Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth is a pop-science look at fear, how and why horror films get under our skin, and why we keep coming back for more.
Do you like scary movies?
Have you ever wondered why?
Nina Nesseth knows what scares you. She also knows why.
In Nightmare Fuel, Nesseth explores the strange and often unexpected science of fear through the lenses of psychology and physiology. How do horror films get under our skin? What about them keeps us up at night, even days later? And why do we keep coming back for more?
Horror films promise an experience: fear. From monsters that hide in plain sight to tension-building scores, every aspect of a horror film is crafted to make your skin crawl. But how exactly do filmmakers pull this off? The truth is, there’s more to it than just loud noises and creepy images.
With the affection of a true horror fan and the critical analysis of a scientist, Nesseth explains how audiences engage horror with both their brains and bodies, and teases apart the elements that make horror films tick. Nightmare Fuel covers everything from jump scares to creature features, serial killers to the undead, and the fears that stick around to those that fade over time.
With in-depth discussions and spotlight features of some of horror’s most popular films—from classics like The Exorcist to modern hits like Hereditary—and interviews with directors, film editors, composers, and horror academics, Nightmare Fuel is a deep dive into the science of fear, a celebration of the genre, and a survival guide for going to bed after the credits roll.
“An invaluable resource, a history of the horror genre, a love letter to the scary movie—it belongs on any horror reader’s bookshelf.” —Lisa Kröger, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Monster, She Wrote
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Nesseth (The Science of Orphan Black), a senior scientist at Science North in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, digs into "the hows and whys of all of the bits and pieces that make horror work" in this thoughtful survey. To examine how "horror taps into its audiences' psychology and biology," Nesseth first breaks down the components of scary movies and links them to the human brain. The amygdala, for example, is responsible for putting a person on alert (and has been shown through brain scans to become activated when spooky music is played), while the insula processes disgust. Nesseth covers the workings of body horror ("The human body is an ideal site for horror: the body is personal, and even on a good day it's kinda gross"), and what makes a movie monster memorable ("While it definitely helps if the monster clearly looks like an obvious threat, this isn't a hard and fast rule"). Beyond the science, Nesseth is a skilled historian of the subject, too, describing how horror " up a mirror to the anxieties gripping society at the time when their film is being made." This is an enlightening and fun look at what goes on when one's blood runs cold.