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TODAY contributor

Explainer: Phobia films: Movies that push your panic buttons

  • IMAGE: Open Water
    Lions Gate Entertainment

    Ratings for movies have gotten really specific — if you wonder whether or not a film contains smoking, the MPAA will now tell you — but those ratings don’t go far in enough in warning people about horror movies that are designed to freak out people with very specific fears.

    Sure, if you have ornithophobia, you know better than to plunk down your money to see Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “The Birds,” but did anyone bother to warn sufferers of nyctohylophobia (fear of dark wooded areas at nighttime) about “The Blair Witch Project” or those with vestiphobia (fear of clothing) about “Sex and the City 2”? And claustrophobes can tell from the title and the trailer that they'd better stay far away from Ryan Reynolds' new film, "Buried."

    As a public service, here are some movies that certain phobics would do well to avoid altogether.

  • 'Buried'

    IMAGE: Buried

    Should be avoided by: Anyone coping with claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) or taphophobia (fear of being buried alive) should steer clear of this new thriller starring Ryan Reynolds as a truck driver in Iraq who awakes to find himself trapped in a coffin-like box plunged six feet underground, with only a lighter and a cell phone (with a dying battery, natch) between him and hideous suffocation.

    Should also be avoided by: People who go see Ryan Reynolds movies just to see his abs. You’re probably better off renting “The Proposal.”

  • 'Frozen'

    IMAGE: Frozen
    Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Should be avoided by: Well, it’s got two guys and a gal stuck on a ski lift and dealing with forced exposure and the threat of hungry wolves, so that pretty much rules out anyone with chionophobia (fear of snow), acrophobia (fear of heights), and cynophobia (technically, fear of dogs or rabies, but we can include wolves in that category).

    Should also be avoided by: Anyone whose long-planned, expensive vacation involves lift tickets, cable cars, or even those sky-buckets that take you from one end of an amusement park to the other.

  • 'Open Water'

    IMAGE: Open Water
    Lions Gate Entertainment
    Open Water

    Should be avoided by: This tale of divers left behind by their boat and struggling to stay alive while treading water in shark-infested seas made everybody squirm, but anyone with thalassophobia (fear of the sea) and selachophobia (fear of sharks) had the toughest time. And if you’ve got hydrophobia (fear of water) that doesn’t distinguish between fresh and salt, you might steer clear of “Piranha 3-D” while you’re at it.

    Should also be avoided by: Anyone who saw “The Cove” and became an impassioned activist for sea creatures. Because “Open Water” is the kind of movie that makes you want to harpoon anything that brushes against you in the ocean, be it shark, dolphin, turtle, or beer bottle.

  • 'Paranormal Activity'

    IMAGE: Paranormal Activity

    Should be avoided by: Anyone facing the trauma of nyctophobia (fear of the dark or night) or phasmophobia (fear of ghosts) should really do themselves the favor of going nowhere near this sleeper horror hit about a young couple who are certain that something or other is going bump in the night in their house, so they set up a video camera to document the goings-on.

    Should also be avoided by: Jerry Bruckheimer, who spent truckloads of money on big-budget summer flops “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Mr. B. would no doubt weep over the fact that “Paranormal” earned more than $100 million at the box office on a production budget of just $15,000. (Unless he has chrometophobia — fear of money — which seems exceedingly unlikely.)

  • 'Awake'

    IMAGE: Awake
    The Weinstein Company

    Should be avoided by: Well, gosh, it’s about waking during surgery, which isn’t a prospect that anyone feels good about, least of all nosocomephobes (fear of hospitals), tomophobes (fear of surgical operations), or iatrophobes (fear of doctors).

    Should also be avoided by: Anyone who vowed to avoid all movies starring Hayden Christensen — who plays the unlucky patient — after enduring the “Star Wars” prequels.

  • 'Devil'

    IMAGE: Devil
    Universal Pictures

    Should be avoided by: Claustrophobes can pretty forget about this one, along with asanserophobes (fear of elevators) and demonophobes. This new horror flick gives us a group of people trapped in an elevator — which is already nightmare fuel — and then kicks things up a notch by making of them (dun-dun-DUNN!!!) the devil.

    Should also be avoided by: Anyone for whom “From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan” is no longer an inducement to buy a ticket. So, basically, everyone.

  • 'Snakes on a Plane'

    New Line Cinema

    Should be avoided by: This one’s another two-fer, promising to bring misery to ophidiophobes (fear of snakes) and aviophobes (fear of flying) alike, no matter how large and in charge Samuel L. Jackson’s viper-fighting cop may be.

    Should also be avoided by: Anyone who plans to watch it on television. The film’s most quotable line can’t be shared here, but you really don’t want to hear it boiled down to “I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane!”

Discuss: What are you afraid of?

Has a movie ever triggered your phobia? Or is there one you refuse to see because you just know it will push all the wrong buttons?

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