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?