Horror Film Reactions – Why different people respond differently to Scary Movies
You’ve heard me say it time and again in movie club. I hate scary movies. I understand that many people love them and they have inspired many cult followings. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a room with Joe and Steve watching “Cabin in the Woods.” I have been assured that it is more comical than horrific and that I’ll enjoy it. I am doubtful, hence my writing this blog to distract me from the film.
In order to help me not feel so much like a wuss, I did a little research into theories of why some people love scary films and why others hate them. The findings of Joanne Cantor, Ph.D, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Glenn Sparks, Ph. D. Professor at Purdue University both have some interesting ideas on the subject.
Sparks says different people feel differently after the movie. In testing, everyone’s heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure increase and this causes people to have heightened experiences of whatever happens after the film without being aware of it. If you watch something scary then have a great rest of your night, you are more likely to associate good feelings with scary films. This is called the excitation transfer process. I cannot remember any specific negative experiences after scary movies, besides, well, being scared, so let’s move on.
Sparks also says some people are simply built to like the adrenaline rush whereas others do not. People who do not like horror films are most likely people who do not like rollercoasters. I love rollercoasters, so that must not be it either.
Another theory for people loving horror films because the gore and intense circumstances are completely out of the ordinary. People want to watch them for the same reason everyone slows down when passing an accident. Cantor also says that people could watch horror films simply to enjoy the special effects. The problem, even for these people, is that negative emotions are stored in a different part of the brain and are held onto longer than positive emotions. For example, I saw Alien when I was young and I still cannot even hear X-Files music without freaking out.
Speaking of kids, Cantor says that kids of different ages are more affected by different things. From age 5-7, anything they see on TV is perceived as real and very scary. After age 7, more realistic threats, such as murder and kidnapping, are frightening. And in the teenage years, abstract ideas become the most frightening, like supernatural forces or unexplained disease epidemics. I think I hit each of these types of films at some point in my childhood and have memories of being scared for months after each. The worse part is that my parents did not allow these viewings. I did this to myself, like an idiot.
I am now almost at the end of “Cabin in the Woods” and while there were both funny and interesting moments throughout, the good does not justify the awful feeling in my chest right now, nor the countless number of times I will let my overactive imagination freak me out tonight when I get home. Ugh…
Question: How do you feel about horror films? What’s the most frightening film you’ve ever seen?