By Lindsay Wong
As someone who is easily unsettled by a jump scare, I have always wondered why people enjoy watching horror movies. Why would you voluntarily spend your time watching something that scares you half to death? Horror movies freak you out, leave you unsettled, and may even cause nightmares. However, there are reasons why people are drawn to this genre.
The evolution of horror
Even though horror movies are not the most popular film genre according to box office statistics, they always seem to gain a lot of media attention. In the first half of the 20th century, horror movies featuring supernatural beings as the villains like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘King Kong’ were the highest grossing movies in their year of release. For the first time, the public could see and visualise the fictional creatures they had read about on the big screen.
Horror movies then evolved to tackle psychological terror and Satanic horror. Such films include 1960s and 70s classics like ‘Psycho’, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Omen’.
Instead of multiple jump scares or graphic scenes, people are fascinated by the mind- blowing back stories of the antagonists, like Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’. The audience is interested by the intentions and motives behind villains, similar to how people want to get into the minds of a deranged killer. It’s the suspense, thrill and tension that you rarely experience in real life. What makes psychological horror even more thrilling is the fact that it could play out in real life, rather than supernatural scenarios which are purely fictional.
There’s no doubt that audiences love a good scare – whether it’s via a creepy ghost or a mental killer. This is the reason that horror flicks like ‘Get Out’ and ‘Hereditary’ have grossed millions in the box office and garnered significant critical acclaim. Some horror movies – like ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Saw’ – have even been turned into franchises because of their popularity. But what is it about these films that make us come back for more?
Why do we watch them?
People still enjoy watching horror movies even though they are terrified by them. A lot of people have a psychological attraction to horror and a fascination with fear – arguably one of the most basic of human emotions.
The Excitation Transfer Process is the scientific term that explains why we are attracted to horror movies. The adrenaline rush that we feel while watching a horror movie, accompanied by an increase in heart rate and respiration, allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the experience. This is similar to why people are enticed to test their limits with spicy food.
If we are watching horror movies with friends, it becomes a bonding experience, intensifying the fun. Instead of focusing on the horror, many focus on the shared emotions they felt while watching it with friends. Furthermore, there is a euphoric feeling of relief that we feel after surviving the terror of horror movies, similar to riding a roller coaster. People want to test their limits and are excited to see the extent to which horror movies can scare them.
This could explain why those who are hypersensitive generally don’t like horror movies – they tend to identify with and relate to the victims, compared to those who can’t get enough of horror movies.
In a psychological study conducted in 1994, college students who were shown disturbingly graphic real-life video clips turned them off before the clips reached their ends. However, most college students would willingly pay money to watch similar disturbing events play out in the cinema.
The fictional nature of horror movies enables audiences to enjoy witnessing frightening scenarios in a safe environment – there is a psychological distance between the audience and the horrors on screen. As horror movies are filmed with multiple camera angles and feature eerie music to terrify us, they know that what they are watching is not real.
No matter what happens, the hype around horror movies will probably never die down – and with new subgenres of horror popping up quite frequently, audiences will become curious about what else this film genre has to offer.