Horror movies can frighten, thrill and leave their audiences feeling disturbed by the imagery depicted on screen. Tom Dirks from AMC Filmsite states that a horror film is designed to “cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience.” People crave horror movies for many reasons, enjoying the scares on big screens and video as well.
People watch movies for multiple reasons including as a way to relax, enjoy humor, escape from daily realities and even as an adrenaline rush. A horror film can provide that rush. When watching a horror movie, whether at home or in the cinema, it’s easy to become entranced in the action and story unfolding on the screen. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Physiology, “Horror movies use two scare tactics to induce fear: psychological fear and the startle response.” Both tactics have proven during controlled studies to cause an increase in heart and respiration rates.
As a way to feel strong emotions
Horror films can elicit strong emotions in their viewers. Graphic images, disturbing stories and supernatural themes can stimulate not only fear but also repulsion and a sense of excitement. In addition, a horror movie allows viewers to experience intense fear but in a controlled atmosphere. Dr. Norman N. Holland from Psychology Today states, “We know before we enter the movie theater that we will feel unpleasurable fear during the movie or story, but we also know that we will feel pleasure (even during that fear!) because we know we won’t have to do anything about it.”
Everyday life has many ups and downs and can be stressful. People often watch movies as an escape from daily stressors. Sitting through a horror movie allows you to escape your personal reality and indulge in a fantasy. When watching a horror movie you may identify with the main character, cheering him or her on as this character escapes brutal and life-threatening danger from the bad guy(s) or supernatural creature(s.) The process of watching a horror film can take you through a range of emotions, from highs to lows.
According to Dr. Glenn D. Walters from the Federal Correctional Institution in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, “The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that dramatic portrayals gave the audience an opportunity to purge itself of certain negative emotions, a process he called catharsis.”
In 1982, horror author Stephen King wrote about why he thought people craved horror films. In reference to the horror film genre, King stated, “It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure black and whites.” He hypothesized that watching horror movies was a way modern humans could attain a level of psychic relief—a way to let go and not hold our emotions in tight control.