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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dolan

The Horror! The Horror!

Why do we pay good money to be scared out of our wits?

First, a definition.

An Irish Times article from 2018 describes a horror movie as one that “seeks to elicit fear in its audience for entertainment purposes.”

In the late 1890s, the pioneering French filmmaker Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès was turning out short, silent supernatural offerings such as Le Manoir du Diable (“The House of the Devil”) – sometimes described as

the first ever horror movie – and La Cavern Maudite (“The Accursed Cave”). The silent German Expressionist film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror directed by F. W. Murnau and starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok retains its power to shock even to this day.

The early years of this (disreputable?) genre drew heavily on the writings of such luminaries as Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley – and there have been countless remakes of these classics (some more successful than others).

In recent decades, the fashion has been towards more formulaic franchises, such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm

Street, Final Destination, and so on. One might be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood has an obsession with murdering attractive bimbos in short skirts; although the real interest, I’m sure, lies in making money. And teenage gore, for some reason, keeps us coming back for more. As do vicious, acid-dripping aliens.


Well, in a 2004 paper in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters, three major factors are listed. These are (1

) tension; (2) relevance (personal or cultural, e.g. the fear of death); and (3) (paradoxically, perhaps, in view of point 2) unrealism.

The presence of breasts and bums did not feature. Maybe Dr. Walters should get out more.

Here’s Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein (a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht) speaking in 2013:

"People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn't do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. [People who go to horror films] want those effects… [But horror films must] provide a just resolution in the end. The bad guy gets it."

Hmmn. I’m not so sure about that. I’m sure I can’t have been the only person rooting for Hannibal Lecter to get away with it, or for the alien to kill the smug, annoying Ripley, can I?

Answers on a postcar

d, please.

Recent TV series such as Dexter, iZombie and The Santa Clarita Diet have sought to sanitise the monsters concerned by ensuring

they only deal out death and destruction to deserving bad folks. But the problem with that, IMHO, is that it serves to dilute the impact of the atrocities being committed: the scriptwriters have to walk the tightrope between laughter and fright. Not easy.

By the way – and as a final thought – what is it that folks find appealing about zombie movies? If I want to spend time among the brain-dead, I only have to go down to my local pub. And I don’t even have to pay for a ticket to get in there.

Happy screaming.

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