Announcing Nightmare Fuel, a Scientific Examination of Fear from Nina Nesseth

Nina Nesseth’s Nightmare Fuel—a pop science look at fear, how and why horror films get under our skin, and why we keep coming back for more—will be published by Nightfire in July 2022!

People don’t want to see the terrifying and violent events of horror films play out in real life, but they expect them—even desire to see them—in scary movies. The horror genre is unique in that it promises a very specific emotional response: fear. And a scary movie’s success completely hinges on hardwired human biological and psychological responses to deliver on this promise. Nightmare Fuel explains the mechanics of what makes what we see on the screen so terrifying and what goes on behind-the-scenes to create the horror in the first place. The truth is that creating horror is about more than loud noises and frightening images. Nightmare Fuel covers everything from jump scares to creature features to the nightmares that keep viewers awake long after a movie is over. Readers will learn the science of how and why horror films get under our skin and keep us coming back for more. And with spotlight features throughout that focus on specific films’ science-based techniques, both science and horror fans will have a reason to engage with the genre in greater depth.


Here’s what Kristin Temple, assistant editor at Nightfire, has to say about Nightmare Fuel:

“I was a Psychology major in college, and I’ve been in love with horror movies since Thirteen Ghosts scared my socks off when I was 7. So when Nightmare Fuel landed in my inbox, it felt like Nina had written it specifically for me. But what’s so great about Nightmare Fuel is that while it is indeed perfect for people like me, it’s also perfect for anyone who just likes horror movies.

Nightmare Fuel is both a deep-dive into the science of fear, and a celebration of the genre. Nina does a wonderful job of straddling the line between science and pop culture, and any horror fan who has ever wondered why they love scary movies so much is going to love this book.”

And from Nina Nesseth:

“I love horror. I obsess over final girls and well-timed jump scares (love them or hate them, they do get the job done!). As a scientist, I can’t help but dissect horror movies as I watch them, tease elements apart to see what makes them tick. Nightmare Fuel lives at a crossroads where genre and science meet. It was born out of those pop science articles that float around the Internet every year around Halloween, articles about how horror triggers the fight-or-flight response or exploring psychological reasons for why people love horror. These pieces always stand out for me because they tell me that I’m not the only one curious as to how horror films, more than any other genre, can burrow into our brains and create bodily responses. I wanted to dig deeper, though, because that familiar horror-fueled adrenaline rush is only one piece of the puzzle. I just knew that there was so much more that we should be talking about.

From monsters that lurk in dark corners to tension-building scores, every part of a horror film is crafted to make its audience’s skin crawl, and we, the audience are as crucial a part of the design as what we see on-screen. I had a lot of fun digging into so many of these factors. Whether you’re a casual fan or an avid horror head, I hope you find Nightmare Fuel interesting.”


Photo: Cora Eckert

Nina Nesseth is a professional science communicator. Her background is rooted in biomedical sciences and science communication, with a special interest in human biology. She is a staff scientist at Science North in Sudbury, Ontario.

In 2017, Nesseth co-authored The Science of Orphan Black: The Official Companion, published by ECW Press. She is a contributor to Nightmare on Film Street, where she is featured in a monthly column “Science of the Scare” that investigates the strange science questions that come up in horror movies. Other bylines include The Mary Sue, Gayly Dreadful, and Shudder’s The Bite.

Despite being no stranger to many forms of writing—ranging from haiku and playscripts to news articles and educational pieces—she feels most at home writing about science and what makes the human body tick. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram (@cestmabiologie), where she shares her love of science fiction and nerds out about human neuropsychology.

Nightmare Fuel will hit shelves in July 2022!



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