Most nights when I try to sleep, I’ll end up rolling around in bed, staring at the ceiling. After enough time has passed and my mind begins to wander, I find myself thinking about how vulnerable people are when they sleep. One of my more rational fears is that of alien abductions. Psychologists and neurologists can attribute alien abduction stories to sleep paralysis and other sleep disorders, but that doesn’t stop the fact that there is an infinitesimal chance there is life on other planets. And because there are infinitesimal opportunities for alien existence, there is an infinitesimal chance they are traveling the universe by now. Given these clear statistics, I have no qualms in saying that I fear aliens climbing in my windows and snatching my people up.
I’m describing my fears to you to attempt to get at a larger, more universal idea. What are people TRULY scared of? Yes, I realize that most people are not scared of being abducted by aliens, but in some people this translates to being kidnapped or mugged. All of these are examples of being vulnerable or losing control in a situation.
I once listened to a podcast interview with John Carpenter (the link is dead at the moment, but hopefully it comes back up), the director of Halloween and The Thing, where he talks about why his films are so beloved among horror aficionados. Carpenter noted that all great horror films feature two types of universal fear: fear of losing control and fear of the unknown. When you consider Halloween, the viewer quickly sees these two fears realized. Laurie has lost control of the situation; Michael has intruded into the house and she has no chance of saving the children she was tasked with babysitting. On top of that, Michael is a masked killer who seemingly materialized from nowhere. These two fears are crystallized onscreen in what has become revered as one of the greatest horror films of all time.