By The Duchess, 28th October 2016

A Love Affair with Fear

Why Do We Love Horror So Much?

Why Do We Love Horror So Much?

I will quite happily put my hands up and admit that I am a scaredy cat. I do not like horror movies, fright night has me reaching for the remote control to find an action movie and Halloween for me is much more fun when we dress up as Salem witches rather than decapitated zombies.

I have never understood the need to “Feel the Fear”.

Recently, the world has been swept up in what I can only describe as a ‘frenzy’ over a TV series that I will have to admit I have never watched, nor do I ever intend watching: The Walking Dead.

I can think of a million other more exciting and fear inducing things to spend my time doing on a Tuesday night – like trying in vain to scrub the ketchup stains off my new kitchen table, or hunting round the house for that ghastly but unrecognisable smell (no doubt eminating from the bottom of my children’s school bags!). These tasks are stomach churning enough for me. I cannot say I would wait in anticipation to watch a blood and horror-filled, stomach turning and nightmare inducing TV show.

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I just don’t get it.

When I was just 13 years old, I went to my first proper sleepover party and I was all up for popcorn, pillow fights and face-masks… after all, that it was I had seen in the movies. What I wasn’t prepared for was hunkering underneath the stairs with a pillow wrapped around my ears and screaming ‘switch it off‘ half was through Steven King’s “IT” movie.

I have never ever been able to look at a clown since!

stephen-king-it

At 18, while at college studying media, our first assignment was to watch and analyse movies in the horror genre. I swear to God my career in the media nearly ended right there and then. With my parents at the time owning a hotel and me living in said hotel, things were made ten times worse when I was made to watch The Shining. I spent a whole year determined never ever to walk the halls of a hotel after dark.

Why do people do it? Why are so many people in love with scaring themselves rigid? Why would you choose to sit in front of a movie that you know will likely give you nightmares, or in the very least change your outlook on normal everyday events for the rest of your life? Surely the horror that we see on the news each and every night is enough to turn our stomachs without having to watch 101 most gruesome ways to die?

According to research, our heartbeats rise by a minimum of 15 beats per minute when we watch a horror movie. (I would much rather go for a jog and raise my heart rate that way – and everyone knows how much I hate jogging.) Despite many believing that new and increasing technology allows us to ‘detach’ from the fear, by tricking our brains into ‘knowing’ that the fear is not real, experts say the opposite is in fact true

“The brain hasn’t really adapted to the new technology [of movies]. We can tell ourselves the images on the screen are not real, but emotionally our brain reacts as if they are … our ‘old brain’ still governs our reactions.”
Glenn Sparks – Professor of Communication at Purdue University

In fact, while watching a scene of an axe-wielding murderer chasing someone through a forest, our bodies react as if we are actually experiencing the act ourselves. Our heart rate increases, palms sweat, skin temperature drops and our muscles tense.

Despite this, when I talk to those around me who do indeed love a horror movie, I am told simply that the more fear they feel the more they enjoy the movie.

axe-murderer-forest

There are a number of theories as to why people love scary movies so much.

1: A Rite of Passage
Most believe that when you reach a certain age, knowing that you have been ‘protected’ from such films for so long allows you a feeling of ‘coming of age’ when you watch your first horror movie. It is treated as a rite of passage into adulthood.
If you really want a rite of passage, your voice dropping or aunty-flo coming to town for the first time should be more than enough!

2: A Rebellious Act
For the rebellious among us, there is the morbid fascination as to why we are told so often ‘not’ to watch them, which tricks us into loving these movies simply to stoke our defiant side.
Really? Be a normal rebel and sneak a drink underage, or stay out past curfew.

3: A Coping Mechanism
It is widely discussed, that many of us may force ourselves to feel the fear of watching horror and violence on TV as a way to prepare ourselves. A coping mechanism for the fear that we have inside. A flight or flight response. You feel fear about being killed by a serial killer, so watch a movie and stop being afraid of them.
OK – so I get the idea that if you are scared of spiders or heights that facing your fear is a brave thing to do, but watching a movie about a serial killer is not going to stop the fear of actually being killed!

4: An Acceptable Release
Some psychologists believe that acting in/creating or even just watching scary movies is a release for those who feel violence and anger and even possibly a deep seated passion to carry out actions they know are unacceptable. The best way to get a catharsis to these emotions is to watch others act out these crimes to release the need to act in this way yourself.
Well that’s just f**ked up! I, for one, really hope this is not the case, or 90% of horror lovers are indeed secret psycho killers!

In the past week, I have heard people talk about this season’s premier of The Walking Dead (Season 7) in such language that has made me question why on earth they continued to watch an episode that left them feeling emotionally and physically exhausted?

the-walking-dead1

Said episode has been described as “graphically violent” and “brutally explicit”. Questions have been raised as to whether this episode ‘crossed the lines’. So why then, did so many people watch it?

Radio X DJ, Chris Moyles, himself admitted on his breakfast show the morning after the episode that he had to leave the room and stand outside to ‘breath‘ after being rendered physically sick. But he still went on to hail the show, and indeed the episode, as some of the best TV he has ever watched.

Are we as a nation becoming so incredibly numb to pain, torture, killing and horror that we are continuing to push the boundaries of what is normal? Do we act more on bravado and following the herd when we say we ‘love horror’ to prove to others we have a ‘tough’ nature?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the type of person to sit on a Friday night and watch weepy love stories or cheesy American high school movies. I love action and I love intelligent thrillers. I love to push the boundaries and peek inside the minds of others. But to actively choose to sit in a dark room and watch a bunch of zombies beat the crap out of each other, in my mind, simply doesn’t make sense.

With Halloween around the corner, Killer Clowns on the streets and The Walking Dead leaving everyone feeling emotional, sick and scared of the dark, I, for one, am looking forward to Christmas, Michael Bublé songs and all things full of festive cheer! Enough of horror already, let’s celebrate peace on earth for all mankind instead.

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