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Common Talk #2: An Explanation for Why People Love Horror Movies

Updated on October 15, 2017
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Brian lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two kids. He works in finance and enjoys writing and movies in his down time.

We weren’t always like this.

Why do people enjoy being scared? It doesn’t seem to make much sense, especially from an evolutionary perspective. We have evolved with fear in order to preserve our species. Simply put, it is a survival mechanism. Back in the cave man days, (I know I sound so uneducated…..maybe I’ll look up the proper name for that time period, but I doubt it) if a lion was approaching a family of homo sapiens, they instantly went into fight or flight mode. The choice to fight or flight strongly depended on how hungry they were and how hungry the lion was. Fear became instinctive and was developed to avoid things that could harm us.

The shift

So, what enabled us to make the shift from using fear as a tool of survival to a vehicle for joy and entertainment? Well, for starters, we aren’t living in caves or forests where we are constantly on guard from threats. This frees the majority of people (with the exception of living in a 3rd world country) to rarely experience any sort of real danger. We also got desensitized to many stimuli that provided entertainment when horror movies started to gain momentum

I am among the crowd that gets a thrill off of scary things including horror movies and haunted houses. Now for movies, obviously it’s fiction (don’t even start with the “based on a true store” crap) so I don’t fear that what I’m watching could pose a hypothetical threat to me. On the other hand, if I’m watching a documentary about the M13 gang in California and I live around one of their territories, then that’s real cause to feel afraid. But as a rational adult, I don’t watch “Saw” and then fear that the jigsaw doll will come rolling into my living room with his tricked out death tricycle.

Perception is everything

However, thinking like a rational adult is relative to what type of world a person believes the live in. I’ve come across many people who hold deeply religious beliefs that struggle with watching a horror movie or refuse to even watch one. From their accounts, they sincerely believe in the supernatural including ghosts and demons so for them, it’s more than a fictional story. When I sit down for a movie of this genre, I can get into it and enjoy the adrenaline rush of being scared; perhaps even going as far as imagining it happening. While some religious people abstain from watching such movies, others can enjoy the flick and separate the movie from reality. The difference is, after the movie is over, while I may rehash certain scenes that stuck with me, I move on and sleep just fine that night. The former group may find that given their deeply held beliefs, their subconscious (or conscious) may get the best of them and cause real fear.

A coping mechanism

Speaking of subconscious, this leads me into what maybe an unidentified but common reason why certain audiences can’t get enough of this scary genre. I’ll be the first one to admit that while I’m not easily scared, I can get spooked by noises and sights that I can’t immediately identify. The brain is a very powerful organ and can deceive often. We all get scared from time to time, whatever the reason or trigger, yet we deal with it in a variety of ways. Some of us pretend that we aren’t scared at all, others try to face their fears head on like spending a night in an allegedly haunted house. While I don’t particularly believe in the supernatural, (at least until some very convincing evidence is provided to me) you’d have to pay me a pretty handsome sum of money to partake in such an activity. So, if I don’t believe in the concept of an actually haunted house, then why would I be so averse to going in one? Well, I don’t care about proving other people wrong that much, but I’ll candidly admit that I fear the possibility that I am wrong about the paranormal. Thus, I’ve come to the theory that many other horror movie lovers (including myself), deal with that scary possibility via watching fictional accounts related to that subject.

My favorite horror flick

I’ll end with my top horror movie of all time. When I was 8 years old, my dad thought it would be a great idea to rent the exorcist with me. Thanks dad, way to use some excellent parental judgement on that one. It’s odd because I never had one nightmare about it, but that movie clears out my digestive tract each time I watch it, to this day. There have been plenty of other horror movies that are scary, but that one has always stuck in my mind. I’m not even sure why; I suppose the concept and sight of an 11-year-old girl possessed by a demon who talks a lot of smack is downright terrifying.

Well, that’s it for now. Can’t wait for Halloween so I can enjoy the three binges: scary movies, snickers and scotch.

Till next ride.


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