‘Oh, the horror!’ – the effects of watching horror movies

Photo by Jose Francisco Morales on Unsplash

With Halloween this week and Covid-19 halting all trick-or-treating plans, it’s only fitting to stay in and watch a scary film. But what are the benefits of watching horror movies and what makes them enjoyable?

Many of the obvious effects revolve around the release of adrenaline from feeling scared or threatened. Hearts beat faster, palms start sweating and minds begin to race with irrational thoughts. 

The majority will agree that horror movies bring the possibility for nightmares and sleepless nights. They’ll say they see no benefits from watching and will believe those that enjoy horror to be insane. 

But there may be an explanation as to why some hide behind the sofa and others watch in fascination. 

All of the effects of horror movies stem from the brain. It’s our ability to deal with the ‘fight or flight’ response and rationalise reality. 

This video explains the brain’s reaction in more detail:

Credit: USA Today, Youtube

But it can go even deeper than this. 

It’s been shown that enjoying a horror movie can also be down to personal or emotional factors. For example, childhood memories, fighting fears and seeking escape. 

Speaking to horror fanatic, Stuart Noble, he opened up as to the reasons why he loves horror movies so much and how he came to enjoy them: 

“My earliest memories stem from the age of three verging on four [with my Dad] sitting in my bedroom with an old audio cassette recorder, a packet of twiglets and his compulsory glass of whiskey. He was reading/enacting the horror story ‘The Graveyard Rats’ by Henry Kuttner.

“Rather than being scared witless and offended by scary subject matter (and of course, the growing level of gore on the show), I found the material extremely exciting to watch. I became fascinated and in awe of film, as a medium, in which to portray things so fantastical and other-worldly, and so far removed from what is the accepted norm.” 

It’s worth noting that although he was exposed to horror from a young age, BBFC ratings are there for a reason. 

Much like Stuart, many horror fans also use these movies to benefit their mental health. 

Horror fan Kylie Brennan said: “Watching horror movies helps my everyday anxiety. Sometimes I put them on either because I want that focus shift or I know them well enough and generally enjoy them because I know what’s coming.”

Alongside this, Forbes suggests that other mental health benefits include good stress release, elevating mood and creating a sense of accomplishment. 

For some, conquering fear through a movie brings a huge wave of satisfaction. It boosts their mood and makes them feel stronger mentally. For others, horror movies allow them to release stress by submerging themselves in the film. Or in other cases, switching off from reality. 

But, of course, it can go the other way. We are all different and our minds work differently. Watching a horror movie may cause stress and anxiety, resulting in long-lasting effects on associations with scary movies. 

However, this shouldn’t be a reason not to give them a go. If you’ve never watched a scary movie then how do you know what effect you’ll have?

Horror fan Pierce Kelly said: “I think more people should give them a chance, it’s always good to push your comfort zone and see what challenges you.” 

“As the old saying goes, a scare a day keeps the doctor away!” – Stuart Noble

If you’re a first-time horror viewer, the advice is to choose your film wisely. Maybe start with something tamer and watch it with other people in the room. If you jump in too deep, too quickly, you may find it overwhelming and be put off watching another one ever again. 

Watching horror movies can be hugely beneficial for your health, both physically and mentally. So why not have a scare or two this Halloween? 

Words: Jessica Noble | Subbing: Warshma Chughtai

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