Our fascination with fear: Why people enjoy watching horror films
By Mackenzie Gellner, Staff Writer
Everytime I sit down to watch a horror movie, I know I am going to end up with my fingers crammed in my ears with a pillow over my head, shielding myself from a movie that I decided to watch. So why do I keep deciding to watch them?
It turns out there are not only various reasons for why I —and others like me— do this. In fact, there are even benefits to these terrifying movies. Kind of hard to imagine, right?
Horror films, such as The Shining, The Conjuring and Saw, are loved by many. People will voluntarily pay to sit in a dark theatre, knowing what they are about to see will haunt their dreams for the next week. Some people are even die-hard (excuse the pun) fans of the gore and gruesome. These people choose to regularly pay to witness their fears.
For example, a common fear for many children and adults, myself included, are clowns. So, if this is a well-known fear, how did the movie IT and IT Chapter 2 become as successful as they did? According to the New York Times, IT collected over $300 million in box office revenue when it was released in 2017. This all prompts the question: why buy the ticket if you know you have a fear of clowns?
I’m scared of clowns, but did I go see IT and IT Chapter 2? Oh absolutely! But why? Why spend the time and money to have your heart race and your palms sweat? Where is the enjoyment? Why did the horror film industry rake in $733 million in ticket sales in 2017?
According to Psychology Today, “the primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension, mystery, terror, shock, and gore.” Think back to your Netflix history and your most recent theatre ticket — do those factors line up with your recently watched list?
These psychological factors all relate to the immediacy of watching a horror movie in the moment, but what about after the credits roll?
Horror films can trigger fight-or-flight responses, but in a controlled environment. This gives the viewer a chance to become more practiced in handling anxiety-infused situations for future, more realistic ones. However, no one necessarily goes into a horror movie looking for practice in this.
Another reason why people watch horror movies is to develop so-called “good stress.” Studies have shown that manageable amounts of stress can be beneficial because it gives the immune system strength to build resilience.
Still, most of the time, people don’t have these factors in mind when choosing what to watch. It’s usually based on what’s been newly released or what mood the person is feeling. I, for one, do not critique how a plot will affect me later on in life.
Those feel-good romantic comedies are obviously good for bringing about brighter moods. Generally, when you’ve had a rough day, you want to watch something light and happy to destress and unwind. Yet, horror movies appear to help you in the long-run.
All of this to say: next time you’re wanting to watch a movie, choose your genre wisely.