For as long as cinema has existed, filmmakers have done their best to scare the pants off audiences. From shocking moments of horror, to the gross instances of blood and guts, to even the disturbing points in otherwise whimsical Disney movies. These films have kept audiences screaming for years, running away from theaters in droves and yet they want more.
The horror film genre is one of the biggest branches of cinema out there, and it is not limited to just PG-13 and R-rated movies. Disney in particular has found a way to sneak in scenes of horrifying images in films like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves” and “Pinocchio,” yet they still get a G-rating.
So why is that something like horror films exist? You’d think that people don’t like to be scared and that audiences would avoid that at all costs. Yet slasher and psychological horror films thrive. Why do we watch scary movies?
The first reason is how watching an intense scene can make you feel. Watching an alien burst out of John Hurt’s chest gives people an adrenaline rush. People like to be excited, and these particular scenes make the audience thrilled when something unexpected happens. It keeps the imagination interested and envisioning more about what could be out there. It makes the viewer want more and feel that adrenaline once again.
But a bigger reason for why we enjoy horror films is that feeling of hope. In a well-executed film, where you are invested in the characters and root for them to get out of this perilous situation, despite the insurmountable odds they face, the movie is filling you with hope for both the characters and within yourself.
If Ripley can face a horde of aliens just to save a little girl, suddenly our struggles in life don’t seem nearly as bad.
Don Blueth once said that you can put anything in front of a child and they’ll enjoy it so long as it has a happy ending. This is reflected in many of his works, especially “The Secret of NIMH,” “The Land Before Time” and “An American Tale.” There are many horrific and disturbing imagery throughout these films, all while still being aimed towards children, yet they remain optimistic and positive about the future. It’s all topped off by the happy ending, and the audience is extremely satisfied by both the ending and the film in general.
During all the terrible moments presented in horror films, we still continue to fight through it. We don’t give up on it, or life, because we hope for better times. Hope that life will give us something to root for and look forward to.
Hope is a powerful tool. And what better type of film represents hope than triumph in horror films?
Finally, there is something to be appreciated with horror movies, especially for children. No matter what the scares might be, the film is challenging your perception of reality. Films like “Return To Oz” and “Freaks” are making you ask questions that you don’t necessarily know the answer to. They are challenging you to reconsider what you know about your life, the unknown and the darkness. Some might even offer insight to a conundrum that you hadn’t even considered.
Children want to have questions put in front of them. It is why they ask their parents so many questions to begin with. But when they watch the tale of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, they’re being challenged with questions they may not understand. This can bring forth emotions and feelings they have never felt before. It shows them that the world is filled with more questions than answers and there are some aspects of life they will never understand.
And that’s okay.
It’s alright to be afraid, that is a normal part of life. Everyone is afraid of something, but it is how we learn to overcome those fears that makes us stronger. With a bit of hope, people can learn to conquer their worst nightmares and become a better person as a result.
To me, that is the true strength of horror films. To teach people fear is something we must deal with on a regular basis, but that it can be dealt with. If we hope to live our lives optimistically and happy, then dealing with our biggest fears is the first step. Movies like “The Wolf Man” personify those ambitions and emotions, to show us both the light and darkness.
Are horror films for everyone? No. Depending on the tolerance of the person, some scary movies might be too intense. Horror films are like a rollercoaster; There are varying degrees of intensity, but there are some people who can’t even handle to simplest ones.
To those who can handle scary movies, I say keep on watching them. It’s perfectly fine to be scared by these films. Being scared is exciting and lets you know a bit more about yourself. Appreciate the challenge of horror films and you’ll understand why audiences have watched these films for decades.