Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The Science of Fear: An Interview With "Scare Expert" Margee Kerr

Among other things, sociologist and fear pundit Margee Kerr advises haunted-house designers on how to best terrify people (or, to "improve their scare experiences"), and this Halloween season she's working with The ScareHouse, in Pittsburgh. Each week leading up to October 31, they'll be releasing new installments of Scare U, a web series that explains why we're freaked out by what freaks us out. I emailed her — in blood.

Margee, how did you become a "scare expert"? That is amazing.

Well, it's been a long journey! It all started when I was a kid and read Frankenstein. I really identified with Frankenstein's monster and his quest to find a place to fit in. I was also struck by how society fears anything, and anyone, different. I wanted to understand that more, so I started just observing people and 'in' groups and 'out' groups. This eventually turned into a love of sociology. My focus throughout undergrad and then into grad school was on the history of psychiatry and medicine.

When you want to find out what people are afraid of, looking at what we define as 'sick' is a good place to start. Our definitions of illness, and the changing levels of attention given to different illnesses over time, can really reflect what's happening politically and culturally in society at large (for a longer conversation and example of this, there's some really interesting literature on the 'discovery' of more 'female disorders' as women's equality was gaining steam and women were moving more directly into the workforce — check out the book 'They Say You're Crazy' by Paula J. Caplan).

In addition to absorbing as much information about how society deals with (and fears) human difference, I became increasingly interested in the biology and chemistry of fear. I love learning about how our body reacts in those fight-or-flight situations. This interest really came out of my own desire to understand why I enjoy roller coasters, haunted houses, and things that make me jump. I also really wanted to understand why, in a society in which we are consumed with fear and use it to sell SO MUCH, we go out and seek frightening situations.

I think the last piece of the 'Scare Specialist' puzzle became complete when I got to analyze customer response data from The ScareHouse. I was given a huge data set full of open-ended responses from customers detailing what they found scary. It. Was. Fascinating. I did a lot of content-analysis work for my master's and dissertation, but none of that compared to analyzing what normal people find scary. I think what was most surprising is that there were actually a lot of similarities and patterns. You would think that fears would be a very individualized experience, but we really are kind of 'hardwired' to be afraid of certain things. So, it's been a winding road, but basically — I love studying fear because it really is the study of people and society.

And what did people find scary??

The most suprising finding from the survey included the fact that lot of people are terrified of scary children, or children that 'didn't look right.' This suggests that we have a very keen awareness and attachment to how children are supposed to act, and we are concerned, even scared, when they aren't acting appropriately or worse scaring the pants off us!

Many people are also very afraid of traditional things, like spiders and snakes and bugs, which definitely supports the research done looking at whether we may even be 'hardwired' or have evolved to fear these kinds of critters. The idea is that we spent generations in an environment filled with scary reptiles so that fear worked it's way into our family tree to be passed down the line.

What do you find scary?

I actually can really freak myself out about bridges. I have reccurring dreams that I'm driving on a bridge and it just disappears in front of me and I go driving off into the water. Living in Pittsburgh, I get a chance to confront this fear A LOT. 

Why do some people enjoy being scared? It makes no sense — NO SENSE — to me. Except maybe the sexy, clinging-to-someone-during-a-horror-movie aspect, but even then ...

I've thought about this a ton. There's so much 'real' stuff to be afraid of today — stability, security, the environment, we don't have to go far to find something scary. But those fears are more abstract, and it's hard to feel any sense of control over them. The 'startle' fears, or those things that activate our fight-or-flight, they can be fun and give us back that sense of control and achievement in the face of fear. Every night we turn on the news and hear all these depressing, scary things, and they just sort of sit there — there's no closure and little we can do about them. But when we go into a haunted house or watch a scary movie, we have that 'I DID IT' moment at the end, the big pay off. We feel like we faced something and beat it and came out on top. It's a huge rush of dopamine and adrenaline too, so that, physically, is making us feel pretty awesome, strong, even euphoric. Combined, 'safe' scary experiences can then be both psychologically fulfilling and biologically stimulating.

