It’s not every day that a television character manages to haunt viewers long past an episode’s end. Sometimes the character is an actual monster: jagged teeth, sore-pocked skin, eyes as red as blood. Sometimes the character is a monster who wears an all-too-human face. Sometimes the character isn’t trying to be a monster at all — they’re only trying to do what’s right according to their own moral code. Sometimes they’re fully aware of their own cruelty — and might, in fact, relish it.
These terrifying characters act out of a myriad of motivations. Some were born cruel, seeking opportunities to inflict pain from very early ages. Some began as starry-eyed dreamers, whose idealism slowly curdled in an unjust world. Some are cursed creatures, caught forever between life and death. From murderous sociopaths to demonic forces, lingering ghosts to genetic aberrations, religious extremists to evil puppets, here are the creepiest characters in TV show history.
BOB from Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks‘ BOB has been haunting the collective unconsciousness since his appearance in the show’s pilot all the way back in 1990. Our first contact with BOB is his menacing gray-haired shape in one of Sarah Palmer’s dark visions. His signature crawl over furniture and Laura Palmer’s bed are such starkly terrifying moments that we aren’t even surprised to find out he’s an inter-dimensional being of pure evil, who feeds on the pain and suffering of others until he ultimately tortures them to death, or possesses them to commit more evil acts.
As if Laura’s father Leland encouraging BOB to sexually assault and ultimately kill his only daughter wasn’t bad enough, Twin Peaks: The Return reveals BOB’s true origins. The entity was unleashed during nuclear tests in New Mexico in 1945, initially manifesting as an orb with a human face. He is, in every possible way, utterly beyond human understanding. Once again, Twin Peaks managed to shock and disturb its audience with a glimpse of something as incomprehensible as it is terrifying. Fire walk with us, no thank you.
The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The town of Sunnydale, California has no shortage of creepy characters, most of whom are ultimately defeated by Buffy Summers and her gang of "Scoobies." But when it comes to the creepiest of the creepy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that honor goes to The Gentlemen, without question. While they only appear in the episode "Hush," it provides them with more than enough time to secure their place as the most monstrous gang in the show’s history.
The Gentlemen, so named for their stiff affect, performative politeness, terrifyingly fixed smiles, and matching black suits, are demonic minions who go from town to town, cutting the hearts out of seven victims in order to stay alive. Their one weakness is human voices, most especially screams. Everywhere The Gentlemen go, they use an enchanted box to steal the voices of everyone in range. "Can’t even shout, can’t even cry," the lullaby about The Gentlemen goes, "you’re going to die screaming, but you won’t be heard." Thankfully, their rampage ended in 1999 when Buffy vanquished them once and for all.
Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones
Originally known as Ramsay Snow, Ramsay Bolton beats out Game of Thrones’ many other baddies through sheer, limitless sadism. The Bolton house banner is that of the flayed man, and being the psychopathic monster he is, Ramsay regularly lives up to it by flaying people in his orbit. Sometimes it’s for treason, but sometimes it’s just because he didn’t sleep well the night before. Ramsay spends much of the series torturing Theon Greyjoy, long past the point of political usefulness — he just enjoys breaking people, and Theon was an ideal candidate. He is bloodthirsty, venal, and frighteningly unpredictable. In a show with the likes of Joffrey and the Mountain lurking in its dark corners, the fact that he stands out as especially malicious speaks volumes.
Ramsay seeks power at all costs, and when he realizes the only way he’ll ever achieve what he wants is by killing all family members closer in line to the family inheritance, he dispatches them with cold precision. But he isn’t Lord Bolton for long. Sansa eventually feeds Ramsay to his starving dogs in the aftermath of his defeat at Winterfell — a fitting end for such a ruthless monster.
The Trinity Killer from Dexter
Crowning the vast and horrifying array of Dexter villains is the Trinity Killer, a serial murderer with a very specific modus operandi. First, he kills a young single woman in her own bathtub by severing her femoral artery. Second, he stages the suicide of a mother of two. Third, he bludgeons to death an older father of two. But Dexter finds out that the Trinity Killer has a fourth victim that starts his cycle: A young boy whose body is dumped in the foundation of a newly laid home. These homes are part of the Christian outreach group Four Walls One Heart, where Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer himself, is a church deacon and regular volunteer alongside his wife and children.
