As it’s Halloween I thought I’d blog about the things that scare me. Not the perfectly rational fear of venomous spiders and snakes (I can pick up the smaller harmless ones, so I’m okay there), but the lifelong fear I’ve had of clowns, masks and dolls. For me, the absolute nightmare room would be one full of clown dolls, with the walls covered in Venetian masks. If you made one of the clown dolls animated, I’d be crawling the walls with fear. No wait, the walls are covered in creepy masks. I’d be cowering and whimpering on the floor somewhere.
I can trace my fear of clowns (coulrophobia) back to when I was twelve and a particularly terrifying Doctor Who episode, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, which featured a villanous clown. That was the first time I realised I was scared of them, but I already had an extreme aversion to the creepy Pierrot dolls my cousin collected. I couldn’t understand why she’d want those horrible things in her bedroom at night, and staying round her house wasn’t as much fun for me as it should have been.
Fear of dolls is known as pediophobia, and while I’m fine with rag dolls and most plastic ones, I really don’t like porcelain dolls or any that move and speak. The more their face looks like a mask, or the more they move, the more terrifying they are. I’m in pretty good control of this phobia and certainly don’t turn into a gibbering wreck, but it still lingers as I discovered the other day when watching Toy Story 3. Big Baby was really creepy!
My fear of masks (particularly Venetian masks) is harder to trace, but I do remember as a teenager reading Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death and having nightmares. Masked balls are supposed to be sexy, but I can’t imagine many things more unsettling to me. Perhaps this phobia was first triggered by watching Labyrinth, which has some particularly grotesque masks in the ball scene.
These fears are all fairly common, and all apparently linked to something called automatonophobia, or fear of humanoid figures. The theory goes that while things with a fairly basic relation to a humanoid form are fine, the closer they get to aping genuine human behaviour/appearance, the more uncomfortable we become with them. Masks are particularly unsettling because they distort people’s appearance, and can make it look like their voice is coming from nowhere. This might explain why I’m usually okay with eye masks, but anything that covers the bottom of the face gives me the fear
I think of all these irrational fears, the one of masks remains the strongest these days. Can we just say I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of masked people out on the streets tonight? Still, I’ll brave it, and just hope most of them are using facepaints instead. But not painted up like clowns, please. I can cope with Mr Tumble’s minimal make-up and Krusty the Clown, but even Ronald McDonald still frightens me!
And don’t get me started on ventriloquist’s dummies, or those horrible cymbal monkey toys *shudders*
Anyone else out there suffer from any of these phobias? Or do you have something else that creeps you out, even though you know it can’t possibly harm you?