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


Valentina R.
Valentina R3 years ago

I love a (good) horror film! Watched 500 so far, my favourites include:

I Am Legend
In The Mouth Of Madness
Event Horizon
Midnight Meat Train
The Deaths Of Ian Stone
The Mangler
Classics: Shining - Psycho - Poltergeist
Slashers: Wrong Turn - House Of Wax - Final Destination
Evil children: Case 39 - Children Of The Corn
Sagas: Hellraiser - Alien - Resident Evil - 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later
Remakes: The Haunting - The Crazies - Fright Night - The Thing - Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I recommend them all :-)

Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey4 years ago

When I was 18: The House By The Cemetery was the scariest movie I endured.

Later, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and The Return of the Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Sixth Sense has some scary scenes in it.

The terrible Anaconda because I had a huge fear of snakes, until I slowly lost the phobia, although I wouldn't want to be surrounded by snakes!

Brian de Castro
Brian de Castro4 years ago

John Carpenter's The Thing tops the list-the ultimate in alien terror!
Jaws-Spielberg's classic
King Kong-original and Jackson remake
Alien and Aliens
Dawn of the Dead-Romero's best (the remake was excellent too)
The Final Destination films
Brotherhood of the Wolf-French horror/fantasy hybrid
Cabin in the Woods-a more recent classic
Dead Alive-Peter Jackson splatterfest
Re-Animator-based on H.P. Lovecraft tale
The Exorcist-has to be on any top horror list
Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein-both classics

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

It's all about individual choice

donald Baumgartner

Love horror movies!!!!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

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

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M5 years ago

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.

Mark F.
Mark F5 years ago

Interesting theory and opinion.