Introduction: When the Lights Are out
Fear is a good feeling to experience. It stimulates the brain, helps to put oneself together and act fast yet efficiently. However, one would not expect that people would want to experience fear. However, they do, which the rates of classic horror movies show.
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Although people generally consider horror movies pointless nerve-tickler, this genre attracts many viewers, since it has a lot to offer for the audience in psychological, physiological and social aspects.
The Psychological Aspect: It Feels Good to Be Alive
Movies offer a lot of food for thoughts and affect people’s subconscious greatly, which means that the psychological motives for people to watch horror movies deserve being considered first.
Though it is generally considered that the motivations of those who enjoy horror movies to watch something that disturbing concern mostly the need to feel excited, there is much more to it than meets the eye. A look at what movies can offer for one’s subconscious will explain a lot.
Beware the petrifying beast: warning of evil
It is commonly known that those who are forewarned are forearmed. As a bunch of messages that the movie director gives to the viewers, horror movies can be considered a lesson about violence and brutality, which one can face in real life as well.
Of course, the chances that one meets a Giant Purple People Eater are rather low, yet not all horror movies are directed in a sci-fi genre; many of them offer typical suburban settings and a quite realistic portrayal of a serial killer. On a second thought, even the horror movies featuring supernatural monsters can be considered as a metaphor of the cruel world that people live in.
A monster under your bed: the change of settings
As it was said above, a lot of horror movies follow the traditions of the genre and have their characters portrayed in the most ordinary settings imaginable, which can be a small town, a ranch, a flat in a megalopolis, etc.
Though one might have thought that such plain setting kills the entire thrill, in fact, it produces a petrifying effect because of the idea that something that terrible can happen literally everywhere, including the place where the viewer lives.
This is a successful attempt to cash in on every child’s ancient fear of the monster under the bed. Making the audience believe that what is happening can actually be true, the movie thrills the viewers into paying attention.
Motivation for living: it could have been worse
Paradoxically, watching the movies in which the characters get terribly harmed or killed mercilessly can make the audience appreciate their lives more. Though this kind of motivation definitely reveals some of the least appealing features of people’s nature, it still serves the purpose, namely, making people appreciate their own lives.
After the victim in the movie encounters a monster or experiences any other kind of life threat, an instant thought rushes through the viewer’s mind: “Thank God, this is not me.” As the movie ends and the audience realize that what they have just witnessed is finally over, they start appreciating their life just for the sake of it.
The Physiological Aspect: From Fear to Euphoria and Back
On the surface, horror movies might seem interesting only because of the psychological challenge that such movies offer. However, the physiological reactions that they trigger also serve as the reason for people to enjoy this genre.
In the aftershock: tasting incredibly sweet relief
It has already been mentioned that a lot of people watch horror movies to feel the contrast between the shocking film content and the calming light of reality. Though the given effect is classified as a psychological one, it actually has an underlying physiological motive. Thus, the transition from the negative feelings to positive ones is another thing that people seek in horror movies (Andrae and Cohen 283).
Need for the thrill: when life gets too boring
There is no secret that not all people like the horror genre; some even despise it, considering that shooting a movie merely for the sake of producing a horror is not worth the time and money spent.
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Some, on the contrary, appreciate horror movies for different reasons, from their artistic values, like the famous Dracula, to the doubtfully enjoyable thrill that such movies offer. The given disagreement can be considered a matter of taste; researchers, however, have recently found out that the lust for thrill can be explained by a very low level of adrenalin (Ginsburg 12).
When danger is close: learning to fight
As studies show, the gorier the movie gets, the more the male part of the audience enjoys it (Fahu 18). Though the given result might seem somewhat disturbing, the justification for the given phenomenon is rather prosaic and, weirdly enough, has nothing to do with revealing people’s susceptibility to manic illnesses.
As the study shows, men learn subconsciously to substitute their fear with aggression and to act fast and efficiently in life-threatening situations (Fahu 19). Therefore, the more horror movies men watch, the better fighters they become.
The Social Aspect: Breaking Bad for a Moment
Horror movies also shape the audience’s social behavior greatly. Often considered a challenge to the social culture, this genre changes people’s patterns of social behavior. Moreover, horror genre can cement a number of prejudices against certain types of people.
On the edge of morality and at the top of the world
To make the shock values even higher, horror movies scriptwriters often write socially awkward and even dangerous characters, thus, blurring the line between the socially acceptable behavior and letting the “child within the viewer” out.
While the monster in the movie embraces everything that the viewer considers “bad,” or “dangerous,” be it a school bully, a rowdy neighbor, global warming, etc., the character in the movie embodies everything that the viewer would like to do to the threat, yet cannot due to the social, moral or legal restrictions.
One cannot beat the boss, but can watch a movie in which the leading character fights the monster, and project the social conflict onto the one in the movie.
Back to the gender stereotypes: giving the audience
People are social animals, and, therefore, they are in desperate need for the examples of acceptable social behavior that they will further on imprint on their own behavioral pattern. Moreover, people need the examples of certain stereotypes to make sure that there is an established order in society.
Most mainstream horror movies can offer each, which is why this genre is appreciated so much. Among the most famous stereotypical imagery, a damsel in distress cliché beats all possible records. Women who do nothing except getting in trouble are featured in Godzilla, Dracula and many other films.
Losing the control over the situation: the leader’s badge is taken away
Becoming a leader is what has been the primary goal of most members of society since the latter came into existence. Unfortunately, changing social roles in real life is hard; when it comes to plunging into a movie reality, however, one can face the challenges that are inaccessible in real life.
A born leader, for example, will inevitably feel that the movie is trying to put him/her out of the traditional leader position, and make him/her feel weak and terrified. Therefore, the viewer needs to regain his/her dignity, which (s)he can do by controlling his/her fear. While in real life, it is hard to find the source of fear to exercise in controlling the latter, while the movie provides ample opportunities for that.
Conclusion: After the Thrill Wears out Its Novelty
There is no point in denying that the genre of horror movies is still popular and that the legacy of such great films as the above-mentioned Dracula (1931), Psycho (1960), The Haunting (1963), The Exorcist (1973), and many others will live on. Horror movies allow one to feel the rush of adrenaline and at the same time feel more certain about the real world, compared to the world of the horror movie insanity.
However, it is also necessary to point out that horror movies have very little to offer in terms of personal development or aesthetics, except for giving the audience thrill. Therefore, it would be preferable that the substance of most horror movies should be as profound as their style.
Andrae, Eduardo B. and Joel B. Cohen. “On the Consumption of Negative Feelings.” Journal of Consumer Research, 34 (2007): 283–300.
Fahu, Thomas R. The Philosophy of Horror. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. Print.
Ginsburg, Mitchell. “Enduring Horror.” The Jerusalem Report (2003): 12.