Schlenz 1 Jarid Schlenz Professor Fahey English 1A 13 October 2011 Horror Movies Scare Us So Why Do We Watch Them? Scary, creepy, and downright disturbing images have existed in film, art, and literature as long as we have had the ability to invent them, perceive them and construct them. Not only have they simply existed, but they permeate these mediums: “horror has become a staple across contemporary art forms, popular and otherwise, spawning vampires, trolls, gremlins, zombies, werewolves, demonically possessed children, space monsters of all sizes, ghosts, and other unnameable concoctions” (Carroll, 51).
Horror is easily accessible to appease a growing appetite for scary in society. But why? Why would we want to put ourselves through the terror and agony of sitting on the edge of our seats, heart racing, sweaty palms, eyes squinted? It is one of the most frightening experiences to be at the mercy of someone or something else, yet we do it constantly and voluntarily. One of the reasons why we may feel the need to watch this genre of movie is to simply gain the excitement of living on the edge. Another may include the curiosity of the unknown, the unexpected, and the unseen, all of which are elements that that make a good horror movie good.
While at the same time there is a need to watch others feel helpless, act under pressure and deal with the. Even the appeal of seeing a new creature or monster brings people to watch horror movies. But the unifying pull lies in the ability of experiencing something new without losing control. Schlenz 2 One reason often used to explain the desire and need to watch horror movies stems from physical reactions. There is the appeal of the adrenaline rush, which gives horror movies the same draw as a roller coaster at a theme park.
The difference, however, is that horror movies lack the real danger of things that normally give humans an adrenaline rush. Even a roller coaster, which simulates deathly falls and flying at incredible speeds, contains the real danger of death if it malfunctions. But the act of watching a movie contains no danger. Still, “when people watch horrific images, their heartbeat increases as much as 15 beats per minute… their palms sweat, their skin temperature drops several degrees, their muscles tense, and their blood pressure spikes” (Sine, 2). The affects of the scenes people watch are there, without any of the actual danger.
This allows people to experience the thrill, high energy, and, perhaps, new sensations of being out of control, without ever relinquishing control of their surroundings and lives. More than just physical reactions, though, horror equally appeals to and disturbs the mind. One of the primary appeals, mentally, about horror is the unknown. The unknown, unexpected, and unseen disturb our sense of safety and comfort and our ideas of how the world should work. They take away the rules we use to deal with reality and make the familiar become unfamiliar. In the unknown anything could happen and anything could emerge from the darkness.
The unknown takes away control, but it also excites curiosity. Our imaginations are so quick to run away with what is being presented to us that we are left clinging to our seats in desperation. Everything known comes from the unknown so it has an endless power to keep our attention. With our attention captive, and our minds guessing, the unknown allows movies to employ shock. Our stomach plummets when the killer rises again after being smashed in the head, shot, and pushed down the stairs. Unnatural creatures and occurrences make us feel uncomfortable and Schlenz 3 confused.
This is sometimes referred to as the “shock horror,” or the “employment of graphic, visceral shock to access the historical substrate of traumatic experience” (Lowenstein, 37). Shock horror intensifies the adrenaline and physical reactions to horror by engaging the mind as well. Many movies also combine shock horror with a sense of surrealism. The surrealist movement in art and film takes the familiar and adds a sense of distortion or unknown. Surrealism “might be better understood as a violent, embodied assault on the social structures propping up modernity,” (Lowenstein, 37).
Again, people are drawn in by curiosity, captivated by the unknown aspect of surrealist images, and horrified by the results. When you watch a horror movie, most of the time you start to feel compassion for the victim and start to wonder how you would handle the situation and what you would do differently. It is hard to watch a horror movie and not get emotional as you start to ponder these questions and then feel sorry for the victim for having to go through the traumatic ordeal. A feeling of helplessness is usually portrayed to the audience and nothing could possibly feel worse than the inability to affect your own fate.
In horror movies there is a complete lack of power on the victim’s part, they are going to die, the question is when. We can relate to the anguish of helplessness as we all have felt helpless at times. The victims in horror movies are typically helpless because they are under so much pressure. With the slow build of tension becomes the increasing need to do something. When we see a character buckle under the pressure we feel some king of affection for them and when we see the characters rise under pressure you feel yourself urging them on.
Pressure combined with urgency can push a character to accomplish great feats. When we begin to sympathize with the victims or characters the movie can become quite intense. With danger comes a heightened awareness that enhances all emotions, positive Schlenz 4 and negative, drawing attention to every detail. The threat of death often drives people to celebrate life, so we see romance running hand and hand with horror at times. Intensity of emotion and sensation drowns out common sense and this overloading of the senses can appeal to those used to living calmer lives.
Horror movies have the ability to scare you half to death and after watching a horror movie one know that there is no way that they am going to sleep for at least another few hours. A horror movie works by engaging a basic defense mechanism; if there’s something out there to get you, you don’t let your guard down, and you certainly don’t shut off your brain for a few hours. You know that it was just a movie, but some part of your brain, perhaps the part that has the fight or flight reflex, keeps telling you that you are not going to sleep yet, it isn’t safe and that there is something strange in the corner of your room.
You know that it is just your coat but you can’t seem to convince yourself, it wasn’t there last night, you don’t even remember putting it there. Eventually you get up and turn the lights on, confirm that it was just your coat and put it away in the closet. However, you are still not safe because now your brain has fixated on something else. Don’t be embarrassed to feel this way. No matter how scared someone gets when they watch horror movies they are still compelled to watch another one. One enjoys pushing their limits and finding out just what they can stomach is an intense adrenaline rush.
Being scared is fun but only as long as they know that in a few hours it will all be over and they will come out alive and unharmed. Schlenz 5 Works Cited Lowenstein, Adam. Films without a Face: Shock Horror in the Cinema of Georges Franju. University of Texas Press, 1998. Carroll, Noel. “The Nature of Horror” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Blackwell Publishing, 1987 Briefel, Aviva. “Monster Pains” Film Quarterly. University of California Press. Spring 2005 Sine, Richard. “Why We love Scary Movies. ” October 8, 2011.