What IS the feeling of being scared? What's going through our heads?

The feeling of being scared starts before we're even really aware of anything scary. Before we realize it, our senses can pick up on something threatening. A smell, a sound, a flash of light, or even something we catch in the corner of our eye. When our senses pick that up, the message is sent to the amygdala, which is kinda like the brain's watch tower. The amygdala puts the body into alert mode, gets the heart rate going, and starts activating all the fight or flight responses. It takes a second or two more for our brain to realize if the threat is real or not. If it's not a real threat, we can start thinking and rationalizing about what's happening and assessing the situation. If it's a real threat, our body goes into overdrive trying to gather information.

The feeling, though, is pretty exhilarating ... to some!  New research is suggesting that people's enjoyment of threatening situations is directly related to their dopamine production and receptors. More dopamine = more fun being scared. Dopamine is basically like a natural drug high, it makes us feel euphoric and happy, so it can be quite a rush. But for some, feeling scared is horrible. It can be traumatic and totally debilitating. I think we all have that point of 'okay this isn't fun anymore' in scary situations — it's that moment when you stop feeling safe and start really feeling threatened. We've all probably been there at some point. I remember white water rafting and having an amazing time coming inches to the rocks while flying down the river, but then there came that moment when the raft just was not making it to the right point in the river and real fear took over and panic kicked in. Those moments are very different then the safe scares we find in movies and haunted houses.

Scariest movie of all time?

Oh man, this is such a hard question for me. I think I ruined a lot of really scary movies because I read about them first so I knew what was coming, I'm trying not to do that anymore.  This is probably completely cliché but it's the truth, I was terrified during The Exorcist. I don't know that it's the scariest movie of all time, but for me it had the most 'OMG' moments. For most people they scariest movie they've seen is also going to have a lot to do with how old they were when they saw it (I was I think only 11, so yeah ...), who they see it with (I watched it with my sister, who was also thoroughly freaked out, so our fear just fed off each other), and the social context (movie theater, home, drive in).

Are you dressing up for Halloween this year?

I am totally dressing up for Halloween. I LOVE getting some serious scary make up. Usually I go for something that makes me look like I've been through a horrible battle or am partially skeletal, but this year I might go for something a little more whimsical. It's so much fun to look in the mirror and see something completely different .

If you were to create something purely terrifying — a situation that someone could be in for five minutes, say — what would it be? Or I guess  another way of asking that is: what is a perfect storm of fear catalysts?

Oh this is a fun question! Definitely creating the perfect fear catalysts involves engaging all the senses and confusing our brains. I don't know if it's the fact that winter is on the way, but right now the scariest thing to me would be the re-creation of a snow storm — so it would be freezing, with little to no visibility, very little light, with no clear path to follow and random walls that you would run into. Add in a few snow monsters grunting and scrambling around, and you've got one scary situation!

Do you throw amazing Halloween parties? (Do you scare your friends?)

I unfortunately have not thrown a Halloween party since I think 2005. It was a pretty amazing one, and I did scare a lot of people, but not on purpose — the upstairs bathroom flooded (thanks to a failed attempt at dunking for apples)! But the next one I throw you're definitely invited!

The ScareHouse opens on Friday, and new installations of Scare U will appear every Wednesday until Halloween.

80 Comments / Post A Comment


Ahhh, scary things! Such a love/hate/hate/hate/kinda like relationship. On Monday night I watched my boyfriend pay through the new horror adventure game Home--while I hate/kinda like horror movies, I have much more of a pull to horror games. Maybe because of the control aspect? Home wasn't the best (I'm not sure anything can top my love for Limbo), but it was good!


@frigwiggin Home is pretty good! Have you seen Lone Survivor?


@Probs No! It sounds like fun. I've played 5 Days a Stranger and Prodigal and enjoyed them both, and need to play the rest of the Chzo Mythos games. Can you tell I like point-and-click adventure games? I think because they don't require good hand-eye coordination or reaction time. I am the slowest reactor ever.


