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Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films

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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 ph 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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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 ph 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

30 review for Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films

  1. 4 out of 5

    Casper

    Book Blog || Twitter || 25+ Book Discord Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tom Doherty Associates for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. THE PREMISE-- This book starts off with the classic Scream line, “Do you like scary movies?” The analysis of that classic horror film scene caught my attention right from the start. The book itself is divided into 8 chapters, each targeting a different aspect of horror movies. This is Your Brain on Horror explores the chemical reactions that Book Blog || Twitter || 25+ Book Discord Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tom Doherty Associates for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. THE PREMISE-- This book starts off with the classic Scream line, “Do you like scary movies?” The analysis of that classic horror film scene caught my attention right from the start. The book itself is divided into 8 chapters, each targeting a different aspect of horror movies. This is Your Brain on Horror explores the chemical reactions that happen in your brain while watching horror movies. Putting Fear in Your Ears discusses how sounds and music are used to enhance emotions during horror movies scenes. Violence and Mayhem analyses the difference between the horror genre and action genre, which are very different experiences despite both leaning on chaotic violence. The result is a well-rounded analysis of horror films, what we get out of them, how our bodies react to horror, and the last appealing of horror movies. BEST PARTS-- Horror film buffs will absolutely eat up the many analyses of specific horror film scenes through a scientific lens. I knew almost all of the references within the book because I’ve spent most of my life devouring horror movies. It’s really cool to take a scene that you know so well and love out of the context of the film and read about the scientific implications of it. Plus, if you haven’t seen too many horror films, you might get some great recommendations from the book. Warning though, you might run into some spoilers! CRITIQUE-- I’m not a big science nonfiction reader, but I do have the capacity to enjoy scientific books that are well-cited like this one. That being said, I think it’s ultimately important to strike a good balance between being scientific and being interesting. Each chapter of this book starts off really interesting with plenty of movie examples and some cool scientific tidbits. Unfortunately, I found the scientific parts ran off the rails more often than not. What I mean by that is the writing starts to get more and more into the scientific weeds as the chapter progresses, which admittedly made me lose focus and interest more than once while reading this book. OVERALL-- I found the book to be an above average read overall on this specific subject. All of the references made me want to go on a horror film binge watch, and in fact, I did rewatch some of the movies that were referenced here. I do think Nesseth could have done a better job of balancing the entertainment aspects with the scientific theory aspects, but overall this was a fun read and I think most horror lovers will feel the same!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Becky Spratford

    Review in the May 15, 2022 issue of Booklist and here on the blog: https://raforall.blogspot.com/2022/05... Three Words That describe this book: conversational, thought provoking, comprehensive Notes: This books works because Nesseth is both a fan and a scientist. It is a mix of scientific research, social science, and personal information. Readers who love Horror movies will eagerly seek out this title, but it is also a great recommendation for fans of Mary Roach or Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks fr Review in the May 15, 2022 issue of Booklist and here on the blog: https://raforall.blogspot.com/2022/05... Three Words That describe this book: conversational, thought provoking, comprehensive Notes: This books works because Nesseth is both a fan and a scientist. It is a mix of scientific research, social science, and personal information. Readers who love Horror movies will eagerly seek out this title, but it is also a great recommendation for fans of Mary Roach or Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell. Further Readalikes: Danse Macabre, My Book [this is very similar except analyzes the appeal of Horror movies, not books]. Science of Pop culture titles.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Suz Jay

    NIGHTMARE FUEL contains the following chapters along with forward, afterward, a comprehensive list of every horror and horror-adjacent movie mentioned in the book, and references for further study: This Is Your Brain on Horror, a Brief History of Horror, How to Make a Monster, Putting Fear in Your Ears, Why Some Scares Stick with You, Violence and Mayhem, Blood, Gore, and Body Horror, and Horror’s Long-Lasting Appeal. The book also contains numerous interviews with directors, film editors, film NIGHTMARE FUEL contains the following chapters along with forward, afterward, a comprehensive list of every horror and horror-adjacent movie mentioned in the book, and references for further study: This Is Your Brain on Horror, a Brief History of Horror, How to Make a Monster, Putting Fear in Your Ears, Why Some Scares Stick with You, Violence and Mayhem, Blood, Gore, and Body Horror, and Horror’s Long-Lasting Appeal. The book also contains numerous interviews with directors, film editors, film score composes, and other horror movie experts. I liked how the author used biology, neuroscience, and psychology to explain the physical and mental effects of consuming horror media. The chronology of how horror movies evolved based on current fears was fascinating. The scope of the book includes everything from final girls to the uncanny valley to what makes a monster to what makes horror movies appealing to how sound is manipulated to increase the fear factor. There’s even advice on how to recover from watching a scary movie and how to minimize the effects while watching, for example, by viewing on a smaller screen, during the day, or with a friend. One of my favorite parts is in the Blood, Gore, and Body Horror chapter when the author explains how horror has an ideal vehicle in the human body, which is described as a gross, squishy, “fragile meat tube.” There’s plenty of goodness for horror movie fans, even if they aren’t as into the science-heavy bits, such as deep dives into classic horror films such as Hereditary, The Thing, Alien, Jaws, the Blair Witch Project, the Quiet Place, and more. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks to Tor Nightfire and Tom Doherty Associates for providing an Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    This review is for an ARC copy received from the publisher through NetGalley. Generally speaking, this was a reasonably interesting book. Being a huge horror fan, the description led me to want to read it: "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." What that made me expect and what was actually produced were fairly different. The majority of people who read this are unlikely to have extensive b This review is for an ARC copy received from the publisher through NetGalley. Generally speaking, this was a reasonably interesting book. Being a huge horror fan, the description led me to want to read it: "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." What that made me expect and what was actually produced were fairly different. The majority of people who read this are unlikely to have extensive backgrounds in science, medicine or academia. It therefore makes sense that the physiological and biological and other medical and scientific aspects can't be easily explained in one or two sentences, and thus, had whole sections of the book dedicated to explaining them in terms the layperson can (hopefully) understand. But there were times that doing so required going into so much intricate detail that I felt my eyes glossing over until I just skipped ahead a few paragraphs. Too many times the book read too clinically and more like a dissertation than a scientific look at broken down for the masses. By far the best chapter was the second one in which a breakdown of horror by the decades was made, with explanations of what societal fears were influencing the films of that time period. I would like to have read much more of that, and application of the science and theories involved more extensively to specific movies to make the point. It's not a bad read for any horror fan, but understand there's a lot more scientific talk than anything else in the book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Justine || themaritimebookworm

