This is the stuff so horrifying that it can give people the creeps for years. This scares the pants off of just about anyone to the author/creator's delight. This makes you shrink in the back of your chair (or maybe even hide behind the sofa
), look over your shoulder, and remind yourself that what's going on is (usually) only fictional.
For many horror
films, achieving this effect is the whole point (and many in-universe examples arise because Kids Shouldn't Watch Horror Films
). For some reason
, many of us like to be scared on purpose. There may be a euphoria generated by surviving something that seems scary, or maybe we know that fiction can't hurt us (not physically, anyway) and the idea of choosing to be scared without the danger is fun. Some think it's cathartic or therapeutic in some way to explore our fears from a position of relative safety. In any case, this is normal for the genre. Others are fascinated by the very things that most people avoid
. Occasionally, it overlaps with Squick
Similarly, some Public Service Announcements
choose to employ terrifying imagery in order to keep people away from doing dangerous things
. These can be sources of Fridge Horror
as well, as those from different cultures or eras past can demonstrate some intensely creepy Family Unfriendly Aesops
On the other hand, Nightmare Fuel doesn't exist just in the horror genre and is not always the main focus of the films and shows in which it is present. In the case of such movies and shows where Nightmare Fuel or anything related to horror is far from the norm, it can be unsettling when it does occur due to the stark contrast
, especially if the genre of the film or show is far from horror, such as comedy or animation, or when in a show with a very specific target demographic
Experiences may vary from person to person. Some people, for example, may find the invasion of monstrosities which are treated as benign to be a far more terrifying prospect than things which we need to explicitly fear. Think the difference between the monster who lives under your bed when you're grown up versus the monster who lives under your bed and fist-bumps your parents
when you were a young child.
This is an Audience Reaction
, so leave it on YMMV and Nightmare Fuel tabs and don't get too worked up about what specifically goes into it — what's Nightmare Retardant
for one person may well be Nightmare Fuel for another.
Some examples of things that are generally Nightmare Fuel include — but are not limited to — the following:
- Surreal sequences, usually animated. Surreal due to the Uncanny Valley.
- The most evil character with no redeeming values whatsoever.
- Extreme violence and deaths.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Seeing the poor victim get savaged in gory detail can have one cringing in fear.
- The disgusting images associated with Nausea Fuel.
- Unsettling body structures, human or not.
- Nightmare Sequence, disturbing dream sequences and hallucinations straight out of a nightmare.
- Horrifically mutated, distorted, injured, or... unreal faces.
- Paranoia Fuel — when things that should be harmless, or on your side, turn nasty.
- Primal Fears: possibly the most universally frightening of the mix; stuff that generally everyone gets the creeps from. Includes but is not limited to:
- Adult Fears. Those things children seldom worry about: economic failure, romantic failure, watching helplessly as your children die, or possibly even The End of the World as We Know It.
- Transformation Sequences with plenty of Body Horror, including Chest Bursters.
- Rotting corpses, possibly reanimated.
- Diseases. They have no intelligence to bear anyone ill will, but once an infection/outbreak occurs, the attack will never stop until they are completely annihilated... or their victims are.
- Mutilation of specific body parts, such as the eyes, face, fingers, teeth, genitalia, or even worse than those injuries.
- Fates so horrific one can only wish for death. Being turned into stone, being trapped in another dimension, being encased in a tomb for eternity, or being forcefully made into a machine without consent
- A sexual or romantic obsession with someone that goes too far.
- The incredible depravity and monstrosity of human beings at their absolute worst.
- Psychotic behavior presented in a disturbingly childish, calm, or serene manner, alluding to the potential inhumane nature of the individual.
- Former heroes committing completely reprehensible acts both willingly or worse unwillingly.
- Surreal monsters and Eldritch Abominations that have horrific appearances.
- Soundtrack Dissonance, when used correctly, can make a scene extremely horrifying.
- Being pregnant with an Eldritch Abomination or other evil entity, or your child becoming one of these things.
- Losing all reason or willpower to continue living.
- A totalitarian authority of any kind so harsh that one wishes to die or escape from it.
- A Crapsack World so vast and immutable that revolution, change, or even escape is a laughable impossibility.
- Death and destruction.
- Being inside a living creature.
- Consumption of people as food. Wanna take that many steps even further?
- Having your mind played with, be it wiping your memory out, Mind Control, brainwashing, re-enacting past horrific events, invasion of your thoughts, or whatever else comes to mind.
- Being hunted AND chased endlessly.
- Disturbing noises. And by extension, disturbing voices.
- Think you're safe behind the Fourth Wall because it is Fiction? THINK AGAIN!
- Oh, and taxes.
Tropes used to invoke this feeling are Horror Tropes
. Tropes about
fear are Fear Tropes
. If it is unintentionally
scary, it's Accidental Nightmare Fuel
. If it is meant to scare but fails to deliver, and becomes hilarious instead
, it devolves into Nightmare Retardant
. Characters that are this In-Universe
are The Dreaded
Examples, by Medium
And in case you're planning on sleeping tonight... here y'go
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