Some psychologists and aficionados of the genre would tell us that we enjoy them for the adrenalin rush similar to the feeling we get on riding a roller coaster with the near ninety degree drop. Afterwards we become more alive thanks to a quickened pulse and shaky knees. A different take on the after effects of that adrenalin rush. Or, it may be the closeness some couples feel after experiencing a horror movie. Yeah, who would have thought that watching Jason slice up a dozen or so bodies could be a bonding experience? An even darker explanation is we like seeing the blood and gore. Perhaps that's why each new generation of horror movies seems to ratchet up the cartoonish violence and body count over the previous crop.
There may be another reason for our love of fright: it helps us face our fears. Since we are thinking rational animals we learn from bad experiences. And I guess watching a scary movie or reading a horror novel could be classified as vicariously living through a bad experience. So, how does it help us face our fears?
- It makes those fearful things less terrorizing. Something can be said for repetition. We learn by repeating things over and over. And by facing those scary moments on a regular basis we begin to see them as less frightening and more manageable. Think of a horror movie you saw at one time on the big screen that scared the living daylights out of you and then watching it on TV a few times in reruns. The actor in the monster suit doesn't seen so scary and the crimson dye blood and latex severed limbs start to look a bit comical.
- It helps us to visualize overcoming our fears. We sit in a darkened theater watching the horror story unfold. The hero is about to be eaten, sawn in half, or smashed to bits by the monster. But, at the last minute our intrepid protagonist turns the tables and defeats the evil beast. If we've bought in to the suspension of disbelief, for the two hours we've lived vicariously through our hero, imagining ourselves as the hero of the drama can help us visualize ourselves overcoming a real life terror. Maybe it's walking into the bosses office to ask for a raise or facing down a bully at school.
- It reminds us that there are real terrors in the world. We aren't confronted with chainsaw wielding psychopaths, fifty foot prehistoric lizards, or supernatural teens crawling out of wells on a daily basis. But, from time to time we do face reckless drivers, duplicitous coworkers, or heartless neighbors. Watching at the theater or reading about those twisted antagonists about to wreak havoc on civilization can remind us that we do live in a world fraught with danger. We should treat others with courtesy and grace but be aware that we may not always receive the same in kind.
- If you're religious, frightening situations reminds us we have no need to fear those terrors. Many religions espouse a God able to overcome those scary situations or at least provide comfort through them. On watching that scary movie or reading that Stephen King-type book we are reminding that we possess an antidote to such fear. On a personal note, I'm a Christian and have a Savior whose love has overcome the world. For me horror only serves to remind me that "...perfect love casts out fear."