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How Horror Movies Help Us Face Our Fears

How Horror Movies Help Us Face Our Fears

You’re home alone when the storm hits. The lights flicker, then everything fades to black. That’s when you hear the unmistakable sound of someone — or something — trying to claw its way in. But it’s the maniacal laugh that sends you over the edge, and you freeze in your tracks, unable to move. You’re trapped and the monster is coming for you. But you like to be scared, don’t you? The question is, why?

Could it be that horror helps us face our fears?

“The horror genre addresses our archetypal fears,” says Paul J. Patterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and co-director of Medieval, Renaissance and Reformation Studies at Saint Joseph’s University. “You can see throughout history how each generation has defined ‘horror,’ and it turns largely on the idea of something outside of our understanding threatening us. Books and films allow us to imagine or experience our desire to defeat what is hunting and haunting us on a splashy canvas.”

Fear of the Unknown

What about horror flicks that don’t have that satisfying ending? “Films that leave the viewer with no resolution are often more frightening than those that give us a set resolution,” Dr. Patterson tells Care2. “One of the greatest fears many people face is the fear of the unknown. When our imaginations are left to their own devices, they are often more frightening than any image we see on the screen.”

The films that may help us face our fears are unique to each viewer. “I have students who love films filled with gore while others can barely stand to watch those films. For me, the psychological films, such as those by Hitchcock and others in his tradition, are far more fascinating and suspenseful than any of the slasher films.”

What about the children?

For some of us, it just may be that we need a little action in our otherwise uneventful lives. We adults are free to watch movies that stoke our fears and take our chances with nightmares, but what about children? Are horror films ever appropriate for the under age 12 crowd?

Patterson’s two children are under 12 and he says they’re just learning how much fun it is to be scared. “Being scared in a controlled setting is important to our experience as humans. It helps us to understand ourselves, what moves us, and what we can withstand. So, yes, I do think some films are appropriate for kids, but I would say only the films that are directed at kids. There are some wonderful children’s horror/scary movies such as A Nightmare Before Christmas; Para-Norman, etc. I wouldn’t let my kids watch a horror film made for adults. They wouldn’t sleep for weeks!”

What’s your favorite horror movie?

I couldn’t resist asking Patterson about his own favorite horror movies. “I love films that delve into psychological horror much more than slasher films. A film such as The Blair Witch Project, which never really shows you what is terrorizing the young protagonists is much more frightening than the watching the gore of an Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Those films are important to the genre, however, and they tap into primal fears as well.”

What’s your favorite horror movie?

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Photos: iStock/Thinkstock

Read more: Anxiety, Family, Fun, Halloween, Holidays, Life, Mental Wellness, Stress,

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5:11AM PDT on Oct 6, 2014


5:11AM PDT on Oct 6, 2014


5:02AM PDT on Oct 6, 2014

It's all about individual choice

3:13PM PDT on Aug 29, 2014

Love horror movies!!!!

8:05PM PST on Nov 23, 2013

I love them.. psych thrillers are best! and true crime :)

6:59AM PST on Nov 10, 2013

Really? I can no longer watch graphic, gory, blood-splattered movies. This is too much violence for any age. But, yes, anything that touches on the super-normal ( new term for supernatural) is ,to me, entertaining and yes, can confront fears of the unknown, or help one who dabbles in this area. The Blair Witch did nothing for me. The new series Sleepy Hollow is entertaining, The Mentalist makes me think. Bloody and gory- watch the Vampire Diaries. The series Charmed tops my list.
Well- I am not sure if these series is relevant to your article. As mentioned, one thing to face fear, another to be de-sensitized by it.

10:19AM PST on Nov 6, 2013

Interesting theory and opinion.

11:13AM PST on Nov 5, 2013

From my earliest memory to the present: Don and I CAN! :-))

The Mummy
The Thing (from Outer space)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Night of the Living Dead
The Exorcist

2:14PM PST on Nov 4, 2013

It's an interesting way to get up your adrenaline without the physical danger. I prefer psychological horror films to the gory ones. Thanks.

12:58PM PST on Nov 3, 2013

The only scary movies I don't watch are the obvious blood,guts, slasher movies or anything associated with the devil.
My keychain sports a tiny, "little green man" that glows in the dark!
I thought of more scary movies: All of the Alien movies especially the first 2,Jeepers Creepers and The Howling! Brrrrrrrrrrrr!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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