I’m a writer so of course I am fascinated by words and the way in which words are combined to create images and effects (or affects). As a horror writer my preferred responses are fear, suspense and terror. I am also a student of psychology (both by degree and continuous education) so the nuances of meaning, perception, and rationalization create great intrigue especially as it relates to the horrific. Lately I have given some thought to “fear” and its less intrusive cousin “creepy.” It may appear as just semantics as we often use the words fear, terror, and creepy interchangeably. There are in fact differences.
Now I don’t want to go all “Oxford Dictionary” on you, so I’ll keep the definitions very brief and get to the main idea.
- Fear : a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined
- Terror: intense, sharp, overmastering fear
- Creepy: having or causing a creeping sensation of the skin, as from horror or fear
So if we play “which one of these things is not like the others,” we see that “creepy” is a different from Fear and Terror in so much as it is an adjective whereas the other two are nouns. More importantly “creepy” provides a larger playground because it doesn’t have to be from “impending danger” or be “intense, sharp and overmastering.” I like to think of creepy as the gateway emotion to fear. So much more acceptable too because it doesn’t require the object it describes to be so grand and because it opens the possibilities to such a wide range of personal experiences. In a way, Creepy can be kind of fun and even its physical effects are not necessarily unpleasant.
I believe people who like horror (movies, books, etc) aren’t looking for a fear induced experience (distressing emotions are not fun), they aren’t looking to feel terror (intense and sharp sounds like it hurts) – instead they are looking for the experience of “creepy.” That sensation of “oh boy” that is both thrilling and just on the edge of fear. An experience that later may lead to moments of fear as we walk up that dark staircase or cross the parking lot in the shroud of night and suddenly recall all the wonderful things that may be creeping up behind us.
What is beautiful about “creepy” is the range of odd types of objects and places that fit into the term. Creepy is like a pizza – the toppings we use to make it our own are nearly endless. Case in point: I am not afraid of photographs as I’m sure neither are you, but…place an old Polaroid picture on the floor of the attic and bam…very creepy indeed (yes paranormal activity reference).
I’ve included a short list of some of the things that I find creepy. Nothing paralyzing here as say the sound of something giggling beneath your bed in the dead of night or two red eyes peering through the window (three eyes of course being worse). These are just things that can, in the right circumstance, give shiver and in the extreme, cross me right over to fear.
Stair Cases: Well not the stairs themselves it’s more the walk up them with the thought that something is following you and at any moment may grab your ankle. Interestingly I never have these thoughts descending just ascending. I devoted a short story to the idea. It’s called A Run Up the Stairs.
Basements: Yeah as far as I’m concerned only two things come out of basements – psycho killers and hell’s minions. This particular creep was cultivated by my brother Ken and is the topic of an upcoming story called The Dead Truth…although I certainly hint at it in A Run Up the Stairs and the Blue Vase. Basement’s are creepy because that’s where the dead things live.
Closet Doors: The mini basement of creepiness in my opinion. There are only two ways I want the closet door when I go to bed…fully closed or fully open. So it’s not the door or the blackness filled with so many hanging things that is creepy, it’s that damn little space of blackness created by the slightly ajar door. The opportunity for something to be peering out at me. The thought that without warning a set of long, white, black nailed fingers could curl around said door. I wrote a little tribute to closet doors in the Toof Berry.
Spiders: I am certain that this one is universal. There are many who are “afraid” of spiders and everyone else just finds them a little creepy. What with all those legs and the way they scurry and their ability to sneak up on you…ick, ick, ick. As a kid they didn’t bothered me until the day I looked at one under a microscope…when I saw that they had these nasty little mandibles and realized they were carnivores (or bugavores) that pretty much sealed the deal. My revulsion is clear in two stories I wrote – A World Without and Pidey’s Got Me.
Mirrors: An item I’d rather not live without, but not exactly your best friend in the dark. I mean sure we stand in front of one most every morning and every time we wash our hands. The creepiness of this one is related to the amount of light in the room. And we can joke about it all we want, but few of us are going to stand in that dark room, alone and cite “bloody mary” or “candy man” three or four times. The reasons behind our aversion nagged me enough that I wrote the story, “The Case of Mr. Dobbs,” just to explore the possibilities.
Clowns: This is a big one. Like spiders a lot of people have a downright phobia of clowns. I just think they’re creepy and did even before Stephen King assaulted us with “It.” They’ve become synonymous with all manners of nasty things from psychos to pedophiles. An oddity since they are supposed to be the funny, light hearted side of the circus (the circus which we all know is just a ruse for traveling demons). So although I’m not afraid of clowns per se, I do get the creeps when one approaches. My upcoming short story, “Ken-ya lend a hand,” is an exploration of this particular oddity of the horror genre.
So that’s my quick list. I was going to put dolls on the list and probably should, but check out my poem Mean Ole Morgan or the story Reflections for that.
I would be intrigued to hear your own list of the things you find creepy…I’ll probably even write a story about it for you.