Why do we watch horror movies? While the primary purpose of any horror movie is to shock, frighten, trigger and arouse disgust through a series of disturbing and scary visuals and VFX, viewers have an uncanny inclination towards watching the horror fiction and feeling scared and threatened, nevertheless. According to Humean theory, “It seems an unaccountable pleasure which the spectators of a well-written tragedy receive from sorrow, terror, anxiety and other passions, that are in themselves disagreeable and uneasy.”
The empirical literature on the psychology of horror films suggests that the liking for horror movies develops over childhood. A study by the National Library of Medicine suggests that a lack of empathy and fearfulness often makes a growing adult enjoy watching horror movies whereas, younger children are afraid of symbolic stimuli, whereas older children become afraid of concrete or realistic stimuli.
Renowned American philosopher Noel Carroll, on a different note, explains that the enjoyment comes primarily from the structure and plot of the story, ‘which inevitably revolves around a process of disclosure and confirmation that is cognitively satisfying.’
According to several studies and texts, horror is often designed to make one afraid because “it is advantageous to our survival”. On the other part, there’s ‘art horror’ that denotes the imagined horror found in horror films.
Behavioural changes of viewers have also been explored through experiments, where a participant would exhibit signs of freezing, body swaying, and deceleration of heart rate when made to watch unpleasant films.
One of the most impactful elements of horror movies is the audio, where experts have argued that “horror is primarily a sound-based medium” — the music and the soundtrack. Research suggests that different styles of music can affect the emotional perception of what is seen in a film, regardless of the content.
Suspense and resolution of suspense are two factors that trigger our interest and curiosity to watch horror movies. According to the study by NLM, suspense refers to the build-up to the threat, the tension created prior to the manifestation of the threat, and the resolution/elimination of threats. It has been dubbed as “an experience of uncertainty whose hedonic properties can vary from noxious to pleasant.”