The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Grudge, Psycho, Silence of the lambs, The Shining and Poltergeist. These are all classic horror movies that have stood the length of time as the best horror movies in history. Now, I understand that most people don’t like to be scared and have the hairs on the back of their neck rise in anticipation for what comes next, but I personally like horror movies and need vent about how sh*t they’ve gotten.
Getting straight to the point here, horror movies aren’t what they used to be so they’re not benefiting the Film and TV Industry in the way that they are fully capable of. As the sixth highest grossing genre, horror isn’t the most popular genre of movies but in terms of profitability…that’s another story.
According to Nash Information Services, the horror genre brings in a $400 million revenue at the box office each year. In regards to ticket sales and market share across the movie genre’s, horror is slowly but surely gaining an audience. So why doesn’t the movie industry acknowledge and accept these statistics as reasoning to create more spine-chilling entertainment?
I’ll tell ya why…the genre just isn’t mainstream enough yet. Trying to find other people to watch horror movies with is a nightmare (excuse the pun) plus, when a horror movie is released and I want to watch it, I’m usually disappointed with the lack of actual horror in it. I recently went to watch IT with a couple of old work colleagues that I knew enjoyed horror movies. I previously watched the 1990’s IT with Tim Curry as Pennywise which I found to be more weird than scary so I was really hoping that the remake would have me covering my eyes in fear…much to my dismay, I laughed through majority of it.
Although I was laughing at the time, I wasn’t as satisfied with the ‘horror’ I had just viewed compared to when I watched The Conjuring at 1am in my old house with windows everywhere all alone…a story for another time. I am still quite disappointed now, that IT wasn’t the horror movie I had envisaged and now I wonder why horror movies just don’t make the cut for me anymore (again, excuse the pun). Even though, I personally, was disappointed in the lack of horror, IT earned a milestone achievement for horror movies as the genre’s highest grossing title of all time surpassing the 1973 classic The Exorcist.
Horror films are proven to be Hollywood’s best bet in terms of turning a profit. The 2013 Universal production The Purge cost $3 million to make and earned $78 million at the global box office. That’s 26 times the movie’s production cost!! Another example is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre which cost $140,000 to make and grossed $26 million. These are just two examples of the true potential of horror movies, there are plenty more including Saw, Friday the 13th, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and The Evil Dead.
These statistics though, still don’t explain why Hollywood won’t create more horrifying entertainment…so maybe it’s time to look at the psychology behind the audiences of horror movies. Research by Christof Koch revealed that the right amygdala (responsible for the response and memory of fear) responds more vigorously to images of animals rather than people, landmarks or objects. Brain scan research in 2010 by Thomas Straube at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena revealed that horror movies don’t actually activate fear responses in the amygdala at all, instead it was the Visual Cortex, Insular Cortex, Thalamus and the Dorsal Medial both prefrontal and cortex that were stimulated.
In 2014, a 17-page study conducted by Tom Robinson, Clark Callahan and Keith Evans from Brigham Young University aimed to identify why horror fans are attracted to horror movies. The study’s main finding was that horror fans can be split into 3 categories:
1. Adrenaline junkies: the stereotypical sensation-seeker
2. White knucklers: who get scared and have nightmares but love watching horror movies (me)
3. Detectives: who see horror movies as an intellectual experience where they try to figure out the plot
In regards to what happens whilst we watch a horror movie and the after effects, the Emotion Theories should be discussed. Our emotions are individually subjective therefore people can have different reactions to the same thing. For example: I get emotional whenever anything bad happens to an animal whereas my grandma doesn’t, she feels bad if something happens to a human (Weird, right?).
There are various theories that have been put forward to try and explain our emotional experiences. The James-Lange theory asserts that emotions arise from a physiological arousal (you see a snake, your heart rate increases then your flight or fight response kicks in). The Cannon-Bard theory states that emotional experience occurs when your fight or flight response and physiological arousal is simultaneous.
An AP psychology teacher Heidi Mathers from the U.S. states that
“Desensitization to violence and other things that may [occur] when with watching movies”
For example, if you’re afraid of clowns, exposing yourself to horror movies about clowns may help ease your fear because you are being continuously exposed to it. Psychologist and Professor, Tom G. Stevens appears to agree with Mathers statement as he is the head of an educative website with Self-Desensitization Instructions.
The relevance of these findings to the horror genre are quite significant as it’s important to know and understand your audience before you begin any project, let alone a horror movie. Looking back to the earlier point I made about the production costs vs. earnings, it really helps shed light on a dark topic (100% on purpose that one). Without the further research conducted on the psychology of the horror audience, the genre wouldn’t be what it is today.
Even though, I’m not impressed by modern horror movies, I still appreciate the regular 5 or so that are released on a global scale. I may not be horror-fied (I’m sorry, I had to) but at least I have some form of entertainment other than hanging out with my imaginary friend Toby.
Just joking guys, I don’t have an imaginary friend called Toby…his name is Steve. Oh and if you’re slightly creeped out after reading this article here’s a YouTube video of funny animal videos 🙂