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Can Watching Horror Movies Help Us Get Over Our Fears?

Horror movies for stress or pleasure?Do you love horror films, or do they keep you up for several days afterwards? The way I see it, in October you fall into either one of two camps: the ones who love the fear and gore of Halloween, or the ones who avoid haunted houses and hayrides at all costs.

In case you were wondering, I fall into the latter camp of those who avoid ghosts, gore, haunting, and horror whenever possible. Even as a little kid, each year when my family watched The Wizard of Oz, I would magically find a reason to leave the room whenever the Wicked Witch of the West appeared on the television screen. For me, facing fears does not relieve stress. Instead, it creates a deeper fear of the unknown.

Oh, come on. It’s not like I am neurotic. I just prefer to watch comedies or action movies over horror films, okay?

It seems that I may be one of the few who prefer not to face those fears. Many people thrive on facing their fears through a genre of books, television shows, and movies as a fictitious means to defeat whatever it is that truly haunts them. The horror movie genre continues to hold its own each and every year, with over $430,000,000 in gross ticket sales this year. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $1.96 billion (that was with a “b”) on Halloween decorations, such as skeletons, cobwebs, and other haunted home embellishments.

According to Paul J. Patterson, a Ph.D. and co-director of Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation Studies, films that confront what scares us is not a new phenomenon, and it seems to vary by generation. His students at Saint Joseph’s University actually register and come to his class each semester to study Horror in Literature and Film.

People who enjoy horror films have various reasons for watching them, such as a need for excitement, stimulation, or arousal. For others, it may be more subliminal, such as a need to feel intense emotions or to be distracted from everything else for just a little while. Some viewers may simply want to prove that he or she can handle seeing the images and overcoming the fear. Not surprisingly, those tend to be the same ones who feel a huge sigh of relief when the movie is over.

The good news for those of us who do not enjoy horror movies is that if we must watch them, at least we are burning calories in the process. A study out of the University of Warminster in the UK found that a viewer’s number of calories burned was one-third higher than average while watching horror films. That may be worth watching a horror movie, or not.

So what is in store for horror-lovers next?

Since 9/11, there has been more torture in film and television, as well as diseases/outbreaks. These themes are based on current real-life fears and news events in some way. And the new trend in pop culture horror is death personified as zombies. Patterson says that it is hard to predict what will be the next wave of fears, but that it could possibly be related to technology going too far, or the anonymity that technology affords backfiring on us. We have seen some of that happening already in action films. Perhaps it will move more into the horror genre with even scarier consequences.

Makes sense to me, though I still will not be watching. What about you?

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