@frigwiggin I LOVE Limbo! But I find it more darkly funny than scary, is that weird.

Also, I love/hate/love/hate/hate games like Amnesia and Slenderman. I have a group of friends that will get together, and one person will play the game hooked up to the TV, and everyone else will watch and yell out suggestions. It's super fun, especially as part of a group - I don't necessarily have to play the game myself, so I can hide under the table if I get too scared or whatever.

(Also: AHHHHHH SLENDERMAN. Slenderman is the scariest thing I've ever seen, it's the only video game thing I am legitimately afraid of in the "real" world. I am just unable to handle that motherfucker. That game is FLAWLESS. FLAWLESSLY TERRIFYING.)


@phenylalanine That stuff is easier to handle in groups, for sure! I get all chatty and jokey during scary games in an unconscious effort to try and diffuse my fear.

(Oh shit, I wasn't familiar with Slenderman and now I'm equal parts alarmed and curious. I will probably look it up after work and become terrified/obsessed, like I did when I found out about Salad Fingers.)


@frigwiggin Oh, I should have linked to the game! It's actually called Slender, it's available here for free. Uh, have... fun? Hah. :)

...Should I ask what Salad Fingers is? Too scared to google.


@phenylalanine Oh, Salad Fingers is a series of cartoons by David Firth that seem kind of stupid and shouldn't be as creepy as they are, but somehow the atmosphere always gets to me and I end up leaving the hall light on until like 3am.


@phenylalanine Thanks for the Slender link! Mr TARDIStime loves him some Limbo and recently finished the game, so this might be the next thing for him!


*rusty spoons*


@frigwiggin It's the sounds that do it, I think. I had the same rxn to Salad Fingers. I was also seriously disturbed by the oven episode.


What is fear? Why do we scream & run? The answer involves cavemen, a bear, and the latest episode of our new web series: SCARE U@m


Fear is interesting! Like, rollercoasters, maybe physiologically I'm experiencing fear, but subjectively I just feel joy, and at the end of the day at an amusement park my face hurts from smiling. Then there are nights I can't sleep because of thinking about zombies, which aren't real.


COD Black Ops Zombie Mode: Stealing my sleep since Christmas 2011.

fondue with cheddar

@Probs Zombies haven't really scared me since I was a kid. After watching Thriller I was convinced that my parents and brother would turn into zombies in the middle of the night. I was so scared that I could never pee with the shower curtain closed, and I had escape routes planned and everything. Now I turn my zombie thoughts into battle/survival mode. One of my favorite things about moving into a new place is figuring out how I would defend it against zombies.

I'm totally with you on the rollercoasters, though! It's funny how something so scary can make you smile so much your face hurts.


@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) "Escape routes planned for everything" is making me laugh! I mean, not at your fear, but because it's so... I don't know, thorough for a kid to think about! It reminds me a little of my Thing of always "rating" (on a 1 to 5 scale) how hurt I'd get if I had to jump out a window or off a balcony (the balcony at my new place is a 2, so I should be OK in a pinch). I assume my system comes from a fear of being in a situation from which I'd need to escape quickly. Strangely, the hypothetical situation is never fire; it's always pretty much murderous intruders.

fondue with cheddar

@Hellcat I never thought about fall ratings, but that's actually a pretty sensible thing to think about!

I think part of the reason I thought so much about escape routes is because I had a lot of dreams where a person or monster was chasing me.


@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) Well, thank you... but due to the fact that I have never fallen off anything significant, I am not sure that my ratings are entirely accurate. Maybe I'd break everything jumping off my balcony after all. I also tend to believe I'd do really well on some Big Brother and Survivor challenges, so it's possible that I'm just deluded about how tough and resilient I am (but I could totally hang on the swinging narrow thing for hours, I just know it!).


Oh man! I was hoping the interviewer would ask her about the common things people found scary! This sentence had me hooked:
" I was given a huge data set full of open-ended responses from customers detailing what they found scary. It. Was. Fascinating."
FASCINATING! How could the interviewer not ask what those fascinating findings were? I'm hanging here!

