It’s spooky season once again, and for many people, that means breaking out the horror movies for a good scare. If you enjoy movies that make your blood run cold, we’ve got some good news for you. Those frightening flicks might actually benefit your health.
Andrew Scahill, Ph.D., the author of “The Revolting Child in Horror Cinema,” explains to Healthline how watching horror movies can actually be sort of therapeutic: “Today, we have what we would call ‘surrogacy theory,’ which essentially says horror films allow us, in a way, to control our fear of death by giving us a surrogate experience.”
Experiencing fear from the comfort of our couch or a cushy movie theater means we don’t try and mitigate or ignore what we’re feeling. It teaches us to manage stress at the moment without relying on coping mechanisms. It also allows us to face our fears in a controlled environment and build empathy for the characters, even when we’re feeling discomfort. This is a highly valuable life skill.
While many people turned to the fluffy or comedic for relief during the pandemic, horror consumption actually went up as well. Psychotherapist Kurt Oaklee, MA, MFT tells Healthine, “Horror movies force you to be hyper-focused. The ruminating, anxious mind is no longer spinning out on the stressors of the world.”
Horror is a beneficial escape for many, but it’s not for everyone. A 2020 study found that the “fight or flight” instinct elicited by horror movies can be as real as one we would experience in the face of a real world threat. For these individuals, horror movies can exacerbate anxiety.
So is horror for you? You probably already know if you’re someone who benefits from watching scary movies. If they leave you feeling exhilarated, stick with them. And if they leave you feeling panicky and upset, there’s no shame in less-frightening Halloween classics like ‘Hocus Pocus.’