    This is not a book you could sit down and read in a sitting. Its thought provoking chapters brought forward things I never thought about before when it comes to horror movies. Some of the science went a little over my head but it was explained well enough I could understand the point.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I requested this on Netgalley half on a lark, figuring it would tend towards the junkier pop-science books I’ve seen (Science of Superheroes, etc). Instead, this is actually a damned solid book looking at the actual science of how we react to fear, both in real life and on the screen (highlighting the many ways the two are different). There’s a ton of actual neuroscience here, way more than I’d expected, but it’s at a level that anyone should be able to comprehend. More importantly, Nesseth doesn I requested this on Netgalley half on a lark, figuring it would tend towards the junkier pop-science books I’ve seen (Science of Superheroes, etc). Instead, this is actually a damned solid book looking at the actual science of how we react to fear, both in real life and on the screen (highlighting the many ways the two are different). There’s a ton of actual neuroscience here, way more than I’d expected, but it’s at a level that anyone should be able to comprehend. More importantly, Nesseth doesn’t just regurgitate studies; she explains them, notes the potential weakness in them, and in many cases, points out how much “known” stuff has relied on flawed studies (one very gender-conformist study has all kinds of flaws, yet keeps getting cited as foundational). That said, this isn’t a pure science book; Nesseth throws in examples in nearly every paragraph, and also happily throws in anecdotes from her own lived experience as a horror fan. She also has a lot of fun sidebars diving deeper into specific films, and interviews with other experts in the field. Aside from the intro (which feels, to be frank, like an earnest college newspaper editorial on why people watch horror, and probably can be skipped by anyone who’d want to read this book in the first place), the book feels free of missteps, and is well worth the read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mercy Fowler

    I was very excited by this because, well, it's about horror and why we love it. For the most part, it was a very enjoyable read, except that perhaps it gets bogged down sometimes by *too much* science. That, or I'm an idiot that doesn't really get psychology and brain-science stuff as much as I thought I did. Overall, possibly more enjoyable for those with a greater interest in neuroscience than I am, but a solid read in general. Solid Dragon Age reference in it, though. I was very excited by this because, well, it's about horror and why we love it. For the most part, it was a very enjoyable read, except that perhaps it gets bogged down sometimes by *too much* science. That, or I'm an idiot that doesn't really get psychology and brain-science stuff as much as I thought I did. Overall, possibly more enjoyable for those with a greater interest in neuroscience than I am, but a solid read in general. Solid Dragon Age reference in it, though.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Westlake

    I really liked this book for its broad sweep of the impact of horror movies on our psyche and our culture. It does a nice job putting the genre into context (the overview of the history and themes of horror movies is intriguing to think about and really well explored). I think what really impressed me about the book was how many examples Nesseth used in the writing. It would have been easy to generalize and make some points using a few movies, but there is a wide range of horror films that the b I really liked this book for its broad sweep of the impact of horror movies on our psyche and our culture. It does a nice job putting the genre into context (the overview of the history and themes of horror movies is intriguing to think about and really well explored). I think what really impressed me about the book was how many examples Nesseth used in the writing. It would have been easy to generalize and make some points using a few movies, but there is a wide range of horror films that the book utilizes. Everything from main stream to independent films gets a mention, and I appreciate that the quality of films analyzed was not just blockbuster movies.. Perhaps a second edition would include a chapter on the influence of CGI elements in horror movies. I think there's some fascinating research to look at in the common years about whether they have improved or decreased the scare factor of movies. After all, do Syfy channel horror movies really get classified as true horror, or at least, should they be? If you are a film buff, into pop culture, cultural history, or how those intersect with our psychology, please read the book. You'll gain a few more films to your watchlist as well.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katelyn