Edith Zimmerman

@skyslang Post updated to include the answer to this! Good call!


@Edith Zimmerman AWESOME!!!! Thanks. You made my day.


@Edith Zimmerman Evil Children! Of course.


@skyslang Evil children are legitimately the worst (for me, at least). I think it's the fact that you have evil packaged in an innocent form, so you're caught off-guard when they suddenly strangle you with their tiny, cold hands. This is why I think evil little girls are even scarier than evil little boys, because our cultural concept of them is "sugar, spice, and everything nice".


@wee_ramekin I was just talking about this via e-mail with a friend, particularly why it's always girls in movies about demonic possession.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Legit fear of actual threatening situations is not exhilarating for me. I get really scared when other people approach the edges of high drops, like cliffs, and it makes my whole body sweat and I cannot watch them. My arms and legs get all tingly and my chest gets kind of numb-ish. It's horrible.

Judith Slutler

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose One of my best friends is afraid of heights, and he gets that same sympathetic-panic response when someone else is near a high drop! I used to sit on my (totally wide and safe) windowsill with the window open all the way, and he couldn't even pretend to carry on a conversation with me till I got away from the OMG WINDOW.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose There are so many things I feel that way about. I'm not a person who feels a lot of fear, necessarily, but there are things I cannot watch other people do because I am convinced they are going to injure themselves (a big one in college was when people would deliberately run and slide on the ice on the sidewalk. I could not work out the physics of why their legs didn't go out from under them)

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Blushingflwr Or like when you see a kid running, and you know his/her head is waaaay to far in front of his/her legs, and you just know they're going to eat shit? I can't even call out to warn, I just stand and watch in horror.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Well, that I can't watch either (it's one of the reasons I don't like full-contact sports) but I'm talking about situations where you may have evidence that the person is perfectly safe but you can't believe it. An imperfect example: if I were afraid of water, I wouldn't be able to watch the Olympic swimming races, because it would be too scary, even though obviously Ryan Lochte is unlikely to drown. (It really usually only is in person, I can watch gymnastics just fine, even though I HATE falling and would be petrified on a balance beam)


@Blushingflwr Once my family and I went to the top of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks in upstate NY, which is basically a large-ish flat area with a sheer drop off the sides to cliffs below...and NO FENCES. I sat rooted to the ground for 45 minutes, and couldn't even watch my husband and daughter walk close to the edge because I was convinced they would go over. (The fact that no one fell off the mountain that day still amazes me.)

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Bittersweet This is what I'm talking about; the danger exists, and though the people near the edge are fine, the danger exists. I was nearly frozen on top of the leaning tower of Pisa because the fences were only knee-high. It's not even that tall!

Barry Grant

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

If I cut myself chopping veggies or whatever, I always think to myself "Nice move dumbshit, Go get a band-aid." But if I see someone else do it my stomach drops and it feels like I have an instant flu with chills and nausea.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Barry Grant Yes, exactly. I can mess around in a campfire and maybe burn myself or singe my arm hair, but another person in there? "Oh god, look out! That's hot! Ahh, move!"


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose What you said about the kids running too fast, but with my recently somehow brain-addled cat (I have no real details; vet's advice is let her be unless she appears to be in distress)! She has lost a bit of her ability to judge jumping up and down from things and also is always too close to edges when she does do it. I mean, it's usually only the couch that is two feet off the carpeted floor, and she's still a cat with cat abilities, but she looks so startled when it happens that I now always have my hands out in some kind of Frankenstein formation when she's about to do anything!


@Hellcat "it happens" = falling off of something; I realize I totally neglected to sat what the "it" is!


Her answer on why we enjoy fear is very astute! Sometimes it seems you can't do a damn thing about the place of women in society but you can totally make it through all of Silent Hill!
(And then you eliminate Silent Hill nightmares by remembering the place of women in society!)
PS No spoilers seeing it tonight.


