What is the scariest type of horror story? Is it demon-possession flicks that include projectile vomiting and 360-degree head turns? Is it a poltergeist picture that highlights the dark history of one’s childhood home? Maybe a creature feature that rips your greatest fears from beneath the earth itself? In its impressive 15 seasons, Supernatural tackled each of these concepts head-on, with varying degrees of success. But there’s one type of horror that stands above the rest as one of the scariest takes on the genre: human horrors. According to Jensen Ackles, the scariest episode of Supernatural doesn’t focus on a band of rabid hellhounds but rather a messed-up family of humans who love death all the same. That episode? The Season 1 classic “The Benders,” and boy is it a doozy.

“The Benders” Is a Terrifying ‘Supernatural’ Horror Story

If you don’t remember “The Benders,” maybe that’s for the best. The episode itself feels like almost a spiritual sequel to the iconic The X-Files episode “Home” (not to be confused with the Supernatural episode of the same name), but with some pretty dark twists that give it its own legs. As Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Ackles) find themselves in Hibbing, Minnesota, they search for a “phantom abductor” that has been kidnapping folks from a local dive bar. Like many Season 1 cases, John Winchester’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) journal sent the boys there, but it’s only after Sam is also abducted that the Winchesters discover that it’s not a demon, ghost, or monster doing the taking but rather an inbred family of hunters who like to hunt human beings for sport. Yeah, it’s that episode.

As Sam works to escape his captivity, Dean gets in trouble with the law, particularly with deputy Kathleen Hudak (Jessica Steen), whose brother was taken years prior. After convincing her to work together, Dean and Kathleen discover that the Bender family has been taking people under the radar for years and consists of four individuals: Pa (John Dennis Johnston), Jared (Ken Kirzinger), Lee (Shawn Reis), and Missy (Alexia Fast). These backwoods serial killers are comparable to the real-life Bloody Benders, a serial killer family who tormented Kansas in the 1870s. To this day, Missy Bender is still one of the scariest antagonists on Supernatural, even compared to the show’s spookiest of demons. “I’ll say it again,” Dean exclaims at the end. “Demons, I get; people are crazy!”

The episode comes to a close after Kathleen is kidnapped alongside Sam, and Dean is forced to come to the rescue. But, things don’t go exactly as planned when Dean, too, is taken by the Benders. The psychotic family gives Dean a choice between Sam and Kathleen, but ultimately, they decide to kill the pair instead. Thankfully, Sam overpowers Lee Bender, and he and Kathleen turn the tables on the serial killers, who quickly become the hunted. Kathleen executes Pa Bender after he reveals that he enjoyed killing her brother, and the Winchesters take out the rest of them before escaping the law themselves. (Though, it’s worth noting that Sam and Dean don’t kill human beings, and thus, the Benders are taken into police custody.)

Jensen Ackles Thinks “The Benders” Is the Show’s Creepiest

In Supernatural’s early years, every episode felt like a 40-minute horror movie. That’s an idea that future guest stars Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr. (who played the Trickster and Chuck Shurley, respectively) would echo in their Supernatural Then and Now rewatch podcast, noting that each episode of the first season feels as if it could’ve carried its own motion picture. “The Benders” certainly falls into this same category, predating similarly-themed movies such as The Hunt and Ready or Not by nearly two decades. It’s no surprise then that, to this day, Jensen Ackles is still creeped out by this episode. “The reason that [“The Benders”] always stuck with me as being pretty scary is because it wasn’t a monster,” the actor told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “It was real people, it was humans doing very bad things.”

Of course, this is why “The Benders” is notable among an action-packed 22-episode first season. While Supernatural was a show still very much trying to find its footing aesthetically, the show’s commitment to being a weekly horror/road show was its biggest trademark from the get-go. But “The Benders” reveals that sometimes the scariest possibility is that there is no evil spirit involved but the human spirit itself. “That for me personally…could be much more real,” Ackles commented further, noting that the episode made far more impact than if the Winchesters had been hunting a Chupacabra (a monster that, ironically, Supernatural never actually ended up tackling). It’s no wonder this one stuck with him over a decade later and continues to be one of the most notable to fans today.

The dingy sets, rustic interiors, moody lighting, and grainy film look (this is back when Supernatural was still shot on film) all contribute to the eerie cadence of “The Benders.” The episode thrives as a horror story because, whatever you believe about the paranormal, it feels like it could really happen. It’s just spookier. Monsters and demons may have their own natural weaknesses, like salt, iron, or even Borax, but human beings are built differently. Sure, a shot through the head or the heart would do the trick (and in some sense, that’s easier), but killing a human being is a far greater weight on the soul than beheading a vampire. Dispatching the Benders also proves a greater challenge because humans are more creative than monsters, with this bunch of killers just as prepared for a hunt as the Winchesters themselves.

‘Supernatural’ Was Always Great at Making Humans the Worst Monsters

Of course, “The Benders” isn’t the only episode of Supernatural to feature a human antagonist behind otherwise seemingly otherworldly happenings, though it was the first. Season 3 revisits this concept in “Time Is On My Side” with the serial killer doctor “Doc Benton” (Billy Drago), who uses his victim’s body parts to Frankenstein himself and prolong his own life. As a result, he’s a bit more supernatural than your average human, but he’s still just a man. But a truly disturbing episode, more in step with “The Benders,” came in Season 4 with “Family Remains.” This is by far one of Supernatural’s scariest hours, as a normal ghost hunt turns into something more sinister when it’s revealed that evil spirits aren’t involved at all, but rather two inbred siblings living within the walls. This episode took what “The Benders” did to new heights and even darker lows, cementing Supernatural as a horror show.

There are plenty of other human villains throughout Supernatural’s long run. The show was never afraid to take a step back from the paranormal to explore the often dark nature of human existence, and whenever it did, we were always a bit more frightened than before. “The Benders” started Supernatural on this trend with a successful first venture into the world of serial killers that felt more like something you might see on an episode of Millennium, and yet the show pulled it off. Penned by prolific early season writer John Shiban (who previously wrote for The X-Files) and directed by “Bloody Mary” director Peter Ellis just before his death in 2006, “The Benders” remains an unforgettable episode of Supernatural that takes Sam and Dean (and the audience) entirely out of their comfort zone. No wonder Jensen Ackles is still spooked by it.

Source: collider.com

By Ivaylo Angelov

Ivaylo Angelov born in Bulgaria, Varna graduated School Geo Milev is Tvserieswelove's Soaps Editor and oversees all of the section's news, features, spoilers and interviews.