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1. An intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust.
- Oxford English Dictionary
Twin Peaks is a show that provokes a range of powerful emotional reactions, and perhaps none more potently than horror. So during the season of Halloween, what better time to look at the series most horrifying moments.
10. "Bye wife" - Leo Awakens (Season 2, Episode 21)
Leo Johnson spends Twin Peaks' first season being a grade-A asshole; he supplies drugs to teenagers, commits arson and murder, emotionally and physically abuses his wife Shelly, and is generally an abrasive prick. When he gets shot by Hank and is left in a vegetative state, it's hard to feel bad for him; when Shelly and boyfriend Bobby start neglecting his care, it feels a little like some karmic retribution for her years of suffering.
But in Episode 21, Shelly gets a shock when Leo makes a sudden recovery. In a sequence that is pure slasher movie, Shelly creeps about their cabin as a strong wind blows and the power goes out, tentatively investigating the strange noises; she spins his wheelchair to find it it empty, before an axe wielding Leo appears behind her, grinning like a maniac. A nerve shredding cat-and-mouse chase about the house ensues, as Shelly runs for her life; it ends with Shelly corned and Leo about to deliver the fatal blow, before Bobby arrives just in the nick of time. He wrestles with Leo, distracting the madman long enough for Shelly to stab Leo in the leg; wounded, Leo limps off into the night, leaving both Shelly and the audience badly shaken.
In show that largely defines it's own mode of horror, this sequence uses surprisingly conventional jump scares, but thanks to director Uli Edel's suspenseful timing and the great editing, it becomes one of Twin Peaks' most heart-pounding moments of terror.
9. "Is it some sort of science experiment or something like that?" - The Box in New York (The Return, Part 1)
The Return's double part opening salvo is designed to discombobulate and disturb in equal measure, and the sequences set in New York do more than plenty of the latter. Sam Colby has an unconventional job to make some extra cash — he overlooks a unusual experiment, a huge glass box in a barren room, surrounded by lighting and photography equipment, and attached to some sort of tech. The cameras photograph the box at regular intervals and Sam has to watch it, and change the memory cards. Tracey, his probably girlfriend, diligently brings him coffee every evening, but security measures mean no one but he is allowed in, no matter how nicely Tracey asks.
One evening she arrives, and the security guard has mysteriously vanished; Sam seems concerned but Tracey wonders whether this means he can now let her in. Sam supposes it does, and he explains what his job entails before they sit down for coffee; it's not long before their sexual tension turns physical and they undress on the couch. As they become passionately intimate, a blurred figure materialises in the box and catches Sam's eye and they both become paralysed with fear. As they watch un-moving, the creature bangs suddenly, violently on the glass. The banging intensifies, as does the viewers heartbeat, before the creature smashes through the glass whilst howling like a banshee, flying straight at the camera, and the horrified couple; it slashes at their faces, over and over and over, shredding them to a bloody pulp, in moment that doesn't seem to end before smash cutting to the next scene in Buckhorn.
In Seasons 1&2, the supernatural threat lingered in the shadows between our reality and theirs, manipulating events but only physically interfering when they're able to inhabit a body. In The Return, it's mere hours before they've smashed that wall down, and the horror comes from the realisation the rules have changed, that these threats are more powerful than ever, and the sinking feel that a whole new nightmare is just beginning.
8. "Hello Johnny, how are you today?" - Richard Attacks His Family (The Return, Part 10)
The product of a despicable violation and the son of a being who embodies unfettered selfish want, Richard Horne is a damaged, destructive force. Over the course of The Return he's like a tornado through Twin Peaks; engaging in drug running and coercion, physically assaulting a young lady at a bar, running down a young boy in his truck and callously driving away, and then chasing down the one witness and beating her virtually to death. But arguably his most horrifying act is the abuse he inflicts on his own family, grandmother Sylvia and his uncle Johnny.
After almost killing Miriam Sullivan, Richard plans to leave town and goes to his grandmother's looking for money. He forces his way in, screaming obscenities and throttling Sylvia when she refuses his request, as poor Johnny (tied to a chair, ostensibly to prevent further injury to himself) looks on helplessly. Richard ransacks her house, going through Sylvia's things and stealing everything she has of any value, all while continuing to verbally abuse her. A deeply unsettling scene of domestic violence, it's made all the more disturbing and unrelenting by the soundtrack; as Johnny's creepy comfort toy (see above) monotonously repeats, "Hello Johnny, how are you today?" the usually calming strings of Mantovani's "Charmaine" become nauseating, it's intent to sooth perverted.
