Fear is one of the most instinctual emotions shared by every animal on the planet. Without fear, life-threatening situations suddenly become everyday situations; the thought of dying never crosses the mind and therefore the urge to turn and run away ceases to exist. It would seem that fear, while useful, would not be the desired emotion to evoke from an audience when it comes to film. Yet horror movies hinge on creating a sense of panic and fear within the viewers, playing with their emotions like puppets.
Call it arrogance, or pride, or an overabundance of confidence, as humans we enjoy the feeling of dread that a horror movie provides, perhaps because we are able to walk away unscathed. No other species on the planet wants to feel fear since it usually ends with them being eaten. People, on the other hand, are lucky enough not to have a daily fear of being devoured by a wild beast. Rather, we have other fears that plague our lives, like paying taxes, failing a big test, or sleeping through an alarm. Compared to being a lion’s afternoon snack, our daily problems may not be as substantial as we believe; this is by no fault of individual people, but because the advancement of our civilization has almost completely erased our primal fear of being afraid for our lives on a daily basis. So naturally, we have come up with a solution for our lack of fear. By watching horror movies, we taste fear and death without actually being directly threatened. We see the world through the character’s eyes, and when a monster eats the character’s best friend or a ghost slams the door, we feel scared for the character, not ourselves.
When it comes down to it, our mortality is the soil horror movies are rooted in. Because any moment in our lives could be our last, being alive is all the more thrilling. That is not to say we should walk around in elation because a bus could flatten us unexpectedly. A closer look reveals that we are actually very vulnerable; we just fail to connect the dots. The tension and suspense that horror movies use to keep us on the edge of our seats happens around us all the time. For example, if the good guy is oblivious to the killer lying in wait at the top of the stairs, we want to scream at him to turn around as he walks up the creaky staircase.
In the real world, if one were to watch another person’s life as they would a movie, tense everyday situations would pop up regularly, such as someone crossing the street without looking or texting while driving. It is not until we see death coming at us head on that the bigger picture reveals itself.
Finally, horror movies are fun. Being in a theater with a hundred other people and screaming or gasping with them is quite an experience. The tension in the theater is palpable as the camera slowly pans to the side and the monster pops out, shattering the silence. Some people hate the thrill, others cannot get enough. But all in all, horror movies are strange yet satisfying creations that delight by fright.