Warning: contains spoilers for all seasons of Supernatural.
If you drifted away from Supernatural in its later seasons, or if the last few years of angel-demon-archangel shenanigans all blended together in your mind, here is a reminder of just how scary the show was in its earlier years.
Later seasons of Supernatural could still be scary, but the focus of the story became epic struggles for the world and for Sam and Dean’s souls and the souls of those they love. But for the first few years, Supernatural was a long road trip around the urban folklore of America. The first few seasons ticked off a wish-list of scary monsters, including witches, vampires, werewolves, a wendigo, lots of demons and, of course, ghosts. For the first couple of seasons, ghosts were the Winchesters’ main foes – creepy little girl ghosts, killer ghosts, tragic ghosts, mirror ghosts, hook-handed ghosts, and that infamous racist ghost truck. Here are 13 of Supernatural’s scariest episodes to re-watch for Halloween.
13. Provenance (Season 1, Episode 19)
This episode starts out with the creepy image of a painting that changes, the father of the family moving to look down to his right. Everyone who owns the painting ends up murdered. The boys try to burn the painting, but it comes back. They find out that the father was accused of murdering his wife and three children (two biological, one adopted), but it turns out that the adopted daughter murdered her biological family, then her adoptive family, then her ghost started killing everyone who owned the painting, not stopped by cremating her body because her doll has some of her hair in it.
So to sum up: this is about a creepy little girl ghost carrying a creepy old-fashioned doll made with her own hair, who has murdered numerous people including two of her own families, while her adoptive father desperately tries to warn people by moving his eyes in a painting. If that doesn’t give you the creeps, horror may not be the genre for you.
12. Lazarus Rising (Season 4, Episode 1)
Here’s something else you might have forgotten over the years – when Castiel first turned up on Supernatural, he was scary. Cass was the first angel we saw possessing a human on the show. For most of the episode, we have no idea that he is an angel. What we do know is that he pulled Dean out of Hell, destroyed a gas station, killed a diner-full of people possessed by demons, and burned out Pamela’s eyes just for trying to look at him.
Then Dean and Bobby manage to summon Castiel to an abandoned barn and he makes his grand entrance. Lights flicker, shadows spread, and in he comes, black wings spreading out from his Constantine-inspired outfit, as he growls at Dean, “I’m the one that gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition”. It’s hard to remember if you’ve watched Misha Collins be rather adorable for 11 years, but in Castiel’s very first appearance, he was genuinely terrifying.
11. Of Grave Importance (Season 7, Episode 19)
The building in ‘Of Grave Importance’ is a classic haunted house, in which everyone who dies in the house gets trapped there as a spirit. Generally speaking, the living don’t tend to see all the ghosts in these places at once – The Haunting of Bly Manor, for example, got lots of mileage out of hiding ghosts in the corners and the shadows.
But in this episode, instead of following Sam and Dean, we spend much of the episode with Bobby, who is unfortunately a ghost himself by this point. While Sam and Dean wander around in the dark with their EMF meters pinging, Bobby sees what they can’t – that the house is stuffed to the brim with ghosts, most of them just standing around with blank expressions on their faces. There’s one that rushes the camera and screams, and some that are chattier, plus a young couple wandering in confusion and poor Annie who didn’t even know she was dead until Bobby showed up. Despite Bobby’s cheerful commentary, this is the creepiest ghost story Supernatural had done in a long time by this point in the series.
The episode also shows us a ghost who is dangerous to other ghosts, so even being dead won’t protect you. And we even see Bobby’s eventual fate if he sticks around as a ghost. Just when you thought it couldn’t get scarier!
10. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
Supernatural started out strong, as the Pilot is actually one of the show’s overall best episodes. It kickstarts the show’s demon story arc effectively, but it also features a properly creepy Monster of the Week in ghostly Woman in White, Constance Welch.
Being the Pilot, this was the episode that set up what ghosts were in the Supernatural universe. It established their slightly-greyed out appearance, usually creepy demeanour, and most importantly the flickering effect that makes them so uncanny and sets them apart from other screen depictions of ghosts. Combine Constance’s MO, standing in the dark by the roadside and luring men to pick her up, with her backstory, having drowned her own children, and that strange, flickering effect, and you have a super creepy story that set the show up to bring us many more scary ghosts in the future.
