Horror movies have become extremely popular. The main question is why people enjoy being scared and disgusted while seeing monsters and serial killers. During the last thirty years, the horror genre has gained a lot of attention even among academics. It has been researched in sociological and cultural way but also as a psychological phenomenon.
"An Introduction to the American Horror Film" by the film critic Robin Wood was published in 1979 and the horror genre was studied within psychoanalytic theory. Horror movies were thought to be a metaphor for an oppressed society: the monster represented the marginalized, "Frankenstein symbolized homosexuality, whereas zombies from "Night of the Living Dead" stood for dysfunctional families.
In 1986, Barbara Creed, a film professor at the University of Melbourne explained in the article "Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine" that horror is attractive because people are nostalgic for childhood when filth was not taboo.
Carol J. Clover of the University of California wrote the essay "Her Body, Himself" in which she suggested that horrors make teenager males the opportunity to identify themselves with the only woman who survives the terror of monsters. This gave the male teenager audience the chance to connect with their feminine side. A typical example of such movies is "Halloween" and the role of Jamie Lee Curtis.
Other psychoanalytic theories saw horror as a way to deal with darker feelings. The critic Morris Dickstein wrote the essay "The Aesthetics of Fright" in 1980 and compared horror with the roller coaster.
The philosopher Noël Carroll published "The Philosophy of Horror" in 1990. He revealed the connection between pleasure and curiosity which horror movies inspire. He argued that the existence of monsters in horror movies is hard to understand. He gave the example of a mother trying to find out what is wrong with her daughter in "The Exorcist". The unknown is the factor that attracts curiosity. Therefore, the repulsiveness of monsters becomes attractive due to the unknown.
Cynthia Freeland, a feminist critic and a professor at the University of Houston explained in "The Naked and the Undead" that the audience has the distance to enjoy the bloodbaths.
Adam Lowenstein, an associate professor in English and film studies at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote in the essay "The Wiley-Blackwell History of American film" that the audience appreciate performance in horror movies and he calls it "spectacle horror". He depicted the scene when Laurie Strode in "Halloween" who discovers three dead bodies at once as the example of a staged performance brilliantly directed by John Carpenter.
The conclusion is that there is no theory which can entirely explain the appeal of horror. Horror has become a mainstream genre, but it is the only one that provokes fear.
Being scared one of the pleasures of childhood - children experience this by playing peekaboo and by reading "Hansel and Gretel" . Therefore, the psychoanalytic approach recognizes this childhood fear as a positive fear which causes fun.
Zinoman, J. (2011). 'The Critique of Pure Horror', The New York Times. Retrieved November 8th, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/opinion/sunday/17gray.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Why Are There Horror Movies?
The writer of this article talks about the Roman Polanski's horror movie "Repulsion" being shown in a local film club. Some members enjoyed it and later talked about it and the others didn't watch it. He asked himself why some of them, including himself, enjoyed fear.
Aristotle said that disgust, as well as other ugly and painful things, is connected with learning and that people enjoy learning.
If we turn to evolution we will find out that we pay attention to horrible scenes in real life in order to avoid them. The theory of evolution doesn't explain why we look for unpleasant emotions in horror movies.
Watching "Repulsion" is different than real life. People enjoy it because it is fiction . In reality, on the other hand, everyone would want to help the heroine. Fiction means pleasure and reality would mean action and taking responsibility. While watching movies, we can relax and therefore enjoy. The writer believes that it is because we like to save psychic energy.
Freud talked about why people laugh at jokes and reached a conclusion that the excess energy goes off as laughter. The writer of this article thinks that, in general, when our energy is released we feel pleasure.
Norman N. Holland thinks that stories and movies stimulate our emotions and that we enjoy that even when those emotions are negative. That is the case because we know that although our negative feelings will be provoked, we won't have anything to do to protect the protagonists of the movie for example, because their danger is not real and that gives us pleasure.
Holland, N. (2010). 'Why Are There Horror Movies?', Psychology Today. Retrieved November 8th, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/is-your-brain-culture/201001/why-are-there-horror-movies
In the first article the author talks about curiosity being the main factor of the attraction of horror movies. Carrol says that: "Thus, to a large extent, the horror story is driven explicitly by curiosity. It engages its audience by being involved in processes of disclosure, discovery, proof, explanation, hypothesis, and confirmation" (Carroll 279). The author of "The Critique of Pure Horror" agreed with Carroll in many things especially with the assumption that the unknown inspires curiosity. Carroll: "All narratives might be thought to involve the desire to know - the desire to know at least the outcome of the interaction of forces made salient in the plot" (Carroll 281). Zinoman also mentions that psychoanalytic theories see horror as a way to deal with darker feelings and I think that it is also true as well as the assumption that we seek horror in order to get in touch with our inner child that used to play peekaboo and read "Hansel and Gretel".
The second article seeks for the explanation why people enjoy horror movies. Holland mentions Aristotle's theory about people's thirst for general knowledge and horror stories are something strange to the human brain and that is why we want to find some sort of a reason to why we enjoy watching horrible things. We wouldn't watch these horrible things were they happening in real life and even if we would, it would only be for the reason of saving ourselves or someone in danger and that wouldn't be pleasant. However we enjoy watching all the blood and gore and monsters in horror movies because it is fiction and we don't have to act, just to consume the content. Carrol also says: " However, with art-horror, it is only the thought of the creature that is at issue; we know that it does not exist; we are not taxed literally by practical questions about what is to be done" (Carroll 287).
Carroll, N. (2002). Why Horror?. In Neill, A. & Riley, A. (eds.) Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates (2nd ed., Chap. 17). New York, NY: Routledge.