To get their love interest to fall for them, characters have an array of tactics at their disposal. Some will try to impress them, others will seek to support them, and some will try to protect them from danger, harm, or slander. This trope combines all of those into a surefire way to get those romantic sparks going. How? Through fear, of course.
A (usually male) character will decide to do something scary with their love interest, like watching a horror film or show, going to a Haunted House, embarking on a test of courage, doing a Scare Dare, etc. When their love interest inevitably gets spooked and searches for comfort, our character will use this opportunity to make a move on them, often by giving them a hand to hold, a chest to turn into, or someone to rely on to protect them from any harm that comes along with the spooks. Whether its from the physical contact or the gratitude from having a protector, the love interest now sees our character in a much more favorable and much more romantic light. Cue the Crush Blush.
While this trope is typically initiated by the person wanting to show off how calm, cool, and collected they are in the face of scares, it can also be initiated by the love interest, who may pretend to be a Damsel in Distress or fake being scared for a chance for some skinship, suggestively rubbing themselves all over their partner or jumping into their arms/lap. If this trope happens while the pair is watching a movie, a Yawn and Reach or some Handsplay in Theater is to be expected. Regardless of the initiator, the goal is the same: exploit this moment of horror to try to flirt and score romantic points with the person you're interested in.
Sometimes this works as intended. But this scenario has many often comedic ways for it to go awry. The character could try to wrap their arms around their scared partner who is so freaked out, the sudden physical contact makes them jump and sends them running. Or the love interest isn't scared at all and is instead wondering why our character is making a big deal out of nothing. Or worse: the character who tried to pull this off gets spooked themself and ends up missing their chance to make a move because they're too busy screaming their heads off and crying for their mommy.
There is some Truth in Television to this trope given that, according to a well-known psychological study, fear triggers romantic attraction (presumably when the fear is caused by something present in the environment and not the second person's actions, although some tropes might say otherwise). In fact, a second study found that girls and women would often act more scared (either unconsciously or through deliberation) if they watched a movie with a date than they would act if they were watching the same movie alone. It also found that guys would act less scared when watching a movie with a girl than if they were watching it alone.
- Flunk Punk Rumble: Shinagawa takes a date to a zombie movie with the intentions of romancing her. Not only is the girl unaffected by the movie, two male friends they run into at the theater spend the entire movie clinging to Shinagawa in terror.
- Hitomi-chan Is Shy with Strangers: Hitomi is rather reluctant to watch a horror movie about a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl at the suggestion of Kaoru. This convinces Kaoru to pop the movie in anyway just to see how Hitomi will react. What makes this especially ironic is that Hitomi is a big, scary-looking girl, while Kaoru is more conventionally cute-looking.
- Hori from Horimiya is a big fan of horror movies and isn't easily scared, but she tries to feign fear in Chapter 37 in order to appear cuter to Miyamura. However, everything she does just ends up scaring him instead. This directly leads to the two having sex for the first time.
- Ishigami attempts to do this during the culture festival arc of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War when he invites his crush Tsubame to check out his class's haunted house because there's a segment where people are placed in lockers for some spooky ASMR. Unfortunately, Iino has added a rule splitting people up by gender by the time he gets there because she caught Kashiwagi and Tsubasa making out in one of the lockers.
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch: In an episode where the characters explore a supposedly haunted house, a female character who only appears in that episode pretends to be scared in order to hook up with main man Kaito. Of course, when real ghosts show up courtesy of a member of the Quirky Miniboss Squad, she freaks out for real.
- Midori Days: Ayase fakes being scared of horror movies to have an excuse to grab Seiji. She even pre-watches the film to know when the best times to be "scared". Unfortunately for her, her four attempts at this were mistimed and she misses.
- Sola: Invoked by Matsuri where she drags Yorito into an empty movie theatre and states that couples should always go to a horror movie.
- Urusei Yatsura: In Chapter 36, when Ataru and Lum go for a ride on a "horror coaster," Lum actually frightens the "monsters" instead of being frightened by them. Whenever Ataru's paying attention, though, she pretends to be frightened, just to have a reason to cling to him.
- Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!: In Chapter 59, Hana ropes Shinichi into watching a horror movie he doesn't want to, as revenge for a little Aren't You Going to Ravish Me? situation from the previous chapter. Surprisingly, Shinichi sits through the whole movie just fine, and Hana is the one who ends up terrified and clinging to him, and even begs him to let her stay at his place because she's too scared to walk home.
- Archie Comics:
- There's a comic where Betty is a great fan of horror films... Veronica can't stand them, but on the advice of Jughead, she buys Betty a ticket to a marathon of 10 horror movies (to get it out of Betty's system). Betty at first asks Veronica to come with her; turns out the ticket's for two (too scary to watch on your own). Veronica says no way — can't Betty find someone else? Quick realization: The only person in town who really loves horror films the way Betty does is... Archie. And, of course, they use the shows as a great chance to cuddle in "terror". ("Think this'll be scarier than the last one?" "Oooh, Archie... I hope so!" kinda thing)
- One comic has a boy renting a horror video to watch with Sabrina to initiate intimacy. Turns out she thinks it's hilarious, and the events in her house freak the guy out, and he bails.
