Nightmare Fuel
From James Cameron's nightmares to yours!

"What do you fear?"
Fear Factory, "Fear Campaign"

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. Many a time, 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. Focus on what frightens you, not what you think may or may not frighten someone else.

For examples where this trope comes about as the result of Fridge Logic rather than anything occurring onscreen, please see Fridge Horror.

Notes to editors:

All Nightmare Fuel examples should be specific and provide details. This is not Troper Tales, so don't write in first person.

  • State the work and the scene.
  • Explain what specifically is scary to you. Don't be unnecessarily gory, but someone reading the example should at least get a sense of what frightened you.

Do not:

Some examples of things that are generally Nightmare Fuel include — but are not limited to — the following:

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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Alternative Title(s): High Octane Nightmare Fuel