Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why We Watch Scary Movies

There are many reasons why we watch scary movies.

Psychological research finds a strong correlation between the desire to watch suspenseful or scary entertainment and the viewer’s high need for physical arousal or excitement. So some of us watch scary films for the thrill of it. It's safe, so to speak, because we are watching it, not living it. The great master of horror, Alfred Hitchcock said, "People like to be scared when they feel safe."

Others may watch horror movies to root for old-fashioned virtues of morality and justice. Or to problem solve, by figuring out ways to escape terror. Or to revisit a trauma without having to relive it in real time. Then there are those who might watch to release their own aggressive or violent wishes in a more socially approachable way. By just watching it.

Research at King's College in London said that the key to a great scary movie is the balance between suspense and gore. If little is shown on screen it allows one's mind to invent the fright. According to the researchers, JAWS was the perfect scary movie because, "Steven Spielberg reached the optimum level perfectly allowing the viewer to see just enough blood to be scared of the Great White Shark, but not so much that it repulsed us."

Yeah, I agree. "Jaws" is at the top of my scariest movies list - and I haven't been in the ocean since seeing it in 1975.

So in the spirit of Halloween, what is your favorite scary movie?


Fallen Angels said...

My partner is a scary movie and gorey movie buff...and she does distinguish between the two. She also had not been in the ocean since 1975; until we went to Hawaii a couple years ago, something about the warm, clear water made it okay for her. Anyway...she owns at least 100 scary (and gorey) movies. I watch very few of them, but I do like the "Final Destination" series...although number 3 isn't as good as the first 2. There are a couple movies that my partner can only watch if she warns me first and then 1 she can't watch at all if I am's far too triggering for me. Just the music of the opening credits will freak me out!

Donna said...

I just can't watch them, so I don't have a favorite. I think the last scary movie I saw was "The Shining" but I read the book first, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been!

Ms.L said...

I adore The Watcher in the Woods:)
It's a Disney movie,lol but when I was a kid it scared the pants off me! It's deliciously creepy.
That's about it for me,not a big fan. I'd much rather laugh.

Scott said...

Personally, I hate scary movies. Not because they scare me, but beacuse I don't think it's wholesome to watch stuff like that. The only time I have enjoyed watching a scary movie at home was when I had a "freightened" gilrfriend sitting next to me on the couch. That just gave me an excuse to protect her.

alan said...

Mine would have to be the "Resident Evil" series. I don't do the "Saw" and "Freddy" ones...I just can't!

In R.E. I see so many parallels to companies in the news today that it adds much to the story.


Marj aka Thriver said...

I like suspense, mystery and "mind-ticklers," but I can't stand gore. I don't think I have a favorite scary movie.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

(this is a note in response to the comment you left me.... I knew there was a reason I liked you beyond your personality, wisdom and great writing skills, you're a Bruce fan too! That explains a lot ;) The show was great!)

PalmTreeChick said...

I'm not a big scary movie person. When I watch them, I cover my face with my hand and peek thru my fingers. I don't know why that makes me feel safer, my hand's not that big to hide behind.

Sarah said...

I love scary movies. . . I think my all time favorite is Pitch Black.

Happy Halloween, Dr. Deb!

Dreaming again said...

Don't like thrillers psychological drama's!

Heidi said...

I don't like to watch Scary movies.. The scariest one was Carrie! spolier:

OMG that hand coming out from the grave at the end!

Mel Avila Alarilla said...

My favorite scary movies are Horror of Dracula starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and The Exorcist 1. I was so scared when I first saw them. Now, I just laugh at myself whenever I see these movies again. Thanks for the wonderful post. Happy Halloween.

T said...

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, because I loved the whole court room trial aspect of it, and the science v. faith debate. Otherwise, though, like many of the folks here, I'm disturbed by horror movies and prefer psychological / suspense thrillers, and watch both through slightly parted, trembling fingers...!

Please stop by and check out my scary movie post at :)

east village idiot said...

Rear Window

The Lone Beader said...

I remember being scared when I watched Jaws, too.... I don't know if I have a favourite, but I know that I do like to watch scary movies when I have a cute guy next to me to make me feel safe. LOL.