    There's such an interesting tension between horror and non-horror fans when it comes to understanding and embracing fear. I both did and did not grow up fully a fan until I was a teenager, at which point my life was at its most tumultuous to date - so I thought - and I began, after some unconventional sleepover exposure therapy, to go full tilt into exploring the genre. I had always read horror, though often so wrapped in madness and the antiquated language of the likes of people like Poe and Wi There's such an interesting tension between horror and non-horror fans when it comes to understanding and embracing fear. I both did and did not grow up fully a fan until I was a teenager, at which point my life was at its most tumultuous to date - so I thought - and I began, after some unconventional sleepover exposure therapy, to go full tilt into exploring the genre. I had always read horror, though often so wrapped in madness and the antiquated language of the likes of people like Poe and Wilde that I never questioned why one version of horror should be more of a warm blanket than another. I frequented cartoons like Scooby-Doo and Courage the Cowardly Dog far before I ever got the courage to look a horror movie in its face. Now, of course, I frequent both almost daily looking to find all kinds of things. After the passing of one of my grandparents I immediately turned to The Taking of Deborah Logan, though in the moment I couldn't have told you why. In retrospect, of course, it's obvious almost beyond belief, an atmosphere in which I could cope with that kind of loss from the side, without having to think too directly about my own. The Relic, too, was great for it, though much more emotionally impactful and much less frequented at the moment. For me now, what once was too terrifying to face is a source of comfort I go to almost without thinking. But once I was on the side of those who propose that anyone who turns on a horror movie for fun must have something going on, because what's so great about being voluntarily scared out of your mind? A lot, as it turns out. Nina Nesseth's Nightmare Fuel aims to explore not just why we love horror, but what horror is trying to do in the world, and what it does to our brains as we watch. What, chemically and psychologically, is going on when we seek out and experience horror? And why, chemically and psychologically, do we keep returning to it? When tackling something as complex as why and how horror affects our minds, it's more than a little necessary to pick and choose your examples and dig into only a few rather than dive deep into the whole range of available options, otherwise you'd end up with a never-ending compendium (which I would happily read, personally, but must be a slog to write solo). In light of that, Nesseth weaves together her choices for horror films and scientific studies that have used horror to try and shape an understanding of how we engage with it and the kind of impact it might have on us. Interestingly, she often engages with the studies she chooses through interrogation. Why were there studies seeking to correlate exposure to violence in media with violent behaviors in children and young adults who watched them? How ethically conducted were these studies? And how scientifically? Given that most of them were studies aimed seemingly specifically at confirming ideas and biases most people and parents already believed, there is some fun to be had in watching Nesseth deconstruct and debunk some of them, ultimately defanging the specter of horror film as manipulative beast and the harmful stereotype that people with mental illness are violent or dangerous. She also seeks to understand and point out the connections between what kinds of fictional horror were being produced throughout the decades and what real life fears we were facing, culturally, socially, and politically, through each of those time periods. It is (personally) an endlessly fascinating connection that flies directly in the face both of the arguments that horror has not previously been political and that the use of horror to shape our understanding of anxieties is a niche rather than universal experience. In chapters like "Putting Fear in Your Ears", Nesseth aims to deconstruct the elements of horror film that signal to us when we should feel a spike in our mental and emotional states, who we should be connected to in a story and how, and what it means to strip that away. In one example she explains how Halloween minus its score and sound effects left studio executives hollow and unafraid…until those elements were added in. She also explores films that are aware of the tension-building power of sound and silence, and thus toy with both. "Blood, Gore, and Body Horror" aims to explore the connection between films that depict or imply violence to the body and how we engage with them - one prescient chapter opening example lands Funny Games on a list of movies "without shock-value violence despite lengthy torture sequences, simply because these acts were off-screen". One of my personal favorite experiments in this regard is watching Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) with people who have never seen it before, or hearing their stories, as they routinely describe it as far more violent than it ever is simply because it feels like it should be, despite most of the major violence being conducted just around the corner. Nesseth also proposes the ways in which body horror can affect us through its different manifestations in a story, through violence within a body, from without a body, or, as one example from Reservoir Dogs shows, through violence to the body conducted offscreen but implied enough that we believe we saw it happen. While all analytical texts should be taken with a grain of salt no matter the subject, Nightmare Fuel is most interesting in its goal of exploring knowledge and science we already have while proposing ways in which it could improve rather than arguing a certain position of an argument or positioning one kind of horror as superior to another. It's a fascinating, easily digestible and approachable read spliced together with interviews from some of horror's touchstone voices about their experiences with the genre and what scares and excites them about it. And overall, a worthy entry to the pantheon of texts aiming to interrogate the apparent contradiction of diving into fear in a world constantly geared toward throwing more of it at our lives. With supplementary lists at the back for every film referenced in each chapter, Nightmare Fuel is sure to spark more than one genre deep dive among casual, serious, and merely curious fans alike. Nightmare Fuel releases from Tor Nightfire on July 26, 2022. I would like to thank the author and publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to receive an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katy The Sleepy Reader

