Nightmare Fuel / The Lord of the Rings
"I should… very much like to touch it once again…"

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.
  • 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 idly shows that Sauron has a tame volcano erupting at his will...
  • 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".
  • "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."
  • 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.
  • 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.

From the film version:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 scream Fran Walsh uttered when her husband told her he'd bought the film rights to The Silmarillion.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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, all horrifying death rictuses.
  • 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!"
  • 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 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.
  • 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!"
  • Gandalf trying to lift Saruman's power on Théoden becomes very creepy indeed, when Saruman starts speaking through Théoden.
  • 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!!!
  • This gem from "The Two Towers" after one of the Uruk-Hai gets killed:
    • Commence dozens of other orcs ripping the corpse apart to eat it within seconds.
  • 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.
  • 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.

From the animated version:

  • 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 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...