Godwhacker said...

The original "Alien" movie ~ I was 14 years old when it came out. My mother was in a "health nut" phase, and at midnight after the movie she decided to pull the car over by an empty field and go for a jog. I was left standing in a dark field with nothing but the grim images from the movie running on in my head.

Thanks mom! But Jaws is a close second. I hate sharks.

Beth said...

That completely makes sense-the corellation between enjoying scary movies and need for higher arousal. I looove the real scary movies, but it's hard to get me scarred about much in real life.

"It" was probably the best scary movie. They just don't make them frightening enough today.

dawn said...

I don't really like scary movies, but I'll watch them once in a while. the scariest and most disturbing movie i've ever seen was Hostel. I had nightmares about that one for weeks.

Tai said...

I like "Christine". I don't think there even WAS any blood seen in that movie, it was just all pyschological fear.
And "The Blair Witch Project", for exactly the same reason.
No blood, it just allowed the viewer to fill with their imagination.
And as I've got a wicked imagination, it scared the beejesus outta me!

Lynn said...

I choked on an ice cube will watching JAWS! I don't watch many scary movies anymore unless I've already seen them. I like "The Village" and also I like "Misery".

In answer to your question at my place, yes, I think those birds are egrets or herons. There are different kinds, and I'm not sure what specific type those were. They were certainly captivating to be around.

Scott said...

Hi Dr. Deb,

I just wrote a post on how healthy people deal with a friend or family member coming down with a long-term illness.

Though I have no psychology training, I am just reflecting on what I see. What do you think?

Casdok said...

That was interesting. I love scarey movies!

IntelligentLayPerson said...

The occult has always bothered me. But to me the scariest movies are those which have a hint of 'could possibly happen' in them.

Like okay Freddy Kreuger doesn't scare me half as much as a psychopath in a movie like Misery or the Shining.

Crazy people scare the jeebers out of me.

I think one of the scariest movies ever is 'Ravenous'. It's about starving soldiers and cannibalism. *shudder* Frightening as all hell.

Ian Lidster said...

Two films: Psycho and Wait Until Dark do it for me. Nothing supernatural in both, but just human evil and stunning suspense of pants-wetting impact. Actress Janet Leigh said that ever since starring in Psycho she couldn't bring herself to shower in a hotel or motel, even though she knew her death was cinematic fakery, because she found the scene genuinely frightened her.
I agree with you about Jaws, too. But, I still think you should go in the ocean. I mean, what are the odds? Good post, Deb.

ellesu said...

Salem's Lot. I was just waiting on the sun to set and people to be caught in the town.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear FA,
Sounds like your partner is a great caretaker!

Dear Donna,
I often read suspense and thriller books, and reading the Shining helped before seeing it. Otherwise, I woulda been SO scared.

Dear Ms. L,
I never saw that one. I'll put it on my list.

Dear Scott,
HAving someone you love makes watching a scary movie safer. I so get that.

Dear Alan,
The gory stuff doesn't do it for me as it is too graphic. Resident Evil was GREAT! I can't wait to see the latest one.

Dear Marj,
A Scary movie in my definition has the ability to make me unnerved. So psychological thrillers, mysteries etc fall into that category for me. I love that film genre. Cut em up, bloddy yucky movies are not scary or suspensful to me either.

Dear Barbara,
The Boss rocks! Always did, always will.

Dear Palmtree,
LOL. I sometimes think that too.

Dear Sarah,
Pitch BLack was so good. Different in really didn't follow a movie formula.

Dear Dreaming,
I psychological dramas too. Have you seen "House of Cards". Good psychological suspense movie.

Dear Heidi,
Carrie still scares me. Even though I know the ending, I still jump.

Dear Mel,
As I mentioned on your blog, any Peter Cushing movie makes me frightened!

Dear T,
The E of Emily Rose was really scary to me. It was based on a true story, did you know that?

Dear EVI,
Ah, yes, the great Hitchcock gem!

Dear Lone,
Always important to never watch a scary movie alone. And to have someone you like/love nearby to hold.

