Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thoughts on Horror Books and Movies

This is that time of the year when many people’s minds turn to horror. If they’re not reading horror books, they’re watching horror movies or going to haunted houses or on haunted hayrides.I for one don’t like horror movies or horror books. I haven’t seen the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, or Rosemary’s Baby, although I think I read Rosemary’s Baby.

Of course while camping with my cousins and brother as kids or later sitting around the campfire with my Girl Scouts, I did tell some spooky stories like the one with the young boy sent to the store to buy liver for supper, who either spent or lost his money. Afraid to go home without the liver, he stopped at a cemetery on the way home, dug up the grave of someone buried that day and cut out the liver from the body. That night while the boy was lying in bed, he heard footsteps on the stairs and a low creepy voice saying, “One step, give me back my liver. Two steps give me back my liver,” and on and on with the kids totally engrossed until you grab the kid next to you and say “Gotcha.” The kid screams and everyone jumps and then they start laughing. There’s also the story of someone buried, who wasn’t really dead, and later when they were dug up because the family dog won’t stop howling on the grave, they find the lining inside the coffin in shreds from the person, now dead, who tried to escape.

When I was growing up there weren’t horror movies or haunted houses for Halloween, or at least none that I knew of. When I got older, I loved the Gothic novels with haunted houses or castles, although I was always annoyed that the young woman in the creepy house or castle, when hearing a noise, left her room holding a candle to explore. Stupid! Stupid! She should have been hiding under the bed or at least dragged a dresser or something heavy to prop against her bedroom door. But those books didn’t have zombies, psychos, the walking dead, or other horrors, even though there was someone who was evil and possibly insane.  When my kids were older, early teens or so, my husband and I took them to some haunted houses this time of the year. Knowing the scary people were mostly teenagers or older people dressing the part, I found them rather funny even though they often made me jump when they took me unawares.

So I started wondering why people like horror movies and books, and went to Google to explore this, and found lots of articles and thoughts on the subject – too many in fact to take the time to read through more than a few of them. Rather than go into detail about the different studies with citations, etc. I’ll just state some of the things I read about why people gravitate towards horror films and books.

The first explanation is that the person is not actually afraid, but excited by the movie. The second explanation is that they are willing to endure the terror in order to enjoy a euphoric sense of relief at the end.

But another study finds the assumption of people’s ability to experience positive and negative effect at the same time is incorrect. In a study on horror films, participants were asked to watch clips of horror films while they rated their emotions. They found that although all participants expressed similar levels of fear at the end of the clips, those who reported being horror movie lovers expressed more happiness than those who were horror movie haters. Other evidence seems to point to sensation-seeking personality types, like those who take up skydiving and bungee jumping.

Several research studies suggest that more men enjoy scary movies. This might be because men are socialized to be brave and enjoy threatening things. Also, men may derive social gratification from not letting a scary film bother them. And men often like scary films as date movies because women are more likely to seek physical closeness when they’re scared, and men can show off their strength and bravery. (This is called “the cuddle effect.”)

And then there’s a suggestions that some people may simply like scary movies because they enjoy the adrenaline rush of being scared while being safe. I didn’t find any studies that showed those who are psychotic like serial killers, animal abusers, etc. were more likely to enjoy horror movies, but then I neither had the time nor the desire to go through all the studies out there. I wonder if a study like that has or should be done?

As I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t like scary movies. I like a good suspense book or movie, but not ones with horror. It could be because of my gender, as mentioned above, but I also read that people who are highly empathetic don’t like horror movies. That could be my problem. When I hear about or read about mistreated people or animals or the death of a child or young person I get tears in my eyes. When the Afghanistan and Iraq wars first started, on the PBS News Hour at night they would feature soldiers who died, their names and hometowns, and I got choked up every time I watched their faces knowing they had families grieving for them.

On a more positive note for you who love horror movies, researchers found that watching 90 minutes of a horror movie raises the heart rate and the metabolic adrenaline burns off 100 calories. Of course, you can do the same thing by walking for 30 minutes. Better yet, the international Journal of Obesity reports that 15 minutes of laughing burns up to 40 calories, so wouldn’t it make more sense to watch funny movies instead?

Do you like horror books and movies? Why or why not?


Jim Jackson said...

I’ve never been a fan of horror or slapstick, which may be its opposite. I have no explanation why, but even now when I periodically try to read a book or watch a movie with those elements, I rarely get to the end. For me, there are better ways to spend my time.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I hate horror movies. They're too graphic for me. There are some horror books that I've appreciated (can't say enjoyed) and studied to write my own scenes. Edgar Allen Poe's and Stephen King's writing is awesome. They set up a scene and evoke emotion. Studying Poe taught me to shorten my sentences to increase tension. He mastered suspense. King is harder to pin down. I'm captivated and drawn into the story so much, I forget to study. I just keep reading.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, although I don't like horror, some slapstick I enjoy, but it depends on the level of it. I've enjoyed the Cohen brothers movies. I'm not sure if you consider that slapstick, or not. But if the slapstick is too over-the-top, I don't care for it, either. I was never a fan of The Three Stooges.

