ByRicky Derisz, writer at
Staff Writer at MP. "Holy cow, Rick! I didn't know hanging out with you was making me smarter!" Twitter: @RDerisz.
Ricky Derisz

For most people, films serve as a form of escapism. So why do so many people enjoy escaping into the murderous and petrifying world of horror? Why do we happily watch the fictionalization of ill-fated victims being stabbed, shot, decapitated or brutally tortured?

The Answer Could Lie In Our Brain Chemistry

Humans are predisposed to feel fear. It's part of our survival instinct, and years and years ago it could've saved us from certain death. When we are feeling fearful, the part of the brain that is triggered is the right amygdala.

However, when watching horror films, instead a combination of the visual cortex (processing visual information), the insular cortex (self-awareness), the thalamus (connecting hemispheres) and the dorsal-medial prefrontal cortex (planning, attention, problem solving) are all used.

So, What The Hell Does That Mean?

Psychologist Glenn Walters outlines three crucial elements to make a horror: tension (making the viewer feel uncomfortable), relevance (linked to our innate fears such as death, or societal fears such as terrorism), and unrealism.

Unrealism is crucial. When we know what we are watching is fake, we feel safe. On the flip-side, studies have shown our tolerance levels for real life gore are much reduced. We can sit through hours of torture in films like Hostel, but show us an animal being slaughtered, and we're instantly turned off.

Our brains know the difference between a real life threat and the process of watching a movie.

But is this a good thing?

Aristotle Felt That Scary Stories Were Healthy For Us

If the legendary Greek philosopher believed this to be true, I'm all for believing it. He felt that scary stories (or in a more modern world, horror films) were a good way for us to process negative emotions.

That means watching Freddy Krueger butcher the shit out of people could actually have a positive effect on our emotions.

And in terms of great thinkers, Aristotle wasn't alone.

Sigmund Freud Saw Horror As An Expression Of Our True Desires

It's like school - yay!
It's like school - yay!

To put it simply, Freud felt each of us had three different aspects to our personality. These were the id, the ego and the superego. Freud felt that two of these, the id and the ego, had a part to play in our enjoyment of watching horror.

The id consists of our most primitive drives and desires, or essentially our animal instinct. Think of our need to eat food, our sex drive, our aggressive streak, and our survival instinct. These parts of us are largely subconscious.

Conversely, the ego is our civilized self, the socially conditioned part of us shaped by the external world. Essentially the reason we don't go around killing people in real life.

Freud believed that horror movies, and our expression of violence, is the expression of our primitive id (i.e. the things our animal instinct would impulsively act out) that is suppressed by our ego.

So, next time you watch Friday the 13th, remember there is a part of you that would like to be Jason. Really.

Source: Filmmaker IQ


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