The different types of fear is really interesting--I love roller coasters but hate scary movies, for instance.

Or, I do this thing where I'll imagine some worst-case-scenario for what I am doing right now, like if I'm on a train what it would be like if the train hit a wall and all of the cars buckled up. It's pretty much involuntary and it's not that fun.


@OhMarie I call that Worry Porn, and have to work very hard not to give in to that kind of train of thought. Especially at night before I fall asleep. It usually has to do with car accidents or home invaders threatening my family, and it takes some serious screaming at myself (mentally) to stop.


What does everyone think about inherited fear? It doesn't seem quite right to me, especially because you would expect people with ancestors from areas with more poisonous snakes (Australia? Africa?) to be more phobic and vice versa.

Also, I recently read a study in which bred-in-captivity monkeys were shown a tape of monkeys being frightened of a snake, and they became frightened of a toy snake in their pen. However, the monkeys were also shown a tape of monkeys being frightened by flowers, and they did not take those monkeys' word for it. That seems to suggest a bit of both or maybe monkeys just have a good perception of video editing.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Bloodrocuted I like to think it's a real thing, because otherwise I'm just afraid of tiny, non-poisonous spiders because I'm a wimp.


@Bloodrocuted Well, the idea is that we evolved it well before we left Africa in the first place, but I'm still not sure I buy genetic fear of snakes and spiders. I find a genetic fear of heights and the dark more reasonable, but I haven't actually read up much about any of it.


@Bloodrocuted I think the idea is that people from around the world are afraid of snakes, regardless of whether our recent ancestors were exposed to them or not, because our very distant ancestors (like, possibly not Homo sapiens) had good reason to fear. In a related idea, spiders (most of which can't hurt us) are scary not because they will bite us/have bitten our ancestors but because they move like other legitimately-scary things--snakes, perhaps, or vermin that indicate parasites and disease.

(I don't necessarily buy it either, mind.)


@Bloodrocuted Well, I think there are things that we are genetically predisposed to fear, and then through a combination of individual nature and nurture, some people have those become bigger fears, and other people don't. I would want to be able to examine fear of snakes cross-culturally. Not just in terms of what animals are in a physical location (how exposure to the threat increases/decreases the fear thereof) but also in terms of mythology/folklore/cultural beliefs. For example, in Genesis, there's the whole bit about the snake tempting Eve and becoming her enemy* as a result, so that is in all the Abrahamic religions, AFAIK. But the ancient Romans (and possibly Greeks) saw snakes as symbols of healing and rebirth, because of how they shed their skins. So, the question then is, how do those cultural assumptions about the goodness/evilness of snakes connect to the legitimate threat they pose (in terms of venom, etc) and the resulting prevalence of fear of snakes (or whatever animal/natural phenomenon you're examining)?
I actually think that the scary children fear is more likely to be hardwired, in the same way that we are natural inclined to respond certain ways to neonatony.

*“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
and you will strike his heel"
-Genesis 3:14-15 NIV translation


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Like those monkeys (poor things; I hate thinking of them scared for nothing like that!), I have no love for rubber snakes either. And I hate when people in my office, which has been home to a few snakes out in the shrubby landscaping that surrounds our parking lot, say, "But it's not poisonous! It's just a garter snake." There's no "just" here; the fact that it is a snake at all is enough for some people, me being one of them.


The African origins theory is sensible, but I agree, other fears seem more useful. Rarely people are afraid of big cats, for example, usually we are borderline fascinated by them; however, big cats must have preyed on our ancestors at least as much as snakes.
That poem is interesting. Why is a woman specifically the enemy of a snake?

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Here's another thought: My therapist and I chatted about fight or flight (it's connected to panic attacks, etc.), and she told me there's a third F: freeze. Sometimes people run, sometimes they fight back, and sometimes they just freeze up.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose *raises hand* Here


This totally explains why my kid, who is 3, is terrified of other small children who don't talk, but they march right up into his personal space with either a giant smile or a blank expression on their faces. Must be frightening.
Society is hard-wired to be a-feared of abnormal children.


