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Into the Mystic

A long, sharp triangle appears, silhouetted behind a white sheet. Behind it follows
a head. It was not merely geometry arriving on the scene, but a person. Mystery. It is
strange. Much as hed like it to be. The words flash on screen. Alfred Hitchcock
Presents. An icon of shock, one whose shadowy figure is as ghastly as Nosferatus when
the vampire crept up the stairs back in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty
two. Shadows and silhouettes are trademarks of classic mystery and frightful stories.
They bring mystery. But this was before anything was truly frightening, other than the
sound of approaching Huns. And the Mongolian savage militia werent flashed on a
screen, in the blink of an eye, and gone from me. These scenes were what horror cinema
was before Vincent Price pushed women into pools of acid before turning their skeletons
into marionettes to frighten houseguests. It was before Janet Leigh was stabbed to death
in the shower, Duane Jones warded off a horde of the living dead, Linda Blairs demon
possessed head turned 180 degrees, Teri McMinn was gored on a meat hook, Kevin
Bacon took an arrow through the neck, Bruce Campbell cut off his own hand with a
chainsaw, Anthony Hopkins wore the skin of a slain police officer, and Tobin Bell made
Michael Emerson use Leigh Whannell to get Cary Elwes to saw his own foot off. Of
course all of these scenes would likely cause you to feel vomitrocious if you experienced
them in real life, but what about them makes them so desirable as films? Its almost as if
theres some psychological desire to experience other peoples misfortunes.

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This is further seen in the way that people always slow down to see a car wreck
on the side of the road. What about violence and misfortune is so intriguing to people?
This is what I will discuss in this essay, focusing on the reasoning behind people

constantly flocking to see the newest horror film as soon as it hits theaters. This genre,
inherently the most violent and traumatizing in film, for some reason is one of the most
popular, with many horror films topping the list for greatest amount of profit made for the
studio; Paranormal Activity, a 2007 independent found footage film, was made for only
$15,000, but had a box office gross of around $160 million. Movies like The Blair Witch
Project, Saw, Friday the 13th, and Night of the Living Dead also had profit margins of
over 3,800% (Deane). With horror films having such a cult following, there must be
some reason why humans are so drawn to the macabre. In this essay, I will discuss the
method behind the madness. Some people, for example, are drawn to the violence
because it serves to let them live out violent fantasies of their own, whether or not these
fantasies are conscious or not. Other people feel the need to experience simulated
violence and trauma because it is better than experiencing it in real life and they get a
thrill from it. Still other people simply enjoy watching people get hurt. I will discuss
these more in detail over the course of the essay.

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Romulus and Remus

As previously stated, some people are drawn to graphic violence and bloodshed in
movies because it helps them live out primal desires in humans brains that draw us to
cause violence. Whether consciously or not, watching violent events take place in a
controlled setting helps soothe this instinctive urge, and therefore makes us less viable to
commit actions such as these ourselves. This is a Freudian theory, explained in Steven
Jay Schneiders Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freuds Worst Nightmare. Schneider
explains that when two teenagers in a slasher film go to the bedroom, have sex, and then
are brutally murdered by the antagonist, the screenwriter is subliminally warning younger

audience members against premarital sex. This trope is seen in many slasher films of the
80s and 90s, such as Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Scream.
This wanton violence helps sate the inner primal urge that humans have to commit
violent acts of bloodshed themselves; it serves as a sort of safety valve (Schneider 58).
That is, it lets people experience rage, rancor, violence, and its effects through characters
on screen in a controlled environment. This is one of the pluses about horror movies, and
a reason why people seem to like them so much despite their inherent unwantedness.
Why would somebody want to see an 18 year old get her limbs torn off? Why, because
the audience member secretly wants to do such a thing themselves! They would never
actually do it in real life, though. The violence in horror keeps everyone from becoming a
psychopath. The ramblings of a psychopath are an enigma. Psychopathy, and more
specifically, sociopathy, is the basis of the Christian Bale film American Psycho, where a
seemingly normal business man is in fact a violent serial killer. This is what everyone
would be like if there were not violent horror films, such as American Psycho, to help
sate peoples inherent lust for blood. This is the theory examined in Schneiders book
Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freuds Worst Nightmare. This is only one of many
theories as to why people love horror films so much, but I believe it is the most
widespread as well as the most sensible one.

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The Platypus
This is just one of many theories explaining why people have flocked to horror
films in theaters for the last 40 years. Another is that people get an adrenaline rush from
the anticipated shock value of a scare. This is the main drive behind jumpscare films such

as Paranormal Activity, where the entire scare factor comes from the audiences
knowledge that something scary might pop out at any moment. This is another reason
why people love horror films; the anticipation of a scare, and then the relief when the
threat on screen is, of course, not real. This is described in Eric G. Wilsons Everyone
Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Cant Look Away. When an imagined threat, such as
a killer stalking his victim on screen, is perceived, dopamine is released in the brain,
initiating a fight-or-flight response; even though the threat is known to be not real. After
the scare is over, the audience feels a sense of relief. This relief-when-nothing-wasreally-wrong-in-the-first-place feeling is another reason why so many people love horror
movies. This is a process that Margarita Tartakovsky explains well: when people watch
frightening films, their heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration increases after the
film is over, this physiological arousal lingers. This leads to any positive emotions you
experience [being] intensified (Tartakovsky). In laymans terms, when you watch a
horror film, you enter a heightened mental state, becoming more aware of your
surroundings; after the movie is over, and you are still in this state, every emotion you
experience is heightened. Therefore, if you do something fun after the movie, you will
associate this fun experience with going to the horror movie, which will make you want
to go see the next horror movie that comes out. This is a more psychological approach to
why people love watching horror films so much.

There are obviously many reasons why people like horror movies. In this, we can
see that it must simply be up to the individual. It is impossible to say one unanimous

reason, because every person is different. While of course you cannot simply ask
everyone why he or she likes horror movies, it must be down to the way their brain has
been made to work over the course of their personal life. Some people may enjoy the
adrenaline rush while they are watching the film, some people may subconsciously enjoy
the heightened emotional state after watching a scary sequence, and some people may
simply be undercover psychopaths who need to watch violent torture porn in order to live
out their sick fantasies. That last sentence was hyperbole. Everyone has inner primal
urges to commit violent acts that are not accepted by normal society, so watching horror
films helps relieve them of these repressed urges. No matter what reason people have for
wanting to watch horror movies, there will always be a market for them. Ever since the
first film displaying a filmmakers interest in the macabre (Le Squelette Joyeux, a 40
second clip of a dancing skeleton, from 1895), audience members have followed,
flocking to see the next spooky tale. Almost a supercentenarians lifetime later, the
newest horror flicks make millions at the box office. This just goes to show that no matter
what the reasoning behind it is, a horror films popularity will never be in question. In the
words of Alfred Hitchcock, Give them pleasure- the same pleasure they have when they
wake up from a nightmare.

Works Cited
Deane, Michael. "Movie Genres That Make The Most Money." Investopedia. 5 Apr.
2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
Schneider, Steven Jay. "Excerpt from 'Why Horror? The New Pleasures of a Popular
Genre' (with a New Afterword by the Author) Andrew Tudor." Horror Film and
Psychoanalysis: Freud's Worst Nightmare. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. 5567. Print.
Wilson, Eric. Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away. New
York: Sarah Crichton, 2012. Print.
Tartakovsky, Margarita. "Why Some People Love Horror Movies While Others Hate
Them." World of Psychology. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.