What makes Arthur one of the creepiest characters of all time is the perfect mask he has constructed for the world outside his home: A forthright, honorable, and compassionate family man active in his community. This facade quickly crumbles as Dexter discovers Arthur’s various truths, and their confrontation ends in the horrific murder of Dexter’s wife before Dexter dispatches Arthur. Played by John Lithgow with incredible nuance, the Trinity Killer is one of Dexter’s creepiest foes.
Hannibal Lecter from Hannibal
Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, an innovative adaptation of Thomas Harris’ famous series of books, is not short on creepy characters. But the king of creepy is hands down Hannibal‘s titular character, played with panache and old-world charm by Mads Mikkelsen. Hannibal in this iteration is young and head-turningly handsome, clad in a stylish wardrobe as meticulously tailored as the meals he makes out of his victims’ organs. Who can forget the exquisitely fitted clear plastic overcoat he wears when slicing up his next dinner? #ThisIsMyDesign.
Hannibal’s manipulations and gaslighting of a number of different characters throughout the course of three seasons — and in particular his love-hate relationship with his so-called "murder husband" Will Graham — can often be as unsettling as his murders. While the show was cancelled after its third season, Hannibal is one character that many, many Fannibals are still waiting impatiently to hear from.
Benjamin Linus from Lost
There are creepy characters who are creepy because they openly do terrible things. Then there are characters like Lost’s Benjamin Linus, who is creepy for the sake of it. Is it the timbre of his voice, nasal almost to a point of cloying, that rubs us the wrong way? Is it his constant lying and manipulating to get what he wants? Is it his unapologetic nature that manages to turn every situation into one where he is somehow the victim, even after he has orchestrated events to victimize, murder, and torture others? All of the above?
Lost features a legendarily complex plot that drifts back and forth between past and present. Benjamin Linus’ character only made that dynamic more complicated as his double, triple, and even quadruple-crosses left us as creeped out as we were constantly confused. Everything he did, he did for the island. But did he have to do it so creepily?
Management from Carnivale
Daniel Knaupf’s Carnivàle follows a traveling carnival through the American South during the Great Depression. Consisting of only two grim seasons filtered through the sepia lens of the Dust Bowl, Carnivale features all kinds of marvelous characters, from the carnies to the townsfolk they interact with in each stop on their tour.
While there is a plethora of creepy folks to choose from, the creepiest of all is the one known simply as Management, voiced by Linda Hunt. Management is little seen, but much talked about. When seen, Management appears as clawed, disembodied limbs peeking through the curtains inside its trailer. When heard, Management has the gravelly voice of a monster you never want to meet face to face. But Management doesn’t just look creepy. It is also orchestrating a confrontation between good and evil that stands to destroy the world as we know it. Like The Gentlemen from Buffy, Management doesn’t need to be on screen often to leave a hugely creepy impact in its wake.
Weeping Angels from Doctor Who
"Whatever you do, DON’T BLINK," the Tenth Doctor warns whomever might be watching his recording in the future (and the past, because, well, wibbly wobbly timelines and all that). Of what does he warn? A group of "quantum-locked humanoids" who pose as weeping angel statues that creep up on people when they aren’t looking. What is their aim? To send their prey to an unspecified point in the past so they can feed off their life energy. No wonder they’re some of Doctor Who’s most infamous villains.
The Weeping Angels keep their eyes covered until their prey has set sight on them. Then, the Weeping Angels menace their way toward the person bit by bit, every time the person blinks. When their fanged visage and clawed hands are close enough, the Weeping Angels snatch the human and toss them into history.
The Tenth Doctor cleverly defeats one group of Weeping Angels by forcing them into a circle around the TARDIS, then teleporting the machine while the Angels’ eyes were all open. They fix on each other and are frozen for all eternity. But, as is always the case in the Whoverse, there are more Weeping Angels in all the timelines still to be found.
Tooms from The X-Files
In an entire 11-year catalog of creepy characters, one particular X-Files baddie slithers right to the top of the most horrifying: Eugene Victor Tooms. Tooms, with his piercing stare and mild mannerisms, shocks viewers by turning out to be a 120-year-old genetic anomaly. His long life span is due to a periodic human liver-eating ritual and subsequent hibernation. Moreover, Tooms is able to contort and elongate his body to fit through even the smallest spaces — it is this dark gift that allows him to get away with murder and cannibalism for such a long time.
