Fear – Why do unrealistic things scare us?

Last night just before I turned off my phone I was scrolling through Instagram and an advert for a horror movie popped up. It was one of those quick flash ones where you’ve seen what you really didn’t want to see before you can turn it off. So in this case lots of flick images of someone screaming, scary writing and then the boy, the ventriloquist dummy sat on the bed. Technically I didn’t see anything scary but as I was lying in bed that night suddenly all I could think of was the dummy. In my mind it was standing in my dark bedroom just looking at me. I thought I’d just switch the light on but suddenly fear gripped me and I could visualise myself turning the light on and it was just sat there, head tilted looking at me. My imagination took over as I switched my light on quickly and turned it off only to think that maybe it had moved to the bedside table. Then did I feel it touching my hair. It was absolutely ridiculous but instead of feeling too scared to sleep I started writing up an article in my head about why it made me so scared, I hadn’t seen anything particularly terrifying so why had it affected me like that. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder is irrational fear be in the mind of the viewer.

This morning in the light of day it feels silly, though I can still remember the fear that I was feeling. But the more I thought about it I wondered why a few quick flashes of a horror movie had affected me quite so much? Perhaps it’s to do with the connotations of the dummy. It’s a distorted perception of reality, it feels close to being a human without actually being human. It requires a person to move it so is that why it feels so terrifying when it moves on it’s own. Perhaps it’s the blood red lips that smile so eerily and creepily at you. Or the connotations in the mind that the screaming from those few clips is related to this thing and therefore it is something to be feared.

Your mind can play tricks on you, it can make you see things that aren’t there and film makers in the horror industry or simply in a movie where fear is included (such as a dramatic chase sequence, someone at the door scenario) use this to great effect it’s a fear of the unknown yet at the same time a fear of the known. Dolls are a favourite childhood toy yet when you are older how is it that it can suddenly develop fear around it. Is this because that as you get older you learn more about things and take in more information, surely not as this would make you more sensible and you would see that is wasn’t at all practical or realistic. A doll or dummy couldn’t’ come to life so why does it strike such fear into us. Of course I’m not saying everyone is scared of something like that but for horror movie producers to continually use such things in their movies it shows it does generate fear.

Maybe it brings back childhood fears. I remember I used to read the goosebumps series when I was little, it was pretty scary stuff especially reading under the duvet with a torch late into the night when you felt the only one awake in the world. I passed them onto my sister who picked unfortunately ‘The Night of the Living Dummy’ she was very young and enjoyed it. But it was after she’d finished the book that the fear really hit. She was terrified that it was going to be there in the room with her. And her fear was contagious (though I hadn’t read that one) the bits she’d mentioned had me feeling pretty terrified too.

“They tap into that fear we have of things that are attempting to be but are not human.”

Andrew Weaver sums it up very well, ““When you leave it up someone’s imagination, we can conjure things that can frighten us much better or effectively than what most filmmakers can invent and put onscreen,””

So there is fear in the unknown, and it’s in the unknown that the mind takes over, linking things together, drawing back into your childhood, into your deepest fears, spinning them all together with your imagination, fears and worries until you feel wrapped in a pretty paralysing web. From a movie point of view it feels important to leave out certain details and leave it to the viewers imagination. There’s a dark shadow in the hallway. Don’t immediately have them pull their hood down and see a scary looking guy. Why not just keep the hood up. A character thinks of a terrible event that happened to them, give them glimpses of memories but never actually spell the whole thing out.

“Fear is a funny thing. It can take over our minds and make us believe danger is imminent even when we are perfectly safe. It can supercharge our emotions until we’re almost blinded by what we believe to be a very valid state of mind. It can hold a lot of power—but only if you allow it to. Difficult as it might be to see sometimes, we have more control over our fears than we let on. It’s often easier to give into them, to let them take over, but we have the power to take back our own minds, directing our attention back to what’s rational and true. Obviously the fear I’ve discussed here isn’t a major one (or a rational one), but it shows how a small thing can gradually manifest itself into a big thing if you don’t make an effort to conquer the fear.”




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