Hello there welcome back to my blog, it has certainly been a long time. Now at the moment I’m fairly close to the end of a project all about horror. But before I finish up this horrific project, I’ve got a question to answer. Throughout this whole project, I’ve seen one reoccurring theme in all horror movies. That theme is death. Through all of the horror I’ve watched, the one fear it always raises in me, is death. So that brings me to my question, does the fear of death underpin all horror? Under every spook and scare, is there an innate fear of death that horror movies pray on?
My first thought went straight to our survival instincts, or self-preservation. When we originally talked about why people would watch horror movies, the topic of them being adrenaline boosters came up. Horror movies are scientifically proven to give you an adrenaline rush, it’s one of the reasons people love to watch horror movies (I got a lot of my information about how horror movies affect people psychologically in this paper here). Adrenaline is a hormone used to stimulate the fight or flight response. Something that horror movies are looking to do, in order to get you excited and involved in the movie. Fight or flight is a survival mechanism that we humans possess, in order to help us not die. Horror movies pray on this survival response, and our innate fear of death to make films that are entertaining. (Here’s some of the actual science about why we like horror movies, its information inspired a lot of this post)
HP Lovecraft (one of the most influential supernatural horror writers of all time) once said “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” which is a quote I came across in my research for this post, and I find it incredibly interesting. This quote is somewhat supported by science too. There is evidence that children do not actively fear death, until they know what it is. Instead, they fear the dark, or the unknown, even without anyone explaining the concept to them. But I would argue that death is life‘s greatest unknown (very interesting argument against this here). Anyone watching a horror movie knows what it means to die, but what happens afterwards. It is the one thing you are guaranteed to experience that you will never understand. Horror movies use this to scare you. In fact there are many psychological theories that suggest that we spend our entire lives dedicated to avoiding the thought of death once we understand mortality. For example terror management theory (TMT) suggests that people immerse themselves in their own cultures, traditions, and beliefs, in order to escape the thoughts of a looming death. (There is an excellent podcast about this topic from one of the creators of this theory here)
I discussed this post with a couple of my friends yesterday, pitching to them. My question, does death underpin all horror? They said yes, death does underpin all horror, but not all fear. This wasn’t an answer I was particularly expecting. I went into this blog post with the idea that death was the root of all fear, making at the root of all horror. My classmates showed me a different perspective. If people feared death, above all else, why would people choose to die, why would they sacrifice themselves for others? I suppose my short answer is that sometimes people fear the consequences of choosing life, more then they fear the unknowns of death.
At the moment, I don’t think I fully understand that. I fear death more than anything else, and I’m sure it has clouded my judgement on this blog post. But I still do believe that the fear of death is one of the driving forces behind the fears that horror movies exploit. It’s the one thing in life you have guaranteed, literally inescapable, and the one thing every audience member in a horror movie can understand. Flip it this way, without death, what part of a horror movie would you even find scary? I know without death my day-to-day life wouldn’t look the same, and I can’t even imagine what a horror movie would scare you with. The consequences of people’s actions are very different without death, something that horror movies can’t capture, as it’s something people will never understand. Death may not be the all encompassing fear that I thought it was, but it’s universal relatability makes it the most easy fear to exploit in people, and I believe the underlying fear in all horror.
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