Hulu recently added the complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series to its expansive library, and of course, my mind went straight to my favorite Monster of the Week episodes. For better or worse, I love Monster-of-the-Week episodes, mainly because they are self-contained stories. I particularly appreciate that they are heavy on action and light on interpersonal drama, which has a penchant for getting thick in Sunnydale normally. So, without further exposition, let’s talk about our 13 favorite monsters!
13 – Sunnydale High Swim Team (Go Fish, S2E20)
The first two seasons of Buffy used tons of monster tropes from the 1940s and 50s, often turning the concepts on their heads, and Go Fish was no exception: sea monsters and Soviet science projects! The swim coach and school nurse are inadvertently transforming the team into gill men, and of course Xander is the one member of the Scooby Gang that almost gets mutated. Not the first or last time the poor guy got used like a ragdoll by the writers. For example…
12 – Miss French (Teacher’s Pet, S1E4)
Who didn’t have a crush on that one teacher in high school? My English teacher, who will remain unnamed, was one such object of teenage affections, though I don’t think she was actually a 7-foot-tall praying mantis. As with Go Fish, this episode took liberties with a couple of 1950s horror tropes in the best possible ways. Dangers of sex, horny teens ignoring that internal voice telling them they’re going to get eaten by the substitute teacher, and a nice little gotcha ending, though it irks me that the remaining egg was never brought back in a later episode.
11 – The Gentlemen (Hush, S4E10)
I know, I know, Hush is the second-best Buffy episode ever (behind Once More… With Feeling), so why is it so low on this list?? As much as I like the episode, I don’t love the creature design of the Gentlemen. Maybe it’s Slenderman oversaturation, or too many poorly-written creepypastas about grinning monsters, but it doesn’t exactly send chills up my spine. Regardless, the episode is fantastic, disturbing in its lack of sound, and deserved every award it received.
10 – The Bezoar (Bad Eggs, S2E11)
Similar in theme to Teacher’s Pet, but with much creepier monsters, Bad Eggs follows the gang as they pretend their monster eggs are babies, get their energy sucked out of their faces while they sleep, then get full-on controlled by the gross little beasts before Buffy takes a pickaxe to the mother Bezoar’s eye. I know this episode got me to practice safe sex, so I think it did its job.
9 – Hyena people (The Pack, S1E6)
Poor Xander. Never accepted by his high school brethren, except when they’re killer ghosts, mantis ladies or possessed by wild animals. I like the idea of the Pack, but some of the acting is pretty wooden, even with an added first-season handicap (because really, most of Season 1’s acting is atrocious). I also dig that the Pack was an actual threat – I mean, they ate the school mascot AND Principal Flutie! This was also an early example of how the writers weren’t shy about knocking off main and second-tier characters. What of the 4 teenagers who committed murder and cannibalism, and ran off when the possession was lifted? Xander remembered everything he did, so I’m assuming the others did too. That fact makes this one way darker.
8 – Ronnie/Sluggoth demon (Beneath You, S7E2)
By the last couple seasons, the Monster of the Week episodes were few and far between, so it was refreshing to get one so early in Buffy’s final season. Even if Ronnie was just turned into a Graboid by a re-vengeanced Anya, and there’s a lot of dramatic interludes between the estranged Scooby Gang, the creature subplot stands out in an otherwise drama-heavy season.
7 – Ted (Ted, S2E11)
Let’s ignore the more depressing later Joyce Summers episodes and bask in the glory of her robot suitor, John Ritter. A good chunk of Buffy episodes include a level of ambiguity around her seeing evil when it’s just human nature, but it usually turns out she’s right. I guess that’s the downside (or perk, maybe?) of living on a Hellmouth – if something appears sinister, it probably is. This is another episode that harkens back to the 1950s, so of course it pleases me. And come on, it’s got John Ritter!
6 – Gachnar (Fear, Itself, S4E4)
My favorite of the Buffy Halloween episodes! Fear, Itself boasts a haunted house, somebody ELSE turning invisible (sorry Xander), a 4”-high Cenobite wannabe, and an introduction to Anya’s crippling bunny phobia. This might be the most fun-filled episode on the list, but there are still a few more nastiest left.
5 – Der Kindestod (Killed by Death, S2E19)
Remember earlier when I said creepy smiles don’t bug me? I take it back; Der Kindestod is terrifying. Look at that mug and tell me you’d be okay waking up with that staring down at you. Did I mention he sucks your life force through retractable eye-stalks? Eeeeuuuugh. I was pretty relieved when Buffy snapped his neck.
4 – Queller (Listening to Fear, S5E9)
One of 2 lamprey-type monsters featured in the show (and this list), the Queller wiggled out of a meteorite and went bonkers around town, feeding on Sunnydale’s mentally unstable hospital population. Even Buffy’s mom got a faceful of demon phlegm. Not my preferred method of shuffling off this mortal coil, but to each his or her own.
3 – Gnarl (Same Time, Same Place, S7E3)
Gnarl is disgusting. One little scratch from his gross coke-nail and you’re paralyzed, a stationary buffet of skin for him to peel off strip by strip. The creature design plus his peculiar feeding habits solidifies this one’s spot near the top of the list. While it might have been nice to have another go-round with this creep, it’s probably for the best (and my sleep cycle) he only made it 40 minutes into a 45 minute show.
2 – Wig Lady (Doublemeat Palace, S6E12)
While I’d admit that she’s less disturbing than Gnarl, the Wig Lady from Season 6’s Doublemeat Palace is my all-time favorite Monster of the Week. This is partially due to the surprise reveal and creature design, but I’m also a terrible sucker for Soylent Green tropes and, ahem, eat that sort of thing up. Doublemeat is double-sweet!
1 – Glarghk Guhl Kashma’nik demon (Normal Again, S6E17)
And for the #1 slot, the criminally-overlooked demon from the mind-bending Normal Again. I can see why, though: its creature design is similar to the Polgara demon from Season 4 (which also sported an extendable bone-like stinger in its arm), and the episode itself turns the entire show inside out, depending on your interpretation. The crux of the story is whether Buffy’s entire life as Slayer, fighting demons and saving the world, is a delusion she has chosen over life as a patient in a mental hospital. It’s never implicitly stated which version is “real,” but the moment she says farewell to her mother and chooses the Slayer-verse is a major tearjerker. The monster doesn’t need to be incredibly memorable, because the point of the episode is which life is real, and whether Buffy chose the right one.
So, do you agree with this list? Who were your favorite Buffy monsters? Sound out below!