Nightmare Fuel – Nina Nesseth

“Horror films don’t create fear. They release it.”

Wes Craven

As a kid, my approach for all things scary looked very much like ‘if my hands are over my eyes, it doesn’t exist’. I was sure that Gremlins were going to invade the car when my parents decided that taking me to the drive-in to watch it for the first time would be fun. I knew with absolute certainty that Bruce the shark had the ability to magically pixelate himself so he’d be able to come through the shower head in teensy tiny pieces, only to reform and attack me where I stood. Don’t even get me started on the library ghost from Ghostbusters.

I’ve always wondered how some of the movies that terrified me as a kid have become some of my all time favourites, how a kid whose imagination was able to make every scary scene so much worse than it really was grew up to love horror.

This book, conveniently combining the many subgenres of horror that I love (I’m an Enthusiastic Horror User with some Supernatural Horror User thrown in there) with neuroscience, which I always want to learn more about.

I learned how we “collaborate with horror films to create tension and build our own fear”. There were examples of how characters attempt to defend themselves against the threat of monsters, human and non-human, through fight, flight, freeze and fawn.

Humans are also extra receptive to things appearing in our peripheral vision. In fact, we may even be faster at reacting to threats that appear in our peripheral vision than to threats that appear right front of our faces.

The author takes on jump scares, why we wind up laughing after a scene scares us, how what has scared us over time has changed what horror looks like on the screen, the role sound (and its absence) plays in freaking us out and why rewatches don’t pack the punch of the first time.

I’m still not overly clear how a self proclaimed scaredy cat transformed into someone who can’t get enough horror but I now know why my go to method for surviving scary scenes as a kid made everything scarier.

Studies have concluded that closing your eyes against a scary scene is ineffective, because you can still hear what’s going on – and whatever images your brain conjures up will probably be even scarier than the scene you’re avoiding.

I loved how all of the science and the discussion surrounding studies and experiments was brought back to examples of specific characters or scenes in specific horror movies. There’s a seriously bingeworthy list of movies mentioned throughout the book at the end. I need to rewatch some of these after reading about them and, happily, I learned of some movies I’ve never seen that I now absolutely have to.

There are some pretty major spoilers revealed throughout the course of the book but, let’s face it, if you haven’t already seen a fairly large percentage of the movies mentioned, you probably wouldn’t be picking up this book in the first place.

Whether you’re into a specific subgenre of horror, including slashers, creature features, body horror, transformation horror, torture horror, revenge films and psychological horror, of if you’re an all rounder like me, there’s something here for you.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nightmare Fuel by Nina Nesseth is a pop-science look at fear, how and why horror films get under our skin, and why we keep coming back for more.

Do you like scary movies?
Have you ever wondered why?

Nina Nesseth knows what scares you. She also knows why.

In Nightmare Fuel, Nesseth explores the strange and often unexpected science of fear through the lenses of psychology and physiology. How do horror films get under our skin? What about them keeps us up at night, even days later? And why do we keep coming back for more?

Horror films promise an experience: fear. From monsters that hide in plain sight to tension-building scores, every aspect of a horror film is crafted to make your skin crawl. But how exactly do filmmakers pull this off? The truth is, there’s more to it than just loud noises and creepy images.

With the affection of a true horror fan and the critical analysis of a scientist, Nesseth explains how audiences engage horror with both their brains and bodies, and teases apart the elements that make horror films tick. Nightmare Fuel covers everything from jump scares to creature features, serial killers to the undead, and the fears that stick around to those that fade over time.

With in-depth discussions and spotlight features of some of horror’s most popular films – from classics like The Exorcist to modern hits like Hereditary – and interviews with directors, film editors, composers, and horror academics, Nightmare Fuel is a deep dive into the science of fear, a celebration of the genre, and a survival guide for going to bed after the credits roll.

The Extraordinaries #2: Flash Fire – T.J. Klune

“Superhero team-up,” Nick breathed. “It’s like this is a sequel! Oh my god. Yes. Yes.”

I’ve been waiting (not very patiently, mind you) for this sequel for so long! The Extraordinaries was the queer superhero book I didn’t realise I needed until I began reading it. If you haven’t read it yet, please rectify that immediately.

Nick, our main character, has ADHD, panic attacks and an extraordinarily high adorability/cluelessness quotient. I fell in love with him as soon as I met him. His best friend and now boyfriend, Seth, is just as adorable but not clueless, although he does have a lot of abs. Their friends, Jazz and Gibby, round out the bunch and I can’t think of a group of friends I want to claim as my own any more than these four. I could read an entire book where Team Pyro Storm just sit around chatting.

With the timing of the first book’s publication and the subsequent feedback the author received at the time, I’d been expecting police brutality and corruption to be explored in more depth in this sequel. You can read what the author has to say about this here.

At times it felt like it was left to Gibby and her parents to explain things to the white characters. However, Nick showed maturity in the way that he reassessed what he had grown up believing about the police, still loving his father but trying to come to terms with his actions and those of other members of the police force. Nick’s father must also reevaluate his past behaviour and figure out what being accountable looks like.

“You’ve seemed to have done an about-face with the whole cop thing.”

Police brutality and corruption were addressed throughout the book and I’m glad that they were, although it definitely changed the tone of the book. The smile that you couldn’t wipe off my face during the first book and the first few chapters of the sequel (so many embarrassing sexual conversations), where everything felt light and playful, turned into a heaviness that weighed on me for most of the rest of the book.

Thank goodness for Nick, who remains adorable. I love the way his brain works. I love that he’s open to new ideas. I love how fiercely protective he is of the people he loves. I even love the “conversational whiplash”; I may love that about him most of all.

The banter between Nick, Seth, Jazz and Gibby is everything and each time they are together I melt a little bit. My romantiphobia fades away whenever Nick and Seth or Jazz and Gibby get all lovey-dovey. The friendship dynamics of Team Pyro Storm is pretty much everything you need in your life.

“We stand together,” Nick reminded him, “so we don’t have to struggle apart. You’re not alone in this, okay?”

Because this is a sequel, we have to discuss the need for superhero costume upgrades, but needles are very pointy and it’s all a lot of effort. We’re reminded that if you don’t shout the name of the move you’re doing, then you’re not fighting right.

“Backflip of Chaos!”

We’re introduced to new Extraordinaries! We’re not entirely sure if they’re on our side or not.

“What the hell,” Nick muttered. “What’s trying to kill us now? You think it’s some new Extraordinary villain bent on—”

I particularly loved Miss Conduct but need to spend much more time with them. I need their entire backstory ASAP.

There are secrets (so many secrets) and with secrets come their unravelling. The reveal at the end of the first book is explored in a way that I loved. Even though it took Nick a lot longer than I’d hope to figure it all out, I really appreciated that it wasn’t a success only journey for him. There’s also a reveal at the end of this book but I’m not entirely sure I’m on board with this development, even though I’m definitely intrigued; I’ll wait until I read the third book to decide.

Bring on some more Extraordinaries!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Teen for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams, but with new heroes arriving in Nova City it’s up to Nick and his friends to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. Which is a lot to handle for a guy who just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic.