This week, Jay and I have challenged our colleagues and readers to confront their deepest and darkest fears with Frightfest 2015: The Horror Festival for the Squeamish. In the comment section, DotedOn thanked me kindly for the recommendations but admitted that she would likely be skipping each of them.
I still can’t get why people enjoy being scared. It’s like the idea of getting a root canal treatment by a butcher, I can’t even think about it.
I share her comment because I enjoyed it but also because i didn’t know what to tell her. Why do I enjoy scary movies? The truth is, I don’t usually. I have the same reaction to most horror trailers (“I’ll pass on this one”). Still, DotedOn has been one of our most supportive and frequent visitors to the site so I put some serious thought into the question of why- if I’m in the right mood- I can find a good scare so satisfying.
I’ll start with a scary story of my own. Just over a year ago, people in Ottawa had a very bad day. Mine started a little after 9 in the morning when I woke up to a text message from jay advising me to “Stay indoors. There’s a shooter on the loose”. I turned on my TV to discover that there had been a shooting on Parliment Hill, which happen to be six or seven blocks from where I live. With reports of multiple shooters, much of downtown was under lockdown.
Unfortunately, it was grocery day and my plan had been to run straight to the store and get myself breakfast. I waited as long as I could but at 2:00 I decided I needed to venture outside and get something to eat. When I got outisde, I discovered that I was practically the only one who had been so foolish. My usually busy street had barely a driver or pedestrian in sight. I found I was seeing my street as I never had before. I was noticing everything that moved, hearing every sound, alert to any sign of trouble and was more ready to run or fight than I had ever been in my life. My fear made me feel alive.
The experience itself was horrible. I was saddened and angry over the loss of life and over the attack on my city and on my country. Besides, I had what seemed at the time to be good reason to fear for my safety. But in a safe and controlled environment, a similar shot of adrenaline and the heightened arousal that comes with it can be rewarding. According to WebMD, our bodies have similar reactions to horror movies as to real threats. Our heart rate increases up to 15 beats per minute, our palms sweat, and our blood pressure rises. Objectively, though, we know that we’re safe in our living room.
The laziest horror movies milk these cheap thrills very effectively with quick adrenaline shots followed by instant relief. “Whoa! Oh, ok, it’s just the cat. Whoa! Oh, ok, it’s just her dad saying goodnight”. Movies like The Shining, The Babadook, and The Blair Witch Project are far more effective at constantly building tension by avoiding the inevitable relief that comes after trying to make you jump out of your seat. These are the ones that really stay with me.
Coming home to a dark apartment after watching a scary movie that has really gotten to me feels just a little bit like that scary day last October. I’m afraid to see what’s waiting for me when I come home but I keep moving forward, slowly and carefully, impressed with myself at how little noise I’m making. I quickly look around the corner into my kitchen and when Jack Nicholson isn’t waiting for me with an axe, the relief I feel was well worth the trip. Once I’ve discovered that the Blair Witch isn’t in my bathroom and Freddy isn’t in my bedroom, my heart is beginning to slow down. Every time I’m scared but keep going anyway, I’m getting stronger, I tell myself. I don’t know if I like horror movies so much as like surviving them.
Anyway, this is how I experience the scary movies that I like. Why do you like horror movies?