Twin Peaks first terrified audiences when it was released in 1990, as it featured some of the most iconic villains and horrifying sequences in American TV history. David Lynch and Mark Frost crafted a show that captured audiences firstly for its suspense, mystery, and the charming Pacific-Northwestern town of Twin Peaks, and then subsequently for its surreal and often supernatural horrors. Despite some of the CGI becoming dated, and the show relying on a couple of now-overused tropes, the original series — which tells the story of FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) as he tries to solve the mystery of who or what killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) — still holds up as being totally terrifying.
When the original series was cancelled, a spinoff film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was made in 1992 as a prequel to the events of the series. Taking the franchise off the air, where it was restricted to mainstream TV network audiences and regulations, and instead presenting it as an R-rated theatrical release led to an exponential increase in the viciousness and explicitness of the horrors shown. When Twin Peaks: The Return, the “third-season” reboot of the show, hit the cable-TV screens in 2017, the particularly dark undertone of the spinoff film was carried over, leading to some exceptionally grisly and frightening scenes.
Twin Peaks is rife with horrors, whether they’re from the original series, the film, or the reboot. Only some of these horrors qualify as paranormal entities. But when they are supernatural – whether they’re Lodge spirits or something else even more mysterious – they’re a special kind of frightening. Let’s dig into some of the franchise’s scariest creatures, and talk what makes them so completely terrifying.
9. The One-Armed Man
Once you’ve seen the entire Twin Peaks saga, it’s hard to find The One-Armed Man (Al Strobel) all that scary. During Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, he actually ends up helping Laura Palmer, and throughout The Return he provides fleeting moments of relief when Cooper, who’s being mistaken for a doppelgänger named Dougie Jones, struggles to handle the world he finds himself in post-Black Lodge. However, when watching the original run of the show, we don’t know who The One-Armed Man is or what his motives are. We only know that he may be implicated in Laura’s murder and is connected to BOB (Frank Silva). That makes him just as scary as any other spirit. In a town where you can’t trust anyone, at the beginning of it all, he’s far down the list of people you would expect to find solace in.
8. Phillip Jeffries
Any moment when Phillip Jeffries is on screen, whether he’s in his human, FBI agent form (David Bowie) or in his Dutchman’s Lodge form (Nathan Frizzell), is an intensely stressful affair. Despite not appearing until Fire Walk With Me, Jeffries is an enormously important, if hugely confusing, character in the Twin Peaks mythos. It’s not entirely clear what he is, spirit or otherwise, but his erratic behavior and ability to teleport in and out of places leaving an explosion in his wake is pretty concerning.
In his Dutchman’s Lodge form from The Return, Jeffries appears as a large container that spouts steam and cryptic numbers while speaking in non-sequiturs. As fans have pointed out, he basically resembles a giant teapot. This doesn’t stop him from being an incredibly alarming entity. The Dutchman’s Lodge, where he resides, is scary in and of itself. Consistently referred to as being a “space above the convenience store,” where the other malevolent spirits such as BOB and The Arm (Michael J. Anderson) live, it’s hard to see why anyone innocent would take up residence there.
7. Jumping Man
Relatively speaking, the Jumping Man (Carlton Lee Russell) appears onscreen only briefly. He’s first seen in the convenience store sequence in Fire Walk With Me, then again in The Return. He doesn’t appear at all in the original script for Fire Walk With Me, despite being introduced in the film. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a memorably frightening performance, though. Something that we do know however, from an interview with Russell in Moving Through Time: Fire Walk with Me Memories, is that Lynch directed Russell to “act like a talisman.” This could suggest that perhaps the Jumping Man is a small part of the bigger picture of nightmarish beings that inhabit the Twin Peaks universe.
Russell’s physical acting is especially gripping. When we see the Jumping Man, he is moving in an inhuman manner as he silently screams. Russell is a performance artist with a background as a clown — so already pretty scary! His costume is chilling, as he dons an unpainted plaster cast mask with a sharp nose, similar to that of Pierre’s (Austin Jack Lynch and Johnathon J. Leppell). The main difference between the Jumping Man’s face and Pierre’s face is that we see Pierre unmasked, revealing a normal human child’s face underneath. The Jumping Man’s prosthetics, on the other hand, appear to be part of his actual face.
