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The Horror Genre’s Attractive Characteristics

Before researching the psychological appeal of the horror genre, I had only viewed the horror genre in cinema as something I enjoyed because I wanted to be frightened and never thought much afterwards. Upon researching the topic, I’ve found out many things as to what makes the genre so pleasing to the average viewer.

I’ve learned that in the past, until the 1970’s, that there were censors in the director’s work when the film was released (Calhoun 29). Obviously, this would only make the film dull, but in the last few decades the worry of which scenes and lines were to be censored are no longer a worry. Although the special effects, scenes, and lines were dramatically different compared to today the genre thrived with the greatest films that were released during the 70’s (Halloween, The Exorcist, Jaws, Carrie, Alien, etc.). These days, many enjoy the old and the new. The old films were usually the ones that gave us, kids at the time, nightmares when the censored version came on TV, while the new ones were always trying to top the other, using new, unique tactics that would, hopefully, give us a good scare.

And that’s the point of the horror genre: To give us, the viewers, not only a scare, but one that could leave us a mental scar for a few hours or more. Like other genres, the horror films have broken down over the years, splitting into different subgenres such as splatter, psychological, supernatural, comedy, slasher, sci-fi, etc. Although there are many, I’ll focus only on two main, subgenres: psychological and splatter. These two subgenres are meant to terrify the audience, but have different methods of doing so. Splatter films, or gore films, are bloody, violent films that are meant to make the viewer uncomfortable and, if they’re that grotesque, look away from the screen. Due to the sheer violence of the films, they are often referred to as torture porn, which was very popular during the 2000’s (Covert 1). When one hears the term horror, images of killers, monsters, and death usually appear in one’s mind, but during the decade of gore the idea of horror was thought of as nothing as pure torturous death. The psychological subgenre, on the other hand, has a dramatic lack of gore. For example, the Paranormal Activity series (Rated R) and the trilogy of Insidious (PG-13) have very little blood and no guts, yet they were still considered to be just as terrifying. Why? The horror genre tends to “go through phases” – Each decade, there was always a new form of horror, either a genre or the topic it revolved around (Covert 1). During each period, the horror genre revolves what people are afraid of during that time frame. It could be anything ranging from serial killers to haunted artifacts.

Back to the psychological aspect, why is it that we enjoy watching horror films? To find out, I came across an article that included actors of the genre being interviewed. They were asked about their personal experiences with the genre in the past and present. Most answered with their earliest exposure to the genre was when they were kids. “A single viewing of Stephen King’s IT [1990] not only soured Bennett on scary movies, it also caused a flurry of redecoration in her childhood bedroom” (Rachel 5). For most, the first exposure to the genre always ended the same way: nightmares. As adults, we’ve become somewhat of a masochist/sadist when it comes to watching one. One feels a sense of gratification when they see the antagonist die a brutal death and even a feeling of joy afterwards, but only if the film was successful in terrifying the viewer. According to Stephen King, one of the greatest horror writers there is, says that we pay to watch these films because it “makes you [feel like] a child again” (Covert 1). The fear, the weakness in one’s knees, and the inescapable fact that death exists is one of the few things have in common with children. As adults, we’re accustomed to dealing with things our own way and having to accept the consequences, but when it comes to horror films, all that flies out the window. We feel as small and vulnerable as a child, and that is what the viewer enjoys.

In conclusion, I’ve learned more about the horror genre and why we enjoy them. The history of the genre, the comparison of the subgenres, and their appeals. Because of their appeals, no matter the age, gender, or race, the average person feels the same result when it comes to watching one.

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