Why Is Horror So Popular?

Updated on September 30, 2017

Horror Throughout the Centuries

It is repulsive and simultaneously seducing. We recoil from its gruesomeness but we lust after it. The horror genre is undoubtedly one of the most paradoxical and contradictory literary forms but has still endured several centuries thereby influencing races all around the world. Having its origin in ancient rituals and prehistoric cults, horror entered tales and songs spread by bards in the Middle Ages in which crises such as waves of pestilence stoked further superstition. In the Renaissance, the work of alchemists and magicians mirrored this superstitious heritage and in the Gothic period and Victorian Age horror stories such as “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” converted the ancient fears into scaring comments on society. But why do we repeatedly expose us to the absurd atrocities comprised by modern forms of horror? And why is horror continuously such a popular form of entertainment?

Horror - a popular form of entertainment?

Do you agree that horror is continuously a popular form of entertainment?

See results

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Lovecraft - his absurd and weird horror stories are a must-read for every true horror fan
Lovecraft - his absurd and weird horror stories are a must-read for every true horror fan | Source

Our Historical Heritage of fears and Instincts

Various literary experts have endeavored to explain this past and current vogue of the horror genre and contradictory notions regarding the ominous charm of horror have been developed. However, various theorists agree that the historical aspects of the genre have contributed to its popularity. The American author Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1927) ascribed its fascination to the fact that horror deals with fear, a sentiment that does not only belong to the “primal”1 emotions but is also “[t]he oldest and strongest emotion of mankind”2. Moreover, he recognizes a “physiological fixation of the old instincts in our nervous tissue”3 demonstrating that the fears of our “primitive forefathers”4 are still omnipresent in the modern individual. Mathias Clasen (2009), a Danish author and editor, agrees with these observations. He further expresses that “fear and anxiety originate in an alarm system shaped by evolution”5 which conveys that we are still fearing the same as our ancestors. As horror appeals to exactly these sentiments, many people are scared by the weirdness it encompasses. Overall, the horror genre uses our historical heritage of fears and instincts to scare us which is why many people are fascinated by the genre.

Psychological Aspects: Our Penchant for Horror

As fear is part of our biological heritage, every single human individual recoils from similar entities demonstrating that horror is a universal human trait. Therefore, the psychological aspects of the genre amplify its popularity as well. In his book “Danse Macabre” Stephen King (1981), a virtuoso of horror, fantasy and suspense, discusses the psychology of horror and concludes that “[t]he potential lyncher is in almost all of us”6. He further elaborates that it is fun to see “others menaced – sometimes killed”7 since we need to let our inner and evil side out although society tries to suppress “anti-civilization emotions”8. In other words, King believes that everyone has an untamed, atrocious side which we need to feed to keep controlling it. This concept can further be understood regarding the Freudian psychoanalysis, “a method for treating mental illness and also a theory which explains human behavior”9. It is predicated on the “psychic apparatus”10, a structural model of the mind incorporating the id, the ego and the superego. The id is an unconscious part of the human mind acting according to the pleasure principle and instincts. Combining both theories portrays that we unconsciously crave horror, as our instincts and the id, urge us to satisfy our inner “potential lyncher”11. All in all, its psychological aspects further espouse the repute of horror since a penchant for ferociousness and barbarity lurks in everybody.

Have you ever ridden a roller coaster to impress your friends?
Have you ever ridden a roller coaster to impress your friends? | Source

Do We Dare Ride the Roller Coaster?

Since we all encompass a morbid desire for horror, it also plays a role in society, which is why the sociological aspects of horror further augment its attractive force. As demonstrated previously, Stephen King (1981) recognizes that society tries to repress deviations from “the emotions that tend to maintain the status quo of civilization itself”12. Hence, the stigmatized feelings, horror evokes in us, symbolize a deviation from the norms of society. This demonstrates that by reading a horror story or watching a horror movie we can satisfy our demands privately and without having to fear sanctions. In contrast, the prohibition of the horrific emotions also provides the possibility to deliberately disrespect social norms which further explains the fascination of the horror genre. King also regards horror as a chance to show “that we can, that we are not afraid, that we can ride this roller coaster.”13 Consequently, horror can serve as an opportunity to prove ourselves to other people. To sum up, the fact that society stigmatizes the affection to the monstrosities of horror further enhances our attraction and gives us the chance to prove ourselves to others.

What is the most deciding factor for you?

See results

Is There a Most Deciding Factor?

In conclusion, the historical, psychological and social aspects of horror emphasize the fame of the genre. Evidently, the fact that so many factors contribute to the popularity of horror, raises the question which aspect and reason is most pivotal and decisive. However, it must be recognized that it always depends on the audience, the individual exposed to the thrills whether the “profound sense of dread”14, that according to Lovecraft (1927) decides upon the quality of a horror story, can be reached. He even writes that only few people possess the “imagination and capacity for detachment from every-day life”15 to enjoy the horror genre. Therefore, a most important factor cannot and should not be named. All factors augment the fascination of horror and it is always contingent on the audience what makes the difference between ennui and thrills.

Citations

Citations
Sources
1-4
Lovecraft, H. P., (1927) Supernatural Horror in Literature. The Recluse.
5
Clasen, M., (2009) The Horror! The Horror! The Evolutionary Review. 1
6-8
King, S., (1981) Danse Macabre
9,10
Sigmund Freud’s Theories | Simply Psychology [WWW Document], n.d. URL https://www.simplypsychology.org/Sigmund-Freud.html (accessed 4.27.17).
11-13
King, S., (1981) Danse Macabre
14,15
Lovecraft, H. P., (1927) Supernatural Horror in Literature. The Recluse.
Many of the quotes used in this article are from texts that are definitely worth reading for everyone who wants to find out more about the horror genre!

© 2017 Clarissa Schmal

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Bongogist 

      14 months ago from Nigeria

      Am I the only person that hate Horror movies ?

    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 

      14 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

      The Amityville Horror and It are two great horror films with no gore. The gore itself can be too graphic for some. I enjoy horror films with a psychological edge not mindless explicit fatalities.

    • profile image

      Hagy 

      14 months ago

      Thanks, haven't thought about this before. Really thrilling topic. But what about E.A. Poe? Somehow I miss some information about him -as a master of this genre.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)