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Our Darkest Fears

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | February 15, 2012 | Comments ()


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Everyone's got one. Something that doesn't just creep you out, it doesn't just give you the willies, but rather something that draws forth a visceral sense of dread that's beyond the average jump scare, something more than just the fear of a madman running at you through the house with a knife. Is it scary? Of course. But sometimes there are moments or scenes or themes in movies that touch upon something more personal, more intimate, something that feels more real than any serial killer or monster. It may have no basis in your real life, something that you've never actually encountered, or it may be something at the top of your personal list of hells, or maybe it's just something that terrifies you for reasons you can't even explain.

Well, we're going to try to show you ours. The movies that make our gorges rise, that make us shake and shiver, that make our spinal fluid curdle a little. Try not to use 'em against us, and by all means, feel free to let us in on your darkest fears.

Fire: I'm not afraid of fire. I'm terrified of fire. I don't mean campfires, or using a gas stove, or barbecues. I mean fires that burst out of nowhere, unexpected conflagrations that consume everything you love and slowly reduce your life to cinders. I have a gas heater in one room in my house, and every night before I go to sleep, I stare at the tiny blue flame and a shudder wracks my body. Every. Fucking. Night. I wake up worrying that some small spark or surge will ignite something small and innocuous, and there I'll be, trapped in a house where the fire rages through and I can't get out, the searing heat coming closer and closer and ohhhh, fuck, why did I come up with this idea? Fire scares me because the pain is unbearable, because it ruins and scars and mutilates and kills, and because it's without thought or conscience. It's simply a murderous force of nature that can happen without warning. Whenever I see movies where people are trapped in a room or a house with a looming inferno threatening to burn them to a pile of charred meat, I want to frantically bolt out of the theater into the cool, open air, gasping for breath I don't remember holding in. Oh, shit. I left the stove on, didn't I. GODDAMNIT. --TK


Clowns: There is something immediately unsettling about any thing or being that attempts to force you to feel a certain way. Zooey Deschanel: "You MUST think I am adorable." Early '90s Fabio: "You MUST find me attractive." Clowns: "You MUST find me amusing. Or I will fucking kill you." Clowns exist purely as vessels for an unholy brand of hilarity that can only come from the darkest of places the mind dare go. They dress like Colin Baker as re-imagined by Patricia Fields. They paint their faces with an oversized expression that does not exist in any human reality. And their shoes. Why are their shoes so big? So that they might stomp your faces beneath their soulless soles more easily, that's why. If you are not at the very least alarmed by clowns, then I salute you. And I pray that you drift away peacefully to the last sound you'll ever hear: a horn honking merrily, red noses filling your vision before the blackness descends. --Courtney Enlow


Teeth: They're only supposed to come out once. I have a reoccurring nightmare where my teeth shatter, turn to dust and powder in my mouth, leaving little fragments in my face. Losing your teeth will change the shape of your face. Have you ever tried to eat when you've got a toothache? Especially something cold? It's horrible. Park Chan-wook's Oldboy is in and of itself a pretty disturbing film. And yet the moment that stayed with me, that still makes me cringe to think of it, is when Dae-su, the protagonist, tortures one of the baddies to get information by pulling his teeth out with a claw hammer. I think part of it is seeing the goddamn roots. I could actually feel the root being ripped out of my own mouth watching it. I think it's somehow worse that if he just busted him in the face with a hammer and shattered his teeth. TEEEEEEETH. --Brian Prisco


Scary Puppets: The Dark Crystal. F**k this movie, all right? I can't even watch the embedded clip for fear its contents will burrow into my brain and never leave. I've spent years trying to forget The Dark Crystal, an abomination of a "family" movie featuring the twisted cousins of our beloved Muppets. Was this made during Jim Henson's meth phase? How could he do this to us? Felt puppets of frogs and pigs and funny-looking people are nice, but take one wrong turn and you're headed toward scary Marionette Land, or worse -- Ventriloquist Dummy Territory. But Crystal's creatures? They're from one of the levels of Hell, right next to clowns. The worse are the Skeksis, reptilian, birdlike creatures that peck at each other AND ARE THE DEVIL'S HANDIWORK. Why was I allowed to watch this as a child? Why does my brother still think it's amusing that I'm terrified of these evil puppets? Why, Henson? Why? All copies should be destroyed. Store the ashes of the original film in the Library of Congress so that future generations will know to never again create something so repulsive. --Sarah Carlson


