Why do we love watching scary movies?
The death of golden cinema icon Christopher Lee has me contemplating that question, and wondering if one of the world’s greatest on-screen villains knew the secret of why we watch and kept it to himself, on purpose. After all, with the secret revealed, perhaps in our hyper-sensitive commitment to good health, we might discover that having an adrenalin rush for two hours is bad for us…sort of like if you have an erection for more than four hours after taking Viagra.
The legendary actor was famous for roles in Hammer Horror films, Lord of the Rings, James Bond and Star Wars and was the memorable Fagin in Oliver! He died as he had hoped, “with my boots on” at the age of 93, all the while planning to appear in a new movie. But Lee was also a WWII Veteran, who had seen enough real horror, to channel a bit of it into the world of celluloid and pixels.
Christopher Lee was and is the only Count Dracula that counts. His steaming red eyes will forever be dancing in our psyche, and we never mind watching him again and again. But why?
WebMD says that exploring the ‘dark side’ may be a psychological need that’s met when the scare is actually over. Not during?
The experience of scary movies, and uber frightening television shows, is referred to as “mediated fright.” You have good assurance that you are safe resting in your cushy theatre seat or lying on your sofa. You are then willingly ushered through a series of emotions that in real life would cause you to fight or get the hell out of there.
Your limbic system responds as if the experience is real, but there is no residual trauma, at least not for a lifetime, requiring years of counseling. My big bugaboo about scary films is that the directors keep ratcheting up the gruesomeness every year. It’s as if their viewers have been desensitized to violence, sort of like a frog splashing around in a pot of water that is suddenly placed on the stove.
WedMD also points out that scary movies have shifted from less of the suspense of the chase to the suffering of the victim. Some refer to this as torture porn. This is where I hang up my hat because I just don’t know why we are now fixated on the suffering of the individual. Does it have to do with our society being on a 24-hour news cycle? Have we seen so much suffering that nothing is real to us anymore?
Please keep me away from torture porn and bring back the likes of Christopher Lee. He didn’t have to gross you out to get your heart beating out of your chest. RIP, Count Dracula.