We all know why certain things scare us. If we see a shark approach, our survival instinct kicks in and tells us we’ll be food to our fishy friend if we don’t get away fast. Standing on a high ledge also has a primordial fear factor. It’s ingrained in our genetics that high places can lead to broken heads, just like Jack and Jill. But, what about things in horror films that creep us out, but that are not that clear cut? Why are we scared of a doll sitting in a rocking chair?
There are several reasons we get scared and these are covered in our 13 steps of Terror in the Anatomy of Horror Master course. One reason we are creeped out at dolls is the ambiguity of it. The human form is a threat to us just like an animal is – Who kills more humans? Other humans. When we see a human form and unable to figure out its intention, we are confused and thus scared, but in a vague way since no direct threat can be determined. When we see a mask (think Michael in Halloween) we see no emotion. We don’t know what it’s thinking, or even what it looks like. If we see anything in human form, but with ambiguity, we are creeped out. Think about it – mannequins, dolls, masks, robots. Anything which is human but slightly OFF, or hidden, is creepy.
Basically, anything slightly OFF, makes us uneasy, or creeped out. Take the “Dutch angle” in horror films. It moves the frame of the film slightly off at an angle and creates a feeling of dread or unease. Shirley Jackson, in her description of the haunted house in The Haunting of Hill House, wrote “No Human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of the house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair…”
As we see, the things that are slightly off from what is in our normal reality is what creeps us out. We study this in-depth at Anatomy of Horror.