What Scares You?

When I say scared I’m not talking about existential worries about global warming or being made redundant, valid as they are. No, I mean physical sensory fear when faced with the uncanny.

Some people are not afraid of ghosts, but I once knew a person who couldn’t sleep at night because he was convinced his wardrobe was some kind of paranormal hiding place.

My fear is not far off, to be honest. If I were to say I’ve never seen the Exorcist, you’d start to get an idea where I’m coming from. Supernatural activity in the home freaks me out more than anything.

The ghostly photographs that make me shiver are those you sometimes see of the family gathering in the dining room, and there in the background looking in from the hallway is the ghost of Aunty Irene. Domestic intrusion troubles me; the one safe haven we all have, our own home, becoming victim to danger, disturbance, uncanniness or simple unease.

It’s the familiarity; the possibility that ‘it could happen here.’ I don’t live in a castle or a monastery or a ruined Gothic pile. I can run away from something hiding in the woods (run home), but where do you run when your own house has a doppelganger or an evil spirit?

The iconic image of Father Karras standing outside the home of Chris MacNeil conjures a sense of dread, of unrest so appalling and made worse by the fact the disturbance is in a normal house inhabited by a normal family.

Having read pre-release interviews for Deliver Us From Evil I was apprehensive about the subject matter of that film: demonic possession and the real life cases that inspired the film. Eventually it turned out to be a disappointment. The Exorcist might be the same, but I’m not sure I want to take that chance.

When I was young there were all kinds of rumours surrounding the Exorcist. People driven insane was a popular myth. Over the years I’ve caught clips and snatches of the film, and the scenes of Linda Blair with her head rotating and scuttling down the stairs back to front look disgusting. Disgustingly worrying.

It could happen anywhere, to anyone, including me. I don’t want to think about it. I shouldn’t have written this post. I don’t know what’s waiting for me when I get home tonight.

What creeps you out?

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14 thoughts on “What Scares You?

  1. Anyone who hasn’t seen The Exorcist should watch it ASAP. It’s very scary, for one, but more importantly the craft just demands to be viewed and appreciated. I find it almost laughable how many scores of times it’s been copied, ripped off, rebooted (etc.) with absolutely no respect for the original’s style and execution. In terms of demonic possession films, there’s William Freidkin’s Exorcist, and then there’s everything else.

    As per your question, I’d say my worst fear (and thus what I relate to most in horror films) are psychological, paranoia-driven films where the protagonist is potentially the antagonist. I fear the monsters within ourselves, in other words. You make an excellent point that our ability to project ourselves into the would-be frightening scenario on-screen is imperative in determining how scary a movie actually is. What’s more scary than a home-invasion or haunting you ask? I’d say the invasion of evil within one’s own mind.

    The Babadook (2014) is a great example of this. There is no external tormentor, corporeal or otherwise. The monstrosity is within our main character, our cinematic POV. What’s scarier to Dr. Jekyll than Mr. Hyde? While you can run away and physically fight stalkers and slashers, and to some extent gather crucifixes or recruit priests to your aide for demons, there’s no external remedy or escape for a personal heart of darkness.

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    1. You make a good point about internalised ‘hauntings.’ I often find realistic portrayals of insanity to be uncomfortable to watch. It’s a condition we’re all prone to as humans, and good purveyors of ghost and horror stories know how to plant a seed of dread within our imaginations. They know how potent the mind is at creating horrors that aren’t really there and how long lasting they can be after the apparent threat has receded.

      And I suspect that’s another reason why I’m not sure I want to see The Exorcist. For all its craft and its storytelling, I know it’ll leave a trace in my memory and it’ll be there forever. Short of having a lobotomy, there’ll be no going back once the deed has been done.

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  2. Growing up, The Exorcist was the scariest movie I’d ever watches. I still get goosebumps when watching that scene at the door. The music lends to the creepiness. Years ago, I picked up the score and even to this day, I can’t listen to it without getting the shivers. Thanks. Now I have to watch a cartoon to shake me out of the horror running through my mind.

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  3. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the movie The Exorcist, but I rather enjoyed the book several decades ago. It was interesting. Fiction that seriously scared me was (probably still is) a story called The Willows by Algernon Blackwood. It was the vagueness of the supernatural element that was terrifying — not a monster, not a ghost, just another realm impinging on ours in a terrifying way. And in real life, in a situation like walking through a dark space (indoors or out) I can scare myself by thinking about screaming — that the act of screaming will manifest a terror, not the other way around. OK, that’s enough!

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    1. I’d like to see The Exorcist because it is based on a very good story. Maybe I should forget the film and read the book instead.

      And vagueness is a potent element in scariness; when the mind can’t make sense of something and transposes an inexplicable thing into an everyday context, thus turning the everyday into the uncanny!

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  4. I’m with you on The Excorcist. Never seen it, never will. Just thinking about it may cause nightmares. Oddly, I can read about demonic possession but I can’t watch it. Doesn’t make sense but that’s how it is. I’m claustrophobic so things like elevators and underground caves terrify me. Every time I step into an elevator I fear getting stuck. And forget about crawling into a small cave. I’ll pass.

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