Being Scared: Is it a heart-pounding Trick or a delightful Treat?
Scene: Its 1960 and a lovely young woman with blond hair is in a bathroom. The music is calm and causal. She causally disrobes and steps into the shower. The camera cuts to different angles of her scrubbing her arms and neck. The camera cuts once more and, from beyond the curtain, the viewer can see the bathroom door slowly open. The woman, however, doesn’t notice. A faint outline of an old lady with her hair in a bun can be seen entering the room and walking towards the shower. And then with a knife in her hand, the curtain is sharply pulled back. The woman turns around and screams. The music cuts to the violin being sharply strung as the old lady slashes and stabs her with a knife. She slashes and slashes until the young woman falls over dead, her screams dying with her. The camera fades out while the viewer watches as blood is washed down the drain.
Psycho (1960) is ranked amongst one of the greatest films of all time, according to IMDB. It has been called one of Hollywood’s finest slasher movies of its time and has since then redefined the horror genre. Despite decades having passed since its release and cinema’s evolution, its fame is still as strong as ever and manages to continue frightening viewers to this day (that is, when it isn’t be used as a parody due to its vast fame).
Ever since horror films first hit the silver screen, certain people have flocked to theaters to witness these frightening films; whether the fear is from the gore or from a more psychological perspective. However, other people do not share their appetite for horror and thus choose to avoid those films. But why? Why do only certain people enjoy the concept of being scared while others find no such pleasure?
While humans generally know that the things they witness on the big screen are only fiction, their brain and body didn’t get the memo. These images are enough for the body to push the body into a flight or fight response. It gives the body a shot of adrenalin that courses through their system and blood in a sudden jolt. The breathing rate will quicken as well as the movement of their eyelids and pupils. Their heart rate is at its peak, pounding and trying to keep up with the body’s demand for energy, and probably feels as if it’s about to burst through their chest similar to a baby Xenomorph XX121.
This reaction is a biological threat assessment that has existed in humans ever since their conception.
“The flight or fight response is a theory that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system…If a stimulus is perceived as a threat, a more intense and prolonged discharge of the locus ceruleus activates the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. The activation of the sympathetic nervous system leads to the release of norepinephrine from nerve endings acting on the heart, blood vessels, respiratory centers, and other sites. The ensuing physiological changes constitute a major part of the acute stress response. The other major player in the acute stress response is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis,” (Psychologist World).
The people that enjoy these films all share a common thread. They enjoy this. The sense of being in a life or death situation, or at least their body believes it is, in a non-dangerous way is delightful to them. Dr. Craig A. Sullivan says, “People like to be scared! They get that adrenaline rush when there is no real danger to worry about!”
Horror activities have always been held in the human imagination. Humans “are enticed by the sheer mysterious characteristics of stories that involve characters and activities of superhuman or horror proportions. This is something which is synced with the general psyche of the human brain that whatever is not really in the confines of their materialistic realization is bound to tickle their imaginative node and become an entertaining piece for them. This is a pretty common trend amongst people and can be traced back to time immemorial when the artists used to recreate some gory scenes and the audience was left in a state of awe and virtual fear. Horror movies is a genre that is very well established because of the fact that people like to watch scenes that are right out from their nightmares. People with appetite for this genre express exaltation when they are able to look at people flying across halls and discretely dangerous looking characters shredding through human flesh and bones,” (Pukish).
However, as stated earlier, other people may not share such an appetite. Instead of delight and pleasure from the thrill of the film, these people get the opposite. They get no thrill from the fear and instead get the fear by itself. When their body kicks into the flight-or-flight response, it is not enjoyable. These movie-goers do not find pleasure in the thrill of those films. Despite knowing that the film is nothing more than a work of fiction, it leaves them with an unwelcome sense of paranoia that the man with a chainsaw is just outside their door.
Cynthia Griffith, a non-horror fan, says, “I don’t know why I don’t like horror movies. But, I guess some people don’t because it gives them an unwanted paranoia. They feel like they can’t take a shower in a motel or even in their own house then. They can’t relax!”
Perhaps another reason is because the knowledge that some horror movies are based on real life or that similar fates can befall in real life can weaken their suspension of disbelief. Murder, even the most gruesome, can happen outside of a camera’s shot. It can be real. And it doesn’t stop just because someone yells, “Cut!” It can happen and it can happen to them. That would really take the buzz off and replace it with genuine fear.
Some have no reason why they don’t like horror films. They don’t like them because they don’t like them. It is as simple as that. Or they have some personal reason that is unique to them and to them alone.
The horror genre is only one among many genres a movie can fall under. It is all perception on whether someone will enjoy them or not. Perhaps they love the thrill (hence why some of those films are called ‘thrillers’) while others do not. The reasons can vary depending on the individual person. All that matters is that there are countless movies for all tastes to enjoy.