Creative, Film, Opinion

Opinion: Why do we like horror?

1 400

By Emily Jones


Halloween looms. Friday the 13th has been on Film4 about ten times already this month, and Waterstones has a whole display dedicated to any story featuring a killer clown, a vengeful ghost or a lonely house at the end of the street. But, what makes us watch for the tenth time? And why do we like being scared?

To answer that question, perhaps it’s worth asking: what scares us? We most commonly fear things like heights, spiders, public speaking and enclosed spaces. Yet, most of us can watch people do bungee jumps, we can deal with the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) when the walls start closing in, and if we have to, we can stand up in class or in work and speak to a group of people.

Fear is a strange concept, because in the back of our minds – in most cases – we know that whatever is making us afraid can’t actually hurt us. So, why do we indulge in stories that are designed to terrify? Do we read horror stories in order to prepare ourselves for a world of our own being filled with horror? Do we engage with it to reinforce a primal idea for us as humans, to be afraid, and to steer clear from things that could hurt us? Do we like having somewhere we can put all our fears into one place, and only let them out on our own accord? Personally, I think the latter.

There’s an excitement in the cinema before the lights go out. I know because I feel it every time I go and see the newest horror film, almost giddy about the fact that for the next two hours I’m going to be squeezing my friend’s hand tight and hiding behind my coat. Because even though we’re terrified, we’re not actually in any danger. We’re in charge. We could walk out if we wanted to, and we can choose to never think about it ever again.

Stephen King wrote in his essay ‘Why We Crave Horror Movies’ that “some people go to horror movies to re-establish some sense of normality; some people watch them because they like to have fun and some just simply to prove to others that they can.” Each of these reasons exudes a sense of control over the act. You can turn off the TV or put the book down, and in that simple act, you have defeated all the monsters you had been reading about. And in doing that, all your own worries and fears live inside these stories too. 

Maybe we have this affliction to horror because it is the antithesis of everyday life. We are not faced with blood-sucking vampires, house-sized spiders or exorcisms. Most of us live rather mundanely – we go to work, we come home, we eat tea and we go to sleep. Opening ourselves up to horror allows us to see our real lives more clearly. That’s the idea, right? Horror is supposed to project to us the defects of society (with some decapitations and haunting messages written in blood on the walls thrown in for good measure). 

Horror has this trope of reflecting our cultural fears in a much gorier way to distract from the terrifying reality of the state of our society. The ways in which horror films are created are very similar to how our brains work when watching them. It’s clever really. We can store our rational fears away with the irrational ones, and that allows us to be able to understand them better.

In the words of John Carpenter, “we’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me.” Horror is such a powerful genre – it allows us to explore so much of our own psyche without really thinking about it much at all. Perhaps that’s why we like it. Not only is it entertaining, but in all the ways it doesn’t make sense, it also sort of does. It’s an enigma of life.

We were all taught to face our fears as children. We were encouraged to not only watch the bungee jumps but do them. Reading a horror book, or going to see the new Jordan Peele is kind of like that. King sums it up, “the thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”

About the author / 

Emily Jones

1 Comment

  1. Beti 31st October 2019 at 4:02 pm -  Reply

    Wow!!! This is so true. Love this

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More News Stories:

  • Opinion: “Our real legacy at university is the friends we make along the way”

    We all prioritise different things in life: our relationships, academic achievement, and financial success. While these can be great catalysts for short and long-term goals, making us resilient,  fixating on these goals can become overwhelming, even detrimental. Focusing on what we feel we have to achieve can make it easy to lose sight of the present. This also applies to university life.

  • Reading and Leeds Festival 2024: The best bands to see this year

    Featured image: Georgina Hurdsfield Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of choice on offer at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’ve trawled the lineups to bring you a cluster of acts to watch on the August bank holiday weekend. From jungle to riotous punk, there’s a bounty of brilliant bands…

  • Film Review: The Idea of You – A sappy feel-good rom-com

    Featured image: PA Media In this sappy, heart-warming rom-com, two lovers meet at Coachella as Solène (Anne Hathaway) takes her daughter to a meet and greet at the Californian music festival. Known for her iconic roles in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Princess Diaries (2001), Hathaway plays the role of a 40-year-old divorcee…

  • Travel: Tips for multi-country trips abroad while keeping your bank account happy

    Featured image: Georgia Pearson The summer break from university is approaching and conversations about travel plans can be heard across campus. But with the cost of living at a high, students and young people are looking for cheaper ways to travel this summer. Travelling to multiple countries during one trip can be a budget-friendly way…