My relationship with horror films is one massive contradiction. On the one hand, I can’t peel my eyes away from the screen. On the other hand, I know that I’m surely going to be spooked in the aftermath (the more paranormal content, the creepier it is). And yet, I’m drawn to frightening movies anyway, in dark rooms and late at night. (Go big or go home, right?)
“Lauren, why do you do that to yourself?” family members ask, after it’s apparent that my vivid, disturbing dreams are probably a byproduct of the storylines I watched before sleep: John Cusack spends the night in a haunted hotel room and loses his mind. He escapes the room, physically, but does he ever really leave? The spirit of a murder victim lingers around the Yankee Peddler Inn — she’s seeking vengeance. Religion turns dark and exorcisms occur. Ouija boards just encompass freakiness.
Why are we so drawn to things that scare us?
Since I assume full responsibility for my viewing participation, this leads me to perusing psychological research to see what the experts say about being captivated by terror-filled flicks.
Leslie Fink’s article explains that there is a ‘desired effect’ that individuals who partake in the horror film genre wish to achieve.
Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, and other social psychologists claim that we may watch horror for various purposes. It’s a distraction from the daily routines of life; we want to counter social norms; we seek an adrenaline rush; and we hope to voyeuristically glimpse fright from a distance. “You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you,” Goldstein said.
A 2011 post discusses how a longing to reclaim your imagination could be why some may gravitate toward those films. As we outgrow our fears from childhood, we may forego many superstitions for science-based explanations.
“There is a cost, however; life and our world of imagination is diminished and tamed into blandness,” author Stuart Fischoff said. “Life in technicolor has faded to life in black and white.”
The article states that childhood fears and thoughts of the supernatural still reside in our subconscious, like archetypes. These ‘movie monsters’ invite us to experience fearful emotions from a safe and secure remove. If it gets too real, we can choose to cover our eyes, or turn to the person next to us for comfort (if on a date, then all the more reason to initiate some good oldfashioned snuggling). We may revel in the fear, while simultaneously knowing that there is finality to the grueling two hours; there’s a sense of emotional separation, along with a barrier between you and the characters.
Personality factors also could justify horror movie gratification or repulsion as well. The article cites two opposing threat-related coping styles: repressors vs. sensitizers. “Some like to approach or confront, others prefer to avoid or deny,” Fischoff noted. “The former are more positively excited by scary movies than the latter.”
I personally identify with a majority of these aforementioned points, especially the ‘call to action’ in reigniting sparks of imagination, and the notion that pleasure can be embedded in fear and peaks of adrenaline, while offering just enough emotional distance. In terms of personality, I’m also one to confront when necessary. It’s probably good information to store away for the next creepy-viewing venture. In the dark, of course.