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Horrors and Thrillers - Why do we love to be scared?

Updated on June 2, 2013

With Halloween approaching, I figured I'd review a bunch of scary and Halloween-themed movies throughout the month of October. But that also gets me to thinking: why do we like to be scared?

Now, chances are there are as many different answers to that question as there are styles of scary movies. But for me, I think I've figured out a few simple answers.

But first, I have to state one thing plainly about my own personal preferences: I'm not a fan of gore.

I know there are those out there that will disagree with me on this. The vast number of movies that use this trick speaks strongly to that. But personally, I don't like movies that use gore as a cheap scare. That's not scary. It's just gross. And once you've gotten used to a certain level of grossness, you need to up the ante before you can get that reaction again.

So, with that out of the way, what else is there?

It's the morals

You can say what you want about the movies themselves, but have you ever noticed just how moral the horror genre is? It may be one of the most moral of the widely popular genres out there.

Don't believe me? Well, consider this situation (c).

You're watching a movie set in the woods near a small town. Local legend tells of an axe-wielding specter that walks the woods every Presidents Day, looking for his lost puppy. A group of students from the local university (it's always a group of teenagers or early twenty-somethings) decide to tempt fate and stay in the old worn out shack that somehow still has power and a TV antenna.

When they get to the cabin, two of them immediately run into the back room for a little bow-chikka-wow-wow time. Two of them head into the kitchen to eat their snacks while doing their best to get through ten pounds of weed they swiped from a police evidence locker. And two of them sit down in the front room to study for that quiz they know they all have on Monday.

Now, using the rules of the horror movies you've seen, which pair do you want to bet will die first, die second, and not die at all? Sure, they'll all get scared (except maybe the first to die because they don't know they should be scared at all yet) and they may each be horribly hurt, but statistically speaking, the ones most likely to make it through to the end credits are the ones who are doing nothing wrong.

Horror does this because they need you to have someone to root for. And the easiest ones to get behind are those who are behaving how we all know we should. But if they kill off all the people you're supposed to root for, they know they're shooting themselves in the foot.

Now, there will be the odd good character who dies. If good people didn't die, we'd soon learn not to worry for them. But statistically speaking, those who have the biggest chance of bucking the kicket are those who need some sort of life re-adjustment.

It's almost as if these monsters, these evil apparitions, these hell-spawn are actually God's angels in disguise, punishing those who flout the rules.


There is something to be said for releasing strong emotions. We cry at romances. We laugh at comedies. We cheer at action flicks.

And we tremble at horrors.

In our daily lives, most of us don't have a way to release that kind of emotion. It's not that we long to release our pent up fears. But when we get the chance, there's a tremendous and immediate benefit.

The body is designed for fight or flight. But in today's modern world, that instinct rarely comes into play. Cops and soldiers get the chance, though they usually pray they don't. Some professional sports greatly rely on it. (I'd love to see Tiger Woods afraid of being tackled if he doesn't make his next putt and see what that does to his concentration.)

But for most of the rest of us, we're stuck doing a job that maybe we like, maybe we don't. But even if we don't, we just have to slog through it and get the job done.

Scary movies, however, allow us the experience of releasing our fears and letting them run for a while. They build as the climax draws near, then there's that release when everything works out (most of the time).

The brain is mostly unable to tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined one. There are endorphins and other chemicals that are released into the body in preparation for this fight-or-flight response. And when the release happens, it can be such a cathartic release, not only of our own emotions, but of the body's own chemistry.

Triumph over Evil

This is sort of a combination of my first two points in a way.

Now, there will be the odd movie where the monster or the killer is allowed to win. But overall, part of the catharsis of a good horror movie is the ability to see the good guy triumph over the bad.

Good guys triumph over bad guys in almost every genre out there, but in Horror, it's more than that. The bad guy in a horror movie usually represents evil incarnate. The embodiment of all our fears or evil thoughts. A triumph in horror isn't just a victory for the cop on the screen who finally caught the man who killed his wife in the first minutes of the show. It's a representative victory of all that is good—represented by our hero—over all that is evil—represented by the monster or killer.

How can you not cheer when that happens?


Now, that doesn't mean that everyone likes scary movies for these same reasons, but they're always the ones that I come back to when deciding whether I like a particular scary movie or not.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be discussing several scary movies. Some I've selected because they're simply classics in their genre. Others I select as being scary movies that I myself am personally drawn to again and again.

And I've even chosen some that the kids may like.

Speaking of kids ... do you know where yours are?



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    • Garlonuss profile image

      Garlonuss 6 years ago from Saratoga Springs, Utah

      Actually, I never saw Rob Zombie's version. I wasn't watching a lot of movies in theaters at the time it came out (school and stuff, you know) and it seemed to be reviewed only so-so, so I didn't really rush to see it. However I would like to eventually see it as a point of comparison.

    • manthy profile image

      Mark 6 years ago from Alabama,USA

      Thanks for this awesome hub - I don't really love horror movies but I agree with what you say in the hub it makes perfect sense to me.

      The truth can be stranger than fiction - I could actually see someone going whacko and going on a killing spree like the way ROB ZOMBIE re-made Halloween, to me that is a better made movie if you could just tone him down a notch, it seems like he has to be too gory and over the top in all of his movies.

      What did you think of Rob Zombies version of Halloween?

    • Garlonuss profile image

      Garlonuss 6 years ago from Saratoga Springs, Utah

      Yeah, personally I prefer the ones that have a supernatural element, but I agree that the ones that focus more on basic serial killers and psychos can be quite intriguing and fascinating.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      interesting read. I love scary films that deal with realistic and psychic situations. I'm generally not a fan of those which deal with ghosts and vcampires. Movies that mess with my head or that, movies that don't show the killer or malevolent force (Cat People, 1942, is a good example) and movies that play on our primal fears are my favorites. I'm also fascinated by serial killers, especially in films like Se7en. Thanks for the read!