6. The Experiment/Judy
While we don’t know much about Judy, we do know that it managed to eviscerate two people in New York. The scene where they meet their bloody end at the end of The Return‘s “Part 1” is gruesome and grueling. Between this, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding Judy’s existence, there’s enough evidential support to rank Judy high up this list.
Judy was being researched by the Blue Rose Task Force, a specialized unit within the FBI focusing on investigating supernatural occurrences. Judy is thought to be an ancient spirit that feeds off of human suffering, similarly to how the other malevolent Lodge spirits feed off of garmonbozia. It’s also clear that, in some way, Judy is implicated in the disappearance of Phillip Jeffries and possibly also in the disappearance of Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis). Judy is immensely powerful, although the extents of their horrors mostly happen off-screen. While we don’t see a lot of Judy, what we do see of them is nerve-racking.
5. Mrs. Tremond and Pierre
At face value, the human appearance of a grandmother and her grandson may seem less frightening than the inhuman spirits. However, some of the storylines that Mrs. Tremond (Frances Bay) and Pierre are involved with are incredibly dark. In season two, Mrs. Tremond and Pierre appear to be involved in Harold Smith’s (Lenny Von Dohlen) suffering and ultimate death. When Harold dies, a note is found with his body that says “I am a lonely soul” in French. This echoes something that Pierre, who inhabited a liminal space in the building beside Harold’s house, repeated when meeting Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle). Throughout the series, the exact relationship between these spirits and Harold is never defined, but based on the fact that the spirits appear to thrive on fear, it’s probably safe to assume that their presence wasn’t for pleasant reasons.
Mrs. Tremond and Pierre may be the same entity across two vessels. Although they appear as two individuals, they only ever appear together. This suggests that they may be connected in the same vain as the One-Armed Man and The Arm. Although they appear to be less physically commanding than some of the other spirits, they’re still deeply unnerving thanks to a pair of spectacular performances and a number of rattling sequences.
4. The Arm/Man From Another Place
Like Jeffries, The Arm has two forms. In one form, he appears as a human. He wears an all-red suit, like the Jumping Man. The Arm is an extension of the One-Armed Man. The One-Armed Man reveals he lost his arm when he stopped killing alongside BOB, culminating in the creation of The Arm. When the One-Armed Man stopped killing, he became benevolent. This suggests that all of the evil contained in the One-Armed Man got shifted into this new entity. In The Arm’s non-human form, he appears as a tree. It isn’t a normal tree, though — it’s bare and twisted, with a fleshy orb near the top. It’s seen pulsating with electricity, and although it still speaks, it has a voice different from its human form.
Although The Arm’s tree form lacks the physical capacity of its human form, it’s still frightening. It resembles a neuron cell, with dendrites hanging off its branches and electrical impulses visibly and audibly travelling through it. This is interesting: “dendrite” and “tree” share the same etymology, and so the similarities may be more than coincidental. The implication of these physical similarities suggest that regardless of which form The Arm takes on, it’s always a part of a bigger picture – whether it’s as a cell within a larger organ, such as the Lodge, or as an appendage to the One-Armed Man. Whenever The Arm appears, whether following Jocelyn Packard’s (Joan Chen) death or to entice Cooper-as-Dougie into violence (“Twist his hand off!”), it’s always a terrifying experience.
3. The Woodsmen
The Woodsmen are a bit of a moveable feast as a creature, given they seem to appear in several different forms and cover a number of different entities. Each form is more horrifying than the last. The first Woodsmen we see are mysterious shadow creatures, with incredible strength and speed. Other Woodsmen have more distinct characteristics, such as the one portrayed by Robert Broski in “Part 8” of The Return. Unlike some of the other supernatural beings in Twin Peaks, The Woodsmen appear to be a group or type of spirits, instead of a singular creature. They often seem to act as a group, attacking people like a pack of wild dogs.