Anyone who has seen Tooms’ first episode, "Squeeze," has not likely managed to forget it — or lost their suspicion of ductwork and air conditioning vents. Ultimately, Agents Mulder and Scully are forced to kill him, but not before he pulls off one of TV’s creepiest moments: Chasing Mulder through a disgusting pipe, a scene that Tooms’ actor Doug Hutchison requested to perform in the buff for maximum effect. It worked. We’re all still scarred.
Aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale
Every so often, the creepiest characters come in the most unassuming packages. Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale is the sort of older, matronly woman you’d expect to see as a kindly nurse or caretaker, probably the type to sneak you some chocolate on a bad day. When she feels like it, Aunt Lydia certainly can be that attentive and caring figure. But most of the time, Aunt Lydia prefers to take out her boatloads of suppressed rage on the group of Handmaids in her care. With her trusty electric cattle prod, Aunt Lydia brutalizes her charges with sadistic abandon whenever she feels slighted … or simply wants to show off her rank.
Though Aunt Lydia whips, flogs, burns, and beats her charges with a stunning brutality, all that changes when a Handmaid gets pregnant. Then she about-faces, becoming a doting grandmother figure who fiercely protects the unborn child and the woman carrying it. The dynamic is chilling: Audiences know, at all times, that she is choosing her actions carefully. She could be gentle, but what would that get her? Better to secure her own authority on the backs of frightened, tortured women.
Black Jack Randall from Outlander
People are often forced to do horrible things to survive in the midst of war. This is not, however, the case for Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, one of Outlander’s earliest villains. War is a happy occasion for Black Jack Randall, in fact: It provides him with an excuse for enacting his sadistic fantasies. Randall is bloodthirsty, authoritative, and calculating — he knows exactly what sort of people to target, how to corner them, and what tortures will bring them to their knees. If someone finds out, who cares? It’s war. He was only interrogating an enemy informant.
Randall’s methods are particularly vile. His sexual violations are horrific in and of themselves, but also ensure his victims’ silence — they are so swamped with shame, they often never speak of the crime to even their closest loved ones. This is part of Randall’s modus operandi, but also something he takes pleasure in. He lives to drench others in shame and disgrace, to prove that nothing and no one can stand against him. His world is one in which he is criminal, judge, and executioner, and woe betide anyone who seeks to cast him from his throne.
Franklin Mott from True Blood
Unlike the multitudes of creepy characters on True Blood, some of whom have had hundreds of years to perfectly distill their psychoses, Franklin Mott is a reasonably young vampire. With his gaunt face and piercing blue eyes, Franklin initially comes across as rather dashing, if a bit old-fashioned. But after his tryst with Tara, he kicks into obsession mode. Then, Franklin’s monstrousness is revealed.
After conning a number of Bon Temps residents to find out where Tara lives, he kidnaps Tara and keeps her tied to his bed to do with as he wishes, whenever he wishes. He even glamours Tara, in an attempt to fake her consent. What is made clear is how deeply Franklin enjoys controlling another person’s life, body, and will — and how low he’ll go to establish that control. Franklin only appears in seven episodes before Jason Stackhouse destroys him, but those episodes were more than enough to make Franklin Mott a legendary creep.
Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show
Ryan Murphy’s anthology show American Horror Story does an incredible job of showing the humanity of apparent monsters, and the monsters that hide behind human faces. In many ways, Twisty the Clown, villain of Freak Show, the series’ fourth installment, embodies both dynamics.
Once upon a time, Twisty was a beloved clown in Rusty Westchester’s Traveling Carnival who delighted children far and wide with his antics. But his colleagues were jealous of his success, and sabotaged him by spreading a rumor that he was actually a child molester. All he ever wanted was to be a clown, and once the lies about him took hold, his days in the circus were over. He attempted suicide by shotgun, but only managed to take off his own jaw.
Weirdly revitalized by surviving, Twisty donned a facial prosthetic and decided that if people want to think him a monster, he’d actually become one. Which he does, by kidnapping and killing children, an act he believes "saves" them from their families. His hulking frame and grotesque face, both with and without the mask, are the stuff of nightmares, but his actions manage to be worse.
Kilgrave from Jessica Jones
In a brilliant casting move, beloved Doctor Who star David Tennant was chosen to play Kilgrave, Jessica’s Jones’ mind-controlling arch-villain. Highlighting the insidiousness of domestic violence by putting a hero’s face on the perpetrator is one of many things that makes Tennant’s Kilgrave a powerful character — to say nothing of his silky accent. Kilgrave is the guy you’d never imagine as dangerous. He’s cultured, mannered, and handsome, even seemingly kind. And that’s what makes him all too real.
