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What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia

Hate flying? Terrified of dogs? Loathe spiders? Fear no more!

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What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia
What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia

    Fear is constant, fear is restless, and fear is always changing. Reason being, the human mind is susceptible to so many external conditions, all of which elicit a wide range of emotions, conditions … or phobias. Much of this has to do with our own life experiences, those nagging, unforgiving memories that are so traumatizing they’ve become a seed in our minds, one that has blossomed into a paralyzing fear we can’t shake off.

    This is why horror films — or rather, most films in general — can often be so polarizing with audiences. What works for one person might not necessarily affect another and vice versa. Then again, some phobias are nearly universal: Heights, spiders, clowns, creepy dolls, and small spaces aren’t traditionally welcomed with open arms, which is why Hollywood tends to capitalize on those fears again and again.

    But what about the unlucky bunch who can’t bear to dance, refuse to look in mirrors, or run away from shadows? What about those tortured souls who might faint at the sight of a bath? Or even their own hair? It’s a strange world, alright, made all the stranger by what gives us the willies. In light of such madness, we put together a cinematic glossary of phobias with the hope that the power of film might conquer everything.

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    Of course, you might also be afraid of film.

    –Michael Roffman
    Editor-in-Chief

    creepy divider What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia

    Ablutophobia (Bathing)

    Cabin Fever (2002)

    All kinds of grotesque things happen in Eli Roth’s debut feature, but by far the most horrifying of them goes down early in the film, when one of the attractive young people beset by the film’s flesh-eating virus attempts to bathe and shave her legs, only to take off a few more layers of skin than she expected beneath the shaving cream. Roth only got more visceral from here, but rarely has his penchant for buckets of gore been more skin-crawling. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Achondroplasiaphobia (Little People)

    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

    Yeah, it might not be PC, but people suffering from achondroplasiaphobia, the fear of little people, didn’t choose to be that way. Also, much of that fear probably stems from the disconnect of the uncanny: those slight shifts in appearance that break from normalcy. Couple that with the sense that you’re watching a series of off-color clones harmonizing through a series of stiff, choreographed movements and, well, how could you not shiver at the sight of an Oompa Loompa? –Randall Colburn


    Acrophobia (Heights)

    Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

    Even those who can stomach frequent trips to skyscrapers, or work in them on a daily basis, might find Tom Cruise’s stunts in the third Mission Impossible sequel nauseating. And that feeling is compounded when you learn that the hunky star actually did his own stunts atop Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, which, fun fact, is the world’s tallest building. It doesn’t help matters that director Brad Bird pivots all of the action around Cruise, making for an intimately suspenseful experience and one that feels all too real, thanks to the gripping cinematography, which was initially intended for IMAX screens. Barf bag, anyone? –Michael Roffman


    Aerophobia (Flying)

    Final Destination (2000)

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    There’s often that moment right before every flight in which you briefly wonder: What if we die? The thought traditionally pops up as you’re standing in the gallery and your mind starts wandering off as you wait for your ticket to be scanned. The initial conceit being that the plane, for reasons far beyond your comprehension, just might not make it. Final Destination capitalizes on that what-if situation by painting Devon Sawa’s fiery pre-flight premonitions with terrifying colors. Altogether, the film is a tad on the nose, but what makes it work is how the horror stems from the type of paranoia that most of us try to write off as delusional. What if one day that pre-flight terror is justified? You’ll never know until it’s too late — and that’s why there’s a fear of flying. –Michael Roffman


    Agliophobia (Pain)

    Hellraiser (1987)

    The fatal mistake of so many characters in the Hellraiser franchise is that they seek out pain as a form of pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy sadomasochism, of course, but as Pinhead and his legion of S&M nightmare creatures, The Cenobites, prove in the very first scene, no matter how good you think you are at something, there’s always someone better. So what if you can handle a bout of knife-play in the bedroom? That’s nothing compared to getting disemboweled by a room filled with sentient chains. Hellraiser just might make you think twice before visiting kink.com again. –Dan Caffrey


    Agoraphobia (Open Spaces)

    The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

    The sheer horror of Wes Craven’s 1977 masterpiece The Hills Have Eyes is how the situation feels so inescapable. For 89 minutes, we watch a poor Midwestern family suffer at the hands of a group of savages, who come and go in the middle of the Nevada desert. This is their home, you see, the expansive, forgotten sands of America that otherwise would be barren, desolate, and eerily quiet. Those suffering from agoraphobia probably don’t imagine terror of this magnitude when it comes to open spaces such as these, which is why the film is paramount to their recovery — or perhaps their ultimate demise. Come to think of it, there’s no way anyone with that phobia walks away from this film feeling cured. But numb? Absolutely. –Michael Roffman


