For a while now this question has been thrown at me by a number of people, and even after reading some books on the matter I felt that nothing succeeded in capturing the essence of why horror films are so popular. It’s a phenomenon which seems to baffle some people, but the fact is – horror films have always been loved, and they certainly always will be. Watching horror films doesn’t make you disturbed or evil, and that kind of thinking is misguided and simply wrong. But how can watching grotesque creatures maiming innocent people be considered enjoyable? How can watching sadistic psychopath’s torturing young women be considered enjoyable? How can watching ghosts and demons and mutants and knife-wielding maniacs, all causing pain and misery to undeserving characters be considered enjoyable? It’s odd, really.
I guess that the most important (and obvious) reason for this would be that people like to be scared. It’s exhilarating and refreshing and gives you such a sense of relief afterwards that you feel invincible. Just take a look at all of the insanely massive queues for the intimidating roller-coaster rides at theme parks and you’ll see how much people love fear. I suppose it can be described as an adrenalin rush, and it’s one which I have always enjoyed. I started watching horror movies when I was very young (around ten years old, me and a friend watched I Know What You Did Last Summer round her house – the bit where the policeman gets killed haunted me for ages afterwards!) and I still remember how intense the feeling of fear was, that sinking feeling of dread that clawed away at my stomach, that need to turn on all the lights in my house in case there was a murderer lurking there. Perhaps I’ve become somewhat ‘de-sensitized’ to the whole thing because it’s not like that any more, but it is still a cathartic experience, an escape from this dull, bleak world into a place where everything is ten times worse. It really does make you thankful for what you do have (all of your limbs, for one thing)!
I always resent it when people go on about how ‘damaging’ and ‘unhealthy’ it is to love horror films because I feel that they have completely missed the point. Horror films are famous for not taking themselves too seriously. They are very self aware and ironic, in a way that means that it’s alright to laugh when some annoying character finally gets killed, it’s alright to have fun whilst watching scenes of strong violence because at the end of the day, it is just a film – made for entertainment purposes. The media are always very quick to blame horror movies for the latest youth crime that’s taken place, but this is utterly ridiculous. They fail to acknowledge the distinction between film and reality, something which I’m sure most people are capable of. Not to mention the fact that the news is littered with war and brutality, exposing a negative influence on children every single day, and that’s actually real! Art imitates life, I’m afraid, only very rarely is it the other way round.
In a way, I feel like horror movies are actually an excellent way of getting any pent up anger or frustration out in a completely harmless (and even fun!) way. You watch the film and are taken on the emotional journey of the characters involved, ending up feeling at ease once more as the credits start to roll. It’s the sign of a powerful and well-made film to enable the viewer to immerse themselves entirely into that ‘world’, leaving their own troubles far behind. I can live out all of the angry impulses through the horror films I watch which means that upon returning to my own life, I am cleansed and ready to conquer everything in my path. Now, who can say that this is a bad thing?
And the good thing about horror fans is that they’re happy to watch anything that’s horror, regardless of who’s in it, what it’s about or what kind of budget it was made with. We’ll give it a shot and try to enjoy it, without being too ‘snobbish’ about the whole affair. There’s nothing at all sinister about enjoying horror films, no long term psychological damage or abnormal tendencies. It is fun to watch horror films alone in the dark with your duvet wrapped around you and your headphones up to full volume, but it’s also just as fun to watch horror films with a gang of friends, clutching at alcohol and nibbles, chatting and laughing happily at the silliness you see before you. Plus there’s the ninety minute rule – the guarantee that most (if not all) horror films tend to be around ninety minutes long which is pretty much the perfect length for the average human attention span. So don’t pigeonhole horror as being all gloomy and depressing all of the time, lighten up! It’s only a bit of fun, after all.