It took me a few minutes to get up the nerve to click on that clown video. Clowns! Clowns.

fondue with cheddar

@Bittersweet One time when I had the day off, my coworkers changed my computer desktop to a scary clown picture, and they printed out a bunch of other scary clown pictures and hid them in various places in and around my desk.


I don't know what I am scared of most, but if I watch scary movies I have a really hard time walking into rooms and going to sleep and looking into mirrors because I am terrified that I will walk in on the Donnie Darko rabbit thing, or REDRUM, or the dude at the end of saw (SPOILER ALERT) standing up or or or


@redheaded&crazie I was never afraid of Frank (Donnie Darko bunny) because I was of the opinion that he was trying to warn/help Donnie, buuuuuuuttt yes mirrors! I cannot ever look into a medicine cabinet mirror at night if I have opened the cabinet because I JUST KNOW that when I close it, if I do look into it, I will either a) see a ghost/murderer in the reflection behind me or b) will see MY OWN REFLECTION BETRAYING ME. I can't remember what book/movie it was from (maybe Fear Street?) but there's something out there where the who story was about reflection people being like, evil and from an alternate dimension and how they can replace you if you aren't careful.

I am not comforted by the fact that parting my hair on the opposite side of my head seems to not disturb any of my closest friends.


@iknowright i have serious ghost fear. like, i don't even believe in ghosts but if i watch a scary movie I can practically see the ghost standing in the corner of the room with the long hair and the silent gaze just reaching her hands out for me and

i have certainly been known to open doors real fast.


@redheaded&crazie Reading your description actually made me see....that....figure.

Luckily I refuse to acknowledge that scene in The Grudge/that Katie Holmes horror remake from last year and still believe that one is protected when hiding under the covers.


@redheaded&crazie Oh, you guys! In my new place (which is coming along nicely!), I have a sort of loft area at the top of the stairs that overlooks the living room. I don't know why I do this, but while I am watching TV late at night (my back to the stairs), I always think about what would happen if I turned around, glanced up... and saw just the top part of someone's head quickly ducking back down in that loft area. Yikes. And I think of this all the time. (This is the very situation that probably caused me to rate the possible injury level of leaping from the balcony.)


@Hellcat YOUR BACK TO THE STAIRS!??!?! I imagine in real life this is not as scary as my mind has made it out to be (don't read The Rake before bedtime, kids) -- is it more of an open-space plan and less of a intruder-blocks-the-stairs-exit thing? Also by intruder I mean ghost.


@iknowright My back to the DARK stairs, even! It's pretty much just the way that the room (or, let's be honest, where the ever-important cable comes out of the wall) dictates the set up. And leave it to ol' horror-brain me to come up with a scenario no matter what. But, in general, it's not scary; the place is nice and neighbors are all around. It's just when I somehow decide to conjure up these images for no reason I can figure out.

My apartment that I just left had sort of the opposite--stairs that came up into the living room with a railing with posts on the open side. Then, after I got rid of the couch that was there, I pictured seeing someone's head kind of pop up and peek in (and, again, pictured the balcony as my means of escape).

Oh, but the new place has a very large, deep, unfinished storage closet in the now-unused upstairs bedroom; the water heater is in it. We've started referring to it as the "Toby closet" in honor of Paranormal Activity 3. I better never tell this to my friend who sometimes cat-sits if I go away; I'll come home to find no friend, no cat, and a note saying to meet them at his place.


so one day I decided that I was going to read all the plot synopses on wikipedia for all the classic scary movies so I would know what would happen without having to watch the movie. I wanted to be cultured in scary movies.

anyway I obviously could not get to sleep that night, but on top of that, it just so happened that somebody tried to break into my apartment that night (like walking up the back porch that my room looked onto, and jiggling the door knob)! GOOD TIMES! :D :D :D


@redheaded&crazie AHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOOOO I think my heart might actually stop if that happened to me. Scary movie synopses are terrible.