    In this house we are huge horror fans. Movies are usually the way we consume horror, but we do read horror books from time to time. I do not remember watching a lot of horror as a kid or even a teenager, although I did read horror, Poe was a favorite and I read true crime which could be considered horror. As an adult, that's where my horror journey really started. My husband is a huge horror movie fan, B movies being one of his favorites to make me watch. We even took my then 6-year-old son to s In this house we are huge horror fans. Movies are usually the way we consume horror, but we do read horror books from time to time. I do not remember watching a lot of horror as a kid or even a teenager, although I did read horror, Poe was a favorite and I read true crime which could be considered horror. As an adult, that's where my horror journey really started. My husband is a huge horror movie fan, B movies being one of his favorites to make me watch. We even took my then 6-year-old son to see 30 Days of Night, a pretty gory vampire movie, in the theater. He loved it and I think it helped spark his love of horror. With chapters like, This Is Your Brain on Horror, A Brief History of Horror, How to Make a Monster, Putting Fear in Your Ears, Why Some Scares Stick with You, Violence and Mayhem, Blood, Gore and Body Horror, and Horror's Long-Lasting Appeal, you would think that this would be a book any horror fan would want to read. I can definitely see that the author went into a deep dive on all thing's horror. This book not only looks at the real science of how our brains and bodies react to horror but also advice on how to recover from watching a horror movie. This book seeks to not only explain why we love horror so much but also what is happening to us as were watching and/or reading horror. Throughout the book there are excerpts from interviews about certain films and anecdotal, real-life experiences from the author herself. As huge horror movie fans in this house, I really wanted to like this book. However, it just wasn't for me. I really liked the parts where the book talked about movies, however, this book is very scientific. If you're really into reading a science book, then this is the book for you. The writing is good, and it is solid, the author is clearly passionate about horror and science. I would recommend this book to any horror fan with a cautionary note about the science lingo. I received this book free from NetGalley for an honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Manuela

    Interesting book if you are interested about learning more about the science behind fear and horror fascination. I enjoyed the book, though it was much more focused on science than I thought going into it. The author is clearly passionate about the subject, and the writing is good - I can actually feel like it would be a fun book to listen in audio, as it has a very podcasty feeling (not sure if this is a thing lol). I feel like a learned a lot about fear and the science behind it, and how horror Interesting book if you are interested about learning more about the science behind fear and horror fascination. I enjoyed the book, though it was much more focused on science than I thought going into it. The author is clearly passionate about the subject, and the writing is good - I can actually feel like it would be a fun book to listen in audio, as it has a very podcasty feeling (not sure if this is a thing lol). I feel like a learned a lot about fear and the science behind it, and how horror directors use it to their advantage. It did seem, though, like the book tried to achieve way to much; it included interviews sections, movies summaries, and a variety of very detailed examples. It would go too much away from the subject, and though I found it interesting I felt like it could go without or as a shorter footnote. Sometimes, to explain how the studies were not significant, it could become too repetitive. And being a bit nitpicking, the constant parenthesis with director and year did not help the flow - I'm all for giving credit where is due, but only saying on the first time the movie was mentioned would be enough. Anyway, overall, I quite liked the reading and would probably recommend the book to my horror or anyone who enjoys reading about the science behind emotions - specifically fear in this case I received a free copy from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange of an unbiased review

