Pop Culture

31 Days of Halloween with Slay: Day 8, What Scares You?

After twenty-some-off years of voracious horror movie consumption, I find that my tolerance for “scary” things is abnormally high. There’s only so much Karo syrup and red food dye a girl can see before she becomes immune to it being tossed around. Most haunted houses don’t frighten me, though I still love the easy jump scares and special effects. Books that go for gross out over genuine emotion make me roll my eyes. I am, I guess, rather desensitized to manufactured horror.

At the same time though, there are concepts and movies and a few books that make me squirm in my seat or call up a deep seated discomfort that I can’t ever shake. A lot of these ideas are silly. Some of them are things I was exposed to as a kid and have left an indelible impression on me. I’m going to tell you a couple of mine. In return, I’d like to hear a couple of yours.

I’m not asking for personal, bone deep confessions. We all have things we fear that are very real. I’m curious what non-real things send a chill up your spine, make goosebumps crawl along your eyes, makes your close your eyes until the terror has passed.

The Illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary drawing of a woman's corpse with flesh falling offI rabidly consumed these books as a child and loved them enough to purchase a bound collection of all three as an adult. I constantly make references to the story “The Red Ribbon” much to the annoyance of my husband, who thinks I’ve now overtold a joke that relies on me not taking off my necklace. Some of the stories are creepy, some of them are funny, and some are retellings of old urban legends. All of the stories were accompanied by pen and ink illustrations by Stephen Gammell that are down right spooky as hell. I mean, look at this drawing I picked as an example. That’s in a kid’s book! That’s cruel! I’m in my thirties and still feel a vague sense of unease when I see any of the pictures.

The movie Poltergeist, and more specifically, The Clown

The clown from PoltergeistDid you just shiver involuntarily? Then you have seen this movie. You know who the clown is.  Lots of people are already predisposed to find clowns creepy – this scientist asserts fear of clowns is related to the uncanny valley phenomena. But I’ll stand out on a limb and say that people of my generation were clown-damaged by viewing Poltergeist at a young and impressionable age. (I will also accept “Pennywise the Clown” as an alternate explanation.)

If you haven’t seen the movie – and you should, it’s on Netflix streaming right now – during one of the spirit attacks in the movie, evil ghosts possess a child’s stuffed clown doll and use it to attack him. Its arms grow impossibly long, it sneaks under the bed, its smiling face distorts and becomes menacing. It’s the stuff kids’ nightmares are made of.

Some time after I saw the movie for the first time, my aunt and uncle gave me a stuff clown doll they brought back from a trip they were on. It was blue and white and looked more than a little bit like the doll in the movie. I thanked them  and then – maybe I shouldn’t be admitting this publicly – I put the doll in my infant brother’s room with the hope that when it came to life to kill people, it would start with him. But the joke was on me! Because of the angle of the bedrooms, I could see the damn clown doll from my bed every night, where I’d stare at it unblinking until I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion.

My brother is alive and well, btw. Thanks for asking.


Round UFO hovering over trees, captioned "I want to believe"Ok, hear me out here.

In college, I took the only accredited college level class on UFOs in the entire country taught by David Jacobs. Professor Jacobs worked out of my department and his class was (in)famous. I had had him as a teacher several times over the years and wanted to make sure I got into the always-booked UFO class before I graduated. As a professor of popular culture, I always found him reliable, interesting, and insightful. His UFO class was the same – a fascinating overview of UFO phenomena across the world, history of cases, its influence on popular culture, and theories about life on other planets.

Here’s the thing; Jacobs is a believer. A hardcore believer who works with what he calls “abductees.” He’s spent over 40 years doing UFO research – I’ve heard his audio taped interviews with “abductees,” I’ve seen some of the “mysterious objects” he’s collected, and I listened to this intelligent, articulate man describe at length the evidence he’s collected that aliens are here on earth and their intentions are not harmless.

I remember sitting in one afternoon’s lecture when the stray thought passed through my head, “What if this all is true?” I’m not really a believer – I think life in the universe does exist aside from us and I don’t believe it’s necessarily in a form that we’d recognize as “human” – but for one moment, entertaining the possibility that Professor Jacobs was right was deeply, personally frightening. I felt chilled to my actual core. The thought was pushed away just a second later, but every time I think about it, I remember how profoundly unsettling it was.

By the way, I always had to turn on all the lights in the house after Unsolved Mysteries ran a UFO segment too.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

15 replies on “31 Days of Halloween with Slay: Day 8, What Scares You?”

The more “real” a scary thing is, the more it scares me.

I can watch monster movies and slasher movies and “vengeful” ghost/supernatural type movies and laugh it off. But if it’s about a serial killer or a spooky/sad ghost or a “realistic” possession? I get chills. I can handle something like “Silent Hill” or K-horror or the made-by-Syfy movies without more than a sense of creepiness, but “true crime” thrillers or “Lake Mungo” or something like that is more unnerving. I’ll still watch some of them, of course, but early in the afternoon with lots of lights.

