This is actually a really relevant question and it is on many people’s minds. Most people understand the allure of romance, comedy, and even action or drama movies. Romance movies cater to our sense of attachment and love, comedies make us laugh—an agreeably enjoyable experience—action movies pit good against evil, and, while making us question right and wrong, give us a feeling of victory when the good guys win. The emotions evoked by horror movies, however, are quite contrary to all of these feelings. In real life many people want to be in love, tell jokes, and even engage in a good fight sometimes, but few of us want to experience the kind of pain and terror that the characters in horror movies are subjected to. These are not pleasant emotions.
Yet, horror movies keep rolling out and people continue to pack theaters to see them. Some of the last horror movies to make the big screen this last year include Unfriended, Sinister 2, Insidious Chapter 3, The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death, and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, among a number of others. People keep watching them and those in Hollywood keep filming them, trying to construct new and creative plots and methods of fright. Obviously horror movies are quite well-loved, regardless of how illogical it may be, especially to some people.
This is not entirely how things are, however. Yes, there are people who love the movies, and the movies keep coming out, but things are not quite that easy or simple. Upon closer inspection it is clear that, despite the constant supply of scary movies, they often struggle. Last year many of the horror movies released had a difficult time earning more than $32 million domestically, despite high hopes. Although Annabelle did quite well, breaking the limit and earning a surprising $37 million, it garnered shockingly bad reviews on websites like Rotten Tomatoes. It is not uncommon, in fact, for horror movies to get relatively few stars.
Perhaps this is the more rational, logical part of people that has manifested in poor ratings and low earnings. Even if this is true, horror movies aren’t going anywhere. Since Alfred Hitchcock there have been horror movie-lovers, and this trend likely isn’t going to change anytime soon. Although the horror movie might be developing somewhat to a point where the focus is on the victim rather than the suspense and the chase (such as in movies like Saw), a lot of the same factors nevertheless exist. There is something quite enticing about horror movies that has made them stick around for so many decades. There is a powerful element involved to bring so many people to like something that is so illogical.
Most people know that there are generally two types of people—those who love horror movies, and those who hate them, or do not understand the intrigue. Even people who do like horror movies can’t always explain why it is they like them. Most likely everyone falls into one of these two categories and personally knows someone who is the opposite. Why is this? What is the psychology behind it? The concepts behind fear-intrigue in film have been the focus of many studies in an effort to make sense of it.
These questions especially pop up during the fall, which marks Halloween and a host of other terror- related experiences, like haunted houses and monster-themed parties. This is the time when horror movies are the most popular, too, as could be imagined. Although many behavioral researchers find themselves wondering about the intrigue in horror movies, as well, some answers have been unearthed.
Actually, there are a number of different theories, and any number of them could apply to an individual.
One of these elements that may contribute to people’s love of horror movies is called the excitation transfer process. This involves a person’s feelings after the movie is over and it is often not recognized. This means that the person who watched the movie, if they had a good, enjoyable experience—for example, with friends—then they will be left with those emotions at an intensified state. The same may be true for negative emotions. Often times with excitation transfer individuals tend to identify with the characters who are being threatened. By the end of the movie, when the threat is resolved, viewers experience a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment.
Everyone is wired differently, and this also could explain why some people like horror movies and others do not. While some people have high levels of physiological arousal, others have a difficult time filtering out unwanted stimuli. Those with high levels of physiological arousal are often adrenaline junkies, but those who are the opposite are frequently hypersensitive to certain particulars, like temperature or itchy clothing.
The novelty horror movies present also makes them intriguing to many people. This is a normal part of human nature. When change occurs, particularly danger, it is common for it to peak our interest, and it is even a vital part of survival. The visual effects and gore in horror movies are novel, and that is what draws many people to them. Morbid fascination sort of falls in line with this, but not necessarily. Many movies can be frightening without being morbid, but they do often go hand-in-hand. The reason why novelty isn’t enough for everyone? Negative emotions, like intense fear, can overpower novelty so that it doesn’t hold its allure.
Many other factors may also play a role, depending on the person. Some studies suggest that those who are less empathetic enjoy scary movies—although this is certainly not always the case. Watching scary movies allows people to experience adrenaline and fear while in a safe environment. It also offers a source of escapism. Gender socialization is largely regarded as being the reason that men like horror movies, as they are taught and conditioned to be brave. Ultimately, the reasons vary, and there is not exactly a one-size-fits-all answer. Many people warn about the effects of scary movies, saying that they desensitize individuals to violence and may have lingering negative emotions, especially in children. When you subscribe to one of these internet service providers, you can watch all the horror flicks you want on your TV or online.