Core Decorum: Horror Movies

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Aristotle discusses the purpose of tragedy in his “Poetics.” He writes that tragedies and comedies are useful in the sense that they invoke joy, fear or pity in us; they provide a catharsis for our emotions.  

When we watch a comedy, we laugh. When we watch a tragedy, we may cry. With a tragedy, we feel emotions of fear or pity throughout the course of the movie but we come out on the other side feeling as though we have overcome or conquered our emotions.

During a comedy, we cleanse ourselves vocally through laughter. We come out of the experience feeling joyful. During a tragedy or drama, we experience sorrow and pity for the characters and essentially purge ourselves of those emotions and find ourselves refreshed afterwards.

However, horror movies are curious in this respect. Often people claim that they watch a scary movie for a cathartic experience, but unlike comedies or dramas, the sensations provoked during a scary movie linger far after the movie is finished.

After watching a scary movie, we find ourselves jumpy and anxious. Often horror movies keep us up at night and infect our dreams. It seems to me that horror movies are the exact opposite of catharsis; rather, they fill us with new terrors and fears.

Why do we feel compelled to watch scary movies? One reason could be to test our limits and see just how far we can handle graphic scenes or psychological terrors before having to turn away or turn it off. Another reason could be to cure boredom; if we find ourselves feeling bored, we might watch a scary movie to provoke our sensations.

Some people watch horror movies to appreciate the director’s genius. A good horror movie is absent of cheap tricks. A good horror movie is defined by the fine details and the little parts that make the movie seem more believable and like something that could happen to us.

Whatever your reason for watching horror movies, test your limits this Halloween weekend and indulge in some thrillers.

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