    Agrizoophobia (Wild Animals)

    Roar (1981)

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    Agrizoophobia be damned: this one will scare the pants off just about anybody. Roar, the 1981 Noel Marshall film released in the US for the first time in 2015, has been called the most dangerous film ever made, and for good reason. Exactly how many cast and crew members were mauled by the animals isn’t clear — upwards of 70, certainly — but not even the limp story can lessen the horror of watching people get attacked by wild animals. Real blood, real wounds, real terrifying. –Allison Shoemaker


    Ailurophobia (Cats)

    Pet Sematary (1989)

    Unlike the reanimated human beings in Pet Sematary, the Creed family’s cat, Churchill (“Church” for short), looks more or less the same when he’s (un)dead as he did when he was alive. That makes him look all the more like your own feline, and thus, it becomes easier to imagine Mittens or Sneakers or whatever your cat’s name is to start committing evil deeds, which range from run-of-the-mill clawing to dropping a dead rat in the bathtub while you’re in it. Sometimes, dog is better. –Dan Caffrey


    Alektorophobia (Chickens)

    Freaks (1932)

    Those who can’t handle a little chicken once in awhile will probably be OK watching most of Tod Browning’s controversial black-and-white thriller Freaks. (That is, if they’re not suffering from achondroplasiaphobia, coulrophobia, and/or a general aversion to carnivals altogether.) But then there’s the whole ending, where a certain someone is crudely, if not somewhat justly, turned into human poultry. It’s a haunting image and one can only imagine how Depression-era audiences reacted when the film debuted back in 1932. Nearly a century later, that last shot still makes us queasy from the Colonel’s fried goods. –Michael Roffman


    Androphobia (Men)

    Rope (1948)

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    One of Hitchcock’s less heralded films, Rope is best known for its inventive techniques. But those unbroken shots of its predominantly male performers aren’t the only things that might frighten sufferers of androphobia. Two smug, self-involved dudes decide to murder a classmate. They do it because they can. Their former teacher (Jimmy Stewart) figures it all out, but that’s small comfort: he realizes his own smug self-involvement inspired these two creeps. –Allison Shoemaker

    creepy divider What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia

    Anglophobia (England)

    Love Actually (2003)

    Hugh Grant dances around. Colin Firth charmingly stutters. Emma Thompson cries in a bedroom. Martin Freeman’s a body-double. Even Rowan Atkinson shows up. If you’re afraid of British people, do not see this movie. It’s scary long before that guy from The Walking Dead shows up with some creepy signs. And, worst of all, it’s guaranteed to get Bill Nighy’s holiday version of “Love Is All Around” stuck in your head. The song? Bad. The accent? Terrifying. –Allison Shoemaker


    Anthophobia (Flowers)

    The Ruins (2008)

    Those poppies in The Wizard of Oz ain’t got a thing on The Ruins. Adapted by Scott B. Smith from his novel of the same name, this so-so movie features the most terrifying flora since Little Shop of Horrors. They make sounds. They eat flesh. They’ll crawl down your fucking throat and get inside your brain. If the movie was better, we’d all have given up gardening. –Allison Shoemaker


    Anthropophobia (People)

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    People are strange, as Jim Morrison once sang, and ain’t that the truth. In all honesty, everyone suffers from anthropophobia, if only because people will always disappoint us. At some point along the road, we lie, we cheat, we steal, we fail one another. As such, there’s a lack of trust that will forever poison our fabric of society, and that mistrust is more or less the conceit of the iconic sci-fi horror story Invasion of the Body Snatchers. While Don Siegel’s 1956 original is a masterpiece on its own, it’s absolutely no match to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 vicious upgrade, which stars Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Jeff Goldblum. Between the practical effects and the sonic atmosphere, this one will make your own skin crawl right off you, which is sort of the point. Who knew aliens were more terrifying as us? –Michael Roffman


    Anuptaphobia (Being Single)

    The Lobster (2015)

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    One of 2016’s best movies so far, Yorgos Lanthimos’ English-language debut sees Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz living in a dystopia where single people get turned into an animal of their choosing if they can’t find love. While an exemplary film, The Lobster feels like a bit of a low blow to those bummed about their love lives. Who needs more reasons to feel shitty about romance? –Allison Shoemaker


