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"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/and or creator's delight. It is what makes you shrink in the back of your chair, look over your shoulder, and remind yourself that what's going on is (usually) only fictional is how to fabricate new hells.
This was also known as "High Octane Nightmare Fuel".
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 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.
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.
- Extreme violence and deaths.
- 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:
- The dark.
- 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.
- 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, being forcefully made into a machine without consent, or worse...
- 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 (doubles as a Tear Jerker).
- 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 in general.
- Being inside a living creature.
- Consumption of people as food. Wanna take that many steps even further?
- Having your mind toyed 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.
- Think you're safe behind the Fourth Wall because it is Fiction? THINK AGAIN!
Tropes used to invoke this feeling are Horror Tropes. Tropes about fear are Fear Tropes. 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. Personal examples are Troper Tales and do not belong here. There may be real life things that induce fear, but No Real Life Examples, Please There's just too many to document as the degree of fear varies from person to person.
Examples, by Medium
- Comic Books
- Fan Fiction
- Live Action TV
- Music Videos
- Mythology and Folklore
- Play-by-Post Games
- Professional Wrestling
- Tabletop Games
- Video Games
- Web Animation
- Web Comics
- Web Original
- Western Animation