Sometimes all it takes is a terrifying antagonist or mood, not an entire movie. Think of Robert Mitchum as a scoundrel preacher in the nightmare fairy tale “The Night of the Hunter” (1955); Faye Dunaway as a toxic Joan Crawford in the darkly camp “Mommie Dearest” (1981); or Robert De Niro as the time-bomb Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” (1976). “In each of these movies, there are moments, scenes and sequences that are so precisely and skillfully designed to make us feel unsettled, horrified and afraid,” Clayton said. “We are made to feel this way even if there is nothing obvious onscreen, or as far as we know offscreen, to be afraid of.” What else is scary about “The Humans” and “Spencer”? They’re both set during winter holidays. Andrew Scahill, an assistant professor of film at the University of Colorado, Denver, said that wasn’t a coincidence: for many people, family reunions and shame-filled year-end assessments are terrifying.
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