Why we keep coming back for gore

Skyler Froese

The premier of “American Horror Story: Hotel” on FX had 5.81 million people watching it’s graphic and, frankly, terrifying scenes. Despite the themes of terror, the show has continually boasted large viewerships since its inception.
“American Horror Story” isn’t alone. Despite gory plots, borderline traumatic plots, people still watch scary movies.
Georgia State University Psychology professor Dr. Cynthia Hoffner has researched the effect of scary films and why people watch them. Dr. Hoffner has connected the enjoyment of scary movies to a number of factors stemming from human nature, particularly sensation seeking.
“People vary in terms of what some scholars call sensation seeking. So some people like higher sensations more, [such as] the type of people who think it would be good fun to jump out of an airplane and skydive or do those kinds of things, or go on big rollercoasters.” Dr. Hoffner said. “Scary movies give people that jolt of arousal. So a lot of people, I think, seek that.”
Dr. Hoffner believes scary films impact teenagers in particular. Hoffner said the films become part of the adolescent experience of socialization. Teenagers can be influenced to see scary movies not because they particularly enjoy them, but because their peers are seeing them. Watching the movie itself also becomes proof to peers that one is brave enough to cope with what is on screen. Boys are who mainly suffer this test of bravery, Dr. Hoffner said, and this isn’t the only instance of influencing gender relations in frightening films.
“Males are a little bit more likely to enjoy scary films than females.” Dr. Hoffner said. “There’s been gender role socialization where boys are supposed to withstand more fearful things and girls, on the other hand, are free to express fear, and sadness too.”
Freshman Noah Horton may not have published studies that analyze scary movies, but he can enjoy them nonetheless. He confirms Hoffners hypothesis by saying he likes to watch the movies with his friends, but he reminds that people watch in group not just because it’s human behavior. Other people can offer comfort in the face of terror.
Horton also points out that even with a myriad of scientific and social reasons of why people flock to horror movies, at the end of the day people might just enjoy a good jump once in awhile.
“I enjoy watching scary movies because if they’re good, they can give you a thrill that normal movies can’t,” Horton said. “If it makes me stay up at night, if I can’t sleep it makes it a good movie.”
Sophomore Lillian Beattie has been making movies and other media for Columbia Access Television for four years and is a passionate filmmaker, and has a particular knack for horror. Like Hoffner, she believes that these movies are so popular because of the intense sensations they produce.
Beyond adrenaline, she believes that the movies are so widely watched because they are nothing more than a good story.
“I enjoy the suspense that brings it on, that people get when they watch horror movies. I feel like that brings out a lot of enjoyment in people.” Beattie said. “It’s cool that I can make people jump that way and just something about being behind the camera makes me really happy.”
While horror movies can be good fun for those who create and those who view, Dr. Hoffner warns of rare, but nonetheless concerning, effects of scary movies on teenagers. These concerns harken back to the gender socialization present in these films.
“Female characters tend to be more likely to be victimized and it’s often paired with sexuality. It’s set up [so that] it might seem like a punishment for being too promiscuous or something of that nature,” Dr. Hoffner said. “And also when you pair violence with sex in enjoyable entertainment, it can make it seem like violence is enjoyable and if you repeatedly expose yourself to that, it can have some kind of of impact on your attitudes or your emotional responses.”
These are rare occurrences, however. Hoffner said that acting on these things is the mostly just likely for those with an otherwise unsound mental state. Beattie argues that the creation of these movies shows something beyond insanity; it’s self expression.
“There’s just something that makes people happy,” Beattie said. “If playing golf makes you happy, play golf. If writing makes you happy, write.”