Why do we like to be scared? – the psychology of horror

As Halloween quickly approaches, I find myself dipping deeper into the pool of horror films, books and media that always seems to be present, any time of year you go looking for them. I didn’t come to love horror organically, as an over anxious child and teen I was somehow drawn to true crime documentaries, sneaking peeks at the coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, and staying up late to watch E! “Murders of Hollywood”. My first experience with horror movies was staying up in my friends living room, her German Shepard was half blocking my view of The Ring on VHS, which was particularly ironic. So why do we seek out things that scare us, instead of those that comfort us?

The easy answer is : We like to be safe. If we expose ourselves to things that scare us in a safe environment, it’s like going on a roller coaster. Your endorphins spike, your heart rate races, but in two minutes it’s over, you’re back on solid ground. I’d rather know how horrible the world can be so I can prepared for what actually goes bump in the night.

The Horror of It All is a memoir from the front lines of the industry that dissects the hugely popular genre of scary movies.

Horror movies and novels are much the same. People chose entertainment because they want to be affected. You choose a romance novel because you want to feel the giddy rush of love, you choose action because you want to feel excitement. Horror is another sensation driven genre. You want to experience the rush with none of the consequences of the situation, which lets you enjoy the sensation and adrenaline spike. Quoted from a 2004 paper in the Journal of Medical Psychology by Dr. Glen Walters “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unreal-ism.”(Walters, 2004)

So if you’re like me and looking for a thrill (while at the same time being wrapped up in a blanket fort for safety) then you’ve come to the right place for some recommendations. All of the things I recommend are available for checkout at the Cheshire Public Library, so let’s tuck in to my favorite genre:

hereditary_xlg.jpgHereditary  – When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited. Making his feature debut, writer-director Ari Aster unleashes a nightmare vision of a domestic breakdown that exhibits the craft and precision of a nascent auteur, transforming a familial tragedy into something ominous and deeply disquieting, and pushing the horror movie into chilling new terrain with its shattering portrait of heritage gone to hell.

This movie is fantastic, Ari Aster is a master of portraying agony in a way I haven’t seen in any other movie thus far. His characters experience the broadest range of emotion, and each scene is raw and beautifully acted. It’s really a treat to watch, both for the performances, and the scares. Prepare to have expectations subverted with this movie, Ari Aster is one to watch as a newcomer to the horror genre, and A24 is producing some outstanding content as well. If you haven’t seen it yet, treat yourself to Hereditary, as well as his newest film, Midsommar.

The Stand – The Stand takes place in a post-apocalyptic world triggered by the breakdown of society following the release of a biological weapon. The weapon is a virulent strain of influenza that decimates the population. It follows a few key characters across the United States, attempting to survive and make peace with the people they’ve become after the world has ended. It has elements of horror, elements of suspense, and in my opinion it’s one of the best post apocalyptic fiction novels ever written. Above all else though, it’s a thoughtful, well paced book. (One can’t have a list of horror titles and not mention King at least once, if not multiple times – The Tommyknockers, Salem’s Lot, The Shining…) The characters feel real and well flushed out, and the antagonist is ominous without becoming comic. It’s my go-to summer read, and I keep a paperback copy in my car at all times, so I can dip back in whenever the mood strikes, which is often.

I saw Gone Girl  before I had read the book (I know, the cardinal sin) and I had no context going into it. Gone girl? Sounds like a witty comedy about a girl who’s traveling cross country! I was very wrong. I had no idea about the twists (which I will keep to myself) and I had no idea what a treat I’d be in for when I read the book. They both play off each-other beautifully, and the book is written with punch and one liners that stick with you. The cool girl speech (look it up) is worth the price of the paperback alone. You should definitely treat yourself to this book, as well as Gillian Flynn’s two other titles Dark Places and Sharp Objects.

If you’re looking for something with real world ties, look no further than the masterpiece that is I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by the late Michelle McNamara. McNamara devoted a larger part of her life to sitting up in her daughters old playroom, surrounded by stuffed animals and tracking who would be come to known as the Golden State Killer. Sure she had a day job, but she also somehow convinced retired detectives from the case to send over boxes of case files. She went over phone records, emails, connected leads to perps, and made some of the most important headway the case had seen since it’s beginning in 1976. The case had been unsolved for ten years, and just recently closed with the arrest of a 73 year old Joseph Deangelo, a retired policeman. The book is well written, well researched, and fascinating if you want to know more about detective work, but never had the stomach to do it yourself. You feel yourself dissecting the facts along with Michelle, and the fact that she died before the case was solved makes the ending all the more poignant. It’s definitely worth the read, especially if you’re a fan of true crime and cases being solved.

Dipping into horror as a person with a chronically small comfort zone is more than just a little ironic. It’s taken me twenty five years to accept that strange part of myself, as a small portion of a largely complex whole. As an artist, a writer, and a creative, I find the darkness just as interesting as the light. Luckily, there are plenty of people who agree with me, and the horror genre is booming. Last summer, horror films accounted for 10% of cinema visits by moviegoers under 30-years-old. I’ll support any genre that encourages its artists and producers to push boundaries and visuals, and luckily, horror is doing just that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horror Novels – Scarier Than Horror Movies?

