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 Hard Truth 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.
Tropes used to invoke this feeling are Horror Tropes. Tropes about the emotion of fear itself 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.
The aftermath of frightening moments, such as death or trauma or violence inflicted upon likable characters, can easily overlap with Tear Jerker. 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 before changing this list:
All Nightmare Fuel examples should be specific and provide details. Don't write in first person.
- This is a page whose name is intended to be taken more literally than most. It's not enough for material to be scary; to truly qualify, it has to be frightening enough to legitimately unnerve/disturb the viewer, with actually being nightmare-inducing as the ultimate endpoint.
- Good signs that something IS Nightmare Fuel include if:
- It left you feeling shaken even after the credits had rolled, you turned the last page, or are otherwise done with the work.
- You have a hard time falling asleep if you think about it at night, or have a literal nightmare about it.
- You dread that episode, scene, level, chapter, or song during re-watches, and consider skipping it.
- With that said, don't add something just because it happens to be your personal phobia. For example, spiders can be scary and many people have arachnophobia, but just because a spider happens to be in the work, it does not make a Nightmare Fuel entry. It needs to reasonably be scary to someone without the phobia.
- Don't confuse tension with fear. If the hero is in trouble, but you know he'll make it out okay at the end, it's probably not Nightmare Fuel unless the threat is especially disturbing.
- Good signs that something IS Nightmare Fuel include if:
- Explain WHY the entry scared you. Try to convey your sense of fear to your readers. Avoid putting up Zero-Context Examples.
- Remember that Weblinks Are Not Examples, and neither are quotes on their own. You should explain the horror in your own words, rather than rely on others to do so.
- Don't add things that might have scared someone. If it didn't scare you, and you don't personally know anyone else who was scared, you shouldn't be adding it to Nightmare Fuel.
- Nightmare Fuel should stick to you even after you're done with the work.
- Hypotheticals are not Nightmare Fuel:
- Remember that Trailers Always Lie: a scene that is presented as scary in the trailer could very well turn out to be inoffensive in the finished work. Only add examples from unreleased works if they were especially terrifying in the previews.
- Fan theories do not belong on the Nightmare Fuel page under any circumstance. No matter how much evidence they have to support them, don't add them until they've been officially confirmed. In the meanwhile, take them to Wild Mass Guessing.
- Fridge Horror goes on the Fridge page, not Nightmare Fuel. Don't add it unless it's Ascended Fridge Horror.
- Keep in mind the work's intended audience when considering whether or not something is Nightmare Fuel.
- If something is normal or expected in the genre, it does not automatically qualify. Violence in a Fighting Series or gore in a horror movie must be especially disturbing or gruesome by the work's standards to be Nightmare Fuel.
- Remember that Kids Shouldn't Watch Horror Films. If a work is rated PG-13 or higher but would only be scary to young children, it's not Nightmare Fuel.
- The standards on what qualifies as Nightmare Fuel are especially stringent on works aimed at children and pre-teens: kids have hyperactive imaginations, so even something benign can give them nightmares.
- Spoiler tags do not belong on Nightmare Fuel pages. Much of what scares us comes from inherently spoilery stuff such as death and the unknown, so finding spoilers on these pages should be expected.
- Nightmare Fuel is an Audience Reaction, so it needs to be scary for the audience. Describing how the characters react to something scary isn't needed. Just because something scares them, that doesn't mean it scares us as well.
Some examples of things that are generally Nightmare Fuel include — but are not limited to — the following:
- Who's that behind you?
- Horrific acts of cruelty done out of pleasure, or for the sake of it.
- Surreal sequences, usually animated. Surreal due to the Uncanny Valley.
- Characters so vile and horrific in their actions that it is completely impossible to find any kind of redeeming quality in them.
- Extreme violence and deaths.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Seeing the poor victim get savaged in gory detail can have one cringing in fear.
- Cold-Blooded Torture. Watching people suffer horribly by the hands of the villains can be traumatizing. Especially if you're being Forced to Watch.
- The disgusting images associated with Nausea Fuel.
- Disturbing sexual imagery.
- 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:
- The unknown.
- Swarms of fear-inducing animals such as rats, snakes, spiders, or insects.
- Being buried alive... or eaten alive.
- Being raped - especially by something that isn't human.
- People being set on fire, or fire endangering the lives of people while they struggle to escape.
- Being drowned, particularly if it's done very slowly...
- Being trapped without escape with a violent and/or unpredictable human/animal/thing that wants to harm you.
- Being erased from existence, whether if there's Nothing After Death or being actively erased by something, or someone.
- Adult Fears. Those things children seldom worry about: economic failure, romantic failure, having your child disappear (or, worse, watching helplessly as your children die) or possibly even The End of the World as We Know It. Bonus points if this (or even any of the other) Nightmare Fuel scene(s) was/were what actually happened in history/real life.
- Transformation Sequences with plenty of Body Horror, including Chest Bursters.
- Rotting corpses, possibly reanimated. Especially those that suddenly appear to scare us without warning.
- 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.
- Physically abusing children or women, sometimes sexually.
- 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 scarier.
- Being pregnant with an Eldritch Abomination or other evil entity, or your child becoming one of these things.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul. The psychological impact of being more machine than human.
- 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.
- Characters who are downright nightmarish in their actions and personalities despite being on the side of good.
- 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, gaslighting, 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.
- Creepy children singing, especially in menacingly slow horror scenes, that suggest some sort of supernatural uncontrollable evil entity being around and even worse, taking the form of innocence - a child.
- Having your body controlled by something to do horrible things, yet your mind is unaltered and all you can do is watch helplessly, without being able to do a single thing to stop it.
- When the mouth completely takes up the screen, especially in black. Getting Swallowed Whole in the process.
- Monumental Damage - especially if the viewer lives near and/or has visited said monument.
- Impalement on stalagmites, swords, or anything of the like.
- Becoming alienated from your sense of self.
Examples by Medium:
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Films Animation
- Films Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Music Videos
- Mythology and Folklore
- Play-by-Post Games
- Professional Wrestling
- Tabletop Games
- Theme Parks
- Video Games
- Visual Novels
- Web Animation
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- Other Media