Likewise, the docudrama thing (Unsolved Mysteries, A Haunting, Paranormal Witness). I can watch them, early in the day, and have to remind myself that it’s probably not real. Probably. And anything about cults/controlling religious people reaaaaaaaaally creep me out, but I watch them anyway. And, of course, anything that seems human but the human-ness is hidden (like full-body costumes, clowns, things like that) creeps me out.

The only horror sub-genres I WILL NOT watch are anything related to torture porn/gorn. No Hostel, no Saw, no rape-revenge like Last House on the Left or I Spit On Your Grave. Nononocat.

Clowns are a big one, but having never watched Poltergiest or IT I must fall into the uncanny valley section. I also don’t like people in those costume suits that don’t let you see their face (think Mickey Mouse at Disney Land).

I also get creeped out by rag dolls. Porceline dolls don’t bug me too much, but something about the stitched on features of rag dolls really unnerves me. I don’t think the freaky Raggedy Ann movie from when I was a kid helped this any.

I know a lot of people thought Paranormal Activity was a dumb movie but it scared the crap out of me because I believe in things like demons and evil ghosts and possession. That scares me more than watching someone get disemboweled or decapitated.

The 3 things that scare me the most: 1) CLOWNS! And, yes, I do think Poltergeist started it then Pennywise made it worse because he was actually alive. Well, sort of… 2) Birds. Damn you, Hitchcock! 3) Being trapped in a car submerged in water. I know that’s not a Halloween-y type fear but it is worth mentioning.

Oh and those tricks we all played as kids where you find a gullible friend and tell them that if they say ‘Bloody Mary’ 3 times and look in the mirror, the ghost of somebody named Mary will show up? I still won’t try that. Or Ouija boards.


I can’t with torture porn and Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” type stuff. It doesn’t so much scare me as disturb me though.

I’m scared of the future, I guess. Things the climate change will bring, and growing old and miserably frail, but taking forever to actually die, possibly needing a high level of care that strips me of any dignity, that kind of stuff.



The Red Ribbon is an alltime favorite for me. Not on a creepy factor, but on a personal whee morbid stuff is cool! Like mummies and dissecting their insides to learn how they died! level. (Then again, after reading about a mummy- naturally induced mummifcation, maybe Otzi?- “telling” us about the diet in his time via the stomach contents, I proceeded to disect the stomachs of road kill to test the approach. so I think strange child applies?)

Enduring terror factor isn’t with a horror movie, but with a speculative fiction/sci-fi (how far off does it stop being SF and become sci fi?) movie. Gattaca is one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen. I had a deep visceral reaction to it, an unspeakable terror, the first time I saw it. I think I was 21 or 22? And that doesn’t go into how it realizes something that is actually a terrifying possibility- that someday, people like me would just be selectively aborted. That this society could slip into a world where my friends and I would be non-persons even more than we were at the heights of institutionalization and the early 20th cent Eugenics movement. I’m as generally pro-choice as the next liberal lady, but eugenics? terrifies the shit out of me.

I lived for The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series as a child. Between that, the Goosebumps books, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? I was probably a very weird horror-obsessed little girl.Now for (a selection of) my own genre related fears:

1)Clowns. Specifically, Pennywise the Dancing Clown and the clown-creature from the Supernatural episode “Everybody Loves a Clown” (Season 2, Ep 2). Seeing clowns in real life (which…happens almost never) doesn’t scare me but seeing evil clowns on screen give me the heebies

2)Evil children. I just watched “The Empty Child” episode of Dr Who yesterday for the first time and it reminded me how fucking creepy kids can be.

3)Having your loved ones “taken over” a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you not realizing until it’s too late

4)The entire Puppet Master series. I can’t watch that shit. Like, at all. The little doll/puppets evoke this visceral reaction in me so much that I literally cannot watch it. Chucky also used to do the same but that franchise has gotten less terrifying and more self parody so I can handle it now.

5)The Gentlemen from Buffy.

I’m scared of large dogs–I blame The Hound of the Baskervilles for that one–but what really freaks me out is the idea of someone cutting my Achilles’ tendons with nail clippers. AUGH. That’s been a recurring nightmare/daylight freak out moment since I was a kid. :P

Also, large dolls or ones with very large eyes–like ventriloquist dummies–unnerve me. They look too…alive.

I saw Urban Legends when it first came out, so I was like 13ish? There is a scene where a guy has his Achilles tendon cut by the killer who is hiding under the guys car.

After seeing that scene, I would have to leap into my dads car because I was convinced that someone was just waiting to slice my tendon. I still get kind of freaked out at random times and find myself taking a wide stance getting into cars.

Scary dolls make me want to pee my pants, especially the king of the scary dolls – the evil ventriloquist dummy. I blame The Twilight Zone. I can also blame the TZ movie for my fear of faces that are missing a part, like blank skin where a mouth or eyes should be. I am disturbed by things that are proportionally off.

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