Everyone enjoys watching movies. But there is one particular genre that people always like to watch- horror movies. Despite these films being scary and in some cases can be really terrifying to the point that you feel like you will be having nightmares, people still go and watch them. And the surprising thing is that even people who admit that they get scared easily enjoy them.
So, why do people like watching scary films? As with everything else, there is always a reason behind it. There is something that horror films bring us that directly speaks to our mind and instinct. There are fear triggers that ingrained in our brain whether it is fear of the dark, fear of animals, fear of death, etc.
There are three different factors attributed to psychological attraction to such movies according to Dr. Glenn D. Waters. The first factor is the tension. Every person likes mystery. It captures our attention, our mind. This tension is created through suspense, mystery, shock or terror. That is why any horror film has the following elements. Filmmakers who can effectively bring out the following elements can craft a horror movie that will entice and captivate the viewers.
The second factor has something to do with its relevance with its potential viewers. No matter how well-crafted a horror film is if it does not have any relevance, it will not capture the attention of its viewers. One thing you will notice about horror films is that the best ones have universal relevance. They can effectively capture the fear of things like death, life and uncertainty.
The other factor that attracts scary films to people is unrealism. In as much as horror films appear to be really realistic and highly graphic, people are aware that at a certain level, they are not real.
The human mind is a beautiful and also a complex creation. Humans always yearn to understand and discover everything around them. According to Dr. Paul J. Patterson, an assistant professor teaching English at Saint Joseph’s University, humans want to understand and explore the world and that includes common fears. This is called as morbid fascination- that curiosity that will lead you to stopping your car to see for yourself what happened if you come across a car crash on the road. Storylines, monsters and the creation of scary films have evolved in time but the fascination of people towards these films still remain.
Dr. Glenn Sparks, a university professor at the Purdue University conducted a study that explored the physical effects that people experience when they watch horror films. In his study, he found out that the blood pressure, heart rate and the breathing pattern of a person increases after watching a horror film. This is known to be the excitation transfer process. After watching the film, the physiological arousal is still there. Positive emotions that a person experiences are more intensified. People do not focus on what scared them but on the positive emotions. They feel good and that they have a good time.
Categories in Watching Scary Films
Films fall in different categories and it is the same thing when you watch horror films. In a study conducted by Deirdre D. Johnston way back in 1995, the motivations behind the appreciation, attraction and enjoyment of watching scary films fall into 4 different categories:
Thrill Watching: This is characterized by those who have high empathy and would seek sensation. Viewers are motivated by the thrill and suspense brought about by the film as they can relate with the victims.
Gore Watching: This category is characterized by those who have low empathy and those who identify themselves with the killer.
Independent Watching: Viewers who have empathy for the victim and those who want to overcome fear fall under this category.
Problem Watching: The last category is characterized by viewers who have strong empathy for the victims but may feel a sense of helplessness.
Theories on People’s Attraction to Horror Films
In recent years, scary films continue to develop. But even in the early times, there have been various studies conducted. Experts on the field have formulated theories that delve into people’s attraction to horror films. Some of these theories include the following:
Although the Greek philosopher Aristotle wasn’t able to watch horror movies, he said that people then were also attracted to violent plays and scary stories. A process known as the catharsis, such fascination and attraction to scary and violent plays allows people to purge negative emotions. Unfortunately, recent studies show that watching violence can make a person more aggressive.
Sigmund Freud also has theories as to why people are fascinated with horror films. According to Freud, horror came from uncanny where thoughts and images emerge and that they were suppressed by the ego. However, such psychoanalysis is not yet put into test and it is challenging to test it empirically.
According to Noel Carroll, a film scholar, he posits that horror films are created out of the human’s fascination and curiosity for things outside of the normal behavior and existence. There are studies that show that there is a positive correlation between interest in watching scary films and people who accept behaviors outside of the norm.
David J. Skal
The theory of David Skal has a more social perspective. According to him, these films reflect our societal fears. The focus is on the history of horror. Over the years, filmmakers created various horror films reflect different fears from pandemic fears to mistrust.