Lights Out: Don’t Watch These 10 Horror Movies If You’re Scared Of The Dark
Scientists largely agree our collective fear of the dark is an evolutionary one. Back when there was real darkness, not just blinding light pollution everywhere you went, life was pretty dangerous when the sun went down. There were big things, small things, and things in-between ready to strike. Now, of course, the most threatening thing in the dark is your cat having their three-in-the-morning zoomies, but the fear has endured. The horror genre, as a vessel for collective fears, has been exploiting the dark for years. Recently, TikTok has gotten in on the craze, highlighting a particular fear titled nyctophobia. Nyctophobia is defined, according to Oxford Languages, as an “extreme or irrational fear of the dark.” Check out some videos below:
While those short-form entries are considerably more liminal than their feature-length offerings, there’s no denying that the fear of the dark endures pretty effectively. The easiest way to scare anyone is to simply lower the lights and suggest something scary, uncanny, weird, strange, or sinister within. Here, we’ll be looking at ten different movies that expertly tap into our nyctophobic tendencies, all but assuring we’ll be sleeping with the lights on.
Rodney Asher’s The Nightmare is one of the scariest documentaries ever made. Crafted as if it was horror fiction, including recreations of the events described on-screen, Asher’s film interviews several subjects plagued by sleep paralysis, a phenomenon whereby people are unable to move in the dead of night. There are hat men, shadow men, and all kinds of awful, awful things participants report seeing, and while it’s easy to think, “That’s them, not me,” their words will be haunting you the next time you crawl into bed.
Horror in the High Desert
Dutch Marich’s Horror in the High Desert is one of the scariest found footage movies released this decade. Its sequel, Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva, might be even scarier. Both are structured as pseudo-documentaries exploring alleged disappearances in the Nevada desert. The first is especially cruel, lulling the audience into a false sense of security before unleashing one of the scariest beats in found footage history. Those with nyctophobia will have a hard time watching the night-vision-lit foray into whatever is out there in the dark.
While nowhere near as accomplished as the 1999 original, Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch is a better sequel than most give it credit for. After a surprise reveal at Comic-Con in 2016, the critical reception was through the roof. Then, when it premiered more widely, the reception tapered off to an almost criminal degree. It wasn’t very good, the consensus went, and it was quickly forgotten. It’s a shame. While it’s certainly louder and more visceral, the ostensible antithesis to what a Blair Witch movie should be, Wingard hides plenty of frightening things in his rendition of the Black Hills Forest. While the audience isn’t privy to everything hiding in the dark, rest assured, what they do see is pretty terrifying.
He’s Watching has director Jacob Aaron Estes scaring the heck out of his own children. Another found footage entry, He’s Watching follows a brother and sister discovering a sinister presence in their home while their parents are away at the hospital. A deeply liminal experience, He’s Watching won’t work for everyone, but for those on its wavelength, it’s a nyctophobic nightmare.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
Found footage harnesses nyctophobia better than most, I think, on account of its limited POV. Without the scale and visual scope of conventionally-filmed features, the innate claustrophobia of what the audience can and cannot see—the identification with the characters and their constrained field of view—renders the scares more shocking, more frightening, than most. Here, some horror YouTubers decide to explore the titular asylum for their channel. It’s a horror movie, so the rumors of haunts and scares prove to be true, of course. Director Jung Bum-shik doesn’t just settle for scary, though. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is oppressively, existentially terrifying.
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [REC] is as close to a modern zombie classic as any film gets. A reporter following the local fire department in Barcelona is trapped alongside them in a quarantined building after the officers respond to a distress call. An infection has broken out inside, and reporter Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) must navigate the darkness if she hopes to make it out alive. It’s going to shake anyone with nyctophobia to their core. For an extra dollop of “the dark is scary” sadism, check out the equally-effective sequel, [REC]².
The Norwegian Villmark translates to “Dark Woods” in English, so audiences with nyctophobia already know Pål Øie’s early aughts shocker is going to have plenty of suggestive scares in the dead of night. And it does. Villmark uses a naturalistic approach, dropping a reality television crew into the woods as some early homework, prioritizing realistic dialogue and lo-fi scares. What it all amounts to is up to interpretation (including a quasi-sequel several years later), but it wasn’t voted the scariest Norwegian movie ever made for nothing.
No, this isn’t the giant radioactive ants (though that’s plenty scary in its own right). David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s film is as compact as they come. Clocking in at just 74 minutes, Them (French: Ils) follows a schoolteacher and her boyfriend as a group of home intruders breaks into their rural country home. That’s all there is to it. It’s dark, terrifying, and pathologically austere.
It Comes at Night
The marketing for Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night didn’t do it any favors. Audiences were expecting a conventional monster movie, but a conventional monster movie A24 does not make. Instead, It Comes at Night is more patient and character-driven than it is outright scary, but that doesn’t detract from its nyctophobia exploitation. There is something outside, and whatever that is, it’s pretty danged scary.
The Chernobyl Diaries
Brad Parker’s Chernobyl Diaries, scripted by Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli, isn’t the disaster its critical reception suggests. It’s not bad by any stretch (ending aside), and unlike a lot of 2010s horror, Chernobyl Diaries relishes in the unknown. Many of its most effective scares occur in the dark, with the audience as limited in their POV as the main characters. Something frightening lumbers just out of sight, with the mid-movie beats feeling akin to a level culled from a survival horror game. Crouch, stay hidden, and survive. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but its unique locale and commitment to horrors hidden in the dark elevates it above most.
What do you think? Have you seen any of these nyctophobia-inducing frights? Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins. And remember—keep the lights on.