Creepy Kids: Kids are great. Lots of my friends and family have kids now and most of these kids are exactly what kids should be. They're innocent and cute, intentionally and unintentionally funny, smarter than we generally give them credit for, and just generally awesome. But when you take away the cute and innocent, and you strip away the funny, you're left with this beguiling mini-person. This tiny little creature that, more often than not, just wants to fuck your shit up. You know what I'm talking about. From The Bad Seed to We Need To Talk About Kevin, Hollywood loves to give us creepy kids, those little fucking bastards that are up to no damned good. Those twins in The Shining, that omnipotent kid in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son, all of The Village of the Damned, the long-haired well-dweller in The Ring, on and on and on. Seriously, fuck all of them. And the creep isn't limited to evil, as this goes for your little Danny Torrances (The Shining) and Cole "I see dead people" Sears (The Sixth Sense). But the ones who really are evil, your Joshua and, the granddaddy, antichrist of them all, The Omen's Damien Thorn? They freak my shit out to no end. I mean, just look at this clip below. That one little knowing half-smirk, right before he waives to his hell hound. Fuck everything about that. God damn you, Damien Thorn. --Seth Freilich


Possession: It doesn't matter how shitty an exorcism movie is (like the clip below from The Exorcism of Emily Rosem which was not a good movie to say the least), the concept of demonic possession will always have a hold on me. The idea of something else taking total control of your body and you being aware that something is trying to or has taken control of your body is terrifying. That there are forces that medical science can't protect or treat against, powers that will use humans as playthings in an incomprehensible battle, beings which can take over a person body and soul; all of it gives me a wicked case of the willies and leads me to think that maybe I should dig up a couple of those rosaries from back when I was confirmed. And yes, I'm certain being raised Catholic also has something to do with this particular fear. --Genevieve Burgess


Mirrors: Ever since I can remember, I've been more than slightly terrified by the idea of another dimension reflected from within mirrors, and I'm unable to look in a mirror after the sun goes down without feeling a creepy tingle running down my spine. It's an almost crippling fear at times (especially during the winter months when precious little daylight is to be found), and if I absolutely have to use the restroom at night, I try very hard not to look in the mirror. Yes, this is a nonsensical pattern of behavior, but the fear is that I will see a terrifying apparition staring back at me that, naturally, won't be visible within the room itself. More often than not, this fear is mildly stoked in really substandard horror flicks (like 2008's Mirrors); but I think that for me, the source of it all is the Bloody Mary legend that's become a standard slumber party ritual. Hell, after I watched this Paranormal Activity teaser trailer several months ago, I even covered up the mirror in my bedroom. The damn thing still has a blanket over it. -- Agent Bedhead


Lobotomies: Any torture, any violence, any violation, is somehow able to at least theoretically be compartmentalized. They might ravage your body, but they can never have your mind. They might drive you all the way to the grave, they might force you to do all manner of things you despise, but they can't control what you think. Your mind remains sacrosanct. And then the lobotomist comes along, with his ice pick and mallet, with his faceless orderlies to hold your head steady. You're awake of course, no need to waste time and expense when the procedure only takes a moment anyway. You can see your world as it ends, watching the honed steel guided steadily against the corner of your eye. A firm rap of the mallet, and then the rod whipped up and down, shredding the front of your brain. Five thousand years of civilization come to this -- the 20th century figures out how to destroy the mind while preserving the body, using tools that have been around since the cave man. The only visible injury is a black eye that takes a few days to fade. But you are gone. Shut off in a still functioning body. --Steven Lloyd Wilson


Heartbeats: Just about everything in the movie The Shining scares me. But I tell you, amidst the terrifying river of blood that seems to wash over me every time I see it, there's one thing that always sends me over the edge. And it's not even visual, this; it's the sound of the heartbeat. I think everybody gets that as an auditory symbol, and used in the typical context it signals in us feelings of predation and mortality. When I hear the heartbeat in the background of a movie, I know that someone is being stalked, that a life, so carefully metered, is soon to end. But that's just a narrative arrow. In The Shining it's worse, much worse than just that. In this movie where the protagonist is penetrated, possessed by a pitiless madness, the heartbeat is an invitation for us to fall in synch with this alien spirit. As it beats louder and louder, I feel it resonate in my temples, it occupies my head, and then my breathing, my body's rhythm seems to be drawn to its metronome. I feel control slipping away, I feel a change, and like a sailor pulled to the siren's song, I'm falling away, pulled as if by gravity into a dark force for which I, too, will be nothing more than an evil puppet, and that, oh hell, that always scares the shit out of me. --Michael Murray


