Why do people watch horror?

Why do people watch horror?
I’ve been asked many times, why do I enjoy horror films? Queries have come up many times on the forums here about what sort of person would watch horror? In other words, and sometimes blatantly, people ask what sort of sick, depraved person wants to sit down and watch people get murdered? This is a highly uneducated misconception of the horror genre and the horror audience. Most people who aren’t educated in the genre wonder what sort of psychology would cause a person to put themselves in front of a screen where they are going to witness fear, gore, cruelty, disturbing scenes, the supernatural and much more.

Still now, and since the start of screen and cinema, we, as an audience, have been shown horror in some shape or form. Horror films have a huge fan base, and Hollywood rakes in billions from horror movies each year, with audiences flocking to be scared out of their wits over and over. The horror fan is not only avid, but dedicated to the films, and you will not find this in any other movie genre. You certainly don’t get “romantic comedy conventions”, where people can meet their favourite romantic comedy stars, and yet with horror, the fans are treated all over the world to conventions where fans can meet their favourite horror movie stars, past and present, and also have plenty of more fun meeting other fans and collecting memorabilia. There is no-one more dedicated to their genre than the horror fan.

Another popular question and curiosity is what sort of minds think these stories up? The answer is - brilliant ones. Long before Peter Jackson directed ‘The Lord of The Rings’ trilogy, he already had a huge horror fan following with ‘Bad Taste’, ‘Braindead’ and ‘The Frighteners.’ The same can be said for ‘Spider-man’ trilogy director Sam Raimi. After ‘The Evil Dead’ trilogy, his fans made a point of seeing ‘Darkman’ and ‘Crimewave’, not to mention the recent and brilliant, ‘Drag Me To Hell.’

Also, what people seem to forget is that most horror films, certainly any good horror film, will have a metaphorical story running throughout it; these can be easily followed or deeply rooted. The horror film is the fable of cinema, the modern Greek mythology. Showing characters facing their demons or monsters, and good triumphing over evil; or sometimes the opposite. We are brought up with horror, when as young children we are read ‘Fairy tales’ and shown Disney cartoons, there are strong horror elements in both. For example, the evil queen poisoning Snow White. The Little Mermaid’s tongue being cut out and her ultimate death. These translate even into the Disney cartoons; the death of Simba’s father or of Bambi’s mother. These are all messages to children. Strong messages, that one day everyone dies, including parents. That no bad deed goes unpunished or good deed, rewarded.

Fans aren’t attracted to simply blood and gore, experts will even say. People who liked the ‘Saw’ series, for example, wouldn’t necessarily derive such pleasure from watching an animal being slaughtered in a meat-processing plant. Researchers say one reason we watch horror is because the thrill of it calls up deep, primal behaviour. This is mainly in males, to assess threat levels. (The typical horror-flick viewer is a male between the ages of 15 and 45.) That’s not to say that females aren’t equally as obsessed with the genre, but they are usually drawn to more psychological horror such as ‘Alien’, or ‘The Ring.’ None of these rules are strictly true of course, there are always exceptions.

Teenagers and twenty something’s, older even, can relate to many of the characters’ situations in horror films. For example, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ finds herself completely alone, her parents are divorced and don’t believe her cries for help, her alcoholic mother believes she’s mentally ill, and so Nancy has to rely completely on herself; a strong message for an adolescent going into adulthood. In Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’, Sissy Spacek plays the title character who is bullied relentlessly by her peers and mother. The added advantage in horror and these films in particular, is that the victim can outdo the villain, or the bullied girl can get her vengeance. These are stories many of us can relate to and one of the reasons they are so popular.

In ‘The Fly’ or ‘The Wolf-man’ we see men changing, their bodies becoming something they have no control over, usually something horrific. This is evidently a strong metaphor for how our own bodies change, not only in puberty but in old age or perhaps illness; and age is something that the human psyche fears greatly. By watching these movies, on a visceral level, we are experiencing what the characters are. We can identify with their plights and certainly their fears; this helps an audience to deal with what is going on in their own minds and process it, therefore helping them. This is one of many reasons people will watch certain horror movies over again.

People also watch horror simply to be frightened, like going on a rollercoaster ride, the human body and mind gets a thrill from it. We wouldn’t watch horror more than once if this wasn’t the case. Despite our social situations changing, our minds have not developed their flight or fight syndromes. Therefore, horror can serve as an outlet for this - releasing tension and anxiety. Other reasons include enjoying the adrenaline rush, being distracted from mundane life, vicariously thumbing our noses at social norms (most horror fans are highly intelligent with a strong sense of individuality), and enjoying a voyeuristic glimpse of the horrific from a safe distance, not to mention comic relief, which a great amount of horror films provide.

Until next time - keep screaming!

You Should Also Read:
Psychological horror
Horror Movie Character Development
Women in the horror genre (Part 2)

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