Dear GW,
Egads, what a horrible and horrifying experience. I just can't imagine....

Dear Beth,
IT was another great one from Stephen King. He sure can create scary stories.

Dear Dawn,
I remember when you blogged about that movie. I never saw it because you said it scared you so much. And I'm glad that I didn't.

Dear Tai,
The Blair Witch is second on my list of scary movies. Nothing is shown, very Hitchcockian, and all is left up to one's imagination. Christine is another great one from Stephen King. He sure is a prolific writer.

Dear Lynn,
I was a teen when I saw Jaws, so I was very impressionable with the fear factor. I loved The Village and Misery as well. And thanks for the bird reference.

Dear Scott,
I'll be by in a while.

Dear Casdok,
In honor of Halloween, I thought it a timely post.

Dear Intelligent,
I also find that real things frighten me more because of the realistic possibility. So I'm with you on that.

Dear Ian,
Wait Until Dark is another gem. And that both films were in black and white add to the texture of good/bad. And yeah, I know what you mean about the odds. I guess next time the water is clear and see-throughable, I'll give it a go.

Dear Ellesu,
Salems Lot, another fine scary offering by Stephen King. He really is the King of Horror.


Carie said...

I love scary movies lol I have started my daughter on them, but only the very very mild ones lol, her favorites are Scream and When a Stranger Calls, she watches them over and over lol...

for me its Cujo lol...I have seen it like 500 times and it still freaks me out lol

Happy Halloween :)

T. said...

Hi again, Dr. Deb -

Yes, I did know The Exorcism of Emily rose was based on a true story, and I'm wondering if you can comment some time on the phenomenon of demonic possession - is there psych research / scientific literature out there about possible disorders that could explain the phenomenon, or are we outta luck with that?

Thanks! Love your blog!


STAG said...

The number one scary movie for me is "Saving Private Ryan". I think I nearly fainted during the bayonette fight. Not quite sure why....

When I was a kid, it was a movie called "Dr. Sardonicus". A little known movie, I know...but there were not ghosties and ghoulies, just a guy who had a permanent grin. There might even be a name for his condition...he got it when he saw his dead father in rigor...the muscles in his face had pulled back in a grin, and the "hero's" face went tight the same way. As I said, I was a kid at the time....

HP said...

I'm not really a scary movie type -way too chicken and I prefer a good laugh.

When I was at uni. I once skipped classes to go with a friend to see Nightmare on Elm Street. We were the only two in the theatre. That really heightened the experience. Never again!

Miranda said...

Great post. So true, to be terrified and safe at the same time. I always love a great scarey movie. I don't think I have a particular favorite one.

Though I may be a lil sick, lol I do seem to like the ones with the weird serial killers in them. Not so much the hack n slash ones like Halloween or Friday the thirteenth. But more like the Bone collector or taking lives. I think because those are very close to reality.

Jade said...

I'm not a watcher of scary movies. Life is scary enough, I have no desire to pay to be scared.

Dream Writer said...

I watched the "Exorcist" the other day and now it is no fun watching it because at my age I know it is fake. These movies even look fake sometimes.

But I still enjoyed it :)

Godwhacker said...

The rest of the story was that after a few minutes, I started running after her. That was the first time I really pushed myself running. I worked up to running 5 to 10 miles a few times a week, a habit that's benefited me greatly in life.

jumpinginpuddles said...


S'onnie said...

I don't watch scary movies because generally I have bad nightmares from them. However The funniest scary movie I have ever watched was one of Peter Jacksons which was Braindead. Its not really well known outside of New Zealand. Its a zombie movie and It definitly would not have been rated best scary movie ever as there was way way way too much blood and gore. Half the theatre walked out! Of course it got to a point where it was just too rediculous for words and at that point it moved past scary to being funny.

Of course the fact that it was based in the city I live in and in places I go to made it worse in the beginning. They filmed in the zoo and for ages after I would walk past those particular cages and would be like... ooh this is where it all started!!!

astrorat said...

Deb i am back :) I don’t like scary movies. They come back to haunt me at night. However, i not introverted either (ie. need for arousal).
I would rather bungee jump than watch a scary movie! For preference, i love the Simpson’s :D

Midwife with a Knife said...

