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Top 10 Scariest CGI Effects on TV

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
The scariest CGI effects on TV are also some of the most convincing. Given how frightening these effects are, we’re certainly glad they aren’t real. We're including effects that mixed CGI and practical effects for this list. WatchMojo ranks the scariest CGI effects on TV. Which CGI effect scared you the most? Let us know in the comments!

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We’re just glad these AREN’T real. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top ten scariest CGI effects on TV.

Just do you know, we're including effects that mixed CGI and practical effects.

#10: The Demogorgon
“Stranger Things” (2016-)

Believe it or not, the Demogorgon was mostly practical, as showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer wanted to honor their 80s inspirations. Aaron Sims Creative helped design the monster using a snapping turtle’s mouth as their main reference, and Spectral Motion created an animatronic head and suit. However, the Demogorgon does some truly weird stuff, and the team resorted to CGI for dangerous stunt work and movements that an actor couldn’t physically do. The team also used CGI to “touch up” the creature, adding teeth and giving the suit a wetter, slicker look. This combination of practical effects and CGI work helped create one of the most iconic monsters in modern television.

#9: The Hybrids
“The Expanse” (2015-)

Will we ever learn not to mess with mother nature? “The Expanse’s” Hybrids are terrifying half-human, half-alien creatures with rubbery skin, long claws, and an eerie blue light emitting from their bodies. Their origin makes them even creepier. They were created by infecting kidnapped children with an extraterrestrial agent called “the protomolecule”. The result? Life . . . but definitely not as we know it. Straddling the divide between human and inhuman, the familiar and the unfamiliar, these frightening monsters represent the danger of playing God, and of experimenting recklessly with the unknown.

#8: The Arm
“Twin Peaks” (1990-91; 2017)

Lynch really ramped it up for season three. Not only did we get the hatchling AND the horrifying electrical outlet scene, but we also got the arm. Previously on “Twin Peaks,” the Arm appeared as a little man in a red suit. But the Arm gradually evolved into something straight out of a nightmare, resembling a thin tree with a pink, fleshy mass on top. On set, the actors spoke and interacted with an X on the curtain, and the Arm was added in later via CGI. David Lynch filmed himself speaking the Arm’s lines, and the visual effects team matched the Arm’s mouth with his lip movements.

#7: Leviathans
“Supernatural” (2005-)

“Supernatural” is filled with all sorts of weird ghouls and monsters. But perhaps none are as weird, or as horrifying, as the Leviathans. Even if you’ve never watched the show, you might have seen images of them online. They’re the creepy guys whose entire faces turn into gaping mouths with razor sharp teeth and forked tongues. There’s just something really unsettling about seeing another human’s face turn into a giant mouth, let alone a mouth full of teeth that could rip you open with one chomp. Props to the writers and the visual effects artists, because this is some blood-curdling stuff.

#6: Burned Alive
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (2013-)

Who says Marvel’s violence isn’t graphic? In this surprisingly gruesome scene, Scorch sets fire to the floor and burns a scientist named Debbie to death. We see everything in vivid detail, like Debbie’s blackening skin, burning hair, and gaping, screaming mouth. We also hear her piercing screams through it all. And after that’s done, we see her body literally break apart and disintegrate into a pile of human embers. Yeah, maybe you’ve seen worse, but we’re betting it was a first for at least some younger viewers. This is one of those moments that might show up on future “scenes that traumatized you as a child” lists.

#5: Gas Mask Transformation
“Doctor Who” (1963-89; 2005-)

Speaking of scenes that traumatized us, it’s a good time to bring up that scene in “Doctor Who” episode “The Empty Child” where Doctor Constantine’s face turned into a gas mask! It was a surreal moment of supreme body horror: the respirator slowly emerging from his mouth, and his eyes enlarging to become the mask’s eyeholes. It’s pure nightmare fuel, and it’s probably one of the scariest images in the entire “Doctor Who” canon. Given “Doctor Who’s” questionable record with CGI, it still holds up relatively well today. They really brought out the A-team for this episode, and the show ended up winning the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

#4: Disgusting Werewolf Transformation
“Hemlock Grove” (2013-15)

When it comes to werewolf transformations, few can compete with “An American Werewolf in London.” But “Hemlock Grove” comes pretty darned close. Netflix’s adaptation of McGreevy's 2012 novel used CGI to portray a wolf literally emerging from a human’s body. And yes, it is every bit as revolting as that sounds. We see his eyeballs being squeezed out of his head, claws emerging from his knuckles, and best (or worst) of all, a wolf snout protruding from his torn-open jaw. “Hemlock Grove” threw out the transformation rulebook and gave us something completely new and original. And disgusting. Can’t forget disgusting.

#3: Gus’s Face
“Breaking Bad” (2008-13)

Well, no one was expecting “The Walking Dead” to show up in “Breaking Bad,” but we got it! The “Breaking Bad” producers brought in “The Walking Dead’s” Greg Nicotero and his visual effects team to create the chilling image of Gus’s blown-up face. Greg and Vince Gilligan worked closely to conceptualize the gory image, and the end result was a perfect blend of practical makeup and digital tune-ups. The team then seamlessly combined two different shots – the explosion and the sweeping face reveal – to create one of the most iconic deaths in television history.

#2: The Wight Child
“Game of Thrones” (2011-19)

“Game of Thrones” may have gone on to bigger and better battles, but none are as scary as the Battle of Hardhome. And the creepiest moment of all is arguably when the Wildling Karsi is confronted by a horde of little wight children - including an eyeless, skeletal boy. It’s possibly the most haunting image in the entire show, and it’s made even scarier when the child suddenly moves forward and attacks. In the crowded zombie genre, it’s a unique design that really stands out, showing just how frightening the wights can be. Of course, that weight bear from season seven was also pretty scary. Just not quite as unnerving.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“The X-Files” (1993-2002; 2016-18)

The Tall Man
“The Haunting” (2018-)

Shadow Baby
“Game of Thrones” (2011-19)

The Tiger
“Westworld” (2016-)

The Mind Flayer
“Stranger Things” (2016-)

#1: Twisty’s Mouth
“American Horror Story” (2011-)

For some twisted reason, we all wanted to see what Twisty’s mangled mouth looked like. Some of us regretted that once we actually saw it. Twisty’s unmasking was one of the season’s most blood-chilling moments, especially for those who don’t like gore. It would have taken quite the gifted makeup artist to pull this off, so the team resorted to CGI. In one instance, John Carroll Lynch’s mouth was painted green and the CGI gore mouth was added in post. In another, John’s mouth was covered in motion capture dots and his jaw movements merged with a sculpture. This is CGI work at its best, as it’s not intrusive or overly-obvious - with results that are all too convincing.

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