The most iconic Woodsman is portrayed by Robert Broski in “Part 8” of The Return. In a flashback, we see a radio station in New Mexico in the 1950s. In the darkly surreal scene, the Woodsman enters the station and crushes the skulls of the staff. This scene is graphic and disgusting, but it somehow gets even scarier from there. He takes the mic to recite a cryptic poem continuously over the airwaves: “This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.” On hearing this chant, listeners around the state start falling unconscious.
As if this isn’t bewildering enough, the Woodsman’s words echo horrors yet to come. The aforementioned horse is in some way relevant to BOB-as-Leland-Palmer’s (Ray Wise) drugging of Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie). We see an apparition of a white horse in the Palmer household each time she is drugged. Horses appear frequently throughout Twin Peaks, from ceramic figurines to Windom Earle’s (Kenneth Welsh) pantomime horse costume. It’s possible that horses act as a part of the Lodge’s eyepiece, similar to the owls. While we don’t know the exact piece of the puzzle the Woodsmen are holding, it’s chilling to think that they could play some part in the wider terrors of Twin Peaks, from BOB’s tormenting of the town’s civilians, to the tragic case of Laura Palmer.
The Woodsmen’s exact motive and origin are both unknown. Fans have speculated that there may be a connection between them and Richard Tremayne (Ian Buchanan), due to his use of the phrase “Got a light?” which is also repeated by Robert Broski’s Woodsman, or with the victims of the “Night of the Burning River” disaster in 1902. Neither of these theories have been confirmed by Lynch or Frost, however. Arguably, being shrouded in mystery only makes the Woodsmen even more frightening.
BOB is heralded as being one of the most frightening villains in TV history. Between Frank Silva’s outstanding performance and the character’s morbid backstory, it’s tough to argue against it. BOB acts as the series’ “big bad.” He features in some of the series’ most harrowing scenes, such as Maddy Ferguson’s (also Sheryl Lee) death, as well as a number of Maddy and Sarah’s visions.
BOB has the ability to use people as vessels — namely Laura’s father, Leland, who went on a killing spree targeting women. And Leland isn’t the only person he inhabits. He appears to be intertwined somehow with Cooper’s evil doppelgänger, too. BOB’s ability to slip through the cracks and control people’s actions without it immediately becoming apparent is part of what makes him so frightening: he could be anywhere.
BOB is suggested throughout the series to be the embodiment of “the evil that men do,” specifically as stated by Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer). This could be interpreted in a number of ways. It could refer to the whole of mankind. This seems likely, considering the series’ focus on violence and war, from Briggs’ role as Major to the significance of atomic bombs and nuclear weaponry in The Return. An equally likely theory is that BOB specifically represents the violence perpetuated by abusive men and cycles of trauma, as suggested by the overarching themes of trauma, power imbalances, and gendered violence across the entire franchise. Although BOB is a mythical being, the very real issues at the core of its themes and lore make for spectacular horror.
1. Doppelgängers and Tulpa
While BOB is unarguably spine-chilling, there is one creature that ranks above him in terms of fear factor: doppelgängers or Tulpa. There are a host of confirmed and speculated doppelgängers and Tulpa alike, from Cooper to Diane Evans (Laura Dern) to possibly even Laura. Doppelgängers may be a cornerstone of horror tropes, but it hasn’t compromised their effectiveness as a device whatsoever, particularly in the case of Twin Peaks.
The doppelgängers’ scariness is partially evolutionary. The “uncanny valley” effect suggests that humans have adapted an innate fear of things that look human, but aren’t. There are a number of reasons speculated to cause this, unifying on the fact that this fear is developed for survival. For example, it’s suggested that the fear of being replaced by competing species is triggered by the presence of a doppelgänger if they are too similar to humans. Twin Peaks’ doppelgängers adeptly tap into that biological fear flawlessly.
Even besides the deeply-rooted biological fears, the doppelgängers in Twin Peaks touch on the fear of loved ones not being who they seem. In the season-two finale, Cooper is replaced by an evil doppelgänger when he fails to escape the Red Room. Cooper, who the audience spends the entire series growing to trust, is a beacon of goodness in an otherwise twisted universe. It’s mortifying realizing that he has been replaced with the embodiment of immorality he spent his entire visible character arc striving against. This sense of misplaced trust, paired with an unshakeable evolutionary fear, makes the doppelgängers truly hair-raising entities.