The Horror Genre: Discussing Fear & Vulnerability

Horror media has always had a very specific niche in the market. I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine this week about it. In passing, I recommended they check out ‘The Walking Dead’, as I have started re-watching it and thought they might enjoy it. What I heard back was something along the lines of;  “Oh, is it scary, though?”.  It seemed like they believed fear to be synonymous with something bad. That’s a common reaction. Fear is often linked to danger. Yet, fear in the right context, is something completely different. It’s enjoyable. It appears that fear, in media, is something to be avoided. That got me thinking. Fear, just like sadness and happiness, is an emotion. People shouldn’t be afraid of emotion. Pardon the play on words, but what is it about fear that people fear so much?

The first time I remember being truly unsettled by a movie was back in the early 2000’s. I distinctly remember watching the Disney original movie Don’t Look Under The Bed. I can genuinely recall being frightened by that movie when I was younger. It came out in the late 90’s and basically told the story of the Boogeyman. I have since watched it my adult life, and surprisingly, it’s not that scary. However, ever since that moment, I’ve always had a fascination for horror. Fear is such a strong emotion. It’s unnerving, it lingers. The goal of any great horror movie is to instill a sense of fear in you. Whether it be from cheap old jump-scares, or the build-up of tension. All these movies have one goal in mind; to evoke strong emotion. The same can be said about other genres. You watch a comedy to laugh, and, in the same way, you watch a horror movie to be frightened. It’s all about eliciting reaction.

So, I starting thinking about why certain people enjoy this type of media, and others, despise it. From my own personal experience, it’s the rush of adrenaline you get in the moments leading up to the climax. [It doesn’t have to be just cinema]  Your heart starts beating faster. You’re on the edge of your seat. It’s as if you are experiencing the nightmare yourself. Then, suddenly, it’s over. You’re fine. You almost feel invincible in that moment. The thrill of the terrifying experience leaves you elated. Well, for me at least. It makes me think back to an episode of Black Mirror, where a guy tests out a new horror simulation game. The creator of the software talks about horror games as the release of fear. You are facing your greatest fears in a safe environment, and, you’re still alive. I think that’s a wonderful description of the appeal of the horror genre. The idea that you can experience the thrill of something so horrible, and come out of it unscathed.


I also watched a really interesting Ted Talk this week about emotion [I’ll link it below]. The speaker, Brené Brown, talked about how when you cut yourself off from feeling “bad” emotions like fear, you are, in the same way, cutting yourself off from “good” emotions, like happiness. Essentially, you can’t have the good, without the bad. A sense of fear stems from your ability to be vulnerable, because; fear is all about vulnerability. As I said before, it’s okay to experience fear in the right context. ie a controlled environment. So, it got me thinking; do people avoid the horror genre not because they don’t enjoy being frightened, but because they find it difficult to allow themselves to be vulnerable? Putting yourself into a position where you know that you’ll be frightened is quite a vulnerable situation. To paraphrase what Brown said in her talk; if you can’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, can you truly allow yourself to be happy?

Horror is all about experience. You cannot truly enjoy it, unless you allow yourself to. The same can be said about life. You can’t truly be happy, unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable. I didn’t quite expect to be giving life advice, but somehow horror movies got me here. So, the next time your friends wants to watch a scary movie, watch it. Put yourself in that vulnerable position. It might just do you some good.

Anyway, that’s what’s been on my mind lately. Hope you’re having a great day, and an even better week.

Thanks for reading!

Brené Brown Ted-Talk

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