  12. 5 out of 5

    Damiana

    From brain chemistry and genetics to history and society, Nesseth covers all the bases for Nightmare Fuel. Each chapter is a deep dive into one of the reasons horror movies scare us and why we keep coming back for more. I fully expected the historical commentary, an overview of how fear works in the brain, and what, in theory, makes a good horror movie. This book went way beyond my expectations! Nesseth brought up every point I’ve ever made and issue I’ve ever had when discussing horror and fear From brain chemistry and genetics to history and society, Nesseth covers all the bases for Nightmare Fuel. Each chapter is a deep dive into one of the reasons horror movies scare us and why we keep coming back for more. I fully expected the historical commentary, an overview of how fear works in the brain, and what, in theory, makes a good horror movie. This book went way beyond my expectations! Nesseth brought up every point I’ve ever made and issue I’ve ever had when discussing horror and fear in these contexts that I keep seeing sorely lacking outside of small discussions. I was first wowed by how encompassing the section was on types of fear. Sure, there’s fight or flight response but Nesseth also covered the lesser known freeze and “fright” aka Tonic Immobility (something I’m quick to discuss when this topic comes up because these are my initial and general responses to fear). Later, I had a huge grin on my face when I read Nesseth’s anecdote about being 13 and arguing with the video store/rental about horror being mixed into the action section. I have had that same argument. Lastly, Nesseth says she finds watching horror somewhat cathartic. She clarifies that there’s no evidence of horror being cathartic but if it makes you feel better, then there’s no harm in it Nesseth quotes Wes Craven, “if you scream and everyone else in the audience screams, you realize that your fears are not just within yourself, they’re in other people as well, and that’s strangely releasing.” Perhaps it is also strangely releasing when you see your aggravations and thoughts shared by someone else on a genre you’re a fan of. Nesseth points out the many fallacies and limitations in many studies done on horror, which is satisfying to see pointed out. There is, of course, the obvious fallacy of the study touted by those who continuously bring up their moral panic about on screen violence leading to violent actions in real life (said study led by Karen Hennigan et al – of course a Karen ran this study…). She also points out the issues in trying to pin point demographics in horror – that the subgenres of horror movies referenced are often limited, that the divisions are often between cis-gendered men and women (that leaving out trans, non-binary, agender, and gender fluid people is limiting these studies), the research is often too localized (not global), and that often the data is dominantly or entirely self-reported. The bibliography for this book is extensive. Even more exciting is the list of movies referenced. You could easily turn this into a To-Watch List or challenge. It certainly looks like Nesseth did the homework. Speaking of homework, I filled a few pages of my reading journal with quotes, facts, trivia and more. I felt like I was taking a college class in horror or back in my psychology classes. I would have loved to have had this book on my syllabus in those days. The only complaint I have about the book was the lack of spoiler warnings. At the time of reading this book, I hadn’t watched a couple of the movies referenced (Martyrs, The Slumber Party Massacre, or Raw) and now I know quite a bit about them. I am, thankfully, pretty spoiler friendly. That said, I know a lot of my fellow horror fans are not, so be sure to look at the movie list in the back of the book and take note if there are any you don’t want to be ruined on just yet. Nesseth doesn’t go in depth on all of them but, the risk is there. I recommend Nightmare Fuel for any hardcore horror fan, anyone interested in learning about what makes us scared, and anyone who has ever had to argue with family or other “concerned” citizens about the “dangers of watching horror.” You will definitely learn something.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Macmillian- Tom Doherty Associates for an advanced copy of this new book on the science of what makes a horror film work. Besides Twitter and certain family members' politics what else frightens people. A shape under a sheet standing in a doorway, a figure that might dwell in a mirror, random violence, an accented man discussing wolves as children of the night. For some all of these, for others, some, a select few none, but everyone has something that My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Macmillian- Tom Doherty Associates for an advanced copy of this new book on the science of what makes a horror film work. Besides Twitter and certain family members' politics what else frightens people. A shape under a sheet standing in a doorway, a figure that might dwell in a mirror, random violence, an accented man discussing wolves as children of the night. For some all of these, for others, some, a select few none, but everyone has something that scares them. Mine was as a child watching the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer classic movie. The Abominable Snowmonster of the North, drove me from the room, and always even after he was proven nice, still made me oddly disquited even decades later. In her book Nina Nesseth looks at why scary films make us feel the way we do in Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films, and what keeps fans coming back for more and more. The book is broken into twelve chapter, each analyzing why films make viewers feel the way they do. The beginning is about the brain and how scares and disquieting images work, what parts of the brain, the eye, the heart, all the fun things that make a jump scare work. Or not, as the author explains, in that people are not the same in their fears, what could drive a four-year-old out of family room while everyone is watching a holiday special, might made a jaded slasher fan yawn and check their phone. There is also a history of horror films, a decade by decade study showing what was big, what has faded away, and why those films work. Plus the importance of sound in setting a mood and ratcheting up the tension. All these chapters have plenty of movie examples, and interviews with writers, film and sound editors, directors and more. In addition there is a list of movies in the back that influenced each chapter, and is a handy guide for watching on nights when the moon is full. The book is very well written and endlessly interesting. I can see where the science might make some readers eyes roll, but I found it easy enough to follow, and educational. I enjoyed especially the section on sound, something I have always noticed and been a fan of, from soundtracks to Foley sound and effects, even the absence of sound. The examples were all good and I could follow what the author was presenting when I could remember the movies that were being discussed. In addition, I added some movies to my various movie queues not that I needed more. Definitely for horror movie fans, especially for ones who find themselves getting jaded. I must say that my enjoyment of newer films is not that high with all the jump scares and lack of story, but after reading this book I found myself watching a film with new eyes and a brain that seemed more receptive. A good book also for film fans in general since a lot of this science is why films are so important to people also. Recommended for fans of Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror by W. Scott Pook and Cut: Horror Writers on Horror Film by Christopher Golden.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gyalten Lekden

