Raise your hand if you love a good scare
Autumn is finally here, and it seems the oppressive heat blanketing our region may be gone. Sometimes it has a way of creeping back in, and we find ourselves wearing T-shirts on Christmas. Still, pumpkins, sweaters and Halloween decorations are on display at the stores, and that means the spooky season is among us!
I was born eight days before Halloween, so I have an affinity for autumn and all things spooky. One of my favorite things to do this time of year is watch scary movies. It turns out I’m not alone. Total ticket sales of horror movies released in 2018 totaled over $900 million, and over $1 billion in 2017. Haunted house attractions also haul in major dough every year with for-profit haunted houses, charity Halloween events, and even theme parks getting in on the scary holiday.
So, why do we love to scare ourselves? There has been quite a bit of research conducted on the psychology of why people read scary books, watch horror movies and visit haunted houses. On one hand, these stories usually have a clearly defined villain, and the hero archetype resonates with us, as man-vs-man, man-vs-beast/nature, man-vs-self stories have been around since the beginning of time.
First of all, being scared is physiological effect as it triggers a fight-or-flight response which comes with the release of adrenaline, and it gives a boost of dopamine and endorphins. When we get a good fright, our brains give us a feel-good reaction when we realize we’re safe.
On the psychological level, people with less empathy are apt to enjoy horror movies more than those with more empathy. More empathetic people identify with the suffering of characters, so they tend to not watch or read a story where the character suffers. This also pertains to suspension of disbelief which means we temporarily put aside our rational minds and partake in the fantasy before us. People with a lack of suspension of disbelief are apt to not be afraid of “the monster” because it’s just someone in a costume or words in a book.
There is actually a new branch of science called neurocinema which studies the effects of movies on the brain. According to an article from psychology-spot.com titled “What Horror Movies Do to Your Brain,” “The Arousal Transfer Theory indicates that negative feelings created by these movies intensify the positive feelings we experience when at the end the hero triumphs. Basically, we like these movies because watching them is like getting on an emotional roller coaster.”
Whatever your reason for enjoying a good scare, you have a plethora of choices. Here are some of my favorite horror movies: Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead. If you’re looking to settle in with a good book, some of my favorites are: “Pet Sematary” - Stephen King, “The Haunting of Hill House” - Shirley Jackson, and “Hell House” - Richard Matheson. For the kids, I highly recommend “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” - Alvin Schwartz and “The Graveyard Book” - Niel Gaiman.
So, tonight, after you’ve handed out the last of the candy and all the good kiddies are nestled in their beds, having sugary fever dreams, grab some popcorn, turn off the lights, and watch a good, scary movie ... IF YOU DARE! (maniacal laughter)