Suspension of disbelief of *characters* in horror flicks.

Specifically with hallucinations/illusions. Why do they seem to accept what they see as true when they know they’re in a - for lack of a better word - haunted place? I can think of at least two movies (Event Horizon and The Abandoned) where this really stuck out to me.

In Event Horizon:

One character sees her son and follows him around, eventually leading to her death as she falls off a ledge she should have clearly seen. This character knew she was on a possessed space ship that could read her mind and make her see things, she also knew her son was currently at her ex-husband’s house, back on Earth. Why the hell didn’t she realize that the ship was trying to trick her? It made absolutely no sense for her son to be there, so why believe that he was really there?

In The Abandoned:

Nikolai sees his old girlfriend standing in front of him, naked. He takes her hand and she leads him into another room. Then, all of a sudden, naked girlfriend is his evil ghost of a father, and bam, Nikolai bites it. He had been seeing strange things on this farm for the last 24 hours and yet he patently believes that the girlfriend who left him has chased him down, naked? Come on.

I feel that if I were in a similar situation, where reality was acting strangely and I couldn’t trust what I was seeing, I might give it a second thought if I saw someone important to me, beckoning me to follow them. I just can’t see how these characters didn’t think “Wait a second, this is probably a trick.”

I know the characters do whatever the plot needs them to do, but I just find it hard to believe that they’re that stupid.

Any thoughts?

I agree with you for the most part. The best answer I’ve been able to give myself, when I ask this question, is that the characters would be asking this exact same question of other people (i.e., in a movie they are watching). Basically, our loved ones are so ingrained into our minds, that it’s hard to overcome a false image of them even when you know it’s false.

I’ve tried to imagine how hard it would be in this type of situation. If I was confronted by an obviously false incarnation of a long lost loved one (e.g., I was in some kind of haunted place), how difficult would it be to disbelieve this image, even though everything about it seems legitimate? It looks like my loved one, has the same mannerisms, etc. - would I really be able to bash it in the head with a frying pan?

P.S. Yeah, I know, bashing a ghost in the head with a frying pan probably wouldn’t accomplish much. Work with me here, though.

Moved from IMHO to CS.

Perhaps the same preternatural element that is causing the vision is also compromising the characters’ judgment.

Right. I usually read these scenes (however charitably) as implying, not that the supernatural being is making the character think she sees X, but rather, that the supernatural being is making the character think X is there.

In other words, it doesn’t just produce an image and then let its victim interpret the image. Rather, it produces a belief in the victim’s mind.

Can you easily reason your way out of an LSD hallucination? (I don’t mean that as rhetorical. I’m asking because I don’t know.)


Unfortunately, anecdotally, IME, yes. I’ve never gotten the full on, cinereama, capital H hallucinations from any psychedelic because I’d never suspend my grip on reality. Anytime I’d start to see something strange, my inner mind would rebel, scream ‘That’s just the acid!!’ and I’d blink and stare until I figured out that the toad monster crouched on the sidewalk across the street was a double reflection of the streetlight in a puddle. Ruined many a trip trying to ‘maintain’ rather than let myself go into the experience.

Last time I tried any psychedelic, 10 years ago, all I got was a sour stomach, and mild paranoia.

Back on the original Nightstalker series they used this idea. There was a monster that killed its prey by appear to them to be the person they trusted the most.

Karl Kolchak was attacked by the monster in the episode’s climax and the monster appeared to him as Miss Emily, a sweet little old lady who worked for the paper. Kolchak knew about the monster’s power by this point and assumed it was the monster as there was no reason for Miss Emily to be in the area. The monster was able to do Miss Emily’s voice and “explained” that she had been worried about him and followed him out to the abandoned warehouse but now she was scared and wanted to stand next to him. Kolchak kept telling her to stay back but when she wouldn’t stop he finally shot her. Once shot, the monster dropped its disguise and revealed its true appearance as it died.

Back at the office, Kolchak debated to himself whether or not he should tell the real Miss Emily what had happened. He figure she might like knowing that she was the person he trusted most in the world. But then he would have had to explain how he had shot her anyway.

Spoilers for “George Clooney Sci-Fi Movie I Can’t Remember the Name of” follow.

What was that movie George Clooney was in, where he gets sent to an effed up spaceship to try and figure out what happened to make everyone go crazy, and his first night there woke up with his wife (who had committed suicide before the movie started) laying peacefully next to him, very much alive?

There was no suspension of disbelief here. He freaked out, led her to an airlock, and pushed her out into space. It was freakin’ NUTS, in a “holy crap, that’s how a real person might respond” kind of way. None of this pansy follow-the-hallucination-into-the-trap crap. Suck vacuum, zombie freak!


Sounds familiar. I think that’s the one.

Now I might actually see that movie. Cool!


another “hallucination” turned on its real life counterpart and killed him when he tried to off him in the same manner

Would McCoy and the Salt Vampire of planet M113 count? On a related note, wouldn’t it have been logical for the characters at the end of “The Thing” to off themselves, given the chances of them surviving as nil regardless of rescue attempts.

Yeah, but it’s possible (disregarding the possibly non-canon stuff from the game) that they were both infected and that neither wanted to kill themselves for that reason.