Fear: Imagination vs. Reality

Fear: Imagination vs. Reality

Do you remember the last time you were truly and utterly… scared?

What I find so captivating about fear is the complexities of the emotion itself. There are literally millions of reasons we experience fear. Whether it be a sense of danger, hopelessness, job security, or something as mundane as fearing to lose a game or even a high-school break-up.

Since this is #SpookySeason, and October is perennially associated with horror films, let’s dive in and explore a few main types of fear in film.

Power of the Mind

Source: New Line Cinema/Smart Egg Pictures

From the very sparks of toddler thought, we find our very own thoughts get the better of us. Truly fantastical and supernatural cinema such as A Nightmare On Elm Street, Phantasm, Suspira, or Hellraiser presents to us a whole new world where those thoughts are toyed with creating a profound effect on us.

Masterful storytelling and execution of these horrifying sets are what truly engrosses us as the audience, but a part of that connection is our very own imagination.

Filmmakers like Wes Craven or Dario Argento can weave their way into our senses and influence what we think we saw or felt. The right perspective or cinematic “push” can suspend our beliefs in a such a way that we get lost in these magical terrors. It may never happen to us in real life, but who wouldn’t be shuddering at the thought of a powerful specter haunting you in your defenseless sleep?

It Could Happen

Source: Rogue Pictures/Intrepid Pictures

Whether it’s the chillingly brutal home invasion of The Strangers or the gritty documentary-like feel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), sometimes it’s the simpler and more minimalist style of cinema that can send chills down our spines. There’s no ghosts, no lavish monsters, or a sense of dreamlike surrealism in these pictures.

What drives the fear factor in these films is its sense of realism and the dreadful thought of what could happen to me.

Source: Dimension Films

Due to its “meta” self-aware script and comedic moments, Scream may not be at the very top of people’s lists of realistic horror, but for a young kid watching it in 1996, I was truly terrified by the thought.

The idea that a couple of kids could just snap and decide to massacre their classmates is one that hits a little too close to home especially in this current day and age. It took awhile for me to mature and understand the scariest part that most probably don’t even flinch at–the killer’s response to the final girl proclaiming they have “seen one too many movies.”

Best of Both Worlds

Source: A24/PalmStar Media

Sometimes the very best horror films can offer you both types of fear by showing you something fantastical or supernatural in a realistic way. This very idea is what made the Paranormal Activity series (and found footage film in general) so popular and why Hereditary scared me to death.

Ari Aster’s deeply unsettling horror tale of a haunted family is, personally, the scariest film I have ever seen. A lot of what makes it work is not so much what is shown but how the film makes me feel. Its hypnotic cinematography, haunting score, and ominous sense of dread sends my senses to a place where this ghostly nightmare truly can be a reality.

Different Strokes

Source: 20th Century Fox/Harvey Bernhard Pictures

Horror films are 100% an acquired taste.

Some folks can’t get enough. Some can’t stand them. And even some people unfortunately don’t like being scared. It’s a form of escapism that, suffice it to say, is not for the faint of heart.

However, like it or not, one thing audiences should learn to appreciate is the sheer raw power that some of the great horror films achieve whether it is done with its dynamic out of this world nightmares or slow building real world tension.

It is a type of cinema that can effect us in a completely different way than any others. When was the last time a film truly scared you? Which style do you prefer? Which ever you choose, here’s to the dark side of movie magic.


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Aspiring writer/director as well as a budding journalist. Been geeking out my entire life but have been analyzing film on a more serious level for nearly 18 years. Pick my brain on Twitter! @marsellusdurden
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