Why Do We Think Horror Movies are Scary?

Last Updated on October 6, 2021 by

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Horror movies have the ability to awaken very strong emotions. A really good horror film can make the viewer shudder, hold on tight to the cinema chair, and get a workout worthy of a marathon.

Some also look an extra time over the shoulder before they extinguish the light long after the subtitles have rolled over the cinema screen. But isn’t it strange that a movie can provoke such extreme reactions? What really makes us react so strongly?

It has turned out that we respond equally to scary situations in the film, as we do in real life.

Although we know that what we see is not happening right, the same processes are initiated in the body as if we had actually been in danger.

The brain simply thinks you need to run away from Freddy Krueger, or get out of the haunted house, ill quick. Therefore, the stress system in the body is activated and you may strain your muscles to be able to get out of the bio-chair quickly or shout to warn others about the danger.

The fact that the body’s stress system is started may not sound so nice. You still watch movies to escape everyday stress? But researchers have actually noticed that controlled stress is something that is perceived as positive. When you ride a roller coaster, jump parachute, or watch horror movies, it is self-inflicted stress that sets in motion, which is perceived rather as tickling than anxiety-provoking.

The strong reactions triggered by horror films can often be linked to a specific fear, something that filmmakers are increasingly exploiting.

That horror movies hint at a fear of dying feels pretty obvious. It is, after all, the most ingrained fear we have. But filmmakers often use certain tricks to amplify this fear. One trick often used is to create strong associations between the main character and the viewer. As a rule, we are not afraid that we ourselves will die, which is why the fear is intensified.
Take the classic slasher movies from the ’90s for example. In movies like “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Scream”, camera angles get narrower as nasty scenes approach. We often only see what the main character sees and the empathy in the scene, as well as the fear, becomes stronger.

The fear of blood

We are programmed to respond strongly to blood. We also need to be able to avoid dangerous situations where blood is present and also be able to act quickly when we start bleeding ourselves. Gore films like “Evil Dead” and “Hostel” use this mechanism in a more than modest way. Bloody scenes cause one to react strongly, without the same need to build up an uncertain fear.

The fear of the different

More recently, a group of art-house horror films has emerged, using new techniques to scare the viewer.

Just as the fear of death is natural to us, so is the fear of the otherwise deeply rooted. People who behave strangely can potentially be a threat to one’s survival.

Social constructions

In modern horror films, the function and rules of society are also used to scare us. In future dystopias, societies are depicted were racist or fascist constructions are established and used to terrorize various groups and individuals. Even in the horror scenario that takes place in the present, similar conditions can be highlighted. Stephen King’s “Desperation” is about a nasty cop who abuses his position to torture those who get in his way. Jordan Peel’s “Get Out” also hints at clear racist themes and power relations between the US white and black population.

So it is not that strange or unnatural that horror movies are appreciated by many. They add an extra layer to the movie experience, which no 4D cinema ever comes close to. In addition, it is significantly cheaper than parachuting.