Why Do They Like the Scariest Horror Movies?

Category: Weekly Columns

Why do so many people, especially teenagers, like the scariest horror movies? What happened to wholesome family movies? What happened to actors and characters like Fred MacMurray, Mary Poppins, Lassie, and the good guy being cool? When did Fred become Freddy (from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies)? Or for that matter, what happened to Fred Flintstone and Wilma?

Yes, times have changed, but this is one of those areas that I resist and don’t understand.  A good scary movie is one thing, but movies that exist simply to portray the most creative, vile, and gut-wrenching torture of another human being is beyond the pale to me. Even “Psycho,” the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, was able to scare without showing anything!  And, in black and white. All you saw in the infamous shower scene was a knife, blood in the bathtub, and you heard screams, all done to that incredible Bernard Herrmann musical score.

That was movie making at its best.  The “Saw,” “Scream,” and “Friday the 13th” series, “Hostel,” “Grindhouse, and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” have taken graphic imagery to a level that is de-humanizing to both society and those individuals who watch it.  Will the viewers of those movies ever understand real suffering?  I wonder.

 My own boys have a love-hate relationship with these contemporary horror films, so I asked them directly what the appeal was, why they liked them, and their thoughts on the subject. I also questioned them about their love of movies, specifically David who truly loves all forms of film. Here are excerpts from their interviews, first with my younger son, David:

Bruce:  Do you like movies?


Bruce:  What are some of your favorites?

David:  “Benjamin Button,” “Avatar,” “Inception,” “Toy Story” (all of them), and “Scream” (all of them).

Bruce:  Do you remember what your favorite movie was when you were a little kid?

David:  “The Wizard of Oz.”

Bruce:  Lately you have become enamored of the “Scream” series and, in fact, you made a deal with me to take you to see the current one by offering to wash my car and bake my favorite pie.  This is a lot for you to offer just to see a movie.  Why did you want to see “Scream 4” so much?

David:  You normally wouldn’t have gone with me, so I had to bribe you and I didn’t want to have to wait for the DVD.

Bruce:  Was it worth it? Did you like “Scream 4”? (Note: I hated it and fell asleep rather than watch it, after about 30 minutes).

David:  Yes, it was tied with the first as my favorite.  #3 was the suckiest one.

Bruce: What is it about horror or scary movies that appeals to you?

David:  There’s only one horror movie that I like – the “Scream” franchise – they’re not like normal horror movies.

Bruce:  Well, how do you know that?

David:  I have seen many other horror movies like all the “Friday the 13th” movies, the “Nightmare on Elm Streets,” and they usually all suck.

Bruce:  Then I come back to what it is about “Scream” that you like?

David:  They’re just fun, it’s a big mystery movie ‘cause you never know who the killer is until the end.

I’m not sure what can be learned from his interview, so let’s go on to his older brother, Will, who has a greater passion for these contemporary horror movies:

Bruce:  You like horror movies, right?

Will:  Yeah, I do.

Bruce:  Why?

Will:  Because they’re entertaining to me.

Bruce:  What were your favorite movies when you were a kid?

Will:  James Bond movies.

Bruce:  What are your favorite horror movie franchises?

Will:  “Saw,” that’s my favorite one.

Bruce:  Why?

Will:  It had a good story line and everything.

Bruce:  Your brother found “Saw” disgusting because of the graphic nature of the violence portrayed.  What is it about seeing that sort of violence that appeals to you?

Will:  It’s not the violence; it’s the story of it and the message.

Bruce:  What is the message?

Will:  Just people take life for granted and it shows how much they would do to stay alive.

Again, with Will’s comments, I’m not sure a conclusion can or should be drawn about the appeal of these graphic horror movies.  I wonder if it’s an escape of some kind from their day-to-day lives?  As Will alluded to, he reflected somewhat on the value of life when he saw, and I use that word loosely, how much people were willing to do to save themselves in the “Saw” movies. 

I would rather, of course, that these lessons be learned the way they were for me, in the movies that I loved when I was a teenager. Steve McQueen was the ultimate hero in “The Great Escape,” a bunch of misfits saved the day in “The Dirty Dozen,” and Greg Peck led the way in destroying “The Guns of Navarone.” 

Or am I just doing the same generation judgments that my parents did when they were shocked by the long hair of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show?


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