The Thrill of the Scare: Are You Afraid?
What is it about the idea of an autumn night with a pitch black lit up only by the aura of a full moon that excites some and terrifies others? Why do some gravitate to the unknown and supernatural and seek out graveyards and abandoned places to see something that might lurk in nightmares? What about being afraid seems to excite the ‘stranger’ of the population? We all have that one friend who goes into a full festive mood during the ‘spooky’ season, who doesn’t blink an eye during scary movies, and who seeks out the most intense haunted houses to visit every year. Why do some people absolutely love and live on being scared out of their minds?
Why are there people who love to be scared? Who lived off horror movies and started reading Edgar Allan Poe in elementary school? What is it about being scared that seems to make some happier beyond reason? The simple truth: some people LOVE to be scared.
This can seem like a far-fetched concept; why would anyone enjoy being scared? There are actually a number of reasons for this; it’s the same as why some people enjoy roller coasters or spicy foods. For the main part, the response to being in a state of fear is hormonal and physical. People enjoy being stimulated emotionally and physically, and the horror genre is a way to experience stimulation without actually being in a state of danger.
Watching or reading something scary or going to a haunted house causes an increased heartbeat, temporarily sharpens senses, and releases a flood of hormones to the brain. This fight-or-flight response makes us feel stronger and more powerful than we seem to think. These hormones include dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, often making us feel high and giddy. For some, it is more difficult to release these hormones; thus, they need to push boundaries to get this natural high. It is a safe way to get out of our comfort zone and safely explore danger.
Even when pushing the limits of horrors, the best thing about horror movies is that it provides us with a safety net. Watching or reading horror is like going to the zoo and seeing the lions. We feel safe seeing 400-pound beasts because there is glass between onlookers and the animals. The audience knows that what they are watching or reading is not real and there is no danger to their lives. Viewers know that they aren’t being hunted by a serial killer or haunted by a vengeful spirit. In addition, audiences can choose which form of stimulation they want to be entertained by. If they don’t want people in masks coming near them, they can avoid an immersive situation such as a haunted house.
The horror genre also serves as a way to exploit common fears and explore the “dark” side of humanity and the supernatural. Such as with urban legends, one of the key reasons horror movies are popular is that it touches on common fears among the population, even if some of them are taken up a few levels. Rosemary’s Baby explores themes such as fear of parenthood, not bonding with a new baby, the stereotype of men being uninvolved with pregnancies, and society not listening to a woman when they insist something is wrong with their health. The movie takes a twist and supernatural turn by adding Satanic elements and the idea of the Antichrist.
Overall, a healthy dose of scary simulation here and there can be an overall benefit. It brings people together, releases chemicals to the brain, and can serve as a creative outlet. With all that being said, the next time you are invited out to a horror festival, probably don’t decline.