 — via

The creepy prose of horror’s greatest writers has the power to hold you trapped in a spell of terror that no film crew can match. Here are a few horror novels that are scarier than almost any movie you could be watching. Better read these with all the lights on!

10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

1. The Shining by Stephen King

The movie version of The Shining is a pop culture touchstone — but as usual, the book is even better than the movie. There’s a reason King is considered a horror master: The tense atmosphere and freaky supernatural occurrences get into the reader’s head and make you begin to doubt your own grip on sanity, along with that of the characters. Most people are probably familiar with the premise of the book: An alcoholic father takes a job as the off-season caretaker of an isolated mountain resort, in order to work on his writing and become closer to his family. The son is a psychic, a “shiner”, who can see the hauntings in the hotel. Sure the book is chock full of supernatural visions — but equally disturbing is the human-on-human violence. The child’s-eye view of his parents’ deteriorating relationship — and sanity — is meant to dredge up uncomfortable memories of childhood’s confusion and powerlessness.

10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

2. Haunted: A Novel in Stories by Chuck Palahniuk

The one-star and five-star reviews of this book actually say the same thing — it’s absolutely disgusting and disturbing. A group of would-be writers answers an advertisement for a three-month writing retreat. When the attendees arrive, they’re locked in an old-theater, with dwindling supplies. The novel is actually a series of short stories strung together under the artifice of the captives telling tales, and the tales become more horrifying and grotesque as the situation deteriorates. A situation made worse by the participants themselves, as they begin to practice murder and self-mutilation in the belief they are in some kind of reality show. It is said that when Palahniuk read the first tale “Guts” on book tour, people were fainting left and right. The reader is freaked out, not just by the graphic violence and unnerving supernatural bits — but also, the uncomfortable questions about what people will do for fame.

10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Four people venture to spend a summer in the reportedly haunted Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for proof of ghosts, Theodora, his assistant, Eleanor, a young recluse, and Luke, the heir to the house. The group begins to experience strange and unexplained events. That plot might be familiar to you if you’ve seen either the intense 1963 psychological thriller movie The Haunting or the goofy, bad 1993 version of The Haunting. Jackson was such a master of creating suspenseful tension that there is even an award named for her that recognizes contemporary literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. What makes the novel so effective is its unreliable narrator, Eleanor. Being limited by her incomplete perspective makes the reader just as unsure and vulnerable as she is. This perspective become more suffocating and tense as the line between the real and unreal and the living and dead becomes more and more blurred.

[Cover]

6. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

While The Turn of the Screw has a gothic feel to it, Henry James was breaking away from a tradition of blatant “screamers” and “ragers,” and creating ghosts that were eerie extensions of the everyday. The story is about a young governess that takes a position at the secluded Bly house to care for an orphaned brother and sister. The governess begins to see apparitions of the former governess that died under scandalous rumors, and another dead servant Quint, who’d terrorized the house and possibly sexually molested the boy and other servants. She becomes convinced the children can also see the ghosts and are being hunted by them. The stiff and formal language along with the unfamiliar mores of the time might be a barrier to a modern reader — but if you let it flow over you, an eerie and unsettling scene takes shape. Nothing is ever explicitly stated in the story, from the crimes of the deceased servants to whether the children can actually see the ghost, to what was the actual reality of the ending. The written word allows for an ambiguity and unresolved tension that allows scholars to still argue about what was real and what might have been madness. The questioning for answers is what makes the story so creepy and evocative. Well, that and the creepy kids. Apparently unnerving, creepy children are not a new idea.

10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

5. The Terror by Dan Simmons

In 1845 the Franklin Expedition, which consisted of 126 men on the two ship the H.M.S Erebus and H.M.S Terror, went to the Arctic circle in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. None of the men returned alive from this expedition. Dan Simmons blends historical fiction and horror to tell of the deaths of these men. The two ships are trapped in ice for years and as the supplies dwindle and go bad, madness and disease descend upon the crew. In the midst of the more mundane murder and cannibalism, a giant unknown beast begins stalking the men and killing them off in ones and twos. Simmons is masterful at setting a scene with a great attention to details that shows off his extensive research (though this tends to make for very long books). The book is a harrowing tale of survival horror builds fear with an inescapable environment and boosts of adrenaline from being hunted.

10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most Horror Movies

6. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft is difficult to pin down or talk about because of his cult like status, but it is hard to have a list of scary books and ignore him. He redefined what horror could be and influenced pop culture from Arkham Asylum to the Evil Dead movies. But whether you find his stories immediately frightening depends on your ability to take his dense prose. Some think his wordy descriptions paint an eerie and unsettling world. Some just find him tiresome. The development of the Cthulhu mythology is all about the lingering slow burn. Lovecraft often follows a pattern in his short stories: an educated man encounters an ancient horror so vast and beyond comprehension that he is driven mad by the mere thought or glimpse. Despite all of our civilization and education, we’re powerless pawns against a large brutal universe of half-glimpsed horrors. Despite being such a famous property, there hasn’t been much of an attempt to bring it to the big screen. There just isn’t much to see, instead the subtle and dense prose builds up a thick mythology of cosmic horror.

What would go on your scariest-read list?