Scream, yell, jump out of your seat or throw your popcorn or pet Chihuahua in the air. A good scare is something a lot of us actually seek out rather than avoid. I’m not talking about a blood and organ-splattered gross-out fest here, but rather an old-fashioned, spine-chilling shock to the nervous system.
Why do we — or those living among us who aren’t chicken — crave something that distresses us to such a heightened degree? An entire film industry is built upon the fact that a substantial portion of the movie-going public actually wants to be frightened, upset and surprised.
Theories ranging from a macabre fascination with our own mortality, to the boasting rights of being able to “endure” the terror of a scary movie to the simple explanation that some brains enjoy the sensation of fear more than others have been offered up as to why the gruesome and truly frightening allure us so.
A more basic reason could lie in the pure, biochemical pleasure that comes from being scared out of your pants. (Always good to be scared out of you clothing if you’ve just dropped a fear-induced deuce into your shorts.)
David Zald, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, has looked into this topic and found evidence that some people derive more pleasure from the release of the hormone dopamine than others. In essence, men and women who don’t have “brakes” on their dopamine response system will get more enjoyment out of a thrilling or terrifying experience.
A scary movie is the perfect “drug” for folks who get off on fright. The viewer can experience an adrenaline rush from a surprise or scare, as well as an ongoing neurochemical releases stemming from the underlying fear (if the movie is doing its job), yet the horror film fan can rest assured that no actual, life-threatening danger is heading his or her way. Scares bundled up in a neat cinematic package — minus the harmful or fatal consequences suffered when you have to run away from a killer with a chainsaw in real life — are a hell of a lot easier to enjoy when you know you’re not about to die.
Keeping with theme of a good fright, I thought I’d leave you with a short film entitled “Lights Out,” which won the best director award from the Bloody Cuts Short Film Horror Challenge. While there’s absolutely no gore in this film, I’d be willing to bet that this little gem will scare the crap out of you in two minutes or less. I suggest you watch it right before you go to bed.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.