Kilgrave’s obsession with Jessica Jones leads him to put her under his thrall for months during which he makes her do all kinds of horrible things — and later tries to insist that they were in an actual consensual relationship. She wanted to be with him, he claims. Didn’t they have a nice time? Doesn’t he know her favorite dish? Couldn’t she have actually been enjoying herself? Shudder.
Kilgrave’s backstory reveals his parents’ experimentation on him, which gave him powers no human should have. But it was indeed Kilgrave’s choice to take those powers to some profoundly disturbing and disgusting places in his desire for dominance over others. It’s not just creepy how he suggests people kill themselves in dreadful ways, it’s downright shocking.
Sylar from Heroes
Once upon a time, Heroes‘ Gabriel Gray, an ordinary horologist, wanted to become someone special. After a visit from Dr. Chandra Suresh, Gabriel finds out that he is, in fact, extraordinary: His innate ability see what is wrong with something and fix it applies to things beyond clocks and watches. Unfortunately, Gabriel takes this to as dark a place as it can go, becoming the serial killer Sylar who identifies superpowered people, then extracts their abilities. Sylar then absorbs their stolen powers into his own body, to use toward his own nefarious ends.
Sylar’s brooding looks and emotional vulnerability often fool those around him into underestimating how far he’ll go to get what he wants. But unlike other villains, Sylar’s arc actually ends with him making a decision to be better and make amends for all the destruction he had caused. Regardless, slicing open people’s skulls to eat their brains and powers 100% assures Sylar’s place in creepy TV character history.
Dr. Alice Morgan from Luther
Luther’s Dr. Alice Morgan has a brilliant mind — too bad she’s also a malignant sociopath. Her knowing smile and sly manipulations on full display, we first meet Alice after both of her parents and their dog are found brutally murdered in their home, Luther having been assigned to investigate.
Like so many put-upon do-gooders of television history, Luther is alone in suspecting Alice to be the murderer. Even so, Alice’s strange charms and exceptional mind end up bonding on a deep level with Luther, and as the show goes on they get further and further enmeshed — up until Alice’s death at the end of the third season. Alice is cold, calculating, and has such a finely tuned mask, she fools almost everybody. She’s the most well-coiffed monster around, and that’s why she fits right in with all the other creepiest creeps on television.
Errol Childress from True Detective
Time may or may not be a flat circle, but what we do know for sure is that the first season of True Detective offered up some of the creepiest imagery in television history. Ritual murder scenes involving deer antlers, weird men wearing gas masks, off-kilter spirals, and of course the twig-built "devil’s traps" — but in addition to all of this, it also gave us the "Spaghetti Face Man." Called so because of his distinct facial scarring, Errol Childress was responsible for the rape and murder of dozens of children and women, some carried out on his own, while others were as part of a religious cult that promoted ritual torture, sexual abuse, and ultimately, murder recorded on a series of video tapes.
These are more than enough reasons for Childress to end up on a list of the creepiest TV characters of all time, but the way that he speaks makes it all somehow even scarier. Childress seems to have an eidetic memory for accents as well as texts, and often switches from a Louisiana accent to a British one, an action as unsettling to watch as it is to listen to. Oh, and he’s also in a sexual relationship with an elderly female relative living in the house with him. That’s approaching beyond creepy.
The Bent-Neck Lady from The Haunting of Hill House
Spoiler alert: there are ghosts in The Haunting of Hill House. Lots of them, in fact, all of whom are creepy and most of whom do terrible things in their afterlife. But the creepiest of all is also arguably the most tragic. When her family buys and moves into Hill House in order to flip it, Eleanor "Nell" Crain has a horrific experience on their first night: She sees a terrifying ghost hovering over her bed whose neck is bent to the side at an unnatural 90-degree angle. This ghost she calls the Bent-Neck Lady would continue to haunt adult Nell for the rest of her life, even though doctors would insist all she had was sleep paralysis that could be cured through normal means.
Eventually, her therapist encourages Nell to revisit Hill House, long abandoned by the Crain family. But catharsis doesn’t greet Nell within Hill House — she finds only horror. Nell discovers that the Bent-Neck Lady is actually her own ghost, dead from suicide, an act that fulfills a prophecy that revealed itself on Nell’s first night in Hill House. The Bent-Neck Lady isn’t just creepy, she’s a heartbreak all her own.
