Cold Case has substantial doses of Nightmare Fuel. Disturbing stuff and spoilers abound below.
- In "Fly Away", the prologue treats us to the frightening scene of Rosie and Toya hearing mysterious footsteps outside the bedroom, before we cut to them being thrown out the window. The killer isn't seen, so they feel more like a supernatural entity or a mysterious presence than a mere mortal killer. While it turns out Rosie jumped out the window with Toya, it doesn't make the atmosphere of the prologue any less creepy or mysterious.
- The coloring inside Toya's wall of her closet revealing Mr. Freely as a literal monster in her eyes.
- The Adult Fear that Rosie faced: she was about to lose her sweet innocent daughter to the pedophilic social worker, and if she tried to speak out against him, it would be his word against hers. She turned to some people, but no one believed or listened to her. And at that time, jumping out that window was the only option she had left...
- The episode "Hubris" with the strangled women both found posed like Ophelia lying in ponds. When they showed the first woman's death along with the man's whispers of "I make the decisions."
- "The Letter", in which the victim is held down and gang-raped, then accidentally smothered when her would-be lover puts his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Though that scene in "The Letter" could be interpreted as him suffocating her to spare her the more painful death the group would have planned. When he takes his hands away, the body is still moving. Think about it.
- Also from that episode, there was a kid living in that house. Fridge Horror mixed with nightmare fuel ensues when you wonder where she was that night and if she heard anything.
- The hippies in "Volunteers" get killed by their seemingly easy-going friend who was an informant. That smile he was flashing the whole episode just... disappears.
- The episode also pulls no punches in depicting the dark world of pre-legal abortion. One young woman tells the main victim that hers was done with a bicycle spoke, and that the "doctor" made her have sex with him first. When the detectives interview the now middle-aged woman in the present, she states the procedure was done so badly that she was rendered infertile.
- The season 1 episode of the series, "Gleen", begins with a woman talking with her husband inside of their home, putting on make-up and discussing their upcoming days. After he leaves for work, she goes outside to hang laundry on the clothesline, open up the box of laundry detergent sitting on the table in their yard and then is promptly blown up by a bomb hidden inside of it. This is especially scary since it was later discovered that her husband was the one who killed her since she was cheating on him since he was such a domineering prick who treated her like his slave and unlike other episodes of the series, the actual murder scene was seen in the beginning sequence rather than it just being a scene of what their life was like before their deaths and then just the discovery/condition of their body. Even worse, we learn that not only that her (then five-year-old) daughter saw her after the blast took place but that the explosion didn't kill her until 17 minutes later.
- In the present, the husband has a kindly fiancé who has no idea about his murderous past. And he was closing in on trapping her in a marriage that not only would've been unhappy, but perhaps deadly.
- The killer in "A Time To Hate" laughing like a hyena as he mashes the victim's head to paste, simply due to his sexual orientation. Most of the totally cold-blooded killings on this show stand out, in fact, simply because more often the crime is done in the heat of the moment.
- The murder in "Churchgoing People", with the son, Ryan, hiding as the mother, Charlotte, starts becoming unhinged during a fight with Mitch, her husband and abuse victim, about the way she's abusing their son, and then starts attacking him, as he desperately tries to run away and is sadly later caught and brutally murdered as he desperately screams for help and all the son can do is stay where he is. And then his mother appears, covered in blood and with a truly chilling look and tone of voice says
Charlotte Bayes: Ryan... get the van.
- The episodes 'Mindhunters' and 'The Woods', about a serial killer, George Marks (pictured above) who kidnapped women and then hunted them for sport and used methodical means to evade any type of counterattack they used against their assailants in the past to be done to him, i.e., night vision goggles, a gas mask so not to be deterred by mace, etc. When he is finally cornered by Lilly, he gloatingly implies that he cut off the feet of his youngest victim, a high school track runner, and that she was so desperate to escape that she still attempted to run on the stumps of her legs. It was seriously one of the most disturbing things ever heard on TV. The scene of her wailing "I want my Daddy!" just before she is fatally shot doesn't help. And although he didn't rape any of his victims, he seems particularly smug about putting the fear of that possibility into them (he forced his victims to strip before making them run through the woods) and that towards the end, the women were practically offering themselves to him—"You have no idea of the things a woman will beg you to do, if you'll just let her live"—in the futile hopes of surviving their ordeal.
- It's made even worse by the fact that the writers stuck pretty damn close to the real-life killer that inspired those episodes, Robert Hansen.
- What most of the victims must had felt. Most of the victims were women who survived being attacked and had fought for their lives only to be hunted down by this deranged serial killer who humiliated them and hunted them like some random animal for simply defending themselves.
- In Who's Your Daddy, it's bad enough the killer made one of his two victims orally service him. What would've happened if they hadn't sent their daughter to hide in the bathroom? Would he have made the poor girl watch as he threatened her mother to lick his boots? Worse yet, would he have also killed her so there would be no witnesses?
- The episode "Strange Fruit"note , which featured a trio of racists beating and hanging a young black man, all while Dr. King's legendary "I Have A Dream" speech played in the background.
- The sheer ease with which many of the killers have readjusted to their normal lives after ending someone else's can be quite disturbing, especially if they've actually moved up in the world after committing the crime. An example is the woman in "Schadenfreude;" a lowly hairstylist in the past, she owns the entire salon in the present and displays no regrets about having murdered her best friend to get there.
- Any episode where the victim is poisoned qualifies, but the murder in "Blank Generation" deserves special mention. Aside from the young man's own mother killing herself after an argument with her husband where he more or less dared her to go through with it, but after falling for a woman in his cult and she convincing him to write a letter to their leader or "father", telling them that he (and ostensibly she) will be free to run off together, she poisons him, he finds out about it too late for him to stop it and she frames it all to look like a suicide to his own father. Also, in the present day, she tried to poison Lily as she was interviewing her!
- The Murder scene in "Death Penalty Final Appeal": The scene ends with the murderer creepily stroking his victim's hair while claiming "you'll always be my good girl," while holding a knife to her throat. As it fades out, we hear the victim whimpering in terror.
- You may not think of anything particularly scary about the episode "Start Up" and it isn't a gruesome episode for the most part, but the beginning shows a woman in a rowboat where you at first look at her and think, "Oh, well she must be tired", only for the close up to indicate that flies are swarming around her. Plus, who knows how long it was until she was found. Worse, not only was she poisoned by her business partner, but the man who initially invested in their company (and convinced said partner into killing her) also killed his wife the same way years earlier.
- The Hen House makes one look at any distant relative and wonder are they really related to them.
- In "Family", the pedophilic gym teacher who raped the victim's girlfriend years ago, tricks the victim's daughter Claire into believing he's her real biological father. Even for a Broken Bird who hates everybody, Claire willingly trusts him and goes with him, like some little child lured with promises of candy or a puppy. If it's any indication, he hadn't molested her by the time he was found and arrested. But still, it's unnerving to think she was this close to being raped and heartlessly discarded by someone who dare called himself her father.
- The beginning of "Rampage" was also pretty horrific, considering how out of nowhere it was. "Rampage" begins with two kids screwing around in the mall with a presumably new camcorder. You start to think "Okay, one or both is gonna be shown dea-" and then they randomly whip out guns and start firing into the crowds.
- "Offender", in which the killer lured his unsuspecting victim into his garage with the promise of helping him (the boy had fallen and cut his knee). As the killer walked towards him, the boy turned to face him, and in the split second before the garage door closed, his eyes widened in knowing terror.
- "Stand up and Holler" gives us Becca Abrams, who can only be described as the "Great White" of the figurative Shark Tank that is the Cheerleading Squad. Cruel, manipulative, not only does she condemn the victim's friend to be raped by ten football players and not show remorse for it but she also forcibly pours a can of beer and Liquid X down the victim's throat for quitting the squad. If High School is a place where you see how teenagers will interact with society when they're grown, what does that say about Becca? And it kind of makes you wonder: Did her previous husbands leave her because she made them miserable, or because she made them scared?
- The sheer ease with which many of the killers have readjusted to their normal lives after ending someone else's can be quite disturbing, especially if they've actually moved up in the world after committing the crime. An example one of the killer in Blood On The Tracks, who enticed her ex-lover to murder her husband, then killed her friend as well, then spent the next 26 years living the life of Riley using her friend's identity (they looked very much alike), again, showing little remorse for her actions—when she feebly protests to Lily that she loved her husband, a disbelieving Lily snaps, "You've got a funny way of showing it."
- Good Lord! Kim's entire situation in Stalker. Let's see first she's the only surviving member of her family, whom she witnessed being killed and sustained a bullet wound to the head no less. First she's led to believe her father had been the shooter but phew, it weren't him. It was her Stalker with a Crush who not only hasn't been apprehended but he's been at her side, nursing her back to health and lets not even get into the final showdown.
- The episode "Spiders". The victim's boyfriend was a teenaged neo-Nazi who had murdered a woman the night before, and you see the poor girl trying to find a way out of the house without him noticing— but both the doors are locked. She goes to the kitchen where his mom looks to be washing dishes or something, his mother already having been established as a kindly, cookies-and-milk kind of woman seemingly innocent to what her son was up to. But when the victim goes to her and starts practically sobbing the story of what happened, and how they have to go to the police, his mother turns with a brittle smile and starts talking about what black men do to white women like them, and how it's so lucky that they have men like her son to protect them... all the while while washing blood out of what looks like a tee shirt. This must prey on some childhood fear (besides the obvious creepy factor of having a crazy-intense skinhead for a boyfriend) of having an authority figure turn out to be one of the bad guys too... and to be trapped.
- The ending: The killer was badgered by Spider's mother into killing the victim, in order to "burn out" his Jewish blood. He obediently carries out the deed. And all the while, it shows him in his room, shaving off his hair to resemble a skin head. And when he's done, he sits in front of a Nazi flag, symbolizing his eerie Face–Heel Turn into a neo-Nazi. What's scarier is, the killer himself is Jewish. It's like watching a cat bring up a mouse to hunt and eat other mice.
- The episode Slipping is chalk-full of this:
- The mysterious nature of the victim finding things like a note prophetically reading about her death, or a noose appearing in the attic for no reason, has the makings of a twisted Twilight Zone episode.
- Annette's hidden depth as someone openly envious of "women like Nancy".
- "John Smith" from "The Road": "Once hope is gone... dying is just a formality." His entire MO is horrible. Some of his victims had even managed to somehow carve messages into the wall of the cell, messages which appeared to grow increasingly desperate and illegible.
- Malik from "It Takes A Village". Tortured and abused as a child, he gets his revenge by staking out arcades to find boys that remind him of the ones who tormented him, imprisoning them in a soundproof room where he made them stand in place for days, before finally slashing their throats.
- The footage of one victim, starving, covered in bruises, resigned to his fate, but still desperately trying to leave a clue by repeatedly screaming "Defector Three!" (the video game where he encountered his killer) really doesn't help.
- In "Justice", we have the flashback where four victims of a serial rapist gang up on him and have him at gun point. Granted the guy in question is a Dirty Coward and a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk, it's the four women you worry about. When they mock him and coldly urge their friend holding the gun to shoot him, it's terrifying how quickly these victims became the monsters.
- Generally, the rapist in question, a Jerk Jock who works under the guise of Nice Guy. He's not just any rapist, he's a serial rapist.
- Also, his youngest victim was an 18-year-old girl who after she was rejected by her father, who blamed her for what happened, kills herself. We never see her in the episode, before or after her death (outside of one, out of focus scene), but we do see the aftermath of what she did.
- The murder in "Andy In C Minor" isn't particularly brutal or graphic, but the context is horrifying. The murder took place at a school for deaf kids. As Lily put it, "Killed in a place where no one can hear you scream." To think that (a) he couldn't hear his attacker creeping up on him, and (b) someone could have helped him, but was completely unaware of what was happening.
- Andy was fitted with a cochlear implant and could hear, but was too engrossed in his piano playing to hear his killer walking up to him.
- When Dean Harden tries to defend that Carlos is well-adjusted, Carlos texts something and slams down his hand on the table with a vicious grunt. His message: "Shut Up!" So Dean Harden, what was that you said about 'well-adjusted'?
- The victim's death in "Thick as Thieves" is highly disturbing. After she was shot at close range, her body's left in the street, only for police to encounter her and discover that it didn't kill her, but the real nightmare fuel sets in afterwards, in which her attack left her in an eighteen year coma suffering from a severe brain injury and left completely helpless in all that time. Furthermore, the blue eyes that she had during the flashbacks turned into a very sinister and unnatural color of black. Think about that for a moment.
- "It Takes a Village" deserves a mention. We see a series of little boys kidnapped, tortured, starved and with their throats slit and one of their index fingers cut off. Over the course of the episode, we realize that the serial killer, whomever he is, was subjected to the same type of torture when he was in a boy's home (although it begs the question why he didn't go after the assholes who tortured him instead of targeting innocent little boys?) Towards the end of the episode we finally meet the serial killer, who shows off his own dismembered finger, speaks to the detectives with a eerie, echoing sound faintly resembling a voice and then offs himself to avoid being brought in.
- Coupled with Tear Jerker and Fridge Horror, the episode "Running Around" where the victim is stabbed to death by a fellow Amish friend has the girl's mother receiving her autopsy photograph to identify her by, which she does. This whole scenario becomes all three of these tropes because one of the most steadfast beliefs of the Amish is that they do not believe that God would want them to have graven images of themselves, and essentially this is the only picture that woman/family has of their daughter.
- The real killer in "Thrill Kill." Everyone was so eager to go after the grunge-fashioned, outcast teens as "obviously" trouble that they overlooked the meek, mild father of the victim who was a raging Jekyll & Hyde case who chased his kid down and killed him over a trivial offense. Even more unsettling for those more used to the actor's heroic, Nice Guy roles.
- Season 6's "The Brush Man" regarding the victim's death. When the he confronted the killer about how he treated his wife and son and threatens to expose his double life to them so they can finally get away from him, he ends up stabbing him in the neck. Repeatedly. After he eventually succumbed to this, the killer then wrapped his body in a ropes and a tarp, then threw him into a duck pond where he remained for more than 40 years.
- Done in universe in One Small Step.
Older Brother: Tell Bobby his big brother says hello.
- The murder scene in the episode "Jackals" is disturbing. A young girl is being murdered, but what we see is the only person she still trusted turning around and walking away, face in agony, as we hear her bone chilling screams and desperate pleas for his help. Even worse, her death was arguably the most gruesome murder of the entire season. Whereas the majority of the cases in season 6 were second-degree or lower, the only other first-degree murders ("Lotto Fever" and "Officer Down") involved gunshot wounds; stabbing is considered a very personal and prolonged way to kill someone. Also, the way her body was left, in an open field, with multiple stab wounds, part of the murder weapon broken off in her chest and Dies Wide Open, displayed the savage nature of her death.
- The death scene in Lotto Fever where the victim is betrayed and murdered in cold blood by his own older sister and brother-in-law, who practically raised him after their deadbeat dad ran off, for nothing more than money.
- "Bombers" has two elements of this. First there was the victim's young, orphaned friend falling to his death then his own death. You know how most episodes have someone make a death threat to them and it ends with them being innocent, having just made the comment in the heat of the moment? Well, the killer here actually kept his promise, threatening to pour spray paint down his throat if he didn't stop crowding in on his territory (as both were rival street artists) and then doing it after he caught him making art over one of his murals. His gagging on the paint before he suffocates only makes it worse.
- The death in "Metamorphosis" when the victim finds out the circus she is in is running a scam and confronts the ringmaster, the real mastermind turns out to be the really tall guy in the freak show, who stalks her from behind.
- The killer in "Bullet's" utterly nonchalant execution of his own cousin, whom he had babysat when he was a kid.
- When some of the cases are that of missing persons rather than murders. The agony that their loved ones must have gone through for years, wondering what happened, possibly even having a tiny bit of hope that they were still alive somewhere, only to finally have their worst fears confirmed.
- Anytime that the victim knows that their death is imminent and has no way to stop or escape it ("Volunteers", "Sanctuary", "Offender", etc.) This also doubles as a Tear Jerker.
- Conversely, perhaps, anytime the victim doesn't know. The last we see of the victims in "Blood On The Tracks", they are sleeping peacefully, with no idea that their wife/best friend has left them to die in an imminent explosion.
- Occasionally, the ending picture used during the closing credits. In the case of an unlikable victim who is the main victim of the episode, we see a shot of their dead body or some other unsettling picture (the drowned body of the pedophilic swim coach in "The Plan", the drowned body of the pedophilic matriarch in "Blackout", the blood-splattered screenshot of the serial killer in "Lonely Hearts", etc.). Unfortunately, they also did this to likable victims, such as a shot of the body of the sweet young girl, Rita, from "The Sleepover", the scene where the moralistic lawyer from "Discretion" is about to be stabbed to death, the victim from "That Woman" after she was beaten to death with her killers standing over her and so forth. Thankfully, Cold Case Pedia did a better job at choosing a more fitting picture than CBS did (or, in many cases, kept the same picture chosen during the closing credits.)