E.B. I've only read one or two Steven King books back in the day before I was a writer so I didn't appreciate his writing. I haven't read Poe in years, either. I did like the short stories he wrote, though. I don't remember his work as being especially gruesome like today's horror books and movies.

Kara Cerise said...

I enjoy reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels now and then. I really liked the horror genre when I was young but not so much now that I'm older. Perhaps because there are so many frightening things happening in the world. I think the problem with some horror movies is that they're ridiculously over-the-top and gruesome. There's a line between a good scare and one that drags on for so long that it becomes boring.

Paula Gail Benson said...

I agree with Kara. A good scare is defined not so much by being long and drawn out, but the haunting quality it leaves with the listener or watcher. Gloria, your stories told around the campfire have a much more haunting effect than graphic scenes from a slasher movie.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, I read very few of them when I was younger, and once I was living alone, I skipped them completely. Of course, some of the suspense novels I read have me holding my breath in fear for the main character, too.

Paula, they probably did, but it was fun then. A short tense scary story that ends in laughter somehow doesn't seem as bad.

Warren Bull said...

Horror is not my thing although I will read anything well-written. People do sufficiently horrible things to each other. We don't need monsters; we are monsters.

KM Rockwood said...

I have a certain fascination with horror. Like a lot of people I enjoy the tingly feeling of being slightly scared, but I don't often indulge it. I have trouble fining what I like (Things akin to The Telltale Heart.) It can quickly become cruel and vicious. And since in general I like my fiction understated, I don't watch/read the graphic stuff, either violence or sex.

Layna said...

I love a good suspense movie but horror - no thank you. When I was younger I read several Stephen King novels which didn't bother me because I could control the visuals in my head. I try to avoid TV in the month of Oct except of course for 'It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown'!

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, you're so right. Just hearing about and reading about the beheading done by ISIS is upsetting to me.

KM, slightly scared is okay, but the visuals, whether in a movie or on the page, of torture and atrocities of any kind, is something I can live with out.

Layla, I love all things Charlie Brown. I'm glad our newspaper is running the Peanuts cartoons again in the Sunday paper.

Nancy Adams said...

I don't like extreme horror like The Exorcist or Chain Saw Massacre (never saw either and have no intention of doing so), but I do enjoy a certain amount of "creepy." I love Edgar Allen Poe and loved watching Dark Shadows when it was on back in the dinosaur age when I was a kid and I enjoy some vampire and paranormal books. I read King's The Shining in college and didn't read anything else of his for years because it was too scary for my taste. I recently read his Christine (about the car) and agree that he is a very fine writer.

Shari Randall said...

My favorite phrase of the week is "cuddle effect"!
I don't like horror movies - especially the slasher things - and I am picky about horror books. Awhile back I felt that I needed to bump up my game in the horror genre (because people, especially teens, at the library want recommendations) so I read reviews and picked up three. Turned out, they were some of my favorite reads of the year:
The Passage by Justin Cronin (enviable world building)
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindquist (a modern, emotionally resonant take on the vampire and bullying)
and the one that turned out to be one of my all time favorite books:
The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell (imagine Flannery O'Connor writing about the zombie apocalypse - amazing)
But, for all these favorites, I've had my fill. Warren's right - there are plenty of monsters in real life and I don't need to search them out in books.

Polly Iyer said...

There are some horror movies I've watched and enjoyed, Rosemary's Baby for one. I didn't find The Exorcist that scary because of the phony makeup. Psycho was a great movie. Couldn't watch The Shining because of the clips I'd seen. Carrie was fine because I love revenge stories, and she sure got some. So I guess it depends with me. I don't read horror but love suspense.

Gloria Alden said...

Nancy, I like paranormal if it deals with ghosts, but zombies, vampires, etc. I don't care for. I didn't read King's The Shining. Living alone with no blinds or drapes on my windows, I think I might find those kinds of books too creepy for me.

Shari, I don't think all vampire books are horror books. I didn't read the Twilight series, but from what I've heard about the books, they were more in the line of romance than horror. I'm thinking the one you read wasn't exactly a horror book.

Polly, I like suspense books, too. I think you write great suspense books. Horror? No! I'm appalled by what I read about ISIS and the drug cartels in Mexico, and the group in Western Africa that is kidnapping young girls.