Criminal Minds

20 Criminal Minds Episodes That Went Full Horror

Rossi, Hotchner, JJ, and the other BAU agents investigate some terrifying cases in Criminal Minds, with some particularly horrifying episodes.

Split Images of the most horrifying Criminal Minds' episodes

Criminal Minds is one of the longest-running crime shows in TV history, thanks to its interesting look into the minds of serial killers. The series follows a team of expert FBI behavioral profilers as they track down the most prolific and disturbing criminals, which has left fans with many horrifying episodes. Despite being a detective crime/thriller series, Criminal Minds often goes full horror with its dark cases and harrowing crimes.

Criminal Minds never pulls its punches, and many episodes have ended in tragedy after covering especially gruesome crimes. Many of the show’s most memorable moments come from nightmarish and terrifying episodes that feel reminiscent of some of the best horror movies. And the knowledge that some of the scariest Criminal Minds episodes are based on a true story makes these episodes even scarier.

Updated by Florencia Aberastury on April 18, 2024: There is no shortage of creepy and scary Criminal Minds episodes, and this article has been updated to include a few more of the scariest Criminal Minds episodes, as well as to bring the article up to current CBR standards.

20
“Scared to Death” Made Viewers Face Their Fears

A victim looks scared and crying while held inside a small glass box in the Criminal Minds episode Scared to Death

“Scared to Death” is a Criminal Minds episode where the unsub literally scared their victims to death. These victims had anxiety disorders that they were treating in therapy, only for their therapist to use their fears against them. While exposure therapy is a thing, this unsub took things too far, and made more than one viewer uncomfortable.

Easily one of the creepiest Criminal Minds episodes, not only for the disturbing scenes but for the story itself. The idea that someone can use someone’s deepest fears against them is terrifying. And for many viewers, some of the scenes involving locked spaces, drowning, or being buried alive in this Criminal Minds episode were quite horrifying.

19
“The Tall Man” Included Some Jump Scares that Could Haunt Viewers
Season 14, Episode 5

“The Tall Man” is one of the creepiest Criminal Minds episodes, with a storyline revolving around the legend of the “Tall Man” in the woods. Reminiscent of the internet urban legend Slender Man, “The Tall Man” sees a group of three teenage girls going to the woods to look for the legendary “Tall Man,” only to find more than what they were looking for.

“The Tall Man” includes a few jump scares and disturbing imagery that will probably scare more than one viewer. From the girls’ screams to the disturbing flashback scenes to that night in the woods, “The Tall Man” is a Criminal Minds episode that feels more like a horror film than a procedural drama.

18
“Children of the Dark” Involved Scary Home Invasions
Season 3, Episode 4

Ervin Robles, one of the unsubs from Criminal Minds, looks shy and scared

Some of the scariest Criminal Minds episodes deal with crimes that could happen to anyone, bringing the horror closer to home. “Children of the Dark” centers around two unsubs who used to live together in a foster home and share deep trauma from the experience. As adults, they take their revenge on innocent families in a gruesome way.

“Children of the Dark” is not only scary due to the chilling home invasions that could haunt any viewer, but due to the dark reveal in the end. The abuse the children had to go through at the foster home is horrifying, and this Criminal Minds episode is one that might stay with viewers long after its over.

17
“Mr. Scratch” Turned Lewis into a Monster from Nightmares
Season 10, Episode 21

Drawing of the monster Mr. Scratch in Criminal Minds

“Mr. Scartch” introduced one of the most iconic killers in Criminal Minds. Peter Lewis was a serial killer by proxy who eventually targeted the BAU, but before Lewis became one of the darkest villains of Criminal Minds, he was introduced in an episode from Season 10. “Mr. Scratch” follows a complicated investigation, where the unsub seems to be turning victims into killers.

Peter Lewis used a cocktail of drugs to make his victims hallucinate, and some of the scenes the victims saw while under the effects of these drugs were some of the most disturbing in Criminal Minds. “Mr. Scratch” not only scared viewers because of how easy it was for Peter Lewis to make his victims commit horrifying crimes, but the monster the victims saw and heard while under the effects of Lewis’ drugs is one that might appear in many viewers’ nightmares afterward.

16
“Legacy” Features An Unsub Reminiscent of Horror Icons like Jigsaw
Season 2, Episode 22

A suspect in Criminal Minds episode "Legacy" hold against an SUV by Derek Morgan

“Legacy” might not have as many jump scares as horror films, but it definitely feels up to par with some iconic horror films like Saw and the Canadian classic Cube. In this Criminal Minds episode, the unsub targets homeless people and sex workers, and kidnaps them before putting them through hell. And what makes this episode even more scary, is that the local police officers don’t seem to take the disappearances seriously because of the nature of the victims.

The unsub in “Legacy,” locks his victims in giant warehouses where he makes them go through different rooms, each with a creepy and scary obstacle so that they can’t escape. The unsub’s latest victim, Maggie, tries to survive and escape as she finds herself barefoot in a basement, and later moves on to a room full of sharp broken glass, or another where she sees the brutal murder of a homeless man on a projection. “Legacy” is one of the creepiest episodes of Criminal Minds that can easily hold up next to some classic horror films.