@frigwiggin They are the worst. I read the synopsis of the Human Centipede and nearly vomited. The image of them sewn together will NEVER LEAVE ME. Also, the ending is just... I feel sick and light headed all over again.

tea tray in the sky.

@TARDIStime The Human Centipede is surprisingly campy. The concept is pretty disturbing, but the actual movie is just ridiculous. Which isn't a bad thing!


The first and only time I watched Saw, I was in a house by myself and just as he stood up, my fuse box blew and all the lights went out.

My heart has only just slowed down.

fondue with cheddar

@tea tray in the sky. That's exactly how I feel about The Reanimator.


@teaandcakeordeath holy. shit.

I would probably die. right on the spot.


@redheaded&crazie oh nooooooooooo

I went to see the Ring with a few friends and got freaked out and slept over with my friend who was also freaked out. And that would have been fine, except.... she had several aquariums in her room, so we had running-water noises. All night. NO SLEEP.


@anachronistique The Ring is The Movie That Traumatized Me. My friend and I saw it ON VHS (oh 2002) and right after we finished watching it, the phone rang. THE PHONE RANG. Ugh, just thinking about that movie is enough to make me nervous, more than a decade later.


@TARDIStime OMG, I saw part of the Human Centipede once while my housemates were watching it and I left before it was over and I still sometimes have traumatic flashbacks to it.


Was it The Hairpin that had people post their best scary/ ghost stories sometime last year? And there was an epic one about an empty truck driving up to the family homestead while the writer was there? I have a poor memory and am not great at story telling to begin with.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@withatwist JESUS I STILL THINK ABOUT THIS and it revved its engine and an uncle went outside and shot at it? CHIIILLLLLSSS.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose YES! I tried to search and couldn't find that post/ thread. I really want to spend this windy Chicago evening alone, scaring myself with other people's stories, so if anyone can link I would be so appreciative.


@withatwist This is from this past spring, full of epic stories!

But I'm not sure if it's the one you're looking for -- I hope there's another one someone can share (I love a good ghost story!).


@withatwist There's also this post, which is what got me into the Hairpin in the first place!


@iknowright The Rachel story is perfectly creepy. I love child ghosts the most.
@meetapossum I don't remember seeing that one before but it's great!

This is embarrassing but the call for your own scariest stories came from Jezebel, which I stopped checking regularly because the comments and occasionally the articles are kind of out of control for me (and I consider myself a pretty serious liberal feminist interested in other peoples takes on situations). Jezebel did lead me to The Hairpin though! And provided lovers of creepy things with this:


@withatwist OMG don't be embarassed at all, I have a couple of Jezebel Halloween posts saved in my favorites! And I was going to share it with you but then I was like, "uhh Jezebel's a bit of a dirty word here so maybe linking to it will get me blacklisted." So we're of like-minds.

Also, I think we're off the hook if it's a thread about scary stories, not pseudo-feminism? I mean, in the good ol' days (when I was proud to be a starred commenter, ahem) there were a lot of great, smart, interesting commenters. We can mourn what once was while hating on what it has become, yeah?


@iknowright One of my favorite posts! I keep hoping for more stories like that.


I'd just like to note that I effin' love the Hairpin for always giving it up for Pittsburghers. Also that I am so. afraid. of house centipedes.

fondue with cheddar



I am TERRIFIED of evil children. Evil children, and evil pets. I'm not surprised that many others share the same fear. Maybe it's b/c these normally harmless (relatively speaking) creatures can easily get close to us, and so if they turn on us, and take advantage of the affection we are biologically inclined to give them, we are caught by surprise and therefore v. vulnerable. Remember that NY Times article a while ago about sociopathic children? I was torn btwn desperate fear and a hankering for preemptive violence (IT'S THEM OR ME). Also, I've watched a plethora of scary movies, but the very IDEA of "Pet Sematary" has me scared so shitless, I still haven't been able to bring myself to watch it.


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