Creepy vs. scary

Kholat. Tents are important.

Creepy: producing a nervous shivery apprehension1

Scary: causing fright2

“Creepy” is sometimes listed as a synonym for “scary”. I think something can be creepy without actually being scary, though. Let’s not start using words all willy-nilly.

(Side note: “Willy-nilly” got a nice little squiggly red line under it. It suggested that I might actually mean “willy-billy”, “willy-silly”, “willy-dilly”, “willy-hilly”, or “willy-filly”. What the actual fuck?)


“Scary” definitely involves fear. I think that “creepy” doesn’t necessarily have to; I can think something is creepy without being afraid of it. To me, creepy can stand on its own. Fear might follow, or it might not.

A house can be creepy without making you actually afraid… at least, not until the creaks and groans suddenly start to sound like footsteps.

Earwigs are creepy little fuckers, but they’re not scary.

Ladybugs are scary. (Those little assholes BITE.)

Clowns are both creepy and scary. (Also evil.)

All of these things are obviously subjective. Everyone I’ve ever met thinks I’m crazy when I tell them I’m afraid of ladybugs. (Seriously, they BITE. And it freaking HURTS. And you never see them coming. Suddenly, they’re just there, biting the hell out of me, and I’m like, “What the hell did I ever do to you, you stupid ladybug?!?!”)

I’ve sipped from the bloody chalice of the horror genre in many forms since I was a wee one. I’m ambivalent about the possible existence of spirits/ghosts/etc. and so on. Nobody’s really proven their existence to my satisfaction, but no one’s ever proven that they don’t exist, either. It’s a bit difficult to prove a negative, but you get my point. My mind is open to the possibility, but not so open that anyone might accidentally fall in. I’d never go hunting for them. I also wouldn’t completely laugh them off. (Mostly as a precaution. If the whatever-it-is that you think is infesting your house is real, I sure as hell don’t want it pissed at me.)

Kholat has some pretty scenery, but it’s still creepy.

Case in point.

Some years ago, we went house hunting. We did it during the winter, which was a little weird. Basically, we were seeing all of the houses that nobody could sell during prime house-buying time, which has its pluses and minuses. You’re not competing with a ton of people, and prices tend to be a little more flexible when a house has been on the market for a while. On the other hand, there’s usually a reason why they didn’t sell.

One of the houses we looked at had a huge hell-pit in the basement. Seriously, it looked like someone had tried to open a pit to hell, or something. Where there should have been a floor, there was a 15-foot deep jagged hole with bits of concrete strewn everywhere. It was the whole damn floor; we had to stand on the stairs. And really, I’m just assuming that somebody dug that hole, because there was zero information about it in the listing. For all I know, something clawed its way out. Either way, I sure as hell didn’t want to deal with that mess.

But the one that took the cake was like something straight out of The Amityville Horror.

The house was somewhat ominous-looking from the outside. It was a nice, wide suburban street with decent houses fronted by decent yards. This particular house was painted a very dark grey, which was quite different from every other house in sight. There was an off-center bit of the first floor that had a roof section peaking between two upstairs windows. It made the whole house look like a frowny face, which was actually a selling point for me. I kind of liked it.

When we got inside, I liked it even more. It was quirky. There was a huge sunken living room with a bar on one side that was perfect for the spousal unit. The kitchen was open and overlooked the living room, which was both odd and kind of neat. There was a half-underground level that was a bit maze-like, with narrow hallways branching off the main (narrow) hallway and a number of extra rooms scattered about. It was like it was tailor-made for a family that not only didn’t like to spend much time together, they didn’t like anyone to be able to find them easily, either. I’d been wondering why it was so cheap, but the layout of the house was going a fair way toward explaining that point. I could easily see how people might not get into such a weird floor plan.

The spousal unit was in the living room talking to the realtor while Thing 1 and I explored the lower level. (I should note, at this point, that the house was completely empty–no furniture, nothing.) Thing 1 went one way, I went another. Just around the corner from the stairs was a little alcove that had two doors opening into rooms– one straight ahead, one to the right. I walked a little ways into the room that was straight ahead, looked around (pretty standard bedroom-sized room with a closet), stepped out, turned, walked a little ways into the room on the right, and stopped dead in my tracks.

This room was almost identical to the first one, with the closet on the right rather than the left. Aside from that, they were essentially the same–same size, same plain white walls, same tan carpet. But the moment I walked through the doorway, it was like I’d entered a pressurized cabin. The air felt different. It pressed on my ears the same way taking off in an airplane does. It was the most bizarre thing that had happened to me in a good while. After a few moments, I realized that I couldn’t hear the spousal unit or the realtor any more. Before I’d walked into this room, I could hear them. After, nothing.

Of course, they could have just stopped talking, or gone upstairs, or something. I made a plan: I would step out of the room, see if I could hear them, then step inside again. So I did. The moment I stepped out of the room, things went back to normal. That’s really the best way I can think of to explain it. No more pressure on my ears, no weird feeling. I was caught up in the sensation (of feeling normal), so it took a moment for me to remember that I was supposed to be listening. So I did, and sure enough, I could hear them. So I stepped back into the room to confirm my initial impression, and it happened all over again. Pressure on the ears. It was like all sound had been muffled. Like I’d stepped into a dead zone. I stepped out again, and Thing 1 popped around the corner. Without explaining myself, I pointed into the room and said, “Do me a favor and walk in there.”

