Nature of Horror

I and many others are not a fan of horror. Though for many years now my friends have happily sat through films such as [1]The Human Centipede, [2]Saw and [3]The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, without so much as flinching, while I refused to even watch the trailers. So, of course, it makes me wonder. Why is the genre of horror so popular?

Horror, as a genre, has been present from the very beginning of society. ‘…[4]Studies have shown that the folktale originated as far back as the Megalithic period’, examples of such are in ‘[5]Hansel and Gretel’ we see a witch being burned alive for kidnapping children, in ‘[6]Little Red Riding Hood’, the wolf is butchered by the huntsman after devouring an elderly lady and in ‘[7]Pinocchio’ the titular protagonist is tormented for childish behaviour. ‘[8]In Shakespeare’s time… if a child disobeyed a parent… it was believed political disobedience and even public rebellion might follow’ which would show why any person who went against the social norm of the time would meet a rather sticky end in Shakespeare’s work.

Over time horror has evolved from stories of morale into more explicit forms of entertainment.  Many believe ‘[9]the genre has been labeled as ‘Horror’ only since the emergence of Edgar Allen Poe’. It is thought that Poe is so popular is because ‘[10]he holds up a mirror to ourselves, and each time we read him we find something new’ as in ‘[11]The Raven’ and in ‘[12]The Tell-Tale Heart’, they showed millions of readers a new and exciting version of horror. The idea of relating one’s own fears and emotions in a story made it all the scarier for individuals. Another reason that Poe was so popular was his honesty about death, something repressed by most and being made to read and look into it disturbs the reader.

Another author worth noting is Stephen King. One of the most prolific horror writers of the 20th and 21st century, having written many books about horror and dystopia. One of his most famous books, [13]IT, gave me a severe childhood phobia of clowns. As well as Stephen Sommers’ [14]The Mummy, which gave me the crippling fear of bugs. These fears were ingrained into me from a young age, the experience of watching or reading something horrific gives the body and mind chance to react to it.

But no ‘horror’ genre media ever lead me to my fear of spiders and the dark. This suggests that some irrational fears can be explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung. His theory indicates that we inherit certain fears from our parents and our ancestors; also called ‘The Collective Unconscious’. The concept that we don’t know it’s there, but it affects us every day subconsciously.

Even so, fear is definitely learnable. Developed by specific cues as shown by the Little Albert experiment. For those who don’t know, a young boy was conditioned to have a fearful reaction around white rats after being exposed to them and listening to a loud banging noise which then associated the unpleasant experience with the animal.

It’s always puzzled me why people like to be scared. Especially knowing ‘[15]Fear is related to death’, so with my own fears of death and with it being the primary theme in the genre of horror, I’m surprised so many readily involve themselves in horror media. Adrenaline? Escapism? Challenge? Or does true horror come when we realise that the only monsters we need to worry about are the ones in our heads?


[1] The Human Centipede, Tom Six, 2009.

[2] Saw, James Wan, 2004.

[3] The Texas Massacre, Tober Hooper, 1974.

[4] Jack David D. Zipes. Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1979).

[5] Daniela Drescher, Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm, An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Many More Classic Stories (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2013).

[6] Daniela Drescher, Jacob Grimm, and Wilhelm Grimm, An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Many More Classic Stories (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2013).

[7] Carlo Collodi et al., Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet (New York: Penguin Group (USA), 2002).

[8] Diane Purkiss. Witches in Macbeth. https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/witches-in-macbeth

[9] Gina Wisker, Horror Fiction: An Introduction (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005).

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/jan/19/edgar-allan-poe-bicentenary

[11] Edgar Allen Poe, Gustave Dore, and Gustave Dore, The Raven (New York: Dover Publications, 1996)

[12] Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart (London, United Kingdom: Penguin Classics, 2015).

[13] Stephen King, IT, (New York, NY: Viking Press), 1986.

[14] The Mummy, Stephen Sommer, 1999.

[15] http://www.scepticthomas.com/fear/fear.htm

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