Cockroaches: When I was 5, a cockroach swam into the bathtub with me. When I was 12, a cockroach crawled across my chest while I was reading in bed one night. When I was 16, a cockroach trundled up my hanging clothes when I opened my closet door. Is there any doubt what kinds of movies/scenes freak me out? I've been terrified of those things since I can remember, and they're some of the creepiest and most disturbing creatures in everyday life. (Plus they can fly, which is beyond horrifying.) I've had a few experiences in the past couple years that called upon me to toughen up and actually kill them when I see them, and I was only able to do that by realizing my hate outweighed my fear and letting adrenaline take me the rest of the way. Deep down, though, they still unnerve me. That's why, to this day, I can't bring myself to watch "They're Creeping Up on You!", the final chapter of 1982's otherwise goofy horror compilation Creepshow. The anthology movie is a cheeseball throwback to classic E.C. Comics and a forerunner of HBO's "Tales From the Crypt," and it's mostly eerie fun and spooky ideas. Yet the final chapter is so unrelentingly scary (to me, anyway) because it's not about ghosts, or monsters, or anything supernatural. It's about bugs, and it's about fear itself. Take a look, if you want. I won't. --Daniel Carlson


Jesus Camp: While it isn't technically a horror movie, Jesus Camp scares the bejeebus out of me. In fact, it's the only movie since I wrapped myself in a cocoon of cynicism at the age of 13 that has left me curled up in a ball, shaking with dread, replacing my warm cocoon with a cold sweat-stained blanket. That isn't hyperbole. I'm sure psychiatrists would have a field day with why the movie affected me so much: I'm from the South, where this kind of belief is less abnormal, if also less extreme, than one might think; I firmly believe in the methods of scientific discovery and peaceful opposition, both of which are flippantly disregarded here; and, maybe the crux of it all, I have family members, young cousins, who aren't even allowed to watch cartoons like "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy" because they're "too evil." See, the kids aren't the scary ones, it's the adults that we have to be afraid of, the ones who want to create their own army of suicide bombers by any means necessary. Because it's real and it hits close to home, nothing has ever frightened me more. Kevin Smith's Red State only wishes it were this visceral and scarring. --Rob Payne


Paranormal Activity: This might sound dumb, but all three Paranormal Activity movies, and to a certain extent, The Blair Witch Project, exemplify my darkest fears. It's not because they're masterful ghost stories, it's because the situations of the characters are so helpless. There is no control. Unlike most horror films, there are no secrets to victory, no exorcisms, no silver bullets, wooden stakes, no blows to the brain. In these films, there's nothing you can do except wait for the inevitable. These supernatural forces don't respond to anything; they just show up while you're asleep, f*ck with your head, and either murder you or drive you to it. You can't even leave the haunted house because it's not the house; it's the person that's haunted. This is what I imagine terminal disease is like: No hope, no escape, just helpless inevitability. It's not a case of if, it's a case of when, and there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. -- Dustin Rowles


Being Cut To Pieces: Slicing flesh, cutting through skin and/or bone (that metallic slicing sound you always hear when it happens onscreen), knives, axes, chainsaws ... I cannot tolerate any of these things. Just hunting down this clip from Scarface terrified me; I played a few seconds to make sure it worked and had to stop it before anything happened. Yes, I know it's only a movie, but I'm that girl -- I cover my eyes or peek through my hands. I can watch people get shot up with guns all day long, but whip out anything that cuts into flesh and I'm a mass of jelly on the floor. If my mind even attempts to wander toward imagining being cut, I must quickly throw out the old mental lasso to wrangle it back, lest I pass out. So even though I love Brina De Palma, Al Pacino and the whole of Scarface there's a self-imposed moratorium on this shit. --Cindy Davis


Bodysnatching: I don't watch tons of horror. My heart hates that feeling of constantly being jolted to attention. But I've seen enough to know that the monster with a familiar face is an extremely popular storytelling technique. From vampires to zombies, any number of terror could show up wearing the shape of a loved one. Then you face the double horror of grieving for your friend and doing away with them at the same time. But of all these heartbreakingly frightening scenarios, none skeeves me more than the Alien Bodysnatching trope. Here's a creature, usually intent on doing you harm, who looks and sounds exactly like someone you know and trust. This particular scenario has played out in countless movies (The Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers, The Faculty, The Astronaut's Wife, Men In Black) and television shows (my favorite episode of "Doctor Who," "Midnight"), but is most effective in John Carpenter's claustrophobic masterpiece, The Thing. The Bodysnatcher Plot plays on both your basic psychological fears (trust issues, paranoia, etc.) and your most fantastical nightmares. When anyone can be your enemy, everyone is. --Joanna Robinson



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