He gave me a weird look, but he didn’t ask. He stepped into the room, paused, turned around, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was feeling something. His eyes were wide and he was looking at me like, “What the fuck?!”

He stepped back out and said, “What the fuck?!”

I said, “So, you felt it?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Like your ears were all…”

He said, “YES! What the fuck?!”

I said, “I don’t think we want this house.”

He said, “Hell, no!”

We blazed upstairs to where the spousal unit was still talking to the realtor. We must have still had those looks on our faces, because the spousal unit stopped mid-sentence and stared at us. I told him we were done with that house, and he didn’t question, or argue, he just said, “Ok.” We left.

I would’ve sworn that I told him about it after we left, but when I mentioned it to him years later, he had no idea what I was talking about. I said, “You know, that house with the weird room?” According to him, I never explained it to him. Which also seems weird. It’s weird that I never told him (and thought I had), but it’s even weirder that he never asked once we were out of the realtor’s hearing. I certainly wouldn’t have refused to tell him.

It’s entirely possible–even likely–that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. Something about how the house was built, the half-underground bit, where that room was located–any or all of the above. Or something else equally mundane. But it was creepy as all hell, and I wasn’t so in love with that house that I even bothered to consider looking past it. Creepy room in creepy-looking house (the frowny-face thing wasn’t quite as cool after that) that does creepy things to you, experienced by more than one person. Right. Pass.

It made me think of Eddie Murphy’s bit about haunted houses. “I really love it, this is really nice.”  “GET OUT!”  “Too bad we can’t stay, baby!”  I mean, unless you have no other choice, why take the chance? And let’s be real. Even if the house was fine, totally normal and completely uninfested by beings from the dark dimension… I never would have used that room. Not even for storage. (Ok, maybe for storing the spousal unit’s stuff, but not mine.) That room was f’ing creepy as hell… but not particularly scary. Not yet, anyway.

That was, what–eight, nine years ago?–and I probably wouldn’t have started thinking about it again if I hadn’t started playing Kholat a few nights ago.

For some reason, this image reminds me of that stick-figure sports clipart that used to be in MS Word. Those were creepy, too.

Kholat has been on my list for some time now, and last night I was in the mood for creepy. Kholat is a survival horror game set at the location of the real-life Dyatlov Pass incident (short version: nine hikers/skiers went missing and were ultimately found dead under hella-weird circumstances, and no one’s ever solved the mystery). In the game, you’re trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Which means mountains. And snow. Lots and lots of snow. You have a notebook, a map, a compass, and your wits. Good luck.

There was a somewhat similar found-footage movie on the same subject released in 2013, Devil’s Pass. Dumbass American college students decide to solve the mystery, disappear, here’s what really happened, blah blah blah. Ok, it’s not great, but it was watchable. More or less. I think I was playing Sims 4 at the same time (or maybe Minecraft), but I paid enough attention to remember most of it later.

Early in the game, you find yourself in the middle of a blizzard. It’s a total white-out: you can’t see a thing, and all you can hear is the howl of the wind. A bit later, you find a page that has this written on it (among other things): “…have you ever seen nothingness? A deep emptiness with no end?” You made me wander through a blizzard that turned the whole world into meaningless static, so… kinda, yeah.

Both the blizzard and that line reminded me strongly of what it felt like to step into that room.

Wandering through the blizzard in Kholat was a bit creepy, but not scary. Unfortunately, scenes like that generally don’t create the reaction the devs are probably looking for, because we know how to handle those situations, don’t we? You just keep going in one direction, because you know that the game probably isn’t going to make you do anything tricky when you have zero to go on–no sounds, no landmarks, no handy road signs. If pushing on in one direction doesn’t work, you make a 90 degree turn, as best you can figure, and do it again.

The game does get creepier as you go along, and there’s the occasional scare, but I’d classify this one (so far) as a tension-and-paranoia fest. It’s also one of those games that seems to think that the best way to teach you is to kill you, which I always find annoying. For example: I was creeping down a long hallway with no doors, trying to stay quiet, and then suddenly, I died. On the reload, I sprinted down the hallway to the end and didn’t die. At NO point did I see or hear any warning signs for the thing that was trying to kill me. Maybe that was bad luck/timing, but it feels dumb. Any time you’re avoiding death by just doing the opposite of what you did before, you’re basically playing on rails, not making choices that may or may not lead to your death/survival.

By those standards, my life is a much better game. At least that creepy-ass room sent some vibes my way and gave me plenty of time to make an actual decision.

I’m finding that survival horror games aren’t much fun these days. Probably because it kinda feels like we’re living in one lately, doesn’t it? There’s a shit ton of creepy and plenty of scary going on out there. Zombies can’t be far behind.

1“Creepy.” Accessed November 14, 2017.

2“Scary.” Accessed November 14, 2017.

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