Horror films, books, and attractions are a large part of the entertainment industry, and it’s for a very obvious reason; they make money. What isn’t clear is why they make so much money. What is the appeal of gory murder scenes, predictable plotlines, and stereotypical characters?
Every year, people make trips to haunted houses, corn mazes, and other attractions with all sorts of scary costumes for Halloween, spooky decorations and sounds, and of course, as many elements of surprise as feasible.
Many studies have focused on what makes horror as entertainment appealing to the human mind. There are many theories, and the trends change through different mediums. The appeal of horror novels differs from that of films, partially because of the differences in the mediums themselves.
Many of the most successful box-office horror films are based on novels. The Exorcist is one of these, as is Rosemary’s Baby. Though both deal with Catholicism and an exorcism, only Rosemary’s Baby was condemned by the Catholic Church.
The book version of The Exorcist was purportedly based on true events. The novel focused on the “life affirming” theory that if pure evil exists, pure good must as well. The movie takes a different approach, as it caters to a different audience. At the end of the film, the audience is tempted to believe that the demon is victorious over the priests.
Horror novels thrive off of suspense and hope. It is hard to tell character motivations and fates in novels. Why would a book lean toward a happier ending than a film? How does the mind process these mediums differently?
While books are processed completely in the mind, films incorporate the senses of sight and sound. Horror films are known for being predictable and rather cheesy. The horror is not real. You usually know who is going to die, the bad guy is completely evil without cause, and the blood is not believable at all. Horror films can be wildly successful even if they aren’t well-made. People don’t watch horror films for quality; they watch them for cheap thrills.
Horror attractions such as haunted mazes and mansions utilize both aspects of horror that novels and films do. They have unreal, outrageous designs, but many try to maintain realistic qualities. They also use the sense of suspense and surprise present in horror literature. There may be some cheap thrills, but they are framed around suspense rather than predictability.
Horror and the Human Mind
Science has not yet explained all of the intricacies of the human mind when it comes to horror. Perhaps the appeal comes in the form of escapism; fictional horror allows a release of tension without putting you in real danger. There may be some aspect of horror that is intensely fascinating, like high school girls going after bad boys; danger is appealing.
Do you enjoy the horror genre of entertainment? Why or why not?