Janet Leigh's Existential Scream-or-Gothic Fear and the Numinous

Psycho -or- The Gothic Flame of the Numinous

Edvard Munch's The Scream artistically renders a sense of existential horrors of life. In film, Janet Leigh's unforgettable scream in the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" is one of the best known scenes in Hollywood film history. With "Psycho's" one central murder, the trend in more recent horror films is to sadistically kill off as many characters as possible within the running time. Horace Walpole's novel "The Castle of Otranto" is regarded as the first Gothic horror novel. 

Devendra Varma in "The Gothic Flame" sees the Gothic castle as a psychological symbol of neurosis, a prison. Those who wrote Gothic romances attempted to restore the psychological function of the numinous fears to literature, in a literary and scientific field that had become bleached by the intense light of rationalism. Rationalism had all but destroyed the fertile depths of the gothic imagination, mystery, and mysticism. Below is such an existential scream, one in which a numinous "ominous presence" is felt. 

Bill, 18 

I had fallen asleep, but had not realized it.  However, the dream had been taking place in my old room, even though it felt nothing out of the ordinary.  I began to feel a presence in the room, as though I was not the only one in it at the time.  It was an ominous presence, and my fear of it began to rise quickly.  I was so scared I didn't want to turn my head from my pillow to see what it was.  Then, I felt my covers start to be pulled from my bed, slowly at first, then rapidly increasing.  It felt as though my covers were endlessly being pulled from me.  My fear rising more and more as the covers started to be pulled, but I could not move. I was paralyzed in my bed.  I then finally let out a scream and halfway through, woke up to myself screaming, lying in my bed. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: The Horror! -or- Gothic Scopophobic Fears of the Dark 

"The horror! The horror" says Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". The gothic contrivers and peddlers of nightmares continue to invade our dreams. Shakespeare's Macbeth says, "I have supp'd full with horrors." Horror seems to always lead us to a dead end, yet when it is mixed with genres such as science fiction or Gothic Romance it can be fruitful. You say that the dream is taking place in your "old room". A room, where you once slept as a child. This psychological space is still filled with and contains all the memories, dreams, nightmares and fears of your childhood. As an adolescent many of these psychological fears often become re-viewed, re-worked and may become amplified. 

The Gothic imagination attempts to visually produce psychological shock effects of the fear of perverse impulses that lie beneath the civilized veneer. Under the civilized surface lies the dark Gothic imagination, a nightmarish psychological realm of the macabre, horror, terror, violence, crime, insanity and cruelty, viscerally intended to create a chill in the spine and to curdle the blood. The gothic topography of desolate landscapes, dungeons, castles, and graveyards creates a psychological atmosphere of ominous gloom, doom, and spooky surreal special effects. One such feminine archetypal personification of gothic horror is "Medusa" and as you tell us, "I didn't want to turn my head from my pillow to see what it was." Such heightened psychological fear of looking is called "scopophobia".

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.