While J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson's later film adaptation may have always had something of a magical, mystical aura (and what teenage girl in 2001 wasn’t swooning over Orlando Bloom’s Legolas?), Middle-earth is consumed by shadow. Not to mention monstrous creatures, paranormal phenomena and all sorts of horrors that arise from the all-encompassing curse trapped in a single gold ring. This may be why Peter Jackson, previously known primarily as a horror director, was such a great fit for the franchise.
For this latest installment of Blastr's 31 Days Of Halloween, we count down the most bone-chilling reasons the LoTR trilogy will make you want to keep the Light of Earendil really, really close.
Whether you call them goblins, orcs or some other unmentionable name, these vermin are the Middle-earth equivalent of zombie hordes in The Walking Dead. Not exactly dead or alive, their rotting faces, raspy voices and insatiable hunger for hobbit flesh are enough to make Frodo or anyone else keep a tight grip on his dagger.
If small spaces make your blood run cold, you might want to skip this scene from The Fellowship of the Ring in which the walls seem to close in on Gandalf as Saruman uses magic to hurl his nemesis around the study of his castle. While the claustrophobic effect here is actually an illusion, Christopher Lee’s goosebump-inducing voice is very real.
While the power of the Ring has moments of taking nearly everyone into its thrall at some point, none are quite as electrifying (literally) as this scene from The Fellowship of the Ring in which Galadriel is possessed in a Bride of Frankenstein-esque spasm of greed and lightning. Honorable mention: Bilbo’s brief psychotic episode in Rivendell.
Not unlike a fiendish talking doll, the Ring itself is haunted. When Frodo first stares at it with morbid fascination, Sauron’s gravelly voice tries to seduce him with the Black Speech of Mordor. This becomes a recurring theme in the films as the Ring’s pull on him strengthens. Bonus points for the sinister lighting that makes it look almost alive.
Gríma Wormtongue may not technically be a zombie, but there is no better personification of life in death in the series. Corpselike complexion and lizard gaze aside, the way he reduces the once-mighty King Théoden to a wizened husk of cloudy eyes and blackened fingernails in The Two Towers is truly disturbing.
More creepy than evil, the Ents are neutral (at least until the destruction Saruman has wrought on their forest propels them into fighting mode)—but creepy nonetheless. How can anyone not jump at the moment in when Treebeard’s enormous yellow eyes spring open to find a terrified Pippin clinging to his branch? Point made.
DEAD THINGS IN A MARSH
Whatever the scariest Halloween display on your block is, the Dead Marshes have it beat, because lifeless faces that have been submerged in green water since the Second Age are far superior to latex masks. When Frodo falls in, the undead, hollow-eyed things that grasp for him with skeletal hands, are nothing short of nightmare material.
If you thought goblins were ghastly, they’ve got nothing on the freakish orc hybrid that is the Uruk-hai. Saruman pulls a Dr. Frankenstein when he modifies this superior breed, first created by Sauron to see in daylight (unlike regular orcs). Just try to watch Saruman raise his first seething, writhing Uruk from the bowels of the earth and not cringe.
This is where the eight-legged denizens of Middle-earth might give Arachnophobia stiff competition. Shelob is a spider huge enough to make a meal out of several hobbits (or humans), and her swarm of sisters doesn’t fall far behind. It's hard not to flinch when those legs furiously bind Frodo in sticky webs to set aside for a midnight snack.
GHOSTS WITH SWORDS
What’s more terrifying than a ghost with a greatsword? How about nine of them? The Nazgul, or Ringwraiths, are nine dead kings whose sole purpose in life—er, death—is to shriek like banshees and seize the One Ring. When Frodo slips into the shadow realm, he can see the spooks, whose faces eerily resemble unwrapped mummies.
The Palantír, or seeing-stone, allowed Sauron to possess Saruman as the wizard used it to stalk his enemies. When it fell into Pippin’s hands, the hobbit could only see visions of death and destruction framed by Sauron’s flaming lidless eye—and revealed his whereabouts to Sauron in the process. You’ll never trust a crystal ball again.
A CAVERNOUS HAUNTED HOUSE
The Mines of Moria are really more of a haunted labyrinth: knee-deep cobwebs, unexplained noises, grinning dwarven skeletons, riddles in the dark, and the Balrog. If a horned fire-breathing monster that scares even Gandalf can’t be the star attraction of a house of horrors, it’s hard to say what should. The fearful shall not pass.
AN ENTIRE PHANTOM ARMY
However convenient it might be for an entire army that can’t die to have your back, you can’t help but feel a chill knowing the reason for this is that they’re already dead. The green ghosts Aragorn joins forces with in The Return of the King also look fairly decomposed. Makes you wonder about the real reason they defeated Sauron.
ONE GREAT LIDLESS EYE WREATHED IN FLAME
Hungry orcs aside, there is nothing scarier that could be watching you over your shoulder than a giant reptilian eye engulfed in flames. Unexpected flashes of the Eye of Sauron throughout the films are almost as frightening as the huge orb itself: the Ring, the Palantír, hobbit night terrors. Be prepared to start seeing it in random places.
If those alien eyes, croaking voice and craving for raw flesh aren’t unsettling enough, the tricksy creeper is full of ulterior motives. He leads Frodo into all sorts of potentially lethal situations (remember Shelob?) with the intent to kill the hobbit and snatch the Ring for himself, with a crude backup plan in his pocketses: if all else fails, bite.
So there's a petrifying primer of frightful moments in LoTR lore to keep you shivering under the bedsheets. Any more skin-crawling sequences that chill your blood?