15
“To Hell… and Back” Had One of the Highest Body Counts of Criminal Minds
Season 4, Episodes 25 & 26

Agent Prentiss finds several shoes from the killers' victims in Criminal Minds

There is something inherently creepier about episodes of Criminal Minds that borrow from real-life events, and “To Hell… and Back” is the perfect example of that. The BAU are on the hunt for a serial killer in Canada, and before long, they are led to some farmland owned by a man who they discover, upon arrival at the farm, is bedbound and paralyzed. Convinced they’re in the wrong place, they search the property nonetheless, and Derek Morgan discovers a huge container filled with shoes.

Spencer Reid then puts forward a theory that the shoes do belong to murder victims, but with pigs being omnivores, it’s unlikely that they’ll find any bodies. Eventually, it becomes clear that the suspect had managed to talk his brother, who suffers from learning difficulties, into committing the crimes. The harrowing discovery of the personal effects of around 100 victims left a sour taste in viewers’ mouths, and the dynamic between the two murderous siblings made “To Hell… and Back” one of the creepiest Criminal Minds episodes.

14
“The Boogeyman” Turned a Child Into an Unsub
Season 2, Episode 6

A ghost child turns towards the camera in Criminal Minds

Though they are adored in normal life, the inclusion of children in shows like Criminal Minds dials up the creep factor to an 11 right from the off. “The Boogeyman” centers on child murders in a small town in Texas. Though the investigation starts off by focusing on a stereotypical hermit named Joseph Finnegan, it soon becomes clear that he has passed away from a heart attack, and the team instead needs to take a closer look at a 12-year-old named Jeffrey Charles.

Played admirably by Cameron Monaghan, Charles realized Finnegan was dead and used the hermit’s house as a base to do those terrible things to other children his age. The introduction of an unsub who has such a desperately sad childhood and remains so young is particularly jarring and ends up giving the whole episode the same vibe as a movie like Orphan.

13
“The Uncanny Valley” Makes the Audience Sympathize With the Unsub
Season 5, Episode 12

It must be an objective fact by this point that porcelain dolls designed to be played with at pretend tea parties are an inherently frightening thing. Replace those dolls with full-sized, immobile, but still very much alive human beings, and it becomes another thing entirely. That’s the basic premise of “The Uncanny Valley,” as a nurse with deep-seated issues starts to kidnap people and turn them into living dolls to play with.

Criminal Minds does a great job of turning the unsub into a sympathetic figure by the end. As it turns out, the nurse is seeking to recreate these scenes from her childhood because she was assaulted by her father. He becomes the real villain in this emotionally draining storyline, making “The Uncanny Valley” also one of the creepiest Criminal Minds episodes.

12
“Lucky” Made Morgan Face His Unresolved Issues With Religion
Season 3, Episode 8

Morgan interrogating a priest and showing the priest pictures of a crime in the episode Lucky in Criminal Minds

The population at large seems to have a fascination with killers who go a step further and cannibalize their victims, as Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story will attest. Criminal Minds Season 3’s “Lucky” takes this grisly premise a step further and presents the audience with a sadistic killer who is obsessed with feeding his victims to as many unknowing victims as possible.

Aside from the obvious gore and horrifying story, it really is an episode that leans into horror tropes well and is arguably all the better for it. The unsub/antagonist is one of the standout performances from the entire third season, and the ending is as unexpected as it is upsetting. Arguably one of the best Criminal Minds episodes ever, “Lucky” is not one to miss for any fan of the series.

11
“Proof” Kept the Horror Within Family Members
Season 7, Episode 2

Aaron Hotchner staring at a criminal in "Proof" in Criminal Minds

“Proof” happened in Season 7 of Criminal Minds and followed a serial killer who had developmental disabilities. The killer, Ben Bradstone, explained that his disability made him seem non-threatening, so he could easily approach the women he wanted to capture.

Bradstone tortured, abducted, and killed women who looked like his brother’s wife. Eventually, Bradstone’s innocent brother realized that his teen daughter would be the next victim, which kickstarted the BAU’s race to get her to safety. This disturbing Criminal Minds episode featured Bradstone using acid to literally destroy the victims’ senses, as he poured it into their eyes and mouths to deprive them of sight and taste.

10
“The Capilanos” Scared Many Viewers With Killer Clowns
Season 13, Episode 17

Sal Capilano dressed as a clown behind a bed in "The Capilanos" on Criminal Minds

“The Capilanos” played on some fans’ biggest fears and one of the most beloved horror tropes: killer clowns. This episode is one of the scariest Criminal Minds episodes and follows a killer clown who breaks into several houses. However, things get even scarier once one of the unsubs starts killing people.

The episode reveals that two brothers are behind the attacks. However, Tony has no idea that his brother Sal is murdering people. Their initial goal was to get money to move to Florida, but with four people dead, the BAU arrested both brothers. “The Capilanos” is one of Criminal Minds’s more obvious uses of a horror trope and will certainly terrify fans of horror movies like It and Clown Town.

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