Why do we love horror films?

Fear scream horror
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Halloween is upon us, the prime season for horror films. There is an inexplicable pull to the chilling rush we get while watching horror films. Whether it makes us shiver, scream, or laugh at the unbelievable gore (literally), you or someone you know is likely looking for a new movie or series to explore a new eerie story.اضافة اعلان

But the question remains: Why do some of us like to flirt with fear and anxiety by purposely watching horror? Well, here is what we found.

Triumph over fear
Fear is a natural emotion. It is triggered by our survival instinct at times of danger to put us in a state of vigilance. “Fear verifies that our alert system is working,” psychologist Walaa Daragmeh told Jordan News.

When you experience fear, she said, “hormones like endorphin and adrenaline are secreted” to help overcome the emotion. Once the feeling has passed, “dopamine, which is a very addictive satisfaction hormone, is released,” she said. “It is a real reward.”

However, we are not all equal in the face of horror.

“Some are easily afraid, so they steer clear of these films. Others can be addicted — thanks to the strong satisfaction they get from overcoming the fear,” said Daragmeh.

Beyond satisfaction, watching representations of death while sitting in a cinema or on your couch also allows you to tame the feeling of fear and triumph over it, said Dominique Sipière, a specialist in classic Hollywood cinema. “The repetition of death kills death,” he said in his book Le Récit Dans Les Séries Policières.

Suspense and surprise
Great directors play with emotions: they master surprise and suspense.

Surprise is when “we find ourselves face to face with the monster when we see it”, according to Sipière. Suspense is when we know that there is something monstrous somewhere, but we do not see it. We are left to invent and build our own fear.

“What is most frightening is what we are left to imagine,” said Daragmeh.

In terms of cinema, horror needs to function at the level of sound, from music to silence, but also on the level of surprise in what is evil. For example, dolls, clowns, music boxes, and even calming silence are delivered in a bone-chilling sequence. What is supposed to be reassuring is no longer, and that is thrilling to viewers.

According to a study conducted by the University of Turku, 72 percent of people reported watching at least one horror movie every six months. Besides evoking fear and anxiety, the reasons cited for watching were primarily to generate excitement.

The same study found that people found horror that was psychological in nature and based on real events the scariest and were far more scared by things that were unseen or implied rather than what they could actually see.

Close to reality, but still far enough
When talking about horror films, we are talking about voluntary fears, not real fears.

“Nobody wants to confront real fears in the current climate of war,” said Daragmeh. She added that feeling fears you know are fake is a good way to forget your real anxieties.

For an hour and a half, the horror film places attention far from reality and real-life problems. Viewers expose themselves to dangerous situations without taking any risks, and, at the end of the film, the dreadful reality on screen melts away into the credit scenes.

“Watching a horror film is a way of feeling alive. It evokes strong feelings and can boost your confidence,” added Daraghmeh, “especially if you are watching in a group.”

“Confronting fear in a group makes it possible to accentuate excitement and share strong emotions. Living the same experience is a means of social cohesion,” she said.

Horror condenses the bizarre. Many different classifications categorize a work as horror, for example, the existence of a threatening monster, a being that violates the laws of nature (i.e., Alien and Jaws).

Another segment of horror is a brutal human figure with a sick mindset (i.e., Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, or Halloween). In these cases, human beings possess the great capability to do the unimaginable: to inflict gory harm on others, either for no reason, personal gain, or some ulterior motive, made to horrify or surprise the audiences in some way.

Other characters are terrifying in that they are stubborn in surviving. Take Michael Myers in Halloween, for example; he could disappear, return after being shot in the head, cut, or even set on fire. Despite the human façade, a supernatural resistance makes them unbeatable.

These human-like characteristics or settings make some characters seem relatable and evoke fear but from a distance. While we are invested in the protagonist’s survival, there remains a level of unrealism, a separation from what we see, which makes watching horror easier for many.

Better than the gym?
If you are looking for a reason to love horror films, here is one: While you are comfortably seated on your sofa, you can burn calories while being terrified.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Westminster in the UK, watching a horror movie can burn extra calories.

According to the Guardian, the study found that those who watched a 90-minute horror film were likely to burn up to 113 calories — the same figure as a half-hour walk. Some movies were more effective than others, however: of the 10 films studied, the top calorie-burners were the classic Stanley Kubrick chiller The Shining (184 calories), Jaws (161 calories), and The Exorcist (158 calories).

Still not for everyone
Aficionados will sometimes complain about the overuse of the jump scare. While it is a legitimate technique that produces great effects — if used correctly — some films, they say, rely on it too heavily.

Some people also find that too much blood and violence make horror movies, such as Saw or Dominance, bad.

These are fair complaints, and it is important to note that not everyone equally benefits from this experience of fear. On the contrary, some hate it. And for a good reason.

Researchers have discovered that the variation in serotonin levels can be genetically traced. Some brains do not release enough serotonin to overcome the terror produced by horror films, so negative emotions prevail, and the projection seems like torture.

There are also differences between men and women, but they are not necessarily biological. “Maybe it’s because men are socialized to be brave,” Glenn Sparks, a Purdue University professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, explained in research he conducted in 2019.

Childhood experiences, and experiences in general, also have their part to play in how much people enjoy horror, said Sparks. The traumas experienced during any period of life — neglect, violence, assault — can affect the amygdala and thus impact tolerance and sensitivity to terror.

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