Being able to see the future is a gift that many of us would welcome with open arms. Seeing what is going to happen before it does would allow us to prepare ahead of time for when things go wrong. Premonitions, or visions of the future, are widely regarded by science to be a supernatural phenomenon with no reason to suggest that human beings should be capable of clairvoyance. Unusual abilities are a natural draw to fans of the occult but how exactly does seeing the future pave the way for so many terrifying plots in films and TV shows?

Stephen King

The undisputed godfather of the spooky story was inspired by Robert Wise’s 1963 movie The Haunting, in which a group of people investigates a haunted mansion. One of the characters, Theodora, is a psychic who is able to sense that something is eerily wrong in the building. King was fascinated by psychic powers and featured them in some of his best early works, including Carrie, The Dead Zone and The Shining. If the story of The Haunting seems familiar, that is because it was based on the novel that later became the Netflix hit series The Haunting of Hill House. King’s prolific contemporary Richard Matheson was similarly interested in scary premonitions, as demonstrated in his novel and subsequent screenplay The Legend of Hell House, which involved the paranormal investigation of a creepily-familiar haunted mansion.

Instead of purposefully uncovering sinister goings-on in haunted houses, King’s psychic characters used their powers for a variety of spooky endeavours. The best-known of these is the mysterious ‘Shining’ ability immortalised by the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of King’s novel. The boy Danny Torrance discovers that he can see ghosts from the past and visions of the future in the hotel his family is looking after. Among these is the iconic manifestation of the two twin girls at the end of the corridor. This act of clairvoyance is apparently involuntarily, with Danny only becoming aware of his powers when caretaker Hallorann takes him under his wing. Children are popular recipients of this untapped potential, as evidenced by John Hough’s Escape to Witch Mountain in 1975. Could the wild imaginations or vulnerability of children have something to do with the terrifying nature of the premonitions that they experience in these works of fiction?

Horror films

Since so many of these classic novels were adapted into very successful and very scary movies, the genre of premonition-focussed horror films has continued to this day. Titles like Final Destination and The Premonition have brought this trope into modern horror movies with impressive effect, with visions consistently foretelling horrors that are to come for the central characters. Interestingly, fore-tellings have also translated well to more crime-focussed dramas too, such as the 2001 film From Hell and the hit TV series Medium. Undoubtedly, the success of King's works involving psychics has inspired this continuation of the theme.

Premonitions are therefore associated almost exclusively with bad omens; visions of sticky ends to come. While plenty of these ideas are sourced from real-life people and events, this does not necessarily reflect how we view premonitions in real life. We make appointments with professional psychics and Readers on a regular basis for clairvoyant readings to help us see beyond what we usually see, but only with the intention of learning more about ourselves and our potential. In Hollywood, these abilities are treated just as seriously but are assigned universally dark and supernatural overtones, especially when considering that any one of us could head online or pick up the phone to have a psychic reading performed on a whim.

In some respects, it is easy to see why writers and producers choose clairvoyance for this important role in the horror genre. A supernatural ability can easily be made into an unsettling proposition if effectively portrayed, particularly in a fictional world where there are all manner of terrifying futures. How realistic this interpretation of psychic ability is is questionable, simply because professional psychics tend to provide services that help support us in our day-to-day activities, rather than prepare us for an ensuing apocalypse. Whatever the case, the phenomenon certainly captures the imaginations of horror writers, leaving us with a host of classics to enjoy.