9. Bloody Mary (Season 1, Episode 5)
‘Bloody Mary’ is a classic American urban legend, with the titular ghost appearing when three young girls dare each other to say “Bloody Mary” three times in the mirror. The show gives Mary’s ghost a grim backstory, in which she was murdered and had her eyes cut out, and as a result this version of the legend has her victims’ eyes bleeding as well, as she targets people with dark secrets in their past.
This episode combines gore and creepier horror in a way that Supernatural became very good at over the years. It also has some nice set-pieces. Mary doesn’t just appear in a mirror, she appears in all mirrors, and when Sam disguises himself as a teacher, complete with fake glasses, the poor girl he is trying to protect sees Mary’s dark image in the reflection on the surface of his glasses. Shudder!
8. Moriah (Season 14, Episode 20)
There are a few late Supernatural episodes that make use of the show’s long run to add an extra level of horror to later episodes. In Season 4’s ‘Jus in Bello’ we learn more details of some of the tragedies we’ve already seen and in Season 8’s ‘Clip Show’, Crowley starts killing people Sam and Dean had previously saved.
But ‘Moriah’ takes this idea to new levels. First of all, this season finale reveals that the final enemy Sam and Dean will have to face in the final season is Chuck, a.k.a. God, which is a pretty terrifying idea in itself. Then Hell is opened up and the souls of the damned start flying out of it.
The image of the souls zooming out of Hell is half scary, half cheesy, but it’s the next image that really sends chills down your spine. We see a Woman in White standing by the edge of the road, hitching a ride. It’s Constance Welsh, the very ghost we saw Sam and Dean lay in the Pilot episode. Her smile and her flickering image are as scary as ever, but even scarier is the implication – all of the ghosts, demons and whatever else that Sam and Dean have defeated and sent to Hell over the years are coming back. Constance is swiftly followed by the ghost of John Wayne Gacy from earlier in Season 14 (providing context for newer viewers), and then by Bloody Mary. They’re all coming back…
7. Playthings (Season 2, Episode 11)
Ah, creepy dolls, and creepy little girls. Like ‘Provenance’, this combines both. We get a creepy little girl who turns out to be a ghost – she is probably the first ghost we’ve seen that looks convincingly like a living human, but she is also unnaturally pale and odd-looking, enough that the reveal makes sense. Then we get creepy vintage dolls and some Hoodoo magic.
The Hoodoo turns out to have been used to protect everyone from the ghost, which is a nice twist in an episode featuring doll violence, but that doesn’t diminish the creepiness factor. And finally it all culminates in a classic haunted house ending, as the ghosts are left to their own business when the living leave. Perfect Halloween viewing.
6. Everybody Loves a Clown (Season 2, Episode 2)
Everybody hates clowns, and the writers of Supernatural know it. Clowns have appeared a few times over the course of the series. The appearance of real life clown serial killer John Wayne Gacy in Season 14’s ‘Lebanon’ is exactly as terrifying as that sounds (and if you haven’t heard of John Wayne Gacy, yes, there was a real life serial killer who worked as a clown. Sorry for those nightmares). But in that case, the ghost was dispatched extremely quickly so the story could move on to different things. Season 7’s ‘Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie’ combines clowns with Hoodoo, but it also features a unicorn with a rainbow coming out of its backside, which undercuts the scare factor a bit.
That leaves ‘Everybody Loves a Clown’ as the scariest appearance of a clown on the show, and boy, this clown is scary. The image of young Evan appearing in his parents’ bedroom chirpily saying “Dad, you were right, he is my friend!” while holding hands with a homicidal clown will stay with you, especially if you are the parent of a young child…
5. Repo Man (Season 7, Episode 15)
‘Repo Man’ combines an unsettling serial killer with Supernatural’s ongoing demon stories in a really effective way. In hindsight, the twist seems rather obvious; a man who had previously been possessed by a demon turns out to be a bad guy in his own right, and wants the demon back (and Angel had done the same thing with a creepy child, to boot).
