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Why We Love Scary Stuff

It’s the season for scary movies! Why do we love—or hate—to be terrified by what we see on the screen?
A young woman is curled up under a blanket in a dark room and looking at a screen showing the shadow of a creature walking up stairs.
© tero vesalainen/stock.adobe.com, Prana-Film GmbH, Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johnannisthal; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Do scary movies thrill you…or make you want to hide under a blanket? Whether you love them or hate them, horror movies have been a thing pretty much since film was invented. Why are so many people willing to be terrified? Researchers have a few theories.

Fight or Flight

Our ancestors had to be on the lookout for animals that could kill them. So, when we’re faced with a threat, our bodies release adrenaline, a hormone that increases the oxygen supply to our brains and can cause things like an increased heart rate. A rush of adrenaline gets us ready to escape a source of danger. When that threat isn’t real (it’s just on screen), this can make us feel a sense of excitement that a lot of people like.

But not everyone enjoys that feeling, which may be why some people shy away from scary movies (as well as roller coasters and other thrills and chills).

A threat can also cause our bodies to release other chemicals, including endorphins, which can lessen pain and make us feel good. Endorphins are also released when we laugh or exercise.

What a Relief!

Some researchers believe that people get a sense of relief from scary movies. Viewers are thankful that the monster on the screen isn’t chasing them—instead, the fictional characters are the ones in danger. They’re also thankful when the movie is over because, well, they were scared for about two hours!

Safe and Sound

Oddly, watching a scary movie can make us feel safe. We know the monster on the screen can’t hurt us and that the monster’s victims are just actors. Looked at like this, a scary movie can be pure entertainment.

There’s one other reason for our love of horror. When groups of people experience a scary movie together, it can make them feel closer to one another.

So see if your friends and family want to get together for a fright fest. Or don’t!

Did You Know?

Book covers for Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde against a backdrop of candles and old books.

Paper Mill Press Classics, © Photowitch/Dreamstime.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Before there were movies, there were plenty of scary books. Centuries ago, authors like Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe wrote stories featuring monsters, ghosts, and more…and people were into horror just as much back then as they are now!

The Fight Over “Fun Size”

A pile of fun size Milky Way candy bars.
© Steven Cukrov/Dreamstime.com

Have you ever had a “fun size” candy bar? It’s like a regular candy bar, but smaller. (Whether that makes it fun is up to you!) Believe it or not, two companies once went to court in a battle to see who would win the right to the phrase “fun size.” 

In the United States, smaller versions of candy bars date back to the 1930s. That’s when the Curtiss Candy Company of Chicago, Illinois, started making mini versions of its chocolate treats, including Baby Ruth and Butterfinger bars. The company called this size “junior.”

About 30 years later, Mars, Inc., started making smaller versions of its candy bars, which include Snickers and Milky Way. At first, Mars used the term “junior.” Then, in 1968, it switched to the term “fun size.” Curtiss decided this was a much better name and in 1971 began calling its small bars “fun size.”

The people at Mars weren’t happy. In Illinois, where Curtiss was based, Mars trademarked the term “fun size,” so that only they could use it, and then sued Curtiss for violating the trademark. The lawsuit wasn’t successful. 

Today, fun size candy bars are everywhere…and not all of them are made by Mars. Although Curtiss is no longer in business, the Ferrara Candy Company now makes fun size Baby Ruth and Butterfinger bars. 

 

Fright Done Right

Alfred Hitchcock saying always make the audience suffer as much as possible in front of the house from the movie Psycho.

© 1960 Universal Pictures, © 1960 Paramount Pictures Corporation; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

What makes a good horror story?
You can read about it at Britannica!

WORD OF THE DAY

provocation

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:
: an action or occurrence that causes someone to become angry or to begin to do something
Definitions provided by
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Criss Cross

See if you can figure out where each movie monster goes.
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