Whilst much of Twin Peaks horror is based in the uncanny and surreal, it never cuts deeper to the heart than when it reflects events closest to our own experiences, those that take place in broad daylight, in the supposed safety of suburban neighbourhoods.
7. "The thread will be torn, Mr Palmer, the thread will be torn" - Gerard confronts Leland & Laura (Fire Walk With Me)
Few horror films strike the balance between emotional and supernatural terror as well as Fire Walk With Me, and this scene is perfect example of the former. Leland and Laura are driving along Sparkwood & Twenty One, the tension between them palpable, when Leland notices a van driving erratically behind them. As the reach the traffic lights at the junction, Laura says she smells somethings burning; the van then pulls out suddenly and swings around into the other lane beside them, and we see it's Gerard driving. He pulls in close to Leland and Laura, ranting at the top of his lungs in cryptic fashion, about creamed corn and formica table tops. Leland panics, revving the engine and blasting the horn in a futile attempt to block Gerard out, as Laura looks on distressed; Gerard tries to address her directly, shouting "It's him! It's your father," but Leland screams louder and pulls away into a nearby garage, complaining "What the hell just happened? Why doesn't somebody do something about this?" as Laura looks on in dread.
This scene is so frightening because it's an invasion of space that many of us can relate to, a normal everyday activity turned upside down by the sudden disruption of an unstable stranger. If you've ever been accosted by a drunken or disturbed person in the street, you'll feel the fear of this moment in your bones. Add on the Peaksian layers of unsettling sound design (those distorted Black Lodge sound effects, various pitches of screaming and shouting), other-worldly malaise and familial breakdown, and you've got moment that will shred your nerves to pieces.
6. "Just you, and I" - Maddy's Vision of Bob (Season 2, Episode 9)
Mood whiplash is the effect where a scene portrays sharply contrasting emotions closely together, in an attempt make the impact of them more powerful, and few directors can pull this off as effectively as David Lynch. A perfect example is this scene from Season Two. It begins with Maddy, Donna and James in the Palmer's living room, sat on the floor; James plays a mawkish ballad on the guitar as Maddy & Donna do backing vocals. It's pure teen angst, as James, who it's been suggested is developing feelings for Maddy, first trades glances with Donna, but then starts giving the look to Maddy. When Donna notices this, she becomes jealous and storms away in tears; James goes after her and they make up, leaving Maddy alone on the living room floor...
And then the romantic music drops and we switch to Maddy's perspective, a low angle shot across the room. As the scores becomes deep and ominous, we see BOB walk in from the side of the shot; as he reaches the middle of the back of the room, he turns and looks directly at Maddy (and us), and starts moving slowly and deliberately towards her, climbing across the furniture and reaching right into the frame. Maddy's eyes grow wide with fear and she lets out a gutteral scream, as James and Donna come running. They comfort her but are confused, unable to see what she sees.
Once again, the security of domesticity is shattered, and a moment of simple teen melodrama becomes a portentous signal of doom; Maddy's 'gift' of sight is far more a curse, and the evil that resides at home is coming for her next.
5. "Who do you think this is there?" Phillip Jeffries Returns (Fire Walk With Me)
As the first real glimpse we get into the FBI team that would later be known as the Blue Rose Task Force, it seems appropriate that the ethereal visitation of Phillip Jeffries would set the tone of supernatural for Twin Peaks going forward, influencing The Return tremendously. Seasons One & Two kept the other-worldly ambiguous, as something largely in dreams and visions, only tangentially impacting the physical world; Fire Walk With Me goes full tilt in portraying how directly the dimensions affect each other, and how little space there is in between.
Cooper is worried because of a dream he had about this time and date; moments later, Phillip Jeffries appears from an elevator in their office, accompanied by the distorted Black Lodge music. Cooper stands in front a security camera in the hall, and as Jeffries passes, Cooper's image becomes frozen on the screen; time seems to be pausing, suggesting Jeffries is time displaced. As he enters Gordon's office, Jeffries begins talking cryptically about someone called "Judy," before pointing at Coop saying, "Who do you think this is there?" The imagery begins to crackle and distort, like white noise on a TV, and bizarre scenes of the Black Lodge become overlaid; The Man from Another Place and BOB are sat at a table talking in riddles and laughing, a masked, red-suited imp howls and moves strangely about the room, Mrs. Tremond looks on impassively and a Woodsman taps his knee rhythmically. Most disturbingly Pierre Tremond sits in chair with expressionless mask on, removing it once to reveal his face, and a second time revealing a shrieking monkey.
