Friday the 13th is without question my second-favorite horror franchise/spooky day after Halloween. (Be fair; you don't get free miniature Clark bars on Friday the 13th.)
I don't suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, but I do like a good creepy image now and again. Star Trek isn't particularly known for its dalliances in horror (Malcolm Reed-centric episodes of Enterprise notwithstanding), but there have been plenty of moments with a serious freak factor. Here are my 10 favorites.
10 – Crowds in the “Mark of Gideon”
Overpopulation was a new and worrisome topic in the late 1960s. Star Trek never met a vanguard issue it didn't like to tackle, but the way this theme eased into the storyline of TOS' “The Mark of Gideon” allowed for its reveal to be extra creepy. The ghostly image of a teeming mass of congested humanity that shimmers onto the fake Enterprise viewscreen is quickly explained, but seeing it for the first time kinda makes your hair stand on end.
9 – Irish Sex Ghosts in “Sub Rosa”
The final season of TNG has some of the best television you'll ever see. It also has some chancier material, like the well-intentioned psychedelic “Masks,” and the complete departure from the rest of the franchise, “Sub Rosa.”
Set on Space Ireland in the Future 18th Century, Dr. Crusher finally uses the red hair she's been nurturing all these years to be a bonnie lass on a moor. She falls in love with a ghost and it is completely ridiculous. It's so strange that it actually kinda works, and some of the shutter-rattling is actually… a little bit scary.
8 – Van Mayter's Death in “In Theory”
Some nebulas make for beautiful screen savers, and some will warp space-time and kill you right where you stand.
The Mar Oscura Nebula from TNG”s “In Theory” is one that you should definitely steer clear of, lest you want to end up phasing with the matter of the floor and having your internal organs smooshed beyond repair. “In Theory” is really supposed to be the episode where Data learns about dating, but it is this freaky image that really stands out.
7 – Wormhole from Star Trek: The Motion Picture
As a Trek veteran, I now know that a wormhole is nothing to fear. But when I first saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- check out my blog about that by clicking HERE -- the slow-motion, altered voices on the soundtrack, prism light effects and general queasy shooting style almost made me freak out with fright.
6 – Troi Floating in a Void in "Night Terrors"
“Night Terrors” is not the most memorable TNG episode, but for whatever reason it's stuck with me all these years. I've always been fascinated with the human body's biological need for dreaming, and when the Enterprise is caught in a spatial anomaly that prevents REM state, everyone goes a little bit batty. Everyone except the part-Betazed Counselor Troi, who suffers recurring nightmares of floating through a nightclub in one of her tighter outfits.
I don't know what it was, but something about the image always creeped me out. Maybe I just don't like seeing my beloved Marina Sirtis in any state of prolonged discomfort. I empathized with the empath.
Voyager's “Threshold” might be the most notorious episode of all Trek after TOS's “Spock's Brain.” I'm not here to defend it, although I do hold a certain amount of respect for anything that goes off the deep end as much as this one does. (If you haven't seen it, Tom Paris' experiments with achieving Warp 10 cause him to evolve at a super rate, and he eventually kidnaps Captain Janeway so they can become giant lizards and procreate.) All the ridiculousness aside, the moment where an argumentative Paris leans over and yanks out his own tongue has gross-out value worthy of David Cronenberg's The Fly.
4 – Devolved Worf in “Genesis”
Where Voyager flubbed in “Threshold,” TNG achieved triumph in “Genesis.” It isn't achieving trans-warp velocity that does the trick, but the ship's most pain-in-the-neck crewman Reginald Barclay. He spreads a Protomorphosis Syndrome that causes mayhem when folks start to devolve back to their species' earlier states.
The whole episode is terrific, but it reaches its climax when Data and Picard (and we along with them) realize that the bestial sounds we hear from the other side of the bulkhead are coming from a thousands-of-generations-old Klingon in the form of an angry, raging ur-Worf.
I distinctly remember leaping off the couch and pacing wildly when they cut to commercial.
3 – The Ceti Eel in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
No one quite took a slimy brain-slug to the ear quite like Pavel Chekov.
As if the Ceti Eel wasn't freaky enough, the way it gets in your system is one of the most shiver-inducing concepts in all of Trek. Yank a baby one out of its caged mother, put it in your foe's helmet, put the helmet back on the guy's head, let the slug drop on his face and then crawl into his ear leaving a trail of slime behind it. And you know the rest.
Khan is suggesting that I go throw up now.
2 – The Woman with No Face in “Charlie X”
I can just imagine how this freaked people out when “Charlie X” first aired. Here it is, 1966, and it's the second episode of the exciting new “Wagon Train to the Stars.” The kids are gathered around the new color television set and they no doubt identify with the awkward teenager Charlie. “Gee whiz, if only I had super powers,” is what these good natured, all-American boys are thinking. And then they see the dark side of these powers – taking a laughing young woman and turning her into a blank, featureless head with no face. And a stumbling, obviously frightened one, at that!
“Aaah! Quick! Turn back to CBS and let's watch “My Three Sons!”
1 – Transporter Malfunction in Star Trek: The Motion Picture
This isn't just the freakiest moment, it is the most terrifying. Kirk is explaining to Decker how he's going to kick him out of the center seat and an alarm goes off about a transporter malfunction. They race to the transporter room only to witness two bodies writhing in agony and emitting a horrible, echo-y, digital howl.
As a story device, it was a good way to get Sonak out and Spock in, but also an effective way to send a striking shiver up the spine of the audience.
So, now that I've shared with you my deepest fears, maybe there are one or two – maybe even three -- moments I left out? Please let me know in the comments below.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.