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The 12 most disturbing moments in 'Star Trek' movies

What’s that coming out of your ear?

By Brian Silliman
Star Trek Wrath of Khan

Bolding going where no one has gone before has a few drawbacks. As the good Doctor McCoy once said: “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” Disease and danger can be quite disturbing.  

Star Trek, on the whole, has no shortage of weird. When Trek gets weird, it can get uncomfortable. It gets, you guessed it, disturbing. All of the plentiful Star Trek television series are full of disturbing moments, but looking at the movies alone, 12 disturbing moments immediately stick out to us. They have us squirming more than Janeway and Tom Paris in the notorious Star Trek: Voyager episode, “Threshold.”

If this was a list of TV moments, you can bet your bottom bar of latinum that we’d be talking about those two lizards. We’re focusing on the films though, and there’s more than enough there to royally freak us out. Here are our 12 most disturbing moments from the Star Trek feature films. Hit it. 

1. Random transporter accident (Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Here’s one way to get rid of a science officer. Sonak is a Vulcan prepped to take the place of Spock at the start of the first Star Trek movie. His tenure in the position is quite short. Thanks to a random transporter malfunction, he (and the person he transports over to the Enterprise with) dies a gruesome death. 

Transporter malfunctions happen all the time, but this is not “The Next Phase” or “Tuvix.” These two people are dead, and it looks (and sounds) horrific. What little of them is recovered does not last long. That’s what Admiral Kirk is told, anyway. 

People make light of McCoy not wanting to use the transporter a little later in the movie, but after this? Damn right he shouldn’t use it, especially since the accident was so random and is never really addressed. It’s not a transporter, it’s a character killer. What did Sonak ever do to deserve it? Highly illogical and highly disturbing. 

2. Khan’s pets (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Khan likes to monologue in the second Trek movie, and we love to listen because Ricardo Montalban is so good in the part. The one exception is when he shows his Ceti Alpha V pets off to Captain Terrell and Mr. Chekhov. He slowly talks through how these gross little things slip into your ear and cause madness. 

He drops one into both of their helmets, both of which are then placed on. We see the wormy little things hit the faces of the two men before the burrowing begins, and it’s awful. It’s disturbing, and it is disgusting. 

Later in the movie, we see one of the grown pets leave Chekhov’s ear. A squirt of blood comes out before it and maybe it’s just something about little creatures and ears, but this makes us writhe every time we watch the movie. We watch the movie a lot so there’s a lot of writhing. 

3. Scotty’s burnt nephew (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Little pets that burrow into your ears are not at all where this movie draws the line. It’s full of awful stuff, including Scotty appearing on the bridge with the body of his nephew, Peter Preston, after the first battle with Khan. 

Half of Preston’s body is burned, so badly burned that his uniform is charred and stuck to what is left of his skin. It’s a horrid looking bit of prosthetics, and it comes at us suddenly. Kirk says he’s gonna see how bad the damage is, and the lift opens. BAM, there’s Scotty and his burned up nephew. It’s a burnt up bit of disturbia that comes out of nowhere. 

It shows us what what real stakes of starship combat are, and the subsequent death of Preston gives us a powerful moment for Scotty. We know he’s emotional, but if we may ask, why exactly does he bring the dying Preston all the way up to the bridge? Wouldn’t sickbay have been the better choice? They end up there, anyway. 

Maybe Scotty wanted to show everyone on the bridge the results of what happens when you don’t follow regulations. If that’s the case, then lesson learned. 

4. Regula 1 Massacre (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

More blood and gore from this movie! When Khan doesn’t get what he wants on the Regula 1 station, he loses his mind. He tears the place apart. We don’t see him do it, we only hear about it later. 

We do see the aftermath of his carnage, with an entire lab full of slashed-throat scientists. Many of them are strung up in the rafters, and Kirk’s team has to drop the murdered people back to the floor. 

It’s a gruesome and gory spectacle. It is rare for a Trek movie to get this bloody, but that’s the Khan experience. If anyone doubts what Khan is capable of, here’s proof. Those people bought escape time for Genesis with their lives, and the result is bloody disturbing to say the least. 

5. David is dead (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

The Klingons in this movie are almost as bad as Khan when it comes to being casual about bloody violence. Just to prove a point, Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) has a soldier kill one of the three prisoners he has on the planet. The choices are the re-growing Spock, Saavik, and Kirk’s son David. 

Kruge doesn’t care which one dies, it’s dealer’s choice. David ultimately seals his own fate trying to intervene; he jumps the Klingon warrior before the knife comes down on one of them. He is easily tossed aside by the warrior, and that knife goes into David’s stomach. 

It get slammed into his stomach, to be more accurate. It’s as if the Klingon was attempting to cut through diamond. We thankfully don’t see it, but there’s no way that that the other side of the blade didn’t come out of David’s back. The sound he makes as he gets this blade shoved into him is something else, too. It’s hard to describe, but it’s definitely a “final sound this person will ever make” kind of noise. Saavik sums it up for Kirk: “David is dead.” 

The moment is so disturbing that Kirk proceeds to see every Klingon dead (save one) before they leave the planet.