    This is an ambitious exploration of the sciences of fear, from neurology to psychology even to some sociology and more, as they apply to horror films and the experiences of participating with horror films. As someone passionate about horror films who also has a passing interest in the science explaining why and how humans behave this book had a lot to keep me interested. The writing style was somewhat informal, even when discussing complicated brain sciences, and that made the material much more This is an ambitious exploration of the sciences of fear, from neurology to psychology even to some sociology and more, as they apply to horror films and the experiences of participating with horror films. As someone passionate about horror films who also has a passing interest in the science explaining why and how humans behave this book had a lot to keep me interested. The writing style was somewhat informal, even when discussing complicated brain sciences, and that made the material much more accessible, and it made the chapters flow pretty quickly. The pace was also helped but occasional asides, usually at the ends of chapters, which were either deep dives into a tangentially related topic or an interview with someone involved in the production or study of horror films. The book really strives to cover all the aspects of scientific inquiry that can go into the horror film experience, which is both laudable but also can seem unwieldy. The book does cover a lot of ground, and can seem a little long at times. I think this is because when exploring a scientific concept, and this is especially true in the earlier chapters, she sometimes applies that concept to the viewer, and sometimes to the characters in a movie as if they were actually experiencing the events of the film, and the focus moves back and forth a little bit, making the ultimate aim of the information unclear. Is this what filmmakers think of when creating films? Is this what happens to people watching and enjoying films? Is this what happens to people when someone jumps out of a dark corner and chases them with a knife? All of the above? Covering the wide range of scientific exploration related to horror also means some chapters are closely examining the horror film viewing experience where others are more general about reactions to violence and gore or the biological responses to different sound frequencies and so on. That said, all of the information does tie together, and I appreciated Nesseth not leaving any rock unturned, even if it meant the journey took the scenic route. You don’t have to be passionate about horror films to enjoy this book, though it helps. You do have to be interested in the science, though, because if you’re here only for the horror and not the science the book, as full as it is with horror enthusiast bonafides, doesn’t offer you as much. For someone like me it was great. It was full of interesting information, incredibly well-researched, fluidly-written, and really attempted to explore the entirety of the horror film experience. Understandably it isn’t for everyone, but if you have even a passing interest in the sciences behind our human experiences you will find a lot to enjoy in this book. I want to thank NetGalley, Macmillan-Tom Doherty Associates, and Tor Nightfire, who provided a complimentary eARC in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Thank you SO much to NetGalley for an ARC of Nightmare Fuel. I can't believe it took so long for someone to write a book like this but I was so excited to see it and doubly excited when my request was approved. I ❤❤❤❤❤❤ horror movies! I love to be scared, to jump up in my seat, to feel my heart racing and my palms sweating as the creepy background music reaches a crescendo and the (insert scary phantasm) pops out. I think my love for scary movies truly evolved when I was a little kid and my dad Thank you SO much to NetGalley for an ARC of Nightmare Fuel. I can't believe it took so long for someone to write a book like this but I was so excited to see it and doubly excited when my request was approved. I ❤❤❤❤❤❤ horror movies! I love to be scared, to jump up in my seat, to feel my heart racing and my palms sweating as the creepy background music reaches a crescendo and the (insert scary phantasm) pops out. I think my love for scary movies truly evolved when I was a little kid and my dad allowed me to watch movies I was FARRR too young to be watching. I remembered how I couldn't sleep for days after watching A Nightmare on Elm Street. That scared me to death, but it's remained one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Nightmare Fuel is about why we love horror movies; the author explores and explains the fascinating science of fear through psychology and physiology. Why do some people love horror movies? How come some movies keep us up at night and some don't? Is a love of horror movies genetic? I think so because my dad loves scary movies, too, but not my sis and mom. The author explains how we relate to the characters on the screen, empathetically and physically, why is why some squeamish scenes stay with us for a long time and never cease to bother us when we see similar scenes in other movies. I love the spotlight features on some of horror's famous films and the interviews with directors, film editors, composers, and horror academics, asked to give their take on why horror films resonate with an audience or how they craft a horror movie to elicit terror, suspense and chills. The author does an awesome job referencing old school movies, recent movies, popular movies and not very popular ones. I appreciate the list of movies at the end of the book, compiled by the author as part of the research that went into this amazing book. I'm definitely going to check some out because some sound familiar and I've never seen them, and some didn't, and their synopsis made me want to watch them as I was reading Nightmare Fuel. Nightmare Fuel is not just about the science of fear, but a celebration of the horror genre, a genre grossly underestimated by the film industry and audiences. I haven't been scared by a horror movie in a long time (it's called habituation - read the book!), but I have hope one will come along one day that will scare me the way my young self was scared by Freddy Krueger.