The visions ends and, as quickly as he appeared, Jeffries disappears with a scream. The horror here come mostly from the sheer confounding what-the-fuck factor of what we see and hear: who is Judy, and why can't we talk about her?; who the hell is Phillip Jeffries for that matter, and why has he magically reappeared after being "long lost?"; are the other dimensional beings holding some kind of meeting, and why?; why, God, why does Pierre Tremond have a monkey's face behind his mask? These mysteries would haunt the series mythology for 25+ years, giving many a viewer sleep-disturb nights pondering the answers.
4. "Gotta light?" - The Woodsman Invasion of New Mexico (The Return, Part 8)
Outstripping even the highly contentious finale, Part 8 remains The Return's most memorable and talked about episode. And for good reason; it's arguably the series artistic peak, featuring some of it's boldest and imaginative sequences, and including one it's most purely terrifying. After seeing the Trinity Atomic Bomb Test in atom-splitting detail, and it's consequences other dimensions, we skip forward 11 years to New Mexico in 1956; in the desert, an egg that looks like it was spawned by The Experiment hatches, and a hideous insect/frog hybrid crawls out, shuffling slowly but deliberately across the scorched sand.
We then cut to a older couple driving along a road at night, when their car is stopped by a blackened Woodsman, who repeatedly asks them, "Got a light?" His form seems to distort energy around him, creating a static crackle as he walks and talks; his sheer presence overwhelms the couple with fear, and they speed off, almost driving into another Woodsman in the road. The Lincoln-looking Woodsman continues across the desert until he reaches a radio broadcast station; when he enters the receptionist freezes with terror, and he steps forward and crushes her skull with one hand. Turning his attention to the booth, he commandeers the controls and repeats the mundane yet sinister verse, "This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within." Hearing this over the radio causes the listeners to fall unconscious; as the young girl seen earlier also passes out, the frog/bug makes its way into her room and crawls down her throat, in what is surely Twin Peaks' most nauseating moment of body horror. After seemingly sensing his work is done, Lincoln-looking Woodsman crushes the jockey's head to pulp, before disappearing back into the desert night, to the sound of braying horses.
After popping up in various uncanny scenes through The Return, The Woodsmen get their moment in the "sun" and it's absolutely terrifying; the monochrome, B-movie aesthetic makes the sequence incredibly eerie, and their actions establish them as a malevolent and destructive force, directly associated with the Black Lodge. You aren't just horrified by their deeds in the past, but terrified of what they might come to do in the future.
3. "How's Annie?" Cooper in The Red Room (Season 2, Episode 29)
Even with all its visual spectacle and mind-bending metaphysical evolution, there's no Red Room sequence in The Return that can compare to sheer nightmarish horror that Coop's Season 2 journey evokes. It's an audio-visual assault on the senses, full of unsettling imagery and oblique dialogue, and a discomforting exploration of the lead character's flaws and neuroses. The curtain is pulled back, literally and metaphorically, on the strangeness in Twin Peaks' woods, and it's even more alien and fearsome than we'd imagined; it seems exist outside of space and time, ignoring the laws of physics, at best paying lip service to our understanding of reality.
The sequence begins with Coop entering the Red Room, as strobe lights pound and Jimmy Scott sings the haunting "Sycamore Trees." He encounters The Man from Another Place and Laura, who utters her now infamous line, "I'll see you again in 25 years." The Waiter & The Giant are revealed as one, and Cooper is given a demonstration of the warped physics via a cup of coffee/oil. He continues his search for Annie but meets Laura's doppelganger; her agonising scream has come to represent the accumulated suffering of her and all of Twin Peaks, and here she seems to scream for the fate that awaits Dale. He variously sees images of both Annie and Caroline, but he just looks bewildered and doesn't draw the parallel; he's confronted by Earle, but Lynch isn't interested in him so he's quickly dispatched by BOB, who shares a deranged laugh with Mr C before sending him after Coop.
