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Why Do We Find Almost-Human Monsters Scary?

Why is it that the almost-human is far more terrifying than a totally unrecognisable monster?

He had too many fingers.

There were two heads where there should have only been one.

Her body was wrong, with her legs long and thin, doubling the size of a normal human.

Why is it that we find these sentences unsettling?

Why is it that the almost-human is far more terrifying than a totally unrecognisable monster?

It's an interesting notion. That the humanoid creature, the one with more eyes than normal, with the mouth that is stretching far wider, with longer arms, and a strange crouch, is a favourite choice in horror for these exact reasons. These monsters never fail to frighten.

Perhaps it is the semblance of humanity that is completely abandoned that we find so scary. That slight glimpse of us in the face of something murderous. Perhaps that's why Jack Torrance is so threatening in The Shining and why Pennywise is so unsettling in It. It's that reflection of being nearly human, something that you would only recognise as wrong on second glance...

Maybe it's simply the unnaturalness of it all. They have eyes, and lips, and hands, but too many of them, or too few of them. Maybe they have none at all, and that unfamiliar concept is so disturbing to us, because it is close to what we are expecting, but it isn't.

A Mind of Steel article summed it up perfectly:

"All these manifestations differ from human beings to the point where we can't completely understand how they function. And that makes them scary."

I'm betting that the villain from your favourite horror stories, especially supernatural, don't obey the laws of physics or society as we know them. It's even pointed out in this article that fear is a psychological factor that we give ourselves due to being unable to read the expression of the villain. Serial killers wear masks, faces and bodies are often obscured, and with that, the way we process the experience is messed up. Our brain fills in all the blanks for a tailor-made ghoul just for you!

The terrifying almost-human, and the they walk on two legs, or sometimes three. The ones that can modify and stretch and manipulate the capability of the human body, and with that, the human mind.

Horror creatures are only as scary as your mind permits them to be. And that in itself is a wonderfully chilling transaction.

Who is your favourite horror character?

Is it a masked serial killer, or something entirely non-human?

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Why Do We Find Almost-Human Monsters Scary?
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