After work, I like to curl up under a blanket with some popcorn and cocoa and the latest Stephen King novel.
I didn’t always enjoy scaring the daylights out of myself. When I was young I went to a Halloween sleepover and watched “The Ring.” Let’s just say that for the next seven days I didn’t get much sleep — and neither did my parents. I also spent the car ride to my first haunted house hugging a Care Bear stuffed animal.
Years down the line, after being chased by a maniac with a fake chainsaw at a haunted house, my pumping heartbeat somehow became a fun event. Now, I look forward to Halloween every year.
Why do some of us enjoy the suspense of a horror movie? There are people like me, who try to watch as many scary movies as they can get their hands on in October. Then, there are people like my mom, who held my hand in a death grip the whole time we watched “The Conjuring.”
Sociologist and author Margee Kerr has done extensive research on the fear response. Kerr is the author of “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear,” and is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Her research shows that some people get a natural high from chemicals released in the body in the fight-or-flight response. An animated TedEd video with a lesson by Kerr goes into detail on the reactions and how it can vary from person to person. The video can be found at https://bit.ly/1YMipgk.
Locally, Bernadette Calafell researches on how fear is represented in mass communication, such as movies. As a professor of communications studies at the University of Denver, one of the classes she offers is Monsters in Popular Culture.
Like me, Calafell has a self-described obsession with horror. As a Latina, she also drew interest from how monsters are represented in the folklore of Mexico.
Calafell began doing research on horror five years ago. Oftentimes, she said, horror movies reflect the struggles of everyday society. When women’s rights issues are prominent, so are movies about witches. On some level, the witches represent a struggle for power and acceptance.
Another example she used was Jordan Peele’s recent film “Get Out.” The theme of the movie is race relations, an issue that is widely talked about today.
“Horror becomes a way for folks to deal with the real horror that’s in our society,” she said. “There’s something behind the monsters and why people are drawn to them.”
Still, there are some that like horror movies purely for the enjoyment of them, Calafell said. While she enjoys movies like “Get Out” and “Gingersnap” — a werewolf movie she calls “feminist horror” — she also enjoys the less sophisticated slasher movies.
As we enter into another Halloween season, talking with Calafell made me wonder what some of the real monsters are behind my favorite pieces of horror.
Scary movie season started for me when “The Nun” was released in theaters in September. In August, stories of sexual assault by Catholic priests dominated headlines after a report from a Pennsylvania grand jury was issued. It certainly adds weight to Calafell’s research.
As the month goes on, I will gobble up horror movies like a trick-or-treater does candy.
But I’ll also sit back and enjoy fall and all the other goodies that come with it — hearty soups, cider and one of my all-time favorites, pumpkin carving — when I need to slow my racing heart down, just a bit.
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