Adora Crellin from Sharp Objects
On the surface, Sharp Objects‘ Adora Crellin appears to be the perfect Southern Belle. Always immaculately dressed and ensconced within her lavish home, Adora is the root of much envy in the small, hog-farming town of Wind Gap, Missouri. But her dark side runs deep and rotten. Adora suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental illness that causes caregivers to make their charges sick, thus granting the caregiver attention and sympathy. Often, people with this illness end up killing their victims, which was the case with Adora’s second daughter, Marian.
Adora suffered from a hugely abusive mother herself, and the cycle of intergenerational violence is clearly at work in her. There is a chilling moment in Sharp Objects when Adora’s eldest daughter Camille sees her mother bite her infant sister, then sigh over God having given her "another sick baby" as the infant cries. While Adora wasn’t ultimately the killer of the two young girls found in Wind Gap, Adora’s steely villainy still makes her the creepiest character out of this particularly dysfunctional bunch.
Joe Goldberg from You
You’s Joe Goldberg is an unassuming bookstore manager with a dark past. Growing up with an abusive father has left him with a boatload of physical and psychological scarring he does his best to keep hidden. But when he meets Guinevere Beck, he becomes obsessed with her. His mental illnesses rise to the surface, causing him to do an entire laundry list of creepy things including stalking, manipulation, and even murder.
These murders are sometimes done with cold precision, planned to the last detail. And other times, Joe kills on violent impulse, causing new scenarios that often require even more bloodshed for Joe to cover his tracks. Meat grinder anyone? Being a serial killer is already creepy, but Joe’s charm and poise elevate him into something altogether more horrifying. Even as you watch him commit heinous crimes, you find yourself making excuses for him. Why? Well, he just doesn’t seem like a villain, right? But he is — and that’s the point.
William Lewis from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is an exploration of creeps being creepy — specifically, those who commit sex crimes, or harm uniquely vulnerable individuals. Captain Olivia Benson goes head to head with these villains, and most of the time sees justice through to the end.
But one of her nemeses stands out in particular: The serial killer and rapist William Lewis. It wasn’t enough that Lewis would kidnap, torture, and sexually assault his victims for days on end before killing them. No, he also managed to evade prosecution through a technical loophole: He would misspell his generic name as he moved from place to place, making it ever more difficult for law enforcement to track or trace him.
His creepiest actions happen when he kidnaps Olivia, tortures her for days, and upon being put on trial, actually tries to make the case that Olivia was there of her own volition. He meets his demise at the end of a bullet, but not before traumatizing and hurting as many people as possible.
Alpha of The Whisperers from The Walking Dead
Well before its ninth season, AMC’s zombie horror The Walking Dead had been blurring the lines between hero and villain. The very nature of humanity came under question over and over again as even the supposed good guys committed heinous acts of violence to protect their own. Theirs is a world of unforgiving cruelty, where even those most moral fall to sin.
Yet new depths of creepiness were plumbed when The Walking Dead introduced Alpha, leader of The Whisperers. A child-abusing psychopath who has taken survival to the next level, Alpha has gone so far as to sew a skinned zombie face over her own, to better blend in among the undead. Alpha is so peak creepy, she even has sex with Negan with the rotting zombie face on. This grotesque scene quickly surpassed every other disturbing event and creepy character that happened on the show before it. Walking dead indeed.
Lady Elaine Fairchilde from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
Unlike other entries on this list, Lady Elaine Fairchilde is unintentionally creepy. But come on — just look at her. With her distended nose and blotchy red face, it’s easy to see how this grouchy puppet would end up frightening some viewers well into adulthood. It doesn’t help that she has a penchant for casual destruction, flinging her boomerang around and upending the idyllic setting of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood just because she feels like it.
As an agent of chaos, Lady Elaine is a personification of the impermanence of life. Think you’ve got your situation settled? Nope. Lady Elaine is here to remind you that something is probably wrong, and she’s going to point to it with a vehemence that simply cannot be ignored. Add in her creaky, whining voice, and you’ve got a true terror on your hands — literally! Lady Elaine might teach the littlest viewers important life lessons, but they come at the cost of nightmares about darkened cheeks and big blue buttons.