The Frisson of Fright


Halloween is a fun time to make things more mystical, spiritual, even more thrilling.

There’s a word from French which has become lost from our vocabularies. The idea the word represents has become less lost, but still under-appreciated.

The word is frisson. Our worldwide culture craves the frisson of fright, though we’ve forgotten how to express the craving.

We want to be scared. We want to find the tingling on the back of our necks that indicates potential danger. Undoubtedly, we want to find ourselves in sanctuaries of safety, but at the same time, we want to be near the edge. We want to walk the edge and almost fall off.

To almost die is to live more.

We want excitement in our entertainment because we live vicariously through the characters in the books and movies which we consume. We demand theme parks with roller coaster rides promising near-death experiences. We want to ride the bike on the cliff edge, or in the street with vehicles twenty times our own weight.

For extra thrills, we seek out highways that cross railroad tracks, houses built on fault lines, and employees of the government who defy the principles of common sense. Any one of these could kill us at any time. We know it and refuse to change our habits.

The frisson keeps us coming back for more. More thrills to drive us. More thrills to encourage our deadly persuasion.

Halloween-time is when we all get to dress up in costume and wander around a random neighborhood begging for candy. It’s also the time when reading a frightening book is more accepted. People on the downtown bus don’t seem to mind the gory cover of a horror novel quite so much. Some of them may even ask about it.

Halloween season is when watching a scary movie after dark is perfectly acceptable behavior as long as you invite someone to watch with you. Someone like this:


Or this:


Or this:


Published by Kurt Gailey

This is where I'm supposed to brag about how I've written seven novels, twelve screenplays, thousands of short stories, four self-help books, and one children's early-reader, but I'd rather stay humble. You can find out about things I've written or follow my barchive (web archive, aka 'blog) at or follow me on twitter @kurt_gailey. I love sports and music and books, so if you're an athlete or in a band or you're a writer, give me a follow and I'll most likely follow you back. I've even been known to promote other people's projects.

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