Horror movies help us cope in times of crisis
Never underestimate the power of a good scare. Sure, we all watched 2020 unfold behind the shuttered view of our weary hands, but the kind of scare I’m talking about is one that can send even your worries into hiding under a blanket. Bloodthirsty rippers, monsters, serial killers, ghosts and demons can keep them there for hours too.
With 2020 dead and buried, a good horror movie can be a great way to start off the new year. After all, a jolt of adrenaline and an increased heart rate can do wonders for holiday excesses and general lingering lethargy.
There are generally two kinds of people when it comes to spooky stuff – those who detest it and those who have such a strong perverse curiosity for it that it borders on suspicious. If you fall into the first camp, I would recommend confronting your fear…in fact, I’m practically writing you a prescription for it.
Horror movies and the monsters, freaks, and ghouls that inhabit them have always arisen during times of real-world hardship. It’s almost as though the silver screen’s most famous characters have sprung from the psyche of a stressed people. Both the original Frankenstein (with the towering Boris Karloff) and Dracula (with the haunting Bela Lugosi) had their premieres in 1931, just 2 years after the infamous stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression.
And, more recently, the horror-satire phenomena of Get Out captured imaginations during the throes of the 2016 presidential election, culminating in a January 23rd, 2017 release date – just when America’s nightmare was beginning….
Horror is at its most powerful in times of crisis. It often forces us to confront “unknowable parts of ourselves that are externalized into dangers outside of us,” says Erin Hadley, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia. In other words, it both exploits and shines a light on our visceral day-to-day fears. But when you’re watching Dracula consume his next victim (or a character in Saw try to avoid becoming one) you are fascinated and scared…but safe.
In fact, in the absence of any real threat, you can get a sense of accomplishment after watching a scary movie; you feel like you’ve exercised your demons (so to speak). You’ve confronted something and conquered it, which can give you a confidence boost. Science seems to confirm this.
Coltan Scrivner, a Ph.D. candidate in the Comparative Human Developments department at the University of Chicago, has discovered a correlation between horror movie fans and psychological resilience in the face of real-world crisis — like a global pandemic, for instance.
He found that those who enjoy a good, safe scare seem less psychologically distressed despite the constant stream of bad COVID news. “We think that horror fans are essentially building a toolkit for how to deal with feeling anxious or afraid,” says Scrivner. As antithetical as it may sound, scary movies may actually help you cope…so go put on The Exorcist.
With the virus still raging and our loved ones sequestered in their own homes, we’re all living our own horror stories. So why not get lost in somebody else’s for a couple of hours.