Why Do We Watch Horror Films?

October is only a few days away, and you know what that means? People around the world are going to start watching more horror films than any other time of the year. I admit that I am not a fan of horror films. There are exceptions, of course. I love 1973’s “The Exorcist”, the original “Halloween”, “The Shining”, the original “Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, and pretty much anything by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s when it comes to more modern horror films that I tend to turn away. However, I have rule. The rule is: I will watch any movie at least once. So, maybe an exception will arise to this notion that I don’t like modern horror films. We shall see.

Today’s article, however, is not about why I like horror films or why I don’t. It’s about why we watch horror films. There’s a reason people love to get scared. It’s cathartic. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, art is cathartic. Horror is too. What is the first thing we do after we’ve been scared? Usually, it’s to laugh. When we know we are not in any danger, the fear seems fun. I mean, why do people go to haunted houses and corn-mazes?

I am not a fan of jump scares. Personally, I think they are a cheap thrill when used gratuitously. It’s the equivalent to your dad jumping out from behind a door and yelling “boo”. It’s kind of scary, but not really. It’s definitely not fear. I tend to equate fear to the anticipation of a scare. You know something is going to happen, but you don’t know what. Fear could also be something that you have a phobia of. Clowns are a classic example. If you see a clown on-screen, and you’re legitimately scared of clowns, then you will be filled with fear. You don’t need any jump scares for that. I’m not saying jump scares don’t have a place in horror films. I think you need them if you want the payoff of the buildup. It’s when you base most a film around the jump scares that it becomes the cheap thrill I mentioned earlier.

I’ve always wanted to make a horror film with no payoff. Just all buildup. Every time you think something is going to happen…nothing ever does. Imagine how tense that audience would be! I suppose you’d have to have a payoff at the absolute end of the film. One big scare. It would work because, by that point in the film, the audience would believe no payoff is ever going to happen. I think it could work. I think that film would be scary. You’d have to do it right, though. Pull out all the tricks of building tension. Use the right music, set the right atmosphere with lighting, use the right camera movements, and you could have a real horror film on your hands. Although, there is always the chance someone would see right through it and leave before the final scare. In any case, it may be a good experiment.

Anyway, back to horror films that actually exist. I know I’ll be watching some horror films this October, I always do. If not horror films, I at least watch creepy films. I’m not one to get scared at films, but I appreciate the workmanship that goes into them. In October, these films just set the right atmosphere for the season, and that is one reason I watch them. To each their own.


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