Scary Movies: Weirdly Actually Good for You


Are you a sucker for a real good scary movie? Are you on of the few people that watches these films all year round because every day is Halloween, really. Can you recall with precision the scene from Nightmare on Elm Street where Johnny Depp falls asleep and gets swallowed alive by his bed? The dark red splatter that follows has haunted you for decades and you love it. You’ve seen The Exorcist more times than you can remember. You know witches are real. You also know that whatever your dog saw was more than a tree shadow. So why do you do it? Why do you put yourself through 90 minutes (sometimes more) of pure fear? Why do you keep on watching when you know something terrifying is coming around the corner?

Believe it or not, watching a scary movie is a great way to work things out or to go through a cleansing of sorts (not to be confused with the many cleansing or detox kits you buy at Whole Foods after New Year’s Eve). The word “catharsis” may come to mind, as its origins are from the Greek word “katharsis,” which relates to the purification or purging of emotions.

Whether or not the cleansing is intentional is up for debate. You might not necessarily watch the latest Paranormal Activity film just because you had a bad day at work, but the space exists and ultimately, movies — especially scary movies — are made to entertain audiences.


No matter what happens to Johnny Depp or any of the ridiculously good-looking 20-something-year-olds from the Scream movies, nothing will happen to you IRL. This is one of the reasons why you allow yourself to sit through a couple hours of blood, gore, and suspense. You also know the film will end — one way or another, with or without the survival of your favorite character. As Dr. Meheli Sen from Rutgers University says, “You know you’ll be able to go home without being stabbed by Freddy or Jason. We are thrill seeking people and horror movies give us those thrills in a relatively safe environment.” Sen, who teaches in the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures, adds that socialization might also have something to do with your need to watch scary movies. “Someone might get attracted to these sensations that he or she might seek out for the rest of their lives.” So if you were introduced to the Ghost face from Scream early in life and was not permanently traumatized, perhaps watching similar slasher films now actually brings you a sense of delight (or comfort, even). Scary, but true.