    Aphenphosmphobia (Intimacy)

    Nymphomaniac (2014)

    Though Lars Von Trier’s two-part treatise on the existential horrors of human sexual desire (and humanity in general) eventually surrenders itself to his most torturous impulses, it’s Charlotte Gainsbourg’s unreal performance that drives the film’s many central horrors home. Each of the film’s chapters (particularly in the film’s second part) paints a new picture of exploitation, manipulation, and horror forced on Gainsbourg’s Joe, simply because of the compulsive sexual appetite with which she happened to be born and the leering world she happened to be born into. It’s a bleak, savage vision of humanity, but the fearful truth somewhere in there, beneath all the agony, makes the film all the more difficult to watch. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Apiphobia (Bees)

    The Wicker Man (2006)

    Honestly, what else did you expect here? One of the many baffling choices Neil LaBute made in his adaptation of the genuinely transgressive 1973 film The Wicker Man was the decision to make Nicolas Cage’s doomed cop allergic to bees, a fact that pays off at the end of the film in a sequence you probably know about as a meme, even if you’ve never seen the film. Taken on its own, though, and if you can get past Cage’s infamous exclamations in fear of the bees, the idea of having an entire hive poured onto your head as you’re bound is pretty awful. Just goes to show you how quickly a strong concept can go wonderfully, horribly wrong. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Aquaphobia (Water)

    The Ring (2002)

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    What, you expected Jaws? Water plays a part in many of The Ring’s scares — a puddle here, a drip there, a well, a torrent — but none are more frightening than that shot of Samara’s water-logged face. When one thinks about The Ring, it’s probably that tape that comes to mind, but try to imagine even one of the most famous scenes from this movie without water. And then imagine getting home from seeing it and realizing that your kitchen sink is dripping. –Allison Shoemaker


    Arachnophobia (Spiders)

    Arachnophobia (1990)

    For many, Arachnophobia was no laughing matter. When the film hit theaters in the Summer of 1990, Frank Marshall’s directorial debut was billed as a horror comedy, namely because the arachnid-driven story leans heavily on genre tropes and campy scares dating back to the monster movies of the ’50s. (That’s without mentioning John Goodman’s pulpy performance as a brazen exterminator who fights the creepy crawlers alongside Jeff Daniels.) So, yeah, there was stuff worth chuckling over, but once the eight-legged freaks travel from the Amazon to the small California town, there’s no joke in the whole book of comedy that can distract those with the titular condition. Because of this stupid film, this Peter Parker-worshipping writer consistently checked his toilet and shower head for over a decade before he (kind of) fell in love with the critters. –Michael Roffman


    Astrophobia (Deep Space)

    Alien (1979)

    Alien could easily have qualified for the xenophobia entry on this list. After all, few movie monsters (extra-terrestrial or otherwise) hold a blowtorch to the original xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic. But its acidic blood, elongated skull, and pharyngeal jaws double their terror when placed on a single spaceship that offers little means of escape for the (mostly) human passengers. Suddenly, the inhabitants of the Nostromo aren’t just thinking about the star beast they’re trapped with; they’re thinking of the infinite beyond, the far reaches of deep space. That sends the mind to some darkly philosophical places in a way that a predatory alien — an animal driven by pure instinct — never could. –Dan Caffrey


    Autophobia (Solitude)

    I Am Legend (2007)

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    We can talk a lot about how effective the final third of Francis Lawrence’s take on Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic novel really is, what with Will Smith channeling his existential crisis through Shrek and all. But the early moments, which see Smith’s lone scientist trawling the abandoned, vampire-infested streets of New York City and living out the kind of fantasy life that could only be adopted by the partially mad, are as effective a vision of the world after the end of the world as you’ll see. Who wouldn’t break down before a mannequin after a few years of that? –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    creepy divider What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia

    Bibliophobia (Books)

    The Evil Dead (1983)

    Being afraid of books is one thing. Being afraid of books that look like this is another. It’s obvious that Evil Dead’s Ash doesn’t have this fear, because the dummy not only picks it up, but reads from the damn thing aloud. There is power in the written word, however, so a fear of its influence isn’t the most insane thing I’ve ever heard. I’m curious, though, does a fear of books extend to audio books? Is it the words or the pages themselves? –Randall Colburn


    Blennophobia (Slime)

    The Blob (1988)

