Having watched and re-watched most English language horror films—dating as far back as the early 2000s to as recent as Candyman— I now spend hours scouring through the internet for more content to give me the heebie-jeebies. With Halloween season inching closer, horror-lovers like myself have already begun their hunt for spookiness. But before you start your search for horror recommendations, have a think about why horror works and why we love it.
Do we consume horror or does it consume us?
If you’re anything like me, the first thing you do when hearing of a highly recommended film is look up its IMDb rating. A couple of years ago, after watching a truly anticlimactic and regrettable film, I promised myself to never suffer through a movie that had less than a 7.0 IMDb rating. Be that as it may, most horror movies barely make it to a 6.0 and I can’t stop myself from watching them. Which makes me wonder, what is it about a horror film that makes us overlook trashy reviews and poor ratings?
Fear is so good at preoccupying and dominating our subconscious mind that even when we are distracted our brain keeps revisiting the small window of fearfulness. It becomes a catalyst for the catharsis that follows from purging negative emotions through the film. Horror films prey on our unconscious fears and help us loosen the hold of immediate distress and anxiety. Filmmakers gamble with this feeling to make the film-watching experience pleasurable and profitable. Filmmakers use elements to kindle emotions common to all humans. For example, the fear of being alone is familiar to all of us.
To exploit this fear, horror films are often set in isolated locations, subliminally reiterating how scary it can be to live in a desolated area. They also use tricks to play mind games with their viewers. For example, when an object/person is illuminated from below it makes them look scarier. This happens because our brain perceives light from below as unnatural, unfamiliarity makes us anxious and fearful. Filmmakers work heavily with silhouettes and shadows to leave it up to the viewer to imagine what they’re most scared of, this makes every individual’s experience more personalized, hence scarier. They often intensify the feeling of fear by capturing video through an object to create the atmosphere of being watched which reminds us how unsettling it is to think we’re being watched.
Horror films push the boundaries of fear by inducing an environment where the viewer is both anxious and at ease. As scary as the film might be, in the back of your mind you know that what you’re watching is not real and cannot directly harm you. This results in dopamine hits, creating an ‘adrenaline rush’ that keeps you coming back for more. I suppose this is why horror works—it consumes you. It infiltrates your perception of things and makes you wonder ‘what if?’ and with the assurance of an adrenaline rush, we keep on coming back for more.
Vanshika Dhyani- Film & TV Writer