Perhaps most painfully, Cooper's fatal flaw is exposed here; his incorruptible pure pureness, his inability to be anything other than the selfless hero, causes him to wade into a deadly situation his simply isn't prepared for. His love for Annie, his desire to save her by any means, ends with paying him for it dearly; she seemingly survives, but he is trapped in purgatory whilst his shadow self, his doppelganger, escapes to reap 25 years of pain and suffering on the world, the worst inflicted on those Coop cares for the most (Diane, Audrey). The consequence of his terrible mistake is captured indelibly in the episodes final image, that of Mr. C (as we now know him) seeing BOB reflected in the mirror, and driving his head into it while laughing manically, "How's Annie?"
2. "It's happening again" - Maddy's Murder (Season 2, Episode 14)
The revelation of Laura Palmer's killer comes at a heart-breaking price — the death of Madeline Ferguson, at the hand of Leland/BOB. Maybe after all the pressure put on him by network producers and advertisers to unmask the murderer, something he vehemently did not want to do, resulted in him putting a cruel twist on it — "If you want to the truth, then you're gonna find out in the most painful fashion possible." And make no mistake about it, Maddy's death maybe the cruellest, most painful, and horrifying of them all.
After having visions of bloodstained carpets and BOB himself, Madeline discovers first hand who murdered her cousin. The scene begins with a record arm skipping of a player, making a rhythmic sound like a heartbeat. Sarah Palmer crawls along the floor and has a vision of a white horse before passing out. At the Roadhouse, Cooper sits with Truman and The Log Lady, as Julee Cruise sings on stage; she starts singing "The World Turns" and we see others, such as Bobby and Donna, overcome be the atmosphere. About halfway through, Julee fades to an apparition of The Giant, who appears only to Coop and delivers the message. "It's happening again." After he's gone, the Waiter shuffles over to Coop and looks forlorn as he says, "I'm so sorry." Coop can't put it quite together but is clearly troubled by the omen.
At the Palmer's, Leland prepares himself, putting on surgical gloves — a shot of him looking in the mirror shows his reflection as BOB, confirming them as one and the same. When Maddy arrives home, Leland sets on her and a terrifying assault begins; as Leland chases her around the room, we see hims alternately as himself and BOB. Leland eventually grabs her, throws her onto a chair and brutally beats her. Half conscious and in agony, Leland drags Maddy her feet and starts dancing with her; flashes of BOB show his barely contained lush and the threat of imminent sexual violence is tangible and nauseating. Leland finally smashes Maddy's head into the wall, killing her, and places a letter under her nail, as with Laura.
A prolonged and unremitting sequence horror, it's by far scariest scene of the original series. The loss of Maddy is huge emotional blow, and the discover of Laura's killer, the identity of BOB, and the horrific incestuous abuse it confirmed, a bitter pill to swallow. It's made all the worse knowing that The Giant saw this, tried to warn Coop but nothing could be done.
1. "It can't be...it can't be him..." Laura discovers the identity of BOB (Fire Walk With Me)
Fire Walk With Me is raw undiluted horror, and it finds its tone by intuitively blending moments of supernatural strangeness with the emotional and psychological devastation of a family unit in the thrall of an abuser; the scene where Laura discovers that BOB is in fact her father Leland maybe the purest distillation of this horrifying mood. After being given a hint by Pierre Tremond ("The man behind the mask..he's look for the book with pages torn out"), Laura abandons her Meals on Wheels routine and heads straight home. When she arrives, there doesn't seem to be anyone home, and the empty house has a eerie stillness to it.
As Laura climbs the stairs, she notices the fan whirring hypnotically, ominously. She sees the bedroom door open a crack, and slowly pushes it back; she's aghast at the sight of BOB searching for her diary, and he lets out a demonic howl as she runs from the house, horrified by the sight of her tormentor. But Laura has the tenacity to wait, to find out who he truly is, so hides in her neighbour's bushes. A moment later, it is Leland who walks out the front door; he looks around briefly, before getting in his car and driving away. Laura is in state of shock, desperately wanting to disbelieve her eyes, but the realisation sinks in and she crumbles, the last vestiges of light and hope ripped away from her.
The horror of this scene has little to do with the supernatural, despite the presence of BOB; with the revelation of incestuous abuse, any safety or security of the family is torn away, replaced with fear, shame, and despair. The place where she should feel safest and happiest has become the centre of her most heart wrenching torment and suffering, her trust and faith gone. The most upsetting and unshakeable horror of Twin Peaks is that this is not just the story of Laura Palmer, but of depressingly too many across the world.