I'm not a real scary movie person. I do like the suspense movies sometimes. I have to say that "Misery" was one of my favorite movies of all time, and it's sort of both a scary and suspense movie.

kath said...

When I was a kid.. Thirteen Ghosts, the original was the scariest one.. as well as my favorite one.
The remake doesn't come close to it, although these days the effects are not as scary as they were to me back then.

Besides,since seeing that movie the first time, I got to know a few ghosts personally.. so again.. not so scary.

The scariest movie to me these dys? Poltergeist. The first one. I hate it, it scares the bejeebers out of me... but if I come across it on tv I watch it every time.

Not a lot scares me. as least not the run of the mill scary movies..
the evening news and CNN scare the crap out of me though...

Candace said...

I don't like scary movies. Scary books, now ... um, The Exorcist. The movie didn't do it justice, not even close.

D said...

I havent bothered watching scarey movies for years. Movies that scared me in my time were "Children of the Corn", "Misery" , "The beast with 5 fingers." I watched them for a buzz I think at the time. These days I dont want to be scared.

Parts of certain books will scare me, from those authors such as Tess Gerritson or early James Patterson or Niki French.

Angel Chasse said...

Hey Dr Deb!
It seems the times they are a changin' for me. I used to watch every scary or gory movie I could find. Now at 29 years old, for some reason.. no more.. I suppose there is wisdom in that for me, because the scarier the movie, the more chance now that it will pop up in my dreams at night...

Now, drama, and suspense, that is a totally different story :)

Take care! *hugs*

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Carie,

Yeah, Cujo is another great STephen King great one.

Dear T,
I don't know much about it in the research but will do some looking into it.

Dear Stag,
The scene you talk about in "Ryan" was a very upsetting and frigthening scene, I so agree. I recall feeling breathless by the violence of it all. I still see that scene in my mind at times, which tells me that I was traumatized by it. As for the other movie, it sounds terrifying, especially to view it as a child.

Dear HP,
I don't like the Nightmare movies - too slasher-gory for me. And to watch it with such an empty theatre would've been too much for me too. I like suspense, mystery and the kind of scary that doesn't "show" you things.

Dear Miranda,
Movies with reality are way more frightening than those of fantasy. I so agree.

Dear Jade,
I can respect that. I bet you like comedies more. Lighthearted fare.

Dear Dream,
I know, watching the oldies now can make me laugh a bit - at how "fake" the special effects are. I guess technology has made us snobs in that realm!

Dear GW,
Wow, that is what I call motivation and great ability. I wish I could do that!

Dear JIP,
For what?

Dear S'Onnie,
I didn't know about the PEter Jackson one. I'm gonna try to see it.

Dear Astro,
I could NEVER bungee jump. Totally too terrifiying. But I get what you mean, lol!

Dear MWAK,
I thought Misery was a terrifying read. And I thought it translated well to the screen.

Dear KAth,
I'm with you about the news and all. In fact, I just wrote a paper that will be published in "Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy" journal about how scary news is nowadays. Never saw the orginal Thirteen Ghosts. Am putting it on my list.

Dear Candace,
Reading books is always a more personal experience than viewing a movie - at least imo. And yes, many of the books I've read were far more suspenseful, etc. in words than in the cinema.

Dear d,
There are excerpts or sentences from books that give me a chill, or a thrill too.

Dear Angel,
I never liked the gory stuff, but I do enjoy suspense, mystery, thriller and the occasional horror movie that isn't graphic. My taste in movies has changed over the course of time too. I think age and experience do offer us wisdom and such.


Rose said...

I am weird. I can not stand scarry movies. I remember watching the original When A Stranger Calls in the 80's. I was never the same after that. Scarry stuff sticks with me and keeps me scarred for months after. I don't know what it all means. But if it is scary and bloody, you will never see me watching it. I am totally a comedy and drama person.

Anonymous said...

i like scary movies cuz...well
i dnt really noe y. my fav scary
movie is..."Fear of the dark" and
"Dead silence".