    Oh, you hate slime? The good news is that the stuff’s hard to come by IRL and that Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of The Blob rarely gets any airtime on cable or network television. Meaning, you could live an entire life without ever encountering the nasty goo, which is probably a good thing because this film’s titular mess spawns some delectable carnage. Tony Gardner’s special effects wizardry heightens an otherwise laughable B-movie monster into the stuff of nightmares. –Michael Roffman


    Carcinophobia (Cancer)

    The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

    Allegedly based on a real-life haunting, The Haunting in Connecticut centers around a young boy whose cancer treatments seem to be having no effect. The film itself is meh, but the central fear of one’s mind and body being destroyed — or possessed — by their sickness is a potent one. There’s a reason “cancer” is one of the heaviest words in the English language: Once it enters your life, it’s easy to feel like you’ve lost all control. –Randall Colburn


    Catoptrophobia (Mirrors)

    Oculus (2014)

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    Mirrors are a constant fixture in horror: they’re shattered, written on, and used constantly as a means to shockingly reveal what’s standing behind us. And while those scares are potent, there’s only one movie that’s effectively built an entire story around a creepy mirror, and that’s Mike Flanagan’s Oculus. Flanagan’s flick isn’t perfect, but he moves beyond the basic scares to explore more existential underpinnings. Is our reflection ever truly that? Or is there something off on the other side of that mirror? –Randall Colburn


    Chaetophobia (Hair)

    The Grudge (2004)

    If you’re afraid of hair, you definitely don’t want it touching you, let alone hanging you to death. That’s what happens in The Grudge, where the central spirit is essentially a sentient wall of hair. Sure, it’ll suck when that thing kills you, but it’ll be worse when that hair gets tangled in your screaming mouth. –Randall Colburn


    Chorophobia (Dancing)

    Black Swan (2010)

    A fear of dancing may have more to do with outside perception than the actual practice. Still, there’s enough room for both anxieties in Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological thriller Black Swan. As we watch Natalie Portman descend into madness amid the dog-eat-dog industry of professional dancing, the proceedings get colder and more severe. The film’s situational malaise and unsettling ultraviolence, two longtime trademarks of the filmmaker, offer up the greatest cautionary tale for anyone who ever thought ballet was simply beautiful and elegant. The pain, the anguish, the punishment, it’s all very disturbing. –Michael Roffman


    Chronophobia (The Future)

    Children of Men (2006)

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    A sizable number of end-of-the-world stories have emerged in the past 10-15 years, but what makes Children of Men so singularly, beautifully unsettling is how everyday it makes the end of the world look. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare just a few nukes forward from the one in which many of us already live, where a mixture of global war and the end of childbirth have turned the entire planet into a gray-toned den of constant fear and paranoia. It imagines a future wholly within our reach, and that’s the scariest thought of all. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Cibophobia (Food)

    The Stuff (1985)

    The Stuff is very much born out of ’80s paranoia (which turned out to, uh, be completely warranted and reasonable) about exactly what we were starting to put in our bodies during the first true era of processed foods. What’s then most unnerving about Larry Cohen’s winking creature feature is how willingly the entire population jumps on board with The Stuff, with absolutely no concern for what might be in it or what could happen. So, the next time you’re at McDonald’s, just give that a few seconds of thought. Even if all these fast food places are now insistent on how their 30-second burgers are so “artisan.” –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Claustrophobia (Small Spaces)

    The Descent (2005)

    Yeah, The Descent eventually relies on other, more supernatural things to terrify the audience. But the most effective portion of Neil Marshall’s eternally underrated horror gem is its first half, when the film watches six cave divers descend into claustrophobic paranoia. The camera is aggressively invasive, ensuring that there’s zero comfortable disconnect between your couch and a collapsed underground cavern threatening the lives of every trapped woman inside. Monsters are bad enough. Monsters you can’t escape if you try are a lot worse. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Coulrophobia (Clowns)

    House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

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    In terms of plot and character, House of 1000 Corpses is somewhat of a mess. But it does get a lot of things right in isolated doses, namely Captain Spaulding, the grizzled clown that owns a roadside gas station and horror museum. When depicting clowns onscreen, the temptation is to make them raving lunatics. In a rare display of restraint, director Rob Zombie takes a more subtle route, portraying Spaulding as a cranky old dude who simply has a taste for the macabre and greasepaint. Or so it seems. Once it’s revealed that he is as deranged and murderous as any of the monsters and madmen in his exhibit, the realism of Sid Haig’s performance has set in. That carries over to House’s superior sequel, when his backstory and personality are expanded upon even further. –Dan Caffrey

    creepy divider What Scares You? A Horror Movie for Every Phobia

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