October 2, 2022

Review: Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films

Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book surprised me, as it took an angle I didn't expect at all. Although the subtitle "The Science of Horror Films" should have been a tip-off, I still didn't expect the narrative presented here. Maybe because the very idea of juxtaposing "science" with "horror film" is so unusual I didn't think the author would follow through with it.

But follow through she did. In this book, you will learn more than you ever thought could be said about different brain regions and how the body and mind react to various stimuli: fear, terror, disgust. As the title suggests, it is very heavy on the science, referencing many studies (all documented in the endnotes, although the book really could have used an index). The horror films discussed definitely take second place, mentioned only for how they are used to reveal the science of how they affect us.

If you came to this book for the films, you will be disappointed. (Although chapter 2, "A Brief History of Horror," does do a fascinating dissection of the various horror "waves" and how they were reflecting the state of human society at the time.) But if you go into it knowing its focus will be on scientific research, you will be rewarded with some really interesting insights. And the extensive list at the end of all the movies the author watched to write this book should inspire horror aficionados to search for films they have possibly never heard of.

Books like this, with such a different, unexpected slant, don't come along too often. Recommended.

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