Real Life Fear in Horror

Posted: September 17, 2014 in horror

Horror is about fear. Whether it is movies, books, art, something is classified as horror if it creates or references fear. It calls to reason, then, that when a piece of horror hits one of your true, real life fears, it is more effective. Expertly crafted horror will call up the proper emotions and responses regardless of the fears with which the audience comes in. If horror is done right, it will be upsetting and terrifying whether you fear the elements in real life or not. That being said, if you come into the viewing/reading/etc. already primed with an existing fear or phobia, half of the work is done, and the horror is able to simply build on the groundwork already laid out in your mind. Plus your responses are most likely going to be more intense coupled with genuine existing emotions.

So with that idea in mind, let us tour my own real life fears and the horror that exploits them just a little. I have a laundry list of fears, phobias, and general dislikes enough to classify me as a bit neurotic; however, these accelerants are what make me enjoy horror so much. Horror is able to affect me gravely because it can latch on to so many dark corners already hiding in my mind. The adrenaline is real; the high is higher; the relief is addictive.


I hate small spaces. For me, this is a physical and biological fear. Sure, in theory I can talk about small spaces and see small spaces, but when I am crammed in and my arms are pinned against me, it is my body that reacts. Given enough empathy and stimulation, even the representation of these small spaces in horror is enough to quicken my breathing, accelerate my pace, get me sweating. It is that feeling of being physically trapped that terrifies me. I would even get that burning in my limbs as a child when my father would pin me down when we wrestled, and suddenly, I would be no longer giggling and howling to be released. Like I said, I hate small spaces.

Two movies immediately come to mind when I think of claustrophobia. The Descent and As Above So BelowThe Descent  would have scared the hell out of me on collapsing caves alone, save the devolved, murderous humanoids. When the women were shimmying through constricted cave tunnels, I was quivering in my seat, feeling the dust rocks pressing against me from all sides. As Above So Below is not much different; however, the experience is amplified as the movie is filmed in the shaky hand first person camera style made famous by The Blair Witch Project. While that approach made me severely nauseous, the gritty and disorientating filming also made it feel all the more realistic. I actually caught myself breathing through one scene where a character was stuck in a confined passage. I empathized so much and was so engrossed in the movie that I physically reacted to the idea of being trapped in that small space in the catacombs.



OK, so many I don’t hate heights enough to call it a phobia. Maybe not even enough to call it a legitimate fear. Let’s just say that heights make me very uncomfortable. This is definitely more true in real life, when I am actually confronted with standing at the top of said height. I can deal with heights in a way I cannot with confined spaces. I can acclimate to them and cautiously make my way through the time spent near them. I don’t have the overwhelming physical reaction that I do to my claustrophobia.

Nonetheless, a good piece of horror that includes heights will still be accentuated by my discomfort with them. This really only works for visual horror (TV, movies) since heights are largely a visual experience. Even if I read a gripping scene with vivid detail, I doubt it would conjure the anxiety in my chest that actually seeing the distance (albeit on a flat TV or movie screen) does.

Most height-related movies do not so much fall into the horror genre. I even watched A Lonely Place to Die, anticipating to see horror with a heights element only to be disappointed when it dwindled more into a suspense thriller. However, the first half of the movie, where the characters discover a kidnapped girl while mountain climbing and are them hunted by her captors, was definitely more within the horror genre and did include heights. Somehow, a chase scene is just more exciting when it includes a sheer cliff.



Well, hell, they made a movie by this title for a reason. Spiders creep me out, literally, with all their wriggly little legs and segmented bodies. When I lived in Tennessee (briefly), my partner and I once came across a spider that seemed nearly supernatural. This awful thing would climb up its web to drop down at you in assault. It would also attempt to swing in at us on the thin thread from which it dangled menacingly.  It seemed entirely immune to the barrage of poison my partner desperately sprayed on it. Picture, if you will, two full grown adults shrieking and carrying on at the mercy of this eight-legged demon. Terrifying. The spider finally did meet its end when my partner beat it to death very effectively with a shoe, yet that night haunts us both.

Arachnophobia was not a quality movie. It was actually pretty awful, as a horror movie and simply as a movie. Yet it still scared me. As a child, it pumped me full of a stream of nightmares; as an adult, it still crawls under my skin. It would just be another crappy movie if it did not hit so squarely on my real fear of spiders.


Home Invasion

Like most women, I have been conditioned to fear and avoid home invasion. We close our blinds, lock our doors, vary our routines. All practices to avoid someone breaking into our home as we sleep. All people in our culture may not fear such an event, but surely we all work to avoid it. That is why there are locks on our doors and why alarm systems are so plentifully installed. I have more than once imagined hearing someone outside my window or been duped by a cat shifting in my house. The fear is triggered easily.

Home invasion has become its own subgenre in horror, most likely because it is such a widely established fear. It provides a large target audience. The most recent home invasion horror I saw was You’re Next, which I loved. It began on a normal home invasion premise, masked psychos breaking into homes and killing the residents; however, it then takes an unexpected divergence (no spoilers). The home invasion element did truly exploit my real fear of it until the movie transitioned away from it. Then I could appreciate the horror for unrelated quality.


Human Nature

I actually wrote my entire book (Savages) about the fear of human nature. The apocalypse subgenre of horror seems to be absolutely exploding these days, and every apocalyptic story ultimately ends up examining human nature, usually unfavorably. For myself, I fear the savages we are at heart and that would be exposed once all creature comforts and society were removed. The Walking Dead is no different with its slogan of Fight the Dead. Fear the Living. We all know what we have lurking deep down within us; it is terrifying to consider that actually being unleashed.


What real life fear of you is amplified by a piece of horror?

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