  16. 5 out of 5

    J Earl

    Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth is that rare book that applies science to our popular culture without either dumbing down the science (or being overly pop science in nature) or being too technical for a large readership. In other words, this is a very pleasant surprise. So many books that I have read that are billed as "The Science of..." books are weak in both the science and the pop culture. Thankfully I didn't let all of those disappointments keep me from continuing Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films by Nina Nesseth is that rare book that applies science to our popular culture without either dumbing down the science (or being overly pop science in nature) or being too technical for a large readership. In other words, this is a very pleasant surprise. So many books that I have read that are billed as "The Science of..." books are weak in both the science and the pop culture. Thankfully I didn't let all of those disappointments keep me from continuing to look for a book that would be satisfying in both areas. It certainly helps that Nesseth is a fan of horror films, but most other authors make the same claim, it just doesn't show up in their books. The science is in enough detail, whether psychology or neuroscience or any of the hybrids, to engage a reader who is into science. The thing that makes this exceptional is that even with that detail it is still accessible and interesting to the general fan of horror who has or wants only a very basic understanding of the science. That is, I think, due to the fact this is about the horror films first and the science second, so fans never feel like they are secondary to what they are reading. While the body of the book is great, the list of films mentioned as well as the bibliography offer wonderful resources. If you have been looking for more films to watch, there is a lengthy list of those mentioned in the text. If you'd like to read more about the science or the films, the bibliography offers many excellent options. If you have any interest whatsoever in either the psychology and neuroscience of fear and emotions in general or in horror films as a genre you will find a lot to enjoy in this book. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    Thanks to @NetGalley and @TorNightfire for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. (Posted on @dark.oracle.reads and Goodreads on 4/20) I am a horror gal through-and-through. I very rarely read or watch anything else besides documentaries (and the occasional reality dating trash, so sue me!), with one of my absolute favorites to dive into being horror-specific documentaries. That being said, I was ready for this book to be MY ish. I wanted to love it—really really did—however it en Thanks to @NetGalley and @TorNightfire for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. (Posted on @dark.oracle.reads and Goodreads on 4/20) I am a horror gal through-and-through. I very rarely read or watch anything else besides documentaries (and the occasional reality dating trash, so sue me!), with one of my absolute favorites to dive into being horror-specific documentaries. That being said, I was ready for this book to be MY ish. I wanted to love it—really really did—however it ended up being a real drag for me to get through. It’s clear the author researched the hell out of this thing, the only problem is all of this research wasn’t packaged into something enjoyable for a lay(wo)man who is more into horror than nit-picky science. It really felt like reading through one of my dry college textbooks at times. This book often gets very sidetracked on its own tangents, and those parts were especially tedious to read. After finishing I realized that THIS much meticulous information about very niche corners of film history, neuroscience, and psychological studies just wasn’t impactful to me. Although some of the information was interesting, I think it would have done this book a service to trim some of the stuffy, over-explained academic details. It truly felt like I was getting an endless stream of high-brow information spouted at me as opposed to genuinely being able to participate and connect with the work. If I had to pick one word, I would describe this book as sterile. I’ll definitely be in the minority here, but I could not get into the clinical delivery of this end product.

  18. 4 out of 5

    J

    A sharp look inside what makes horror movies work on us as well as they do. I’m not usually a big non-fiction reader, I tend to prefer more monsters and mayhem on my TBR. However when I received an ARC of Nightmare Fuel, I was beyond excited to dig in and was not disappointed. The book covers the physiological responses to fear, different types of fear, and the fears that showed up in horror movies decade by decade. Discussion of various sub-genres, in tricks like jump-scares, and what makes a h A sharp look inside what makes horror movies work on us as well as they do. I’m not usually a big non-fiction reader, I tend to prefer more monsters and mayhem on my TBR. However when I received an ARC of Nightmare Fuel, I was beyond excited to dig in and was not disappointed. The book covers the physiological responses to fear, different types of fear, and the fears that showed up in horror movies decade by decade. Discussion of various sub-genres, in tricks like jump-scares, and what makes a horror movie work (or not). Nina watched an exhaustive number of movies (catalogued in the end of the book) and read tons of research on fear and how it works (also listed in the back of the book) before bringing conclusions to the page that were easy to understand, and fascinating to take a look at. As a lifelong horror fan this was an excellent peek into the science of horror, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Trey

    Fear is a pathway to many a reaction, some consider to be, unnatural.....(OK, OK, I stole that from Darth Sidious). And in Nightmare Fuel - a true horror fan, breaks down fear as it relates to horror movies, in an insightful and engaging way. Nina Nesseth balances science with genre, successfully. She breaks down the lymbic system in a way that's accessible and counter-balances that, with an intriguing study of horror sequences. She seasons this book by spotlighting famous horror movies, that ser Fear is a pathway to many a reaction, some consider to be, unnatural.....(OK, OK, I stole that from Darth Sidious). And in Nightmare Fuel - a true horror fan, breaks down fear as it relates to horror movies, in an insightful and engaging way. Nina Nesseth balances science with genre, successfully. She breaks down the lymbic system in a way that's accessible and counter-balances that, with an intriguing study of horror sequences. She seasons this book by spotlighting famous horror movies, that serve as examples to what the chapter was about. The book takes a neutral stance and doesn't with side critics on whether some horror movies are good or bad or inappropriate. Nightmare Fuel is a fun study of fear, horror flicks and fandom. Recommended!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura Newsholme

    This was a fascinating and really accessible look at the science behind why we love horror films and being scared. Nina Nesseth looks into the psychology and physiology behind what makes us scared and what the impact is on us. I thought that the discussion about the mechanics behind film production, including sound and editing was particularly interesting and I also really enjoyed the chapter focusing on which social fears were prevalent in horror films through history. There were times when I g This was a fascinating and really accessible look at the science behind why we love horror films and being scared. Nina Nesseth looks into the psychology and physiology behind what makes us scared and what the impact is on us. I thought that the discussion about the mechanics behind film production, including sound and editing was particularly interesting and I also really enjoyed the chapter focusing on which social fears were prevalent in horror films through history. There were times when I got a little bit bogged down with the science, but overall, I thought this was a great read and would definitely recommend it. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    As a huge fan of horror, it was very interesting to read about how various tropes and other aspects affects us physically and mentally. The research here seemed very thorough, and I appreciated how Nesseth listed several films that fit with each example. With this being said, I do wish there were more specific films named and more interviews with actors, directors, and people that worked on those films. Nesseth spoke to lots of film critics and horror aficionados, which was great, but I would ha As a huge fan of horror, it was very interesting to read about how various tropes and other aspects affects us physically and mentally. The research here seemed very thorough, and I appreciated how Nesseth listed several films that fit with each example. With this being said, I do wish there were more specific films named and more interviews with actors, directors, and people that worked on those films. Nesseth spoke to lots of film critics and horror aficionados, which was great, but I would have liked to have read more from people involved in the films themselves. Some parts of the book were a little boring and long-winded, but I didn't let this deter me from reading. I appreciated how Nesseth really analyzed all aspects of what's happening in the body when certain scenes or movies play out. All in all, I think this is an excellent read for any horror fan, and I'm glad to have been able to have the chance to read it. Thanks, NetGalley and Tor Nightfire!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tala