- The Silver Age Supergirl fakes a fear of horror movies to please her boyfriend during a nine-part serial that reveals her to the world.
- Norwegian comic strip Nemi has one comic where this is inverted. The scene is pretty much as described above, except gender-flipped, and the title character herself is thinking, "Well, this isn't exactly what I had in mind when I suggested seeing a horror movie, but I suppose the results are the same..."
- Garfield: Jon hopes that Liz will throw her arms around him in fear at the horror film, but he ends up frightened instead.
Liz: [sarcastically] My knight in shining armor.
Garfield: More like your sissy in double knit.
- FoxTrot: According to Roger in an early strip, Andy invoked this trope on one of their first dates.
Roger: ...and if the movie got even a little bit scary, you would practically jump into my arms. Like you needed an excuse.
- Anchor Foal: Caramel attempts to invoke this in Chapter 17; he takes Fluttershy to a horror movie at the local cinema, feeling she'll be scared enough to snuggle against him for comfort. Subverted in that, thanks to Fluttershy's finding monster biology fascinating, the movie he chose doesn't scare her in the slightest, and she ends up more interested in diagnosing the creature's obvious medical issues.
- In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Kyon's sister's friend Miyoko loves horror movies and invites him to see Saw with her. On the other hand, Haruhi invites herself and Mikuru along, and to say the least, they don't take it in as much stride— exactly as Haruhi planned.
- Inverted in one Naruto/Hinata fan comic, in which Naruto watches a movie with Team 8. Hinata thinks to herself that the movie is too badly made to scare her enough to jump into Naruto's lap. Eventually, however, Naruto jumps into hers, and Shino thinks that it's an unexpected way of getting the desired outcome.
- This Power Rangers S.P.D. fic has a two-girl version between Z and Syd on a date to the movies. Z feels pretty pleased with herself until something scares *her*; cue role reversal and Syd revealing she had the same idea in mind.
- Duran And Kiyohime's Omake Theater, a My-HiME fanfic, has this trope Invoked. Twice. Chapters 23 and 120 each feature Shizuru pretending to be really terrified of a horror film (a ghost movie in Ch. 23, and a zombie film in Ch. 120) in order to cop a feel.
Shizuru: It's a frightening movie. I...I just needed to hold on to you.
Natsuki: [not buying it] And my breasts just happened to make convenient handholds?
- Naru-Hina Chronicles: Shino has a date with Hanajima at a movie theater. He suggests they go watch a horror movie. She's unsure about it given it seems pretty scary. When Shino tells her they could watch something else, Hanajima says she doesn't mind the horror movie and adds that she can hold onto him if she gets scared. They then have a double date with Lee and Arekusu when they watch the horror movie. Of course, both girls end up holding onto the boys during a scary scene.
- Scream 2: Maureen dislikes horror because of its history of poor representation of nonwhite characters. Her boyfriend Phil, on the other hand, seems to recognize that she's genuinely scared watching Stab, and tells her that horror movies make for great foreplay.
- Cabin Fever: One of the special features on the DVD is "Chick-Vision", which puts up the silhouettes of hands over the screen whenever a scary or gory scene is about to come up.
- Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool: Peter and Gloria go out on a date to see the then-just-released Alien. Most of the audience is scared by it, including Peter, who's so terrified by the infamous chestburster scene that he practically jumps out of his seat and clings to Gloria in fear. Gloria, meanwhile, is thoroughly enjoying it and even laughs while watching a few scenes.
- In Sergeant Bilko:
Major Thorn: If any of this is frightening, just hold onto me.
Rita: They're dancing Raisinettes.
Major Thorn: And you don't find that terrifying?
- On Stargate Atlantis, Rodney McKay once tells the story of how he took a girl to see Alien, planning on using this trope to its full extent. However, while the girl he chose to take did get clingy when nervous, Rodney forgot that he eats when nervous...and ended up vomiting all over the poor girl.
- Saved by the Bell: In one episode, Zach takes multiple dates to the same horror movie to look for the one with the best scream & cuddle combo. The first girl is too busy talking away to notice the scary parts, the second is more concerned with running out of popcorn, the third keeps chanting "kill him!" and the fourth one gets it right. Kelly was shown having the same reaction to the movie earlier in the episode.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) has a variant in "The New Exhibit", where the young woman visiting Murderers' Row at a wax museum gets scared by the realistic figures, and her date reassures her.