But it’s no less scary for that, and the story here is done really well. Supernatural used torture in its stories a lot, and here Dean is tortured yet again, while Sam continues to hallucinate Lucifer – the Devil who both tortured him and made him worry that there was something inherently bad or evil in himself, just like this episode’s villain Jeffrey. Meanwhile some poor guy loses an ear and we know that Jeffrey will eventually be back in demon form, which will surely make him very happy. Now that is a scary ending.
4. The Kids Are Alright (Season 3, Episode 2)
One of the recurring themes of these scariest episodes is the idea of murderous children. Children are supposed to be innocent, and when they deliberately do evil things, it’s deeply unsettling. ‘Provenance’ and ‘Playthings’ both feature murderous young girl ghosts, and the girl in ‘Provenance’ was a murderer when she was alive as well, and it’s freaky.
The evil children in “The Kids Are Alright’, of course, aren’t children at all, but changelings with seriously scary demonic faces. Their presence leads to more and more horror, as first we see a mother trying to kill a creature that looks exactly like her daughter, and then we see the creature return, dripping wet from its attempt drowning but otherwise unharmed. Child abduction, evil behaviour in children, violence involving children – this episode manages to be several of every parent’s worst nightmares all rolled into one.
3. Asylum (Season 1, Episode 10)
Like many other first season episodes, this story takes a familiar trope of American horror and plays with it; in this case, a haunted mental hospital. Being trapped in a mid-twentieth century mental hospital is a terrifying thing in general, as the “treatments” inflicted on the patients, including electro-shock therapy, are horrific, and once in, it’s very difficult to get out. Even Quantum Leap did a scary episode on this particular theme.
The building is creepy enough by itself, all dripping water and abandoned medical equipment and a decapitated baby doll for some reason. The ghosts of the patients are unnerving as well, with their blank stares and the way they get way too close to the living in their attempts to help them. And of course, it’s the ghost of the doctor who performed the horrible treatments which is the scariest thing in the episode. Possessing Sam and making him shoot Dean and then attacking Dean more directly, Dr Ellicott is one of the nastiest ghosts the boys encounter.
2. Family Remains (Season 4, Episode 11)
The twist behind both ‘Family Remains’ and Season 1’s ‘The Benders’ – that flesh and blood humans are the real monsters – is essentially the same, and both regularly turn up on these lists. However, we think ‘Family Remains’ is ten times scarier than ‘The Benders’ because of the way it is set up.
Throughout most of ‘Family Remains’, you think you’re watching a ghost story. You even see the usual creepy little girl ghost, looking grubby and greyed out like all Supernatural ghosts – so far, so typical.
But then – the girl walks over a line of salt. The realisation that she is a living human girl (and accompanied by an equally alive and equally violent young boy) is horrifying on multiple levels. She can’t be stopped by the usual paraphernalia. Killing her is possible but morally complicated (this was back in Season 3 as well, when killing any human being was thought of as A Big Deal on the show). And she has been living in the walls of the house and murdering people, the product of incest and neglect. On top of all that, the expression on actor Mandy Playdon’s face is gloriously unhinged and will stay with you. She is by far the creepiest villain ever to have appeared on the show – with one exception…
1. No Exit (Season 2, Episode 6)
What’s scarier than a ghost? What’s scarier than a serial killer?
The ghost of a serial killer, of course! This episode features the ghost of H. H. Holmes, who has sometimes – inaccurately – been referred to as America’s first serial killer.* His infamous “Murder Castle” full of hidden, rooms, secret passages and torture chambers – also exaggerated by press reports at the time – is the site of one of Jo Harvelle’s first hunts, and boy does she get a baptism of fire with this one!
By Season 14, as we have seen, real life serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s clown-attired ghost is rather wasted. But in Season 2, this idea was treated with utmost seriousness as a major threat. And what makes this episode really scary isn’t just the concept by itself. The execution is also flawless. Watching Jo struggle to crawl around tiny, claustrophobic spaces, pursued by the relentless ghost of a misogynistic multiple murderer is an exercise in tension and heart-pounding terror.
*Inaccuracy 1: H. H. Holmes was technically a person who killed several people, not a “serial killer” with a specific, repeated MO. Inaccuracy 2: “first reported” is not the same as “first”!