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Humans and Horror: The Fascination

Published on 26th July 2017

Disclaimer: While I understand that not everyone shares a fascination for horror films, there is a large percentage of our reader and listener audience that does. So, play along. Thanks in advance.

Hi, I am human. I like “normal” things such as, watching sports, reading books, socializing with my friends, interacting with my kids, and delving elbows deep into horror films where I can project my creepy subconscious onto the unseen world while filling my desire for blood lust and terror. “Normal”, I said!

Let’s be real. We all have an uncanny curiosity for blood, gore, and horror. There is a multi-million-dollar blockbuster movie enterprise to prove it. What is it though, that draws us in to this “abnormal” universe, if only for a couple hours at a time? Why do people have such a fascination with horror movies? Is it the evil side of humanity that we find so intriguing? Are we begging to have our senses of adrenaline tickled every now and again? Well, according to some research I did, our blood lust comes from something more primordial. Let’s explore.

On the surface and in short, people are so fascinated by horror movies because of the feelings it evokes. It’s scary! We jump and thump at every bump in the night! Horror movies allow us to be in danger, without really being IN danger. We are able to explore a sinister world, and then return to our happy, golden lives once the ending credits roll. An escape for our darker sensation-seeking desires, if you will. Wow, that makes us so….weird, right? Well, not so fast. Science has something to say about the human fascination with horror and it’s deeper than you might have originally considered.

Let’s go way back. Aristotle, the brilliant Greek philosopher posited this idea of Catharsis. He believed that civilization was drawn to horror and violence because it gives us a chance to purge negative emotions and release aggression (Griffiths, 2015). Enter in: the worldwide argument over video games and violent behavior in children and teens. You may have heard of it.    

To add to my scientific approach, we have the contributions of historic psychoanalytic researchers Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud believed that our curiosity of the abnormal was rooted deep within the ego. He believed that we have these repressed, recurring, thoughts in our subconscious world and when we engage “horror” through images and the like, these feelings become familiar, thus we enjoy them and even find a sense of comfort in them. Likewise, Jung believed that when we engage in the fictional world of horror, we are able to tap into our primordial archetypes that are buried deep within our subconscious (Griffiths, 2015). Subconscious…That is the common motif here.

Now, let’s bring it back to 2017. You’re in a dark room, solely illuminated by the television screen. You are intently focused on the movie characters. There’s a woman who just escaped to her closet, narrowly missing the brutal attack from her predator. She’s breathing heavily. You can see the sweat drip over her brown. Her hair is tossed around her face. She’s wielding a knife close by her chest, and although it is pitch black, she is peering intently through the cracks of her doorframe to spot the intruder. What drives you as the audience, to keep watching? The curiosity. The tension. The thrill. Yes! It’s the fictional nature of the horror film that affords its viewers a sense of control by placing a psychological distance between the victim and the horror portrayed on the screen (Griffiths, 2015).

Maybe our attraction to the “abnormal”, is more normal than we think. The human brain is a complex creature and when we delve into the subconscious, it becomes even more complex. The subconscious says, no, to the entirety of our preconceived notions of what makes sense and follows the norms and rules of society. So, the next time you’re watching a horror movie and you feel those deep, dark feelings simmering below the surface…let them manifest for your viewing pleasure. After all, your fascination with horror is normal. Isn’t it?

Griffiths, M. (2015). Why do we like watching scary films? A brief look at psychological horror at the cinema. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.co...