- El Chavo del ocho: Dona Clotilde once invites Don Ramon to watch a movie about earthquakes. She comments about how couples usually hug each other during scary parts and he quickly... invites a beautiful woman who had recently moved into the Vencidad.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun: Tommy rents a scary movie to watch with his love interest Alissa, hoping to invoke this trope. However, Sally and Harry show up and decide to help by making things even scarier in real life, dressing Harry up as an actual Serial Killer outside the window. Tommy proves to be a Dirty Coward and Alissa is unimpressed.
- The Big Bang Theory: Played with in that Raj's girlfriend Emily likes horror movies because she likes to be comforted during them. Raj is initially nervous about a girlfriend who likes horror movies, until the why was explained.
- Friends: Rachel decides to watch Cujo on Joey's recommendation but is so freaked out she demands he sit with her so she can hug him when she gets scared. Joey finds this very uncomfortable as he's just realised he's developing feelings for her.
Rachel: How can you watch this, aren't you scared? (buries her face in his chest)
- This is what the Title Track of Michael Jackson's Thriller is actually about. Most of the lyrics describe what sorts of horrors are popping up in every corner, but towards the end, Michael says to his girl that he'll save her from "the terror on the screen", which makes it clear that all these ghouls are part of a horror flick. The song's music video makes this more apparent, with the footage cutting between Michael calling upon his zombie army and him and the girl in question watching said events at a cinema; Michael is enjoying himself, while the girl is visibly shaken.
- Deltarune Noelle Holiday is a meek Lovable Coward who loves horror movies. She admits she likes the thrill of being scared and the feeling of being comforted after it's over.
- When is comes to Persona, the more masculine a female character acts, the more likely they end up being this trope. Comparatively, with some exceptions, the series' more traditionally feminine girls tend to end up being the opposite of this.
- Persona 3: In Portable's female protagonist route, the final rank of Mitsuru Kirijo's Social Link involves watching a horror movie in her room. Mitsuru asks if the female protagonist would mind holding her hand. The female protagonist herself seems quite eager to watch the movie.
- Persona 5: Makoto Niijima may normally be a tough, no-nonsense gal, but she's absolutely terrified of ghosts; when the team visits Futaba's house at night, Makoto asks to hold onto Joker's arm after they hear screaming, and after Futaba accidentally frightens her, Makoto begins clinging on to Joker's leg while calling out for her sister to save her.
- Da Capo: Lampshaded during Junichi's date with Mako. His reaction to her terror at having to see the movie is basically an incredulous, "Seriously? What are you, one of the main heroines of some dating sim?"
- The Fruit of Grisaia: Yumiko is rather easily scared, which is why Yuuji takes her to the haunted house when they go to an amusement park on her route.
- Defied in Demonbane: A horror movie is one possible date activity the player can choose for Ruri's and Kurou's date. Ruri's butler Winfield thinks the standard cliche will play out, but Kurou and Ruri are utterly bored by the film, due to having fought against much worse things in real life.
- Agents of the Realm: Mackenzie is scared of horror movies, to benefit of Jordan.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers: In "Going Bats, Man", Wheeler and Linka are watching a scary movie, and Linka clutches Wheeler's ring arm so tightly that he protests. She insists it's his own fault for getting her into this in the first place.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Irwin tries to woo Mandy during a scary campfire story. Mandy just punches him in the ribs.
- Generator Rex: Backfired when attempted, as instead of one girl clinging to each of the boys, both latched onto Rex. Didn't work well when tried with a haunted house, either.
- Gravity Falls: In "Little Gift Shop of Horrors," Stan's discussion of the trope goes off-topic by continuing into post-film events.
Stan: Movies are great! You watch the movie, you scare the girl, the girl snuggles up next to you, next thing you know you gotta raise a kid, your life falls apart... Forget that last part!
- Justified Trope in that if this didn't happen, (see the above mentioned studies) the Haunted Attraction industry would be out of business. These attractions give women an excuse to get close to their boyfriends by using them as a meat shield against the various Serial Killer Clowns, Masked Psychos, Brain-Eating Zombies, and little girls with Hair in Front of Their Eyes.
- Though this trope isn't Truth in Television most of the time, you are probably more likely to find a girl who'll admit that she's scared of horror movies than you would a guy.
- Subverted, in that a number of horror franchises are marketed towards girls. It's a TV series, of course, but almost every episode in seasons one to three of Supernatural was structured like a horror movie (with a good number of scares), and this didn't stop it having a strong (and possibly rabid) female base. There might have been other reasons why this occurred, but it wouldn't have happened at all if all girls were really scared of horror movies. In terms of actual horror movie franchises that have been successfully aimed at girls, you have the Ginger Snaps and Whispering Corridors movies, among others.
- South Korea and Hong Kong have pretty much made an industry out of horror movies aimed at girls and women, reflecting women's experiences and concerns with a massive dose of drama. Good (or at least decent) quality examples include A Tale of Two Sisters, Cello, The original The Eye movies, Koma, the Whispering Corridors series, D-Day and The Red Shoes (2005).
- Vincent Price joked that he was truly a romantic lead, as he caused couples to get closer to each other in the theater.