I admit it. I scare easily. When I was twelve, my sister and her friends rented Friday the 13th and, against the loud wishes of my mother, I watched it. And then I didn't sleep for over a week. Not only that, I had to have every light in my bedroom burning brightly every night. Then there was that one night when the individual pieces of the metal frame to my canopy bed (stored in the very roomy, person-sized space under my bed) clanged together and sent me screeching down the hall in my Strawberry Shortcake nightgown. So, yeah. I scare easily.
Even as an adult, I know there are certain things I can't watch unless I make peace with being an insomniac for the rest of my life. I can't watch any movies that deal with the real-life serial killers like Ted Bundy or Ed Gein, there are times when even C.S.I. is a bit much for me, and I really have to act fast to change the channel when I hear Robert Stack's voice and the opening theme to Unsolved Mysteries. The sound of his voice alone makes me double-bolt my door and pull down all the shades.
Because of admitted wimpiness, I tend to veer away from shows that might potentially scare the beejeesus out of me (see X-Files, because I couldn't), but every so often, I get caught unawares.
You don't expect to get really freaked out by Star Trek: The Next Generation, because the camp sort of outweighs the creep. Also, it's not like it was ever meant to be traversing the realms of X-Files, Supernatural, or in any way a horror show. However, there are two TNG moments that I count among my personal top scariest Sci-Fi moments. And by "scary," I don't class them with keeping me awake at night or going to bed with a baseball bat under my pillow, but they were very effective. And very good.
In the season four episode, "In Theory," an encounter with a unresearched dark matter nebula (it's always a nebula, isn't it?) causes things on the ship to get a bit wonky. I believe the scientific explanation is that "the nebula may be causing small gaps in the fabric of the immediate space, which cause the deformation of any matter that comes in contact with them.*" One of the first signs of nebula wonkiness is a leaky glass in Ten-Forward. At another point, Cpt. Picard finds all the stuff that should be on his desk under his desk. It's all very baffling. The creep factor comes when a red shirt falls through the floor only to have the floor rematerialize around her, killing her. While the redshirt is assisting Data in his investigation of the dark matter nebula fallout, she goes around a corridor corner, screams out suddenly, and goes silent. Data doubles-back to find the top half of her body sticking out of the floor. Her eyes are open, flat with death, and one of her hands juts back out of the floor at an unnatural angle. You can't even see most of her arm, just that stray hand.
The very passivity of the death makes it even more violent. And by that I mean there's no active force, there's no sentient foe instigating an attack, and in spite of all that, I feel a wave of violence in the very stillness of the death. Death doesn't come honestly from a phaser, gun, bomb, or blade. It comes furtively, as a solid object randomly desolidifies and resolidifies around you, severing your spinal cord, cutting through organs . . . there's something so awful about it.
The A-story of this episode only serves to underline the awfulness of this random crewman's death. By comparison, it's lighthearted, whimsical, and fun. It's Data trying to date, trying to be a boyfriend. He's downloading programs that tell him how to treat Jenna when she comes home from work, how to have a lover's spat, and how to properly kiss her. As viewers, we're all, "Ooh, this is the one where Data dates" when we see this episode cued up on the SPIKE lineup. But then, halfway through, between Data's bringing Jenna sherry and pitching lovers' quarrels, a redshirt dies in the floor.
Another of my scariest moments also comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it's a moment around which an entire episode is built: Schisms. For those that know the episode well, the very name of the episode is usually sufficient to send chills quivering down our spines. In "Schisms," several Enterprise crewmembers are abducted from the ship while they sleep and strange experiments performed on them. For instance, Dr. Crusher discovers that Riker's arm has been severed and surgically reattached. Let's just ponder that for a moment: severed. Not broken, not cut, severed. Of course, Riker didn't feel the pain of the clandestine operation, but that doesn't make it better, it makes it worse. Major medical acts are being performed on your body and you don't know it, you don't feel it. Would feeling it make it better? In a way it might, because at least you'd have some sort of recognition of what was going on. However, being told that your arm was hacked off, probably examined for various reasons, and then sewn back on in such a way that nothing save for a medical tricorder can tell you that anything even happened, is particularly horrible. Crewman Hagler dies after such an abduction. In what appears to be yet another bizarre and ominous experiment, all of Hagler's blood has been turned into a liquid polymer. It cannot be reversed and Hagler dies in agony.
After realizing that a handful of the crew are having similar sensations of extreme exhaustion and lack of dream recollection, coupled with strange reactions to touching a smooth cold surface, the affected crewmembers gather in a holodeck and attempt to recreate the place that seems to exist only in the outermost reaches of their consciousness. Under Troi's direction, Riker, Worf, Geordi, and a few redshirts assemble a truly sinister room. First, a flat operating table with restraints emerges. Next, a long arm with a wicked looking pair of scissors is attached to the operating table. Finally, the holodeck is filled with a fast, metallic, almost insectoid clicking. They all realize that they've been in that room before. On top of the grisly experiments, the terrifying instrument, it's the clicking that really gets to me—it's so inhuman, so alien, so unintelligble.