    An exceptionally thorough and engaging dive into the horror genre. Nesseth paints a vivid picture of the correlations between real -world events and how they inspired the horror genre. She delves into the psychological aspect of fans and those who dislike it completely. The only trouble I had was with some of the psychological studies, because of my lack of knowledge of the field. Nesseth does her best to lay it out in mostly layman's terms as much as possible. The section breaking down the Sens An exceptionally thorough and engaging dive into the horror genre. Nesseth paints a vivid picture of the correlations between real -world events and how they inspired the horror genre. She delves into the psychological aspect of fans and those who dislike it completely. The only trouble I had was with some of the psychological studies, because of my lack of knowledge of the field. Nesseth does her best to lay it out in mostly layman's terms as much as possible. The section breaking down the Sensation Seeking Scale is a must read for anyone who enjoys horror or thrills. **ARC received by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Part science paper, part history book, part entertainment guide, and, hopefully, a measure for all toward understanding and/or reinforcing a love for horror films. You could approach this read with "know thine enemy" mentality or to uncover yet another reason to want to explore scary movies but, whatever your motive, what I'm happy to report is that Nesseth can capably and handily help the reader accomplish both of those. As the title suggests, the meat of this book tackles an array of what goes Part science paper, part history book, part entertainment guide, and, hopefully, a measure for all toward understanding and/or reinforcing a love for horror films. You could approach this read with "know thine enemy" mentality or to uncover yet another reason to want to explore scary movies but, whatever your motive, what I'm happy to report is that Nesseth can capably and handily help the reader accomplish both of those. As the title suggests, the meat of this book tackles an array of what goes on in a horror film, from how we react, *why* we react, why we continue to watch, and what filmmakers do to keep us coming back for more. Sprinkled in are interviews or examinations of chief examples. Ever been interested as to exactly why we cover our eyes when a scary part comes on? Have you ever really thought about it, besides going deeper than "I don't want to see it" or "I'm too scared"? That's covered, along with much, much more. Would a casual viewer know any of the stuff that Nesseth has collected for our reading pleasure? On some level, I'm sure that's the case, but it's pretty great to see it all aggregated for consideration and our own edification. I friggin' love horror movies and this book has enriched my watching experience--simple as that. Many thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tom Doherty Associates for the advance read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erin Newton

    This was fascinating. Loved how the chapters were organized and all the amazing research. It did spiral down a rabbit hole numerous times which was boring for me but I could still appreciate. What I enjoyed most were the concepts and how specific horror film examples were given to correspond with those concepts. I didn’t agree with everything and the gender stuff was mostly ridiculous but this is a wonderful read for any horror film fan. Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced ebook.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Hehr

    A perfect companion read for Horror enthusiasts, writers, and film makers. This book explores the science, evolution, and history of the Horror Genre, and even touches on research conducted related to horror.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paperwitch

    Such a fun, cozy read for horror lovers - and a good look into the horror genre and movies. Theres no one I wouldn't reccommend this read to, at all. It's very well-done, and broken down for even horror newbies to learn to love. Such a fun, cozy read for horror lovers - and a good look into the horror genre and movies. Theres no one I wouldn't reccommend this read to, at all. It's very well-done, and broken down for even horror newbies to learn to love.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    Soooo interesting! @NetGalley

  28. 4 out of 5

    Danielle Bush

    This book is a deep dive into what causes fear, the different types of fear responses, the different subgenres of horror, of which there are a ton, some that I never even knew about, and why we love horror the way we do. Nightmare Fuel really makes you think about why we might love horror in all its different forms and subgenres. There is a lot of scientific research that went into the telling of this story, so at times it got a bit wordy and slow, but overall this was a super interesting book. This book is a deep dive into what causes fear, the different types of fear responses, the different subgenres of horror, of which there are a ton, some that I never even knew about, and why we love horror the way we do. Nightmare Fuel really makes you think about why we might love horror in all its different forms and subgenres. There is a lot of scientific research that went into the telling of this story, so at times it got a bit wordy and slow, but overall this was a super interesting book. I liked how Nina Nesseth broke down how specific horror films and what made them popular in the specific years they were released. There is a list at the end of the book of the different types of horror lovers and it was interesting to see which category I fell into.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Allie

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