Why Do We Like to Watch Horror Movies?

Why Do We Like to Watch Horror Movies?
By Ahmad Amirali

There are people I know who do not like to watch horror movies, not even the trailer. The reason is simple, fear. However, I also know many people who are addicted to these scary films. Why? My friends and students mostly ask me, ‘do you like horror movies, especially watching at midnight?’ My answer to them is not that simple. First of all, we need to see that a variety of genres exist in the horror franchise. One of the genres I am not a great fan of is the archetypal ‘slasher’ movies. Slasher movies depict a series of violent murders or assaults by an attacker armed with a knife or razor — for example, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. Then there is a bit of ‘schlock’ or cheap horror where the central part of the movie contains action or suspense — for example, David Cronenberg’s films Scanners and The Fly. There is a genre of ‘psychological horror’ where suspense and action go side by side with the story and create a chilling sensation in the viewer’s mind. Movies like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan, The Conjuring or The Nun are examples of these genres. However, I am not writing this article on the genre of horror movies; I am more concerned about ‘Why people do like to watch horror movies?

Dr Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the University of Utrecht, was interviewed in 2013 for IGN, where he states:

‘People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects… [Horror films must] provide a just resolution in the end. The bad guy gets it. Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people can pay attention as much or as little as they care to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise.’

According to Dr Glenn Walter’s research Understanding the Popular Appeal of Horror Cinema: An Integrated-Interactive Model published in 2004, the three primary factors that make horror films appealing are tension (caused by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (may relate to personal significance, cultural importance, the fear of death), and unrealism. He elaborated further:

In researching disgust, Haidt, McCauley, and Rozin (1994) exposed college students to three documentary videos depicting real-life horrors.  One clip showed cows being stunned, killed and butchered in a slaughterhouse. A second clip pictured a live monkey being struck in the head with a hammer, having its skull cracked opened and its brain served as dessert. A third clip depicted a child’s facial skin being turned inside out in preparation for surgery.  Ninety per cent of the students turned the video off before it reached the end.  Even the majority of individuals who watched the tape in its entirety found the images disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film with much more blood and gore than was present in the documentaries that most of them found repugnant. McCauley (1998) posed the logical question of why these students found the documentary film so unpleasant when most had sat through horror pictures that were appreciably more violent and bloody.  The answer that McCauley came up with was that the fictional nature of horror films affords viewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film. There is evidence that young viewers who perceive greater realism in horror films are more negatively affected by their exposure to horror films than viewers who perceive the film as unreal (Hoekstra, Harris, & Helmick, 1999).’

Apart from researchers, writers and bloggers like Tessa Hickey believe that watching horror movies somehow benefited many ways. It burns calories (maybe due to the fear factor), increases adrenaline, makes you confident and less afraid of unstable daily life situations. Maybe many people will not agree with me. However, the undeniable fact is that people like to watch horror movies, and they seem perfectly alright after viewing these films. There are specific reasons behind it. For example, I watch sensible and gore-free horror movies because of their sound effect, makeup and, most notably its total running time. Usually, horror movies are up to 60 to 130 mins which are more than perfect. I’m not too fond of two-three hours long films. Similarly, Different people like watching for different reasons, and no theory has been put forward that explains everyone’s motives and reasoning.

What are your views on watching horror movies? Let me know in the comment box. Behaviour

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