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Whether you love them or hate them, scary movies can offer insight on the state of our world.

Lots of people watch scary movies in October, but this Halloween season is different. After months of living in a chaotic world, some might be asking themselves: Isn’t real life scary enough?

Believe it or not, “quar-horror” is a real thing. These quarantine-themed movies, filmed during the pandemic, play on our fears related to it. They depict anything from creepy Zoom calls to prolonged isolation and project these anxieties onto the screen.

While revenue for all movie genres is significantly lower this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, the performances of some earlier releases are promising. The New Mutants, released Aug. 28, still grossed over $7 million on opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Clearly some people still have an appetite for horror, but what keeps bringing them back?

According to a 2020 study by the University of Turku in Finland, horror can stimulate excitement in our brains. Brain activity increases in regions used for emