Nightmare Fuel / The Lord of the Rings

"They have taken the bridge and the second hall. We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes, drums... drums in the deep. We cannot get out. A shadow lurks in the dark. We can not get out... they are coming."
"I should… very much like to hold it again… one last time."

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    From the books 
  • The Nazgûl. Read about the creation of the book and you'll learn that the first Black Rider just... appeared, in Tolkien's third draft or so. Even he wasn't sure what it was at first... but once he decided, it became clear - the Riders would never stop hunting the Ring.
    • At first they were limited by the physical needs of their horses. But once Sauron stopped trying to be subtle, he gave them better steeds. Far swifter, far more terrible, indifferent to barriers such as rivers and mountains...
    • Their power and terror reach an apex during the Siege of Minas Tirith. Tolkien's descriptions of these undead things terrifying the inhabitants of the city into hopelessness really grinds in how desperate the situation is.
    • The Witch-King definitely stands out just for this. The description of his 'face' is horrifying enough.
    • In fact, the Nazgûl are so incredibly evil that just being near them will actually make you physically ill, and that's if you're lucky!
  • Also from the siege: Sauron's army catapulting the severed, mutilated heads of Osgiliath's defenders over the walls of Minas Tirith. And even when they're as hacked and crushed as they are, the other soldiers can still recognize their friends and neighbors.
  • Combined with above, the Dawnless Day. A huge cloud comes out from Mordor, stretching as far as Rohan, plunging all of Minas Tirith into darkness.
    • This simultaneously crushes his enemies' hope, bolsters his troops (many of which are dazzled or weakened by sunlight), and shows as an aside that Sauron has a tame volcano erupting at his will...
    • Along with that, the events preceding the Dawnless Day are chilling as well. It's very in the background, but several days before it happens, multiple characters have short lines describing how everything feels a bit... off. Sam notices a chilling air, and that the light seems thinner and less wholesome. Multiple people note how the weather seems to be steadily worsening. In context, it just seems like some fluff about bad weather, but on a second read, you realize that that was all foreshadowing for what happened next.
  • The insignificance of the siege from the perspective of the overall war itself is terrifying to consider. Sauron's forces, including orcs and their human allies, outnumber Gondor's forces massively, an advantage that is hardly diminished even after the arrival of reinforcements from Rohan. According to the books, it wasn't even the largest of the forces that Sauron fielded at that time. From his perspective, the loss of the battle was a minor setback with the only real loss being the death of the Witchking. It would have hardly slowed him down, had the Ring not been destroyed.
  • In the chapter "Scouring of the Shire," it is implied that Saruman forced the starving Grí­ma to eat the corpse of Lotho Sackville-Baggins.
  • The Barrow-wight scenes. The hobbits get lost in the mist, hear voices calling to them... and the next thing Frodo knows is he's waking up in a grave and there is something in the darkness with them... terrifying!
  • Everything about Gollum. Not just his ghastly appearance, but knowing that it was his addiction to the Ring which turned him into whatever creature he has become, and the lengths he will go for the Ring. The movies make it worse by giving him a split personality. Gandalf also mentions that during his search for Gollum he began to hear rumors of a blood drinking ghost who "climbed trees to find nests and crept into windows to find cradles".
    • One of the worst things? He is a Hobbit. So he is a picture what could have become (and nearly happened anyway) to Frodo or Bilbo. The fact that the Ring contains some form of intelligence suggests it may have even done this for fun.
  • "Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day."
    • And who's to say the dwarves won't eventually dig their way down to those creatures' lairs just as they did with Balrog? Maybe this is what triggers Morgoth's escape and Dagor Dagorath? Moria might be repopulated under Durin the Last for a reason.
    • Also a bit of Fridge Horror. Sauron is a corrupted Maia, a being that has existed from the beginning of time. What could POSSIBLY be older than them?!?
      • Actually, it could be they were in the world first before Sauron entered it. So while that lessens the scariness factor, it's no less frightening.
  • The concept of The Ring itself. As the Soul Jar for the most utterly evil creature to ever inhabit Middle-Earth, it's beautiful, you want it even if you don't know why, it stretches out your existence but in a bad way, it whispers to you and puts ideas into your head, and if you spend too long with it, it will pervert you into a horrible shadow of your former self, leaving you a hopelessly addicted, twisted, pitiful wretch. How long it takes to do this to you depends on your mental and moral strength, but it will break you eventually no matter how strong you are. If you're not particularly strong-willed it can claim you in mere seconds! And if it ever achieves its goal, then... Tolkein insisted that The Lord of the Rings held "applicability," not "allegory," but people have compared the Ring to everything from capitalism to communism to nuclear power.
    • The fact that there are so many things in Real Life that can be compared to the One Ring... now there's some Nightmare Fuel for you.
      • Speaking of Real Life, in the foreword to one of the editions Tolkien says that he has been asked or heard of many possible things the Ring can be an allegory for, all of which unintended as he does not like allegory (preferring applicability.) Now, if he did want the book to mirror actual events, he adds, the Ring would certainly have been used, Sauron not dead but enslaved (which, if you know what he did to Númenor, you know why it is a bad idea), his tower occupied instead of thrown down, and Saruman would have gone to Mordor, finding bits and pieces with which he would have ultimately made a Ring for himself, challenging the new ruler of Middle-earth and, worst of all, in the ensuing conflict there would have been no place for simple, peaceful Hobbits: both sides would have hated them and the Hobbit race would not have survived even as slaves.
  • Shelob: "She, who only desired death for all others, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen until the darkness could no longer contain her and the mountains could no longer hold her up..."
    • For added nightmare fuel, she does not merely kill her prey, but captures them by a paralyzing poisonous bite to the neck, dragging them back to her lair where she feeds them to keep them alive and make them grow fat, so she can feed off on their flesh and blood.
  • 'The Watcher in the Water took Oin'. It's a simple yet horrific sentence, especially if you've read The Hobbit; first, Oin, one of the original Company, has been killed - and second, Oin was snatched by that terrible creature that nearly killed Frodo, and wasn't rescued in time.
    • And Gimli is his nephew. All the named dead dwarves are his relatives. No wonder he's not entirely rational in the Chamber.
  • Moria as a whole is this. Dark, claustrophobic, a gigantic tentacled abomination that nearly kills Frodo, Orcs at every corner, insane architecture and a friggin' Balrog is underground. Even with beautifully carved, giant statues of dwarves, it doesn't make it any less frightening.
    • The Balrog, a creature of dark fire dating back to ancient times. Not to mention the foreshadowing: an entire mighty kingdom of stalwart warriors, shattered and desolate, without even a single survivor to identify the cause.
    Gandalf: The Dwarves dug too deep, and too greedily...
    • What happens after Pippin gets the attention of the goblins. The movies used a drumbeat for when the goblins started moving toward the Fellowship, but the book just has tapping noises.
    • And then the drums begin, and the sound they make is prophetic: doom, doom...
  • The Dead Marshes are already pretty horrific: the faces of dead men, elves, and orcs from three thousand years ago preserved forever and revealed as the marshes overtake the old battlefield. (For bonus points, it's implied that Gollum tried to eat them during his first passage.) And then you learn that they actually existed: Tolkien based them on his experiences in World War I, when he crossed flooded battlefields. Decades after the war, and even during it, there were the silent, horribly wounded bits and pieces or corpses of soldiers, floating in the craters with their weapons and kit, plus ponies, machine guns...
  • Aragorn and the Grey Company discover the centuries-old skeleton of Baldor, son of Brego, in the Paths of the Dead. His sword is notched from hewing at the door, and his legs are broken. Sweet dreams.
  • The breeding of Saruman´s orcs. Treebeard only states that Saruman has mixed orcs with human blood. He does NOT go into detail on how Saruman managed this, but it is implied the breeding took years. If we consider that Saruman made his orcs do this the regular, non-magical way... The implication is a lot more squicky than the movie.
  • The Mouth of Sauron taunting the Fellowship by telling them that they've captured Frodo and are torturing him. The films implied that they killed him at some point, but the books make it clear that he's still alive and they're far from done with him.

     From the film version 

Fellowship of the Ring

  • Galadriel's "Darkness crept back into the forests of the world" exposition. There is something so unsettling about her narration, especially when combined with the clips of darkened forests and swamps that follow.
    • Speaking of Galadriel, the genuinely unsettling calm, pleasant, soothing nature in which she acts, contrasting sharply with the demonic nature she possesses whenever she becomes angry or power-mad.
  • The shot from the prologue of the men who will become the Nazgul, each holding a ring and standing in almost robotic uniformity, in contrast to the natural movements of the elves and the dwarves in the previous shots. And then the scene just fades as the darkness swallows them...
    • The Thousand-Yard Stare of the future Witch-King, at the very centre of the shot, is particularly unsettling.
  • The screech and Vertigo Effect combination when someone encounters a Nazgûl for the first time.
    • Which is actually the voice of Peter Jackson's wife, largely unaltered. Maybe we should be thankful that she prefers to keep to herself.
      • If I'm remembering right she had a cold that made her voice sound weird and screechy, and that's why they decided to record it for the Nazgûl.
      • In the DVD commentary, Philippa Boyens says that the sound is the scream Fran Walsh uttered when her husband told her he'd bought the film rights to The Silmarillion.
    • Perhaps one of The Nine's scariest moments is the attack on Weathertop. Frodo wakes up to find his friends foolishly cooking on an open fire, declaring their location to everyone. Even as he snuffs out the last cinders, the all-too familiar screech of the Nazgûl echoes out and the hobbits look down to see several of them moving absolutely silently through the fog towards them. Now terrified, they run up to the top of the ancient watchtower and go back to back. You expect the Ringwraiths to come up the same stairways the hobbits used, but instead they appear right out of the shadows, in places seeming to step right out of empty air onto the watchtower's upper floor. Before, they were just black-robed riders who made a creepy sound, now they're shown to be utterly inhuman.
  • Bilbo Baggins' completely pants-wettingly out-of-left-field freakout when he realises Frodo has the Ring. It really does come out of gracious nowhere.
    • Try pausing the film on that moment and moving it back and forward, frame-by-frame. It makes it inexplicably more horrifying.
      • Because, if you look closely for that fraction of a second, he becomes Gollum.
  • This unnerving shot of Gollum as he spies on the fellowship in the mines of Moria.
  • Gandalf reading the final diary entries of the mine's dwarves. "Drums...drums, in the deep...we cannot get out...They are coming-"
    • This becomes even worse in hindsight after watching the Hobbit films and you realize that the skeleton Gandalf pulled the book from is most likely Ori, another member of the company (and the youngest), who accompanied Balin to Moria.
    • Right then, of course, Pippin knocks a skeleton down a well, making all kinds of racket. After a tense moment of silence, Gandalf scolds him, then turns to leave. And then...
    • And then it cuts back to the room with the three passages as the light of flames suddenly appears in the middle one. Imagine what would have happened if they'd taken that path!
    • The horrors began the very second they set foot in Moria. Gimli is proudly describing his kin's hospitality and how good a time they'll have after slogging through the dark and cold up to this point, then the Mood Whiplash kicks in.
      Gimli: So, master elf, you will enjoy the fabled hospitality of the dwarves! Roaring fires, malt beer, ripe meat off the bone! This, my friend, is the home of my cousin Balin. And they call it a mine! A mine!
      Boromir: (sees the entrance hall) This is no mine! It's a tomb! (they see skeletons and signs of battle everywhere)
      Gimli:! No!!!
      Legolas: Goblins!
      Boromir: We make for the Gap of Rohan. We should never have come here.
  • Galadriel's temptation by the Ring, with absurd amounts of reverb on her voice as she declares herself "Beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!"
  • When one puts on The Ring, they turn invisible. It's because you enter a shadow dimension where the only other one there is the DARK LORD OF ALL EVIL. It's Alone with the Psycho on a cosmic scale.
    • To say nothing of what Sauron says to Frodo when he puts the Ring on in The Prancing Pony:
    "I see you... You cannot hide from me. There is no life in the Void, only death."
    • In that vein, the second time Frodo puts on the ring, he sees the faces of the Nazgûl - mummified kings with horrifying death rictuses.
    • Even the name of this place is tellingly horrible. It's called the Wraith World and the reason you become invisible to most creatures is because you've just put yourself on the border between life and death. The reason the Ring Wraiths can be seen in full there is because they're stuck in a state of being dead yet still living. It's implied beings like Barrow-Wights could also spot you in this world.
  • Viewers who hadn't read the books were likely leaning back in their seats when the Balrog made its appearance. Even before it does, while all the Fellowship look unnerved as the Goblins scatter in terror and the sounds of the Balrog's approach grow louder, the look of terror on Gandalf and Legolas's facesis even worse. They both know full well what's coming, and that it's an enemy beyond any of them.

The Two Towers
"Don't Follow the Lights!"
  • This gem from after one of the Uruk-Hai gets killed:
    • Commence dozens of other orcs ripping the corpse apart to eat it within seconds.
  • The entirety of Saruman's New Era Speech, interspersed with shots of the ashen, volcanic landscape of Mordor, scaling up the battlements of Barad-dûr to the pinnacle where the Eye of Sauron glares out, always watchful, and Isengard being given over entirely to the industry of building, training and preparing the army of Uruk-hai for war.
    Saruman: The world is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman, and the union of the two towers? Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-earth! The old world will burn in the fires of industry. The forests will fall. A new order will rise. We will drive the machine of war with the sword and the spear and the iron fist of the Orc! We have only to remove those who oppose us.
  • Saruman recruiting the Dunlendings, playing on their anger and resentment to convince them to join his war of destruction against Rohan. It drives home the fact that a great persuader like Saruman turned to evil is extremely dangerous, especially since these are Men he is persuading to wreak terrible havoc, not Orcs.
  • The Burning of the Westfold. We get to see an attack on a village, and it's not pretty. Civilians attempting to flee in a panic as a force of Uruk-hai rushes in, chopping down anybody they can catch and setting fire to the buildings they pass.
  • Imagine being there before the battle of Helm's Deep, when 10,000 Uruk-hai are standing before you in the dark and the rain, armed to the teeth, then start smashing their spears on the ground in unison and screaming at you. The atmosphere was captured so beautifully, it's no wonder everyone looks about ready to shit themselves.
    • Ties in with the earlier shot of the assembled horde at Isengard. Anyone familiar with the story knows how it's going to go, but it truly gets the point across that this isn't just another fantastic's a war of extermination, and the odds aren't leaning towards the good guys.
    Saruman: A new power is rising! Its at hand! This night, the land will be stained with the blood of Rohan! March to Helm's Deep! Leave none alive! TO WAR! There will be no dawn for Men!
    Aragorn: It is an army bred for a single destroy the world of Men.
  • Before the battle of Helm's Deep, you see children being given weapons and armor to help in the fight. Later, after the defenses have collapsed and the few soldiers that are left are barricading the door, there are no children in sight.
  • The Dead Marshes. The description was creepy enough in the book, but in the movie the dead look like underwater, ethereal zombies.
    • Then as Frodo approaches the water and looks down at one OH DEAR GOD WHY DID ITS EYES JUST OPEN?!
    • They're even more haunting, in both versions, if you recall that J.R.R. Tolkien fought in World War I and likely had very vivid memories of the flooded bomb craters filled with corpses.
    • Doubly so when you remember the horrific and bloody battle of Passchendaele. So many soldiers drowned in the mud that their bodies were never found, and were likely floating there for years until they finally decomposed into nothing, leaving only their weapons and kit behind.
      • The really horrifying part? In the book, the trio pass through the Marshes without incident, but in the movie Frodo actually falls into the muck, and all these ghostly figures surround and reach for him, pulling him down. If Gollum hadn't pulled him out, Frodo could have easily become one of the corpses.
  • Also from the Dead Marshes, the peaceful discussion between Smeagol and Frodo being interrupted by an all-too familiar screeching howl and the realisation the Ringwraiths have come back to hunt them.
    Sam: I thought they were dead!
    Gollum: Dead? No you cannot kill them, no.
  • Gandalf trying to lift Saruman's power on Théoden becomes very creepy indeed, when Saruman starts speaking through Théoden.
  • The terrifying moment when Sam plunges from the cliffs overlooking the Black Gate, getting himself trapped up to his waist in the scree at the base and several of the Easterling soldiers arriving at the Black Gate noticing the disturbed rocks sliding down the cliff. Frodo throws his elven cloak over them, but it's quite terrifying in those moments that the only thing keeping him and Sam from a bunch of fanatics loyal to Sauron who would probably kill them without a second thought is a thin cloak and the hope the Easterlings don't investigate too closely.
  • Emiliana Torrini's "Gollum's Song" from the Two Towers soundtrack definitely counts. It's a nice, sad, mildly creepy ballad from Gollum's perspective... until the end, when suddenly she hisses in a gravelly voice, "Kill them all!"
  • When Faramir attempted to take the Ring from Frodo in Ithilien, a Deleted Scene would have had Frodo have a moment where he changed into a horrifying Gollum-like appearance as kind of a What If? as to what the Ring could eventually do to him — as Bilbo did in Rivendell. Although this was cut, you can still see traces of it in the moment where Frodo, face hidden from the camera, cowers against the rock, and the greatly disturbed look on Faramir's face. Here's a link to Elijah Wood's makeup tests for this scene to show what Frodo would have looked like. Jesus...

Return of The King
"The way is shut. It was made by those who are dead. And the dead keep it."
  • SHELOB. Peter Jackson is an arachnophobe, and he used this to full effect to make the scenes with Shelob as frightening as possible. The part that was especially creepy was where she was following Frodo silently from above.
    • Equally worse, earlier when he was in the cave, you just know she was watching him, waiting to pounce.
    • Then there's the brief scene where her horrific mouth comes uncomfortably close to the camera.
  • Mordor. One actually wonders how it got that way and what Sauron's massive armies are eating.
    • Actually that was only part of Mordor that was shown, most of Mordor is actually quite fertile and capable of growing food (Soil around Volcanos tend to be rich) So there's parts in it where food can be grown and harvested for his armies. Still frightening though and not the place you'd want to visit.
    • The way Boromir describes it to the Council of Elrond. Despite inspiring one of the most classic memes, just the way he describes Mordor with a slow and intense voice like the hellish Eldritch Location it is, as if he's describing Hell itself, while seemingly Go Mad from the Revelation by doing so, is quite dreadful. And based on how quickly the entire council starts to fight amongst each other immediately after he's done, you could argue that the entire council went mad from the revelation.
  • The War Is Hell scenario that is the fall of Osgiliath. Having been fighting all night and well into the morning, Faramir and the Gondorian defenders are slowly being overwhelmed as continual waves of Orcs storm into the city; even worse, the Orcs are clearly shown to be enjoying cutting down injured and exhausted soldiers without mercy. Faramir, realising they've got no chance of holding out any longer, gives the order to retreat, and then things go From Bad to Worse as a screaming cry that (by this stage in-universe and to the viewers) has become the stuff of nightmares is heard...
    Gondorian ranger: Nazgûl...!
  • The sudden entrance of the oliphants and their Harad riders certainly counts as this for Théoden and his army. The Rohirrim look utterly terrified, which is perfectly understandable since the enormous elephants were (according to Sam) believed to be nothing more than legends. Between the war paint, spiked weapons, and immense size, it's the stuff of nightmares for any pre-modern general and his officers.
  • While the Witch-King was quite badass in both the films and books (and also the game he was in), one cannot help but become slightly unnerved when he removes his helm.
  • After Frodo tells Sam, "The Ring is mine," there's something unsettling about his smile before he puts the Ring on. Which makes sense, given that the Ring has just seized what could have been permanent control of Frodo.
  • In the extended edition of ROTK, we get the Mouth of Sauron. Most unnerving set of teeth ever, with a creepy voice to boot.
  • The scene from Return of the King where we watch Sméagol slowly turning into Gollum. Though the FX mildly alleviates it, since it's really easy to tell it's just makeu- OH GOSH HIS EYES GOT BIGGER!!!
    • No other scene shows the evil of the Ring the way this one does. It makes two simple people, not much different from the Shire hobbits, jump at each other's throats over it. The eerie, creepy music isn't helping.
  • The slow, yet unstoppable toll that the Ring takes on Frodo eventually gets so bad that he sends Sam away.
    • While Sam and Frodo are making their way through Mordor, the physical burden of the Ring grows with each step closer Frodo gets to Mt. Doom, to the point that the chain the Ring is attached to starts biting into Frodo's neck. By the time he and Sam get out of the Crack of Doom, you can see a very angry, very painful-looking red mark etched into the skin around Frodo's neck — eventually you can even see dried BLOOD.
  • The Mouth of Sauron himself, as, contrary to the Nazgûl, he is still alive but has forgotten his actual name. The fact that his mouth is bigger than it should be goes straight for body horror.
  • Extended version of the Battle at Pelennor Fields has Eowyn briefly fight Gothmog just before her duel with Witch-King. She wounds and seemingly kills him... and then, just after she kills Witch-King and is lying on the ground with her arm broken and too exhausted to stand up, Gothmog suddenly raises his head and starts slowly crawling towards her, screaming in rage. The look on Eowyn's face as she is trying frantically to escape from him and especially at the very end of the scene as she tries to grab the sword lying on the ground just out of her reach makes it painfully clear that she is absolutely terrified.
  • When Frodo, Sam and Sméagol are passing Minas Morgul, Frodo suddenly starts walking towards the city as if he's in a trance. For once, it has Sam and Sméagol in perfect agreement that they have to stop him and drag him back, and when he comes back to himself, he says "They're calling me".

     From the Ralph Bakshi film
  • They pretty much nail the Ring Wraiths, especially the tree scene and Frodo's confrontation with them, complete with Scare Chord and their whispers, "Come, come, to Mordor we will take you..."
  • The sequence with the orcs marching on Helm's Deep. Shadowy, menacing, almost unearthly monsters advancing while chanting ominous war songs. Between the almost demonic appearance of the orcs and the scene's red lighting, it almost seems as if the forces of Hell itself are marching against Rohan.

    From the animated Return of the King film 

  • The Stone Watchers at Cirith Ungol. Especially the way their expressions change offscreen. The worst is their mocking smirk when the Phial doesn't work on them on the way out. Nealy as scary is, after Sam first uses the Phial to open the invisible gate and saunters in with the Watchers glaring at him, he puts it away... and both he and the viewer are nearly deafened by the thunderous moaning roar both Watchers emit from six mouths to alert the Orcs to a tresspasser.
  • The moment where Frodo claim the ring for himself. Unlike the movie (which only gave him a Slasher Smile), Frodo is almost completely changed. He loses his weariness, he has fire in his eyes and he lets out a creepy Evil Laugh before turning invisible Here at 2:30. Say what you want about the Rankin/Bass adaptation, but they sure knew how to portray the ring as The Corruption.
  • The Witch-King's voice (If you've never watched He-Man or classic Transformers, that is, which instantly ruins it). A manic, screechy voice underscored and echoed by a mechanical, grating one somewhere betwee Darth Vader and Judge Doom.

    From the videogames 

  • Bilbo's picture at the beginning of the GBA version of Fellowship Of The Ring is basically the evil face he makes in the movie's freakout, AS A FREEZE FRAME. Have fun playing the game.

    From the BBC radio adaptation 

  • A lot of moments are all the scarier because there's nothing for you to see. All you have to go on is the sound - which is extremely effective:
    • The sounds of Gollum being tortured are really hard to listen to.
    • When Frodo's caught by the Watcher in the Water, Ian Holm does a fantastic job of sounding absolutely terrified and shrieking desperately for help.
    • When the Balrog shows up (completely with unnerving sound-effects) Legolas starts screaming in fear like he does in the book, sounding legitimately terror-stricken.
  • The entirety of the Journey through Moria is one, as all that can be heard is the party's footsteps and Gollum's following them. Frodo's reactions, each time he becomes aware of Gollum's presence, are understandably scared.
  • The Ring is mostly just represented by a glass harmonica note, before or during someone being influenced by it. This is an eerie sound at the best of times, but when you associate it with the One Ring...
  • The call of the Nazgul sounds like the cry of a demonic bird and it ranges from eerie to downright startling.