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Morbid

Movies

Why do we like to be scared?

Sociologists say it's because we need
to be reminded of life's meaning.
by Clark Humphrey

Some aspects of Halloween have obvious appeal. Folks like to play games and eat candy, and to dress up in costumes that let them pretend they're somebody else.

But why do we like to cavort with images of death and make-believe threats of violence?

Fordham University English professor Walter Kendrick has an idea why.

In his 1991 book The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment (now out of print), Kendrick claims we need to experience spookiness in a safe context.

Through scary stories and movies, Kendrick writes, "the horror of death and dying is rendered safe; it is turned into a celebration of being permanently alive, forever immune to decay. Death and dying are made to provide pleasure--not of an intellectual sort or even an emotional one, but the gut thrill of deep breaths, shouts, and half-serious clutches at the viewer in the next seat. Fear of deadness has become a reliable reservoir of muscular innervation [i.e., nervous tension] that can be tapped at any time, without much inventiveness, or, it seems, any anxiety that it will ever run dry.

"The cleverest horror films may offer political commentary, even social criticism, thereby winning the approval of those who would otherwise never glance at a horror movie. But such things are extras; they're far from necessary, and they sometimes threaten to impede horror's fundamental errand--to assure the viewer that his flesh will always remain firm and intact, that for all this display of rot and carnage, there is nothing to fear."

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