Feature Archive

Why We Love Scary Movies

Horror films are more graphic than ever. Why do we watch, and what do scary movies do to us?

By Richard Sine
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Halloween is nigh, and along with the parade of adorable elves and fairies knocking on your door come some more disturbing phenomena: scary haunted houses, wild parties and, perhaps most jarringly, a new onslaught of ghastly horror films. This year the biggest new release will be Saw IV, the fourth installment of a tale of a psycho who delights in putting his victims through ever more elaborate and deadly traps.

Scary movies are nothing new, but films like those in the Saw and Hostel series have offered something different: They focus less on the suspense of the chase and moreon the suffering of the victim, leading some to dub them "torture porn." They feature levels of gore and violence once reserved for cult films. And despite the extreme gore, they're attracting big crowds at your local megaplex -- and may already be loaded into your teenager's DVD player.

If you're not a horror movie fan, you may be puzzled about why people put themselves through the ordeal of watching such movies. Many behavioral researchers share your puzzlement, giving rise to a term: the "horror paradox."

"No doubt, there's something really powerful that brings people to watch these things, because it's not logical," Joanne Cantor, PhD, director of the Center for Communication Research at University of Wisconsin, Madison, tells WebMD. "Most people like to experience pleasant emotions."