According to Collider, out of the 25 episodes of Stranger Things to date, these are the five scariest to rewatch for the Halloween season:
- Holly Jolly (s01 e03). Because of Barb’s abduction and failure to escape the Upside Down, the Demogorgon coming out of Joyce’s living room wall, and the boys seeing Will’s body dragged from the quarry. Yes. This one undeniably belongs on the list. It’s scary from start to finish, and in my judgment the scariest episode of the series. (I rank it at #1 below.)
- The Pollywog (s02 e03). Because of the final scene on the soccer field. “The Mind Flayer attacks Will in a thoroughly horrifying manner. It’s impossible to get out of your head once you’ve seen it.” True, the final scene is a whopper, but on whole I don’t think this episode earns a place on the list.
- The Spy (s02 e06). Because “Will isn’t himself anymore, and entirely a pawn in the Mind Flayer’s game”, sending men to their deaths in the tunnels below. Agreed. The Spy is a viscerally terrifying episode, and like The Exorcist some of the scariest scenes are what Will is subjected to by the medical and science professionals. (See my ranking below at #3.)
- The Flayed (s03 e05). Because “this is the episode where all the storylines shift from interesting to scary.” Uh, no. This episode is not particularly scary. Truth told, I thought it was one of the blandest in the series.
- E Pluribis Unum (s03 e06). Because “the Mindflayer using mind control to convince people to sacrifice themselves to give him a body is as hellish a thought as anyone could imagine”. Agreed, but before that comes something even more scary. (See my ranking below at #4.)
I choose seven episodes instead of five: three from season 1, three from season 2, and one from season 3. Ranked as follows:
1. Holly Jolly (s01 e03). There’s a reason Barb Holland became an instant icon. The opening sequence of this episode is possibly the scariest scene of the series, as we see poor Barbara killed in the shadow realm as she desperately tries to pull herself to freedom. And it’s a nightmare from that point on, as Joyce proceeds to turn her living room wall into a giant Ouija board. It commands her to RUN and leave the house, just as the demogorgon bursts through an adjacent wall. At the same time, the kids see Will’s corpse dragged from the river, and they have no reason to think it’s a fake. Holly Jolly, hands down, wins scariest episode of the series.
2. Will the Wise (s02 e04). Possession is a risky concept because it’s hard to do right, but Noah Schnapp nailed it with subtleties even Linda Blair didn’t pull off in The Exorcist. In the wake of the Mind Flayer entering him (at the end of episode 3), Will runs the gamut of possession fits, alternating between being shaken and terrified, to making resolute demands (that his mother run him a freezing bath, because his possessor “likes it cold”), to stalking about the house confused, assaulted with horrifying visions, crying, sweating, as he starts to lose his autonomy. There are no jump scares here, just the slow creep of dread, and it’s very effective.
3. The Spy (s02 e06). The demo-dog attack at the junkyard is pretty scary, but The Spy is dominated by Will and his internal conflict with the Mind Flyer. Here we see how his connection to the Upside Down means that he is harmed by wounds inflicted on any creature of the Upside Down. The lab scientists have no clue how to treat him as he thrashes and screams that “it hurts everywhere”. As in The Exorcist, some of the most terrifying scenes of Stranger Things 2 are Will’s reactions and behavior patterns as lies in bed in a hospital gown. And of course there is end, where Will, horrified at himself, breaks down and tells Mike that he sent all those men to their deaths in the tunnels.
4. E Pluribus Unum (s03 e06). This is where Eleven communes telepathically with Billy in order to access his memories and locate the source of the Mind Flayer — a risk that allows Billy to “grab” her and trap her inside the Void, in a hostile version of Hopper’s cabin. When she returns and finds herself back in the cabin, but with her friends vanished, it’s a truly pants-shitting moment: she’s actually still stuck in the Void. Billy emerges from “Hopper’s bedroom” and it gets worse. He backs El into a corner, explaining to her the Mind Flayer’s sadistic plan, and this scene is juxtaposed with citizens of Hawkins sacrificing themselves to provide the Mind Flayer with a body made of their own corpses.
5. The Body (s01 e04). This is an episode of scary revelations. Hopper finds Will’s fake body at the morgue and cuts it open; Nancy gets a frightful glimpse of the demogorgon dashing about, while searching for Barb. The scariest scene comes at the very end, when El channels Will’s voice eerily over the school radio: it causes him to appear in the wall of his own home, resulting in Joyce ripping down her wallpaper and seeing him through a translucent window. He’s terrified, alone in the Upside Down and and screaming for help, as she’s unable to do anything. That scene gave me a bloody nightmare.
6. The Bathtub (s01 e07). This episode centers around the plot of getting El in the bathtub (a makeshift sensory deprivation tank) to locate Barb and Will, resulting in some of the creepiest scenes of the series. She finds both of them in the Upside Down: Barb is dead, a greenish-purple corpse with slime and slugs running over her, and Will is unconscious in a shadow version of Castle Byers. The final scene is a heart-stopper, as Will is alone in the shadow fort, shivering in his quasi-coma; the demogorgon is suddenly heard outside growling, and comes crashing in to take him.
7. Trick or Treat, Freak (s02 e02). I have to include this one since it’s the Halloween episode, though most of this episode is really more fun than scary, as the kids celebrate the scares. There is however a genuinely frightening scene that gives me a bad moment, when Will is crouched behind a building (above pic) and the Mind Flayer funnels its way down the stairs to grab him. There are great Halloween homages, the most blatant one being the scare that Lucas gets when Max jumps out of nowhere in Michael Myers mask waving a machete. The perfect episode to watch for Halloween.