As fed up as a man who has had his arm severed and surgically reattached can be, Riker finally kits himself out with a homing device and allows himself to be abducted again. Once on the alien ship, planet, or dimension, Riker takes a good look around. Robed, shadowy figures, who are never fully identified, perform experiments on another crewmember. Riker doesn't stick around to interrogate the faceless figures, instead he grabs the other crewmember and gets his ass beamed back to the Enterprise. Cpt. Picard takes the ship out of the dangerous space and Enterprise doesn't win in that alien encounter. Like the end of "Conspiracy," the fact that the crew never really figures out who or what these abductors are makes their continued potential presence all the more malevolent.
"What we got back didn't live long, fortunately." The hardcore Trekkies out there will remember that shuddersome line. It's from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and refers to a transporter accident in the beginning of the movie. As many times as Bones, Reed, or Barclay freak about what could happen to them when their molecules are scattered and reassembled, nothing too sinister ever happened. At least, that's what I thought until I got around to seeing Star Trek: The Slow-Motion Picture.
See, I didn't see the movie until around 2001—twenty-two years after it was in theaters—so this particular transporter accident didn't even enter my consciousness until I had quite a bit of Star Trek under my belt. Because of that, I had long satisfied myself that transporter accidents were the stuff of urban legends. Every once in awhile someone got caught in a pattern buffer for seventy-five years or saw worm-like things in the beam, but nothing grisly. Nothing bloody. I was so complacent in my belief of the benignity of transporters that Sonak's death by transporter in Star Trek: The Motion Picture completely shocked and appalled me. But in a good way. I'm so jaded by television and movies that I applaud anything that can stick with me like that. Especially since I walked into that movie knowing that it was a snore-fest and arguably the worst of the franchise.
Although Star Trek: Voyager doesn't have many stand-out episodes, any storyline involving the organ-harvesting Vidiians is usually a pretty good one. One in particular is awesomely gruesome. After their first encounter with the crew of Voyager that resulted in Neelix having his lungs removed, the Vidiians are back for more. Once again, they abduct several crewmembers with the aim of patching their organs into their own diseased-wracked bodies, however this time, they take it one step further. Deciding that Torres's Klingon blood holds the key to curing the Vidiian Phage that's turning them into Madballs, the Vidiians separate Torres into a human half and a Klingon half and start removing tiny pieces of her brain. But that's not the scary part. No, we don't get off that easily. The scary part comes when Sulan, a Vidiian doctor, becomes infatuated with Klingon Torres. Sulan realizes that his diseased appearance must repulse her and soon after that, captured Voyager officer Durst is led from his cell. In the next scene, Sulan greets Klingon Torres wearing Durst's face. He grafted the man's face onto his because he thought Klingon Torres would accept him that way! It's so very Silence of the Lambs in the making of a human suit sort of way. Totally creeptastic and very dark.
Reavers. Now that's a word that will give me nightmares. In fact, it did. While I wasn't the biggest Firefly fan (or even the smallest), I do think that Whedon's series handed Sci-Fi television one of the most horrific foes ever to fly the skies. If I recall correctly—and this is pre- any Serenity movie explanation—Reavers were described as humans who had lived beyond the reaches of normal humanity for too long. They mutilated their bodies (piercings, tongue splittings, the usual Haight-Ashbury fare) and ravaged defenseless ships. The things Reavers did to the people aboard the ships they attacked were so awful that Cpt. Malcolm and everyone aboard Serenity had plans in place to kill themselves if Reavers ever overtook them. "Raped to death" and "eaten alive" were some of the things mentioned, if I recall correctly. The raping is, of course, bad enough, but there is a special level of gruesome for the idea of cannibalism. Especially when it's not "crashed on a plane in the Andes Mountains and will otherwise die" cannibalism, but just cannibalism for cannibalism's sake.
During Firefly's run, you never actually see a Reaver (except that dude who turned himself into one in order to cope with the Reavering horrors he witnessed), but you see their ships festooned with dead bodies and smeared with blood. It was purely the idea of Reavers in "Bushwhacked" that freaked me out so entirely, I actually had vivid nightmares the same night I watched the episode. Because of how effectively Reavers are fleshed out in "Bushwhacked," I had a very hard time watching the episode "Serenity" when the our heroes' ship is actually pursued by Reavers.
So, there you are: my top scariest moments in Sci-Fi media. I'm sure there are many of you out there who have your own ideas and your own experiences with scary moments in Sci-Fi, and I invite you to share them in the forums.
I just hope I'm brave enough to read about them.
*quote courtesy of www.startrek.com