There's a popular urban legend in the history of cinema about the audience’s reaction to the Lumière Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. Apparently, the film was so innovative and well done that, when people saw the train coming at them, they ran away, screaming in terror, as if an actual train were about to run them over. However, film scholar Martin Loiperdinger says there is practically no evidence of this event ever happening. Still, the believable part of the myth has to do with the nature of cinema. This medium is able to inspire very real emotions: everything from joy to sadness, and fear. So, is cinema’s vividness able to explore not only fears but also phobias?
Whenever we think of fear in movies, the first genre that comes to mind is always horror. Although this genre depends heavily on those primal human fears, the effect of phobias in everyday life is such that even other genres explore them as well. The following movies play with these extreme fears to create frightening, stomach-churning scenes that haunt even those who don't suffer from these common phobias.
Agoraphobia – Gravity
In simple terms, agoraphobia is the fear of places--both open and enclosed--that might make you feel threatened. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity takes the fear of open spaces to the extreme with this movie about two astronauts stranded in space after debris accidentally ruins their space shuttle. A particularly anguishing part of the movie is when the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock is spinning uncontrollably in space and drifting away from the ship. Can you imagine floating in the vast darkness of space? This is prime nightmare fuel for agoraphobics.
Coulrophobia – It
Coulrophobia means fear of clowns. If you have it, you'll definitely want to avoid It, whether it's the early nineties version or the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s masterpiece. It is set in the town of Derry, where every twenty-seven years, an otherworldly creature appears in search of human victims, especially children. The main shape it takes is Pennywise the clown, and even if you’re not coulrophobic, it will terrify you. I mean, would you like a creepy clown in a sewer to ask you if you want a balloon? No, you wouldn't.
Acrophobia– The Walk
This 2015 film that depicts the moment tightrope walker Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the Twin Towers in 1974 is not for the faint of heart, much less for acrophobics. Also known as fear of heights, this phobia is rooted in the fear of falling. Unlike vertigo, which is a strong kind of dizziness caused by different types of movements, acrophobia is accompanied by panic attacks brought on by anything that looks high. The film’s accurate depiction of Petit’s point of view while walking on the rope will give you goosebumps. In fact, it made people walk out of the movie because they couldn’t stand watching it.
Aerophobia – Final Destination
Based on my own personal experience, watching Final Destination before a flight is a bad idea. This paranoia-inducing movie tells the story of a group of teenagers who manage to avoid a horrible death on an airplane after one of them has a vision of the incident and begs them to leave the plane. However, Death won’t be satisfied until it takes the lives of those who should have died in the accident. If you suffer from aerophobia, that is, fear of flying, this is the last movie you should be watching.
Cynophobia – Cujo
Who would’ve thought that one of the most common phobias in the world is dogs? Well, according to Prof. Brad Schmidt of Ohio State University, people develop this fear after being bitten by dogs or seeing someone getting bitten. Stephen King seems to know how to play with our fears like no other author has ever done, as he takes this phobia and plays with it in Cujo, the story of a St. Bernard who goes berserk after being bit by a rabid bat and catching a disease. A film like this is sure to feed your fear of dogs, if suffer from cynophobia… Or it might cause it.
Trypanophobia – Saw II
Another incredibly common fear is trypanophobia, a fear of needles, syringes, injections, or anything that has to do with a needle piercing your skin. Although there are no films that focus on this fear specifically, there are scenes that keep haunting audiences for the way they portray the essence of this fear. Now, if the adrenaline shot scene in Pulp Fiction was enough to make you squirm, the pool of needles in the second movie of the Saw saga will probably traumatize you for life. Although all the Saw movies depict sick torture methods and machines with ironic and brutal punishments, the moment a former junkie falls in a syringe pit and has to look for a key is sure to justify even the most irrational fear of needles.
Claustrophobia – Alien
To round up this list, we can’t forget Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror flick, Alien, and the fear it plays with: claustrophobia. His main resource to produce fear in this film is the use of dark and small spaces in a lone spaceship far away from Earth. The film's tagline says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream.” Imagine being trapped in a small, enclosed space with a bloodthirsty alien that’s killing everyone one by one. I'd rather not.
Want to watch more stomach-churning films? Check out these lists: