This past weekend my friends and I sitting around stalking people on Facebook, wishing we didn’t live in Arizona and had something better to do on a Saturday night.
After a lull in the conversation, one of them started talking excitedly about how 13th Floor, one of the most terrifying haunted houses in the nation, had just come to Arizona.
Within 20 minutes, we were all piled into a car and on our way to North Phoenix. We could feel the adrenaline building in our veins as we approached our destination as we alternated backing out and thinking it was going to be cheesy.
When we arrived, hundreds of people of all ages were waiting in line, willfully submitting themselves to terror. In fact, we were all paying to be scared out of our wits.
It would seem a normal human response to avoid such seemingly pernicious situations, but the entertainment industry demonstrates just the opposite.
“Paranormal Activity,” a supernatural horror film that has gained an alarming amount of popularity, has earned a total international gross of nearly $200 million for its first installment of a now 3-part series with the third coming out this Thursday.
Sir Alfred Hitchock, a deceased British film producer and director, is often referred to as the “Master of Suspense.”
In reading his article, “The Enjoyment of Fear,” it is easy to see why he is so accredited with pioneering the use of terror and suspense for entertainment value. He writes, “For every person who seeks fear in the real or personal sense, millions seek it vicariously, in the theater and in the cinema. In darkened auditoriums they identify themselves with fictitious characters who are experiencing fear, and experience, themselves, the same fear sensations, but without paying the price.”
That last part there is key. Having the audience know in the back of their minds that they will not meet a horrible fate allows them to enjoy the thrill of fear without actually putting themselves at risk.
There is more to watching horror movies than just thrill, though.
The truth is, we are all afraid. When we are all alone at night, that all-too-familiar sense of dread infects our minds and we cannot help but be on edge.
The subtlest noise becomes an axe murderer; the walk to the bathroom seems impossibly far. How many times have you thrown back the shower curtain to assure yourself that there is in fact no maniacal serial killer waiting for you?
Paying for terror, then, is almost a way of processing how you would respond in those seemingly impossible situations.
With horror movies, haunted houses, and the like, people get to experience the adrenaline rush of fear without even the possibility of dealing with the consequences.
Some would argue, however, that submitting to such an experience is nefarious to the psyche.
People need to remember that it really is just a movie and bloodthirsty zombies don’t exist… yet.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org