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The Greyhound

The Greyhound

Why Do We Like to Be Scared?


It’s that time of year again: Halloween is just two days away, and aside from any lingering midterms anxiety, the holiday is the only thing on our minds. I’m certain I am not the only one who’s spent countless hours hunting through eBay and Value Village Thrift Store for the perfect (and more importantly, the cheapest) costume.

My inspiration this year came from Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror flick, The Shining. I watched the 1980 film, based on Stephen King’s novel, for the umpteenth time this fall, and still got thoroughly disgusted when the elevators overflowed with blood like I always do. (Of course, I still jumped when Jack Nicholson broke through the bathroom door screaming, “Here’s Johnny!”, and I got that same eerie feeling when the closing credits rolled.)

While my scary movie marathon gave me my costume idea, it also raised some questions for me. Why do we love to be scared? Why do we continually make remakes of horror movies, like Carrie and Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Why do we drench ourselves in fake blood and head out for trick-or-treating? Why has The Walking Dead gained such a wide fanbase recently?

By “we,” I don’t mean everyone, of course: my boyfriend since high school will not watch scary movies with me when I ask him to. I once tricked him into watching Cape Fear with me, and he will never, ever forgive me. He should have been able to tell from the name that he would hate it, and he did. But for others—for people like me—being terrified is fun! We like to feel as if our lives are in danger and could potentially end at any moment. Why is that so?

A scary movie, a haunted hayride, or a haunted house is like a rollercoaster. Truthfully, we are not really in danger when we agree to take part (unless the rollercoaster malfunctions, but that’s another story). In the back of our minds, we must know this to be true. However, this is not the case for people who bungee jump off of bridges, race at breakneck speeds around hairpin turns, or swim with vicious sharks.

Whether we are safe or unsafe, whether we are safely snuggled with friends in front of the TV screen or running from a bear in the wilderness, there is an adrenaline rush that goes along with spooky activities. Humans like to get their hearts beating fast. Being scared feels oddly good, and somehow, it is fun.

The universe is a place with many unknowns. My friend cannot sit through The Conjuring, Insidious, or any of the Halloween series with her feet hanging below the couch, for fear that something will reach out and grab her. I, personally, hold a pillow up to my nose whenever I watch Signs so I can throw it in front of my face when the alien shows up. We still have nightmares about ghosts, zombies, vampires, and UFOs, even as adults.

The link between all of these things, perhaps, is that they can bring about our deaths. At the very least, monsters and demons (if they were real) can cause us pain in a number of ways and bring us closer to death. And maybe, considering death as a reality—whether it is through our dangerous actions, or by watching a spooky movie—makes us, in turn, feel more alive. Our rapidly beating hearts remind us that we are alive. We get to carry on with our lives after every character in a slasher flick gets brutally murdered before our eyes.

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Why Do We Like to Be Scared?