What happens when you watch a truly scary horror flick? Your palms get sweaty, knees get weak, arms get heavy -- perhaps you vomit on your sweater -- you're nervous. Terrible Eminem jokes aside, it's true. Watching scary movies is a horrible, albeit thrilling experience, so -- why do we keep coming back for more?
CineFix offers up their own answer to this question in the video below:
Horror isn't a genre that is very highly regarded in the film industry. Like comedies, horror films are often treated as second-class cinematic citizens, while the other "legitimate" genres, namely drama, bask in the warm glow of their Best Picture Oscar statuettes. In fact, only one film from the genre has ever nabbed the coveted honor and that was Silence of the Lambs in 1991 (though, I think that flick was a bit of a genre-bender).
The reason I find this strange (and a little demoralizing) is because horror films are unique to all the other genres. For example, we watch dramas for the riveting stories; they pique our interest. We watch comedies, because laughter is enjoyable; they make us happy. We watch action flicks because they give us an adrenaline rush; they excite us. But horror scares us; being scared is unpleasant -- unless, of course, we know we're actually safe.
We explored this topic last year with a video by Filmmaker IQ, in which host John P. Hess suggests several explanations as to why we put ourselves through watching horror films: suppression, catharsis, and thrill seeking to name a few. Regardless, though, the main reason why there is enjoyment in watching these films, and also the reason why we come back for more, is because we know that we aren't in any real mortal danger.
This safety allows us to experience our deepest fears, the unfamiliar, the uncontrollable, and the unknown, without actually having to be truly afraid of them -- because, you know, it's just a movie. It's like being afraid of flying and facing your fear by going to the airport. It may still make you nervous, fearful, and trepidatious, but you're safely on the ground, or in the theater, just watching the scary situations happen to others.
Many theorists would say that this act of synthesizing fear by watching scary movies not only has some very real psychological benefits, but also speaks to a greater, overarching fear had by a given society, which is something horror filmmakers should really pay attention to. Look at any successful horror film in history and you'll see that it spoke to a common fear in society. For example, according to some film historians, Dracula terrified audiences in 1931 in part because of concerns surrounding U.S. immigration, but in a more broad sense, horror film production and attendance rises during times of social, financial, and political crisis. That's definitely something to be aware of the next time you start working on your next horror project.