Why Do We Watch Horrors?

There is no logical explanation for why we like horrors. At least, I don’t think so. Who enjoys having consistent close brushes with coronaries? Who likes jumping up so high from their seat that they pour their hot chocolate/double-gin/triple-gin/quadruple-gin (for the really weak-willed ones… cough cough) all over themselves? Very few, I am sure – yet we still watch them. We still do this to ourselves. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry (like everything else seems to be these days – I swear that there are cash-dragons or something just breathing hot dollars all over the place – that’s probably what’s going on in Area 51. The mass battery-farming of cash-dragons). Personally, I’ve watched thousands. And I know I will continue to watch them, from time to time, despite the fact that I know better and should probably be making more of an effort to keep my frail psyche in-check.

So why do we do it? Post-horror I tell myself – as if by ritual, for I know it’s coming every time – “never again”. I guess watching horror must be like snorting crack, then, because it’s a bloody hard habit to kick. Yet I don’t really even ENJOY MYSELF after I’ve been seduced by the lure to watch one – at least, not the majority.

However, there are certain branches of horror that do and can sit well – good news for all others who are addicted and also psychologically delicate like myself. For instance, the brainy horrors, the ones with the clever plots that suck you in as opposed to the gore/will to kill yourself from terror: Shutter, Cabin In The Woods (does that count? It was more funny than scary… zombies have become a sort of a cultural favourite in our society, they’re more like pets than objects of fear), The Conjuring… But all these horrors are intelligent, which makes them – you know – an actual movie experience, as opposed to a free-for-all-screaming-deathfest.

I’m a bit of a movie snob – I nearly exclusively appreciate films which are incredibly clever and/or intricate, or movies which are so comically absurd that you can’t help but love them – the metaphorical pugs of the film industry. I can only explain my desire to continue watching horrors, then, with this in mind:

That horrors in which the actual horror is diluted and/or made relevant by the clever/intricate/comic/absurd elsewhere are somewhat enjoyable, and I, as a connoisseur of movies, desire to watch them as such.

The horrors which are worth watching – if you wish to get some sort of mental value out of them – are the horrors with substance. You just have to filter through a lot of dismembered human corpses to find them. The Stepford Wives, for instance, is a classic horror – everybody knows the story, the headstrong, untraditional woman finding out that she lives in a misogynistic world of businessmen and female robots. Se7en, in which Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman track down a serial killer based on the biblical clues he leaves behind. The Ring, with the iconic creepy TV-crawling girl.

Yes, there are some good horrors. Horrors which are films rather than unpleasant, nonsensical trips. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. Insidious. Psycho. These are the ones which are fun to watch (with your friends – NEVER ALONE), which you will get something out of. Which won’t leave you feeling like you’ve wasted two hours of your life hiding behind your hands instead of enjoying yourself because somebody is having a tango with a chainsaw on-screen and it is grossly unpleasant.

However, I do believe that there is also more than that (disclaimer: if you’re following my blog there will likely always be “more than that” – I did take literature, after all). If we remove the element of “substance” from horror-watching – if we actively decide to watch a horror which we know will probably feel like it was written by angry thirteen-year-old-emos – then there must be a different compulsion behind the choice to watch other than searching for deeper foundations. A compulsion to experience the…

…Community between horror-watchers in the seat (you) and horror-victims on the screen.

Community probably sounds really cheesy and dumb, in this context. “Community” should only really be used when you’re promoting a charity or writing about your twee village or referring to the well-loved American comedy. Regardless, horror-watchers often create their own, especial “community” by watching these otherwise abysmal films in packs. Sure, you could argue that when you watch any film with your friends/family you are entering into a “communal experience” – but don’t you agree that this happens moreso with horrors? That we, the watchers, get very involved with the – often stupid – victims on-screen, more commonly than if we were watching a regular romp. In what other setting do you gasp in union with your audience when the wind blows in the trees or you hear a faint tap-tap-tapping at the door? Where else will you find that everybody is compelled to yell in frustration at the doings of a single character (atypically a big-busted blonde who splits up from the group and goes running into the woods in heels to escape her foe because that, of course, is a totally wise thing to do). We get very involved in the horror-watching experience, which makes them perfect for communal viewing. Which, in turn compels you to pick up a horror, as opposed to a much nicer, cushier watch, time and time again. Bonding over the stupidity of mankind.

But one more thing (Uncle from Jackie Chan voice in your brain intended). To actually, sort of, enjoy a horror, you should probably make sure that your film-watching posse are of varying constitutions. I mean, you don’t want to be surrounded by people of exactly the same paranoid mentality as you, or you’ll hate everything and everyone by the end. You’ll likely end up living in a white, circular house with no windows or doors being fed food through a tube so that you don’t have to go out and live in the utterly terrifying outside world. Or, in a much more likely scenario, you’ll have to deal with the unpleasantness of everybody sweating and whimpering in close proximity to each other – and not in a hot sexy way. In an “I-feel-ill” way. So it helps if you have (from my experience) a “joker”, who takes EVERYTHING NOT AT ALL SERIOUSLY and sort of mocks your pain, which helps you to then recognize how ridiculous you are in taking the whole thing so seriously and succumbing to the belief that you, too, are being followed by a shadowy ghost-demon, or that your dad is not really your dad but an alien incubus. It also helps to have someone who is like you to a certain extent so that you don’t hurt your neck trying to cry on your own shoulder because nobody will relate to you. And maybe an annoying film-watcher who will talk incessantly over the whole thing and thereby reduce the horror factor by about twenty per-cent.

Of course, if you are someone who is stable/mad enough to watch a horror by themselves, then you needn’t be reading this. Because you’re a freak. Get out of here.

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