothing more until the audience finally sees the terrifying, emaciated, skeletal men that seem to float above the ground, followed by galloping creatures in straight jackets, as they cut hearts from silent victims. The entire episode relies on haunting melodies to set the stage, allowing for dialogue for only approximately twenty minutes out of the hour-long episode.
Fun fact: this episode introduces the character Tara Maclay, a soon-to-be love interest of Willow’s, and the second half of the first lesbian kiss shared on television.
2. “The Puppet Show” (1×9)
Something about puppets evokes haunted circuses and terrifying talent shows. This episode of Buffy falls into the latter category. Something stalks the Sunnydale High talent show rehearsals, hanging behind the curtains as teens dance, sing (off key), perform magic tricks, and try their hand at ventriloquy with a puppet everyone finds creepy. The discovery of a body interrupts the rehearsal and puts the Scoobies on high alert. Splitting up, they hunt through the school for the killer. Looking through the bowels of the school, the ventriloquy dummy attacks Buffy, and she fights the creature until she realizes there may be more to it than meets the eye.
3. “Killed By Death” (2×18)
Centered on an ailing Buffy, “Killed By Death” haunts the nightmares of many a Buffy fain. The bulk of the show takes place in the hospital as Buffy fights a horrible flu. Left alone in the hospital while the rest of the Scoobies protect her from a soulless Angel, Buffy sees a little boy standing in her doorway. When he walks off, she sees he’s being followed by a strange man who doesn’t look quite like a man. She follows him and realizes he’s a demon that attacks sick children, and, eventually, she realizes that only sick children can see the demon.
4. “Normal Again” (6×17)
Buffy rarely enters into cerebral conversations so blatantly, but “Normal Again” does not blanche from examining the terror of the mind. The horror of this episode lies in the way it plays with the very foundations of the show. Struck down by some sort of ray created by the Trio, Buffy flashes between moments as the Slayer, fighting demons in Sunnydale, and then to moments of terror as she finds herself in a mental institution, and doctors and her family alike reveal to her that she hallucinates her time in Sunnydale. The end of the episode will leave fans on the edge of their seat, wondering about the truth!
5. “Nightmares” (1×10)
Beginning like any other episode, “Nightmares” takes a few minutes to kick off, but when it does… Buffy as a vampire, killer clowns, and pursuit by a horrifying figure known only as “The Ugly Man?!” This episode digs into the nightmares of all of the Scoobies, and even all of Sunnydale as a comatose boy seems to change the fabric of Sunnydale’s reality.
6. “Helpless” (3×12)
While this episode stands out in part due to the fantastic acting of Jeff Kober, the performance led to an episode that still haunts the Buffy chat rooms. Questions about Giles’ ability to teach Buffy and Buffy’s ability to follow orders lead to scrutiny by the Watcher’s Council and bring head Watcher Quinten Travers to town. Travers sets up a test for Buffy that requires Giles zap her of her power and leave Buffy in an abandoned house, alone, with serial-killer-turned-vampire Zachary Kralik (Jeff Kober). A truly terrifying moment because of Buffy’s absolute helplessness and the lack of systemic support, this episode stands up to every rewatch.
7. “Same Time, Same Place” (7×3)
This episode has no shortage of horror. From the horror of being invisible to loved ones or the terror of being eaten alive, “Same Time, Same Place” looks at some particularly creepy themes as a newly-rehabed Willow returns home from England. While the Scoobies can’t seem to find Willow (invisible to her friends because of her anxiety about seeing them again), an invisible force menaces Sunnydale as it skins people alive. Of course, after Willow skinned Warren and because no one can find her after her plane lands, the Scoobies worry Willow’s rehabilitation has not succeeded.
8. “Some Assembly Required” (2×2)
Leaning into classic horror tropes, this episode features a Frankestein-themed storyline. After jumping into a dumpster to hide from someone following her, Cordelia discovers body parts in the bottom of the dumpster. As the Scoobies begin to dig to the bottom of the situation, they discover that Cordelia is in danger, as it seems someone wants Cordy’s head in order to complete their Bride of Frankenstein monster.
9. “Listening to Fear” (5×9)
Buffy’s mother, Joyce, lies in the hospital for tests on her newly discovered brain tumor. While the Scoobies scramble to patrol and stay on top of supernatural goings-on, Buffy and Dawn spend their time entertaining their mother in the hospital as best they can. This episode leans into the jump-scare moments from the first season as the audience sees Joyce muttering to herself as she stares at the ceiling above. As the camera pans away, the audience realizes she’s speaking to a demon right before the demon attacks.
10. “Bring on the Night” (7×10)
The audience’s first exposure to the Turok-Han, or the “ubervamp” as the Scoobies refer to it, this episode will scare any good Buffy fan. Never before has Buffy met a vampire she can’t fight – until now. The ubervamps are older than the human world and come from the bowels of the Hellmouth as harbingers of The First Evil. Spike has been kidnapped by The First Evil and sits chained in a cave as The First tortures him in the forms of Drusilla and others from his past. Joyce visits Buffy, talking to her about evil and what Buffy faces. For those with a fondness for Buffy, this episode stands out as particularly scary as it spells the beginning of the end for Buffy’s leadership in the Scoobies.
11. “The Pack” (1×6)
Perfectly creepy, this episode heavily features Xander, something pretty uncommon throughout the series. While on a school trip to the zoo, Xander and a group of school bullies become accidentally possessed by a Hyena spirit. After their possession, they become increasingly angry and hateful, escalating to violence against their classmates. With Xander in tow, “the pack” attacks the school mascot, a pig, eating the critter alive. Discovering that something has possessed Xander, the Scoobies lock him up in an effort to understand how to exorcise the demon. With Xander locked up, the rest of the pack roam the school until they come upon Principal Flutie, whom they attack and eat. The Scoobies continue to hunt for answers as the pack’s reign of terror amps up.
12. “Anne” (3×1)
In the wake of her killing of a soulless (and then re-souled) Angel, Buffy has abandoned Sunnydale for LA and changed her name to “Anne.” Fans have long since realized that this episode stood out as a sort of soft launch for the Angel series as it takes a far more gritty approach, leaning into violence and a sort of “no happy endings” theme that becomes far more common in Whedon’s episodes of Angel. Buffy/Anne, despite her best efforts, finds herself pulled into the drama and danger of her coworker’s life as her coworker establishes a connection with a terrifying group that seems to want to take homeless youth off the street, but Buffy can see something evil lurks below the surface.