Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." Now, I don't mean to bad mouth FDR - I'm a big fan - but if that is the case, who do so many of us like to terrify ourselves in front of horror movies? Why are so many of us attracted to fear?
Well, CineFix (y'know those guys who usually just churn out 8-bit versions of famous movies) have actually created a rather interesting video which attempts to explain the science behind horror - tracing it from our roots as cave-dwelling club-swingers to the present day and beyond.
The video is 11-minutes long and can be watched at the bottom of the article, but let me summarize their argument for those of you who are short on time and/or sitting on the John.
The Purpose of Fear
Although on the surface fear might not seem like a pleasant feeling, it is in fact a pivotal emotion in the human psyche - protecting us from things which could do us harm.
However, the feeling of fear is generally believed to originate in the amygdala, which draws on adrenaline created by the adrenal grand. This adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster, filling your muscles with more oxygen and allowing you to run faster and generally operate at a heightened level. Of course, adrenaline is designed to help us escape danger, but it is also a stimulus which the body can crave.
Horror and Religion
The video goes on to explain how concepts of fear were later adopted by organized religion to develop concepts of morality. Before religion, humans were free to kill and maim each other because there was often no real-world consequences to their actions. Then came the concept of Hell, and once again fear crept into the equation. The overriding evolutionary urge to escape our fears led people to pursue pious and moral lives in order to avoid a fiery doom.
The Three Horror Tropes
The video claims that over time these fears coalesced into three main horror tropes: The Unfamiliar, Lack of Control, and Lack of Information. The combination and use of these three tropes are essentially present in all modern day horror movies.
The Unfamiliar concerns our innate fear of difference and strangers, with the video claiming the trope is present in such classic films as Young Frankenstein and Freaks, all the way up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The Lack of Control trope concerns our fear of vulnerability. Our bodies are designed to fight or flight when faced with danger, being denied either of these options leaves us with no way to assuage our fears.
The Lack of Information is similarly associated with our innate fear avoidance tactics. A lack of information builds suspense and tension, in these situations, with not clear understanding of what could/will happen, we are once again denied the ability to escape our fears.
Anyway, don't take my word for it. See the more in-depth and expansive version of the arguments presented below in this rather blood and guts filled explanatory video.
Do you love or loathe horror movies?