Imagine that you just got home. You turn the light switch on and off, but nothing happens. You start thinking to yourself, “Wow, this is exactly like that movie I watched last night when that woman’s power was cut and there was a killer in her house.” You look at the windows on the other houses on your street and all their lights are on, so you go to the basement to check the breaker. On your way down the stairs you hear sounds that someone is following you, so you move faster and your heart starts racing. You get to the breaker and turn your electricity back on. You quickly turn around and see that this whole time you were just scared of your cat, Fluffles.
This is an example of how horror movies can be applied into our real life situations, even if we know that the likelihood of a killer in our house is slim. Bodo Winter recently analyzed several horror movies and noted that these movies consistently rely on two basic metaphors: “evil is down” and “evil is dark”. This is demonstrated in many old and recent horror movies, such as Evil Dead (1981) and Cabin in the Woods (2012), the evil in the movie is depicted as dark and is usually encountered or comes from below the surface. These stated metaphors feed off of our evolutionary survival mechanisms; in other words, historically, human beings came across more threats to their survival in the dark. However, in our present day society we do not experience similar historic threats. Rather, we are more likely to die in a car accident or from heart disease than from an attack in the night.
The primary issue that this can lead to is an irrational fear, such as the scenario at the start. While some people find horror movies entertaining, for others these movies reinforce and maintain emotional (fear) and visual memories that can be translated into our everyday lives. If we watch movies in which something scary always occurs in the dark or underground, we are training ourselves to be fearful in those same situations, even if there is no “evil” present. This demonstrates the importance of what we expose ourselves to.
In my own life, I am petrified of being home alone during the night. Every sound I hear in the house I assume to be some deranged serial killer, but this scenario is highly unlikely. Luckily, I don’t have any personal experience of there being a stranger in my home while I was alone. Instead, this idea has largely stemmed from horror movies teaching us that we will likely meet our demise in a dark underground cave, or other equally frightening situation.
So while horror movies may not be the most mentally beneficial form of entertainment, does this mean we should stop watching them? I believe that we should all be at least a bit more mindful and critical towards what we expose ourselves to. So the next time you’re watching a horror movie, try and think to yourself: “How is the evil portrayed?” or “Is this a situation I should be scared of in my life?”, because these situations have a greater probability of occurring in your dreams than in real life.
Winter, B. (2014). Horror movies and the cognitive ecology of primary metaphors. Metaphor and Symbol, 29, 151-170. doi: 10.1080/10926488.2014.924280