Why we love horror movies

Why we love horror movies

George A Romeros Diary of the Dead

Reader Tink in Cali posted a simple, but thought-provoking question here yesterday.

Why do I like horror movies?

Sounds simple, right? But why do I spend so much time watching nice people get stabbed, tortured, beheaded … or worse?

The reasons are complicated, and I can’t set myself down on the couch and draw out the answers. Instead, here are my best guesses:

  • Shock value: Watch an earnest drama and the biggest revelation might be that the hero had an affair and kept it secret from his wife. Watch even a lousy horror movie and the hero could be a homicidal maniac in his spare time. Surprise!
  • Losing control: Our lives tend to be bland, or at least uneventful. And that’s a very good thing. But horror movies offer an alternative reality that play upon our worst fears. In most cases, the hero lives to tell the tale. On some level we hope we’d react with the same heroism if we were fleeing a knife-wielding maniac.
  • An inept drama or comedy can be painful to endure. An inept horror can pack one moment, one scene, which can prove unforgettable.
  • Horror is communal. I’d never encourage people talking in a theater … but once in a while the crowd noise can elevate a standard horror viewing into an event.
  • Hidden messages: Horror movies often pack a political or social punch that would otherwise come off as trite or heavy handed. George A. Romero has led the way with his “Dead” features, commenting on racism and consumerism courtesy of his flesh-chomping zombies.
  • The scare factor: There’s something about being scared, period. It’s why people pack haunted houses. We all know the guy wielding the chainsaw is just a college dropout or teen trying to make his car payments. But we scream all the same.

I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface, so let me know why you can’t get enough of horror movies.

(Photo: Horror fans can’t get enough of zombies like the ones attacking here in “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead.”)

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

BoNo Gravatar October 26, 2008 at 5:25 pm

I think you pretty much hit it on the head. In particular, the nugget in horror films – I remember seeing a film called “The Dead Hate the Living” that was horrible… except for one scene where a victim is dragged into a dark hallway by his recently aired-out intestines. That image hung with me, despite the lackluster film. Moreso than any other genre, horror can work in moments surrounded by forgettable stories and characters.

Tink in CaliNo Gravatar October 26, 2008 at 8:44 pm

I guess that is the difference, then, the liking to be scared. Maybe it is hard wired – I don’t like to be scared because I wake up in the night, thinking the zombie/vampire/backwoods maniac is in my bedroom about to attack. When I was single, I would counter act this by sleeping with the light on. My husband does NOT enjoy that experience (jeez, it has only been twice) and so I do not watch the scary ones. He doesn’t like them either, so it is pretty easy to avoid them in household.

I have seen some of the classic ones (Exorcist, Carrie, etc.), which are your favorites?

cftotoNo Gravatar October 26, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Ironically, I won’t get anywhere near a roller coaster … and I’ll never sky dive unless a Bond villain makes me do so at gunpoint. That’s not fake scary … that’s real scary to me.

Favorite horror movies? “The Omen” from my childhood, “The Descent” from the last two years. “28 Days Later” too ..

opusNo Gravatar October 27, 2008 at 12:02 am

I think the majority of horror movies are morality tales. A sort of Grimm’s Fairytale before it’s cleaned up for kids.

If I were to add to the list I think they also allow us, on some level to live out the vicious part of our nature. The only difference between a comedy and a horror film is the amount of blood, in both genres we derrive our pleasure from the suffering of the characters.

Horror movies are more original than the average film, even if the horror film stinks, odds are you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before and as Bo reference, it will stick with you.

Like no other genre of film a horror movie can contain elements from every other genre. They can have humor, a love story, it can take place in space, modern day or the old west, but it’s still a horror movie. Put any amount of horror into any other genre and it ceases being a comedy, a timeless love story or a western. It becomes a horror movie.

My favorites, The Exorcist and the original Omen, two films that all these years later give me the creeps.

cftotoNo Gravatar October 27, 2008 at 12:13 am

Opus … really well put.

One more note. I did a story a little while ago for MovieMaker magazine about horror movies (I linked to it here at WWTW – just enter ‘moviemaker’ in my site’s search engine — the post is called ‘te horror, the horror’). All the story’s sources were folks working in the genre — each and every one spoke with such elegance – and passion – on the subject. It was great to hear.

ChaseNo Gravatar October 27, 2008 at 6:45 pm

“Our lives tend to be bland, or at least uneventful” … Hey, speak for yourself, haven’t you ever read my blog?? :-)

cftotoNo Gravatar October 27, 2008 at 7:32 pm

You, my friend, are the exception. But what I’m referencing is that fact that most people work five days a week, pay the bills, mow the lawn, etc. Their lives aren’t like Shia LaBeouf in “Eagle Eye” or any such Hollywood claptrap.

RonnNo Gravatar October 29, 2008 at 11:21 pm

This is a hard question to answer and believe me i have been asked this question many times especially by my mother in law who doesn’t get why anyone would want to watch people getting hacked up or watch films about unspeakable evil. My first introduction to horror was watching the Friday the 13th films as a kid in the 80’s my dad and we would rent them everytime a new one came out. i was probably a little young to be watching them but i like to think i turned out alright. The thing i love about the horror genre is that i can watch just about any film and it will suprise me or i can watch something that is formulaic like a slasher film for instance. No matter how bad they are they are still entertaining and take to a place that is the complete opposite of everyday life. The simple answer to this question is that we like to be scared and escape into a different world for about 90 minutes. some of my favorite horror films are Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’, Suspiria,Deep Red, any Hammer horror film,original dawn of the dead,Fright Night, texas chainsaw massacre 1 and 2,evil dead 2,sleepaway camp,friday the 13th

Big_Dave_TNo Gravatar October 31, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Horror movies are great escapist fare. Besides being a roller coaster of thrills and chills, if the movie is good, it lets you forget real-life problems if only for a couple hours. Remember, Universal had great success with horror movies during the Great Depression. Folks could escape the problems of their everyday world inside a darkened movie theatre. And they might even think, “Hea, there’s worse things than being broke and out of a job. I could become one of the living dead.”

ElijahNo Gravatar May 12, 2009 at 11:01 am

Particularly movies that don’t have a well thought beginning are the ones you can tell right away will be boring. Horror movies keep you on the edge of your seat all the time!

TashaNo Gravatar June 11, 2012 at 1:58 am

The scare factor is the most accurate part for me. I LOVE terrifying movies. Of course, I only like the ones with good endings (as in, the hero lives), but I love to get freaked out over movies. … The only problem is, I don’t scare easily. Thus, it’s hard to find a good scary movie. Usually, something that’s scary for someone else is just…. suspenseful, I guess, to me. Daybreakers, for example. I love that movie. …. Not scary at all. Supernatural, the TV series… One of my faves. Not scary, ever. I get grossed out sometimes, like people getting their frickin’ fingernails pulled off (fetish of mine; I hate it), but not scared. And the super gory and bloody movies aren’t scary – they’re hilarious, to me, ’cause they’re so unrealistic!! Anyways, I Googled good horror movies, and this is one of the sites that came up. Just curious, do you have any suggestions to movies I might like?

(1.Bloody, but not too bloody (or realistic bloodiness, is what I mean.
2.The hero (at LEAST most of them) lives.
3. Lot of suspense and thrilling going on.
4. No classics. Not into those, I like realistic stuff… Like, CGI good budget realistic. So, no black-n-white; nothing made behind the year 2000, perferably, though may be a FEW exceptions, like 1 werewolf movie I saw that I don’t remember the title…)

-Thanks!!! :P

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