6. Valeris Mind meld (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Kirk and Spock need some truth from the traitor Valeris. She’s not talking, so Spock initiates a mind meld. He is able to get the names of those who are at the head of this movie’s conspiracy, but then he has to find out where a Peace Conference is being held. Valeris either doesn’t know, or she’s burying it. Spock goes for a two-handed meld to find out. 

Kim Cattrall, playing Valeris, makes it very clear that this is a violation. She is screaming, and not necessarily in pain. Whatever this two-handed meld is, it’s awful. It’s invasive. It’s not something that you do unless you really really have to. Ultimately, Spock realizes that she isn’t holding back the information, she simply doesn’t know it. He says as much in a broken voice, very likely ashamed that he just went as far as he did. 

Valeris is a traitor, but Spock grabbing her and violating her on the bridge of the Enterprise is an awful thing to see. Once she starts screaming, it becomes the most disturbing scene in the movie. 

8. Borg nightmares (Star Trek: First Contact

Remember Captain Picard’s history with the Borg? If you don’t, this movie reminds you right away. There are disgusting flashbacks that really ratchet the assimilation process up several notches in the gore department; a needle going right into Picard’s eye is only one example. 

Thankfully, it’s all a dream. Picard wakes and Patrick Stewart plays a nice scene of him going to a wash basin to put some water on his face. It’s all okay! Not really, because a borg implant comes punching out of Picard’s face. 

It was a nightmare within a nightmare, and it freaked us the f**k out the first time we saw this movie. We know it’s coming now, but it still freaks us out. This is the movie letting you know that Borg on the big screen will be an exploration of body horror, and these disturbing nightmare scenes kick everything off.  

9. Salieri's face lift (Star Trek: Insurrection

F. Murray Abraham was in a Star Trek movie. Yay! Except — not yay, because his character Ru’afo is disgusting. He and the rest of his kind of seriously against aging, to the point where they kick all of the events of this movie into action. 

One way Ru’afo stays looking young is by using a special face-stretching machine which gives him a youthful lift. All it really does it make him look more hideous, but that’s the price he pays? Salieri always wants what he can't have.  

His face gets stretched, and he staples it back in place. He continues being awful and considers it all a job well done. It’s gross and disturbing, and when one of Star Trek’s classic wicked Admirals gets his own face stretched to death in the machine later on in the movie, everything gets worse. Dougherty out. 

10. Shinzon and the Viceroy (Star Trek: Nemesis

What scene with them in particular are we talking about? All of them. Everything having to do with these two characters is disturbing. 

Tom Hardy really tries to give his all as a random Picard clone named Shinzon, but his acting isn’t the reason that Shinzon is gross. He literally falls apart as the movie progresses, and it’s disgusting to watch. His best friend, a Reman Viceroy, is also gross. The one keeps the other alive and (when they can) and it’s circle of uncomfortability that adds a general creep factor into this entire movie. 

Does it have Shinzon and the Viceroy in it? If the answer is yes, then it is disturbing. 

11. You should have let me sleep (Star Trek Into Darkness

Does the plot of this movie require mental gymnastics to make it make sense? Yes, but it’s still a fun watch. Though we didn’t necessarily need a Khan retread, Benedict Cumberbatch brings something chilly and new to the role. When he gets murderously vengeful, things get disturbing. 

He’s at the mercy of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) for most of the movie. At one point he breaks free, and breaks the leg of Marcus’ daughter Carol (Alice Eve) at the same time. He finally ends up with Admiral RoboCop’s head in his hands, and he squeezes his head to death. 

"You should have let me sleep,” he says, and he doesn’t stop pressing until some kind of breakfast juice emerges. The camera cuts away, but Carol sees it all. She shrieks, and the moment is sold because of how well Eve plays it. It’s a shriek of utter terror, so we don’t need to see that head get crushed. It’s disturbing enough watching Carol’s reaction.

12. Ensign "Crab Head" Syl (Star Trek Beyond)

Krall (Idris Elba) is a fairly gross villain with more than a few disturbing moments in this movie, but when thinking everything over, one member of the Kelvin timeline’s crew disturbs us just a little bit more. 

Ensign Syl (Melissa Roxburgh) is a fine addition to Starfleet. She dies a painful death because she tries to do the right thing. She’s a testament to the crew. She also has a mass of crab legs attached to the back of her head which she can open and close. She hides something important there for a considerable amount of the movie’s runtime. When she finally gives this item up, she opens the back of her head. The crab legs part, and a grisly cavity is revealed. We’re so sorry Ensign Syl, but good lord it’s horrid. 

It’s a disturbing design before the crab legs open, but it’s even more disturbing afterwards. Her species may find humans disturbing, and that's their right. They wouldn’t be wrong. We don’t want to be part of the problem, but there’s something about this entire look that makes us want to stab out our eyes. 

It’s not personal Ensign Syl, it really isn’t. If you really go down the rabbit hole of possibilities with an entire species of beings with moving crab leg masses on their heads, your mind will take you places. They aren’t places that you’ll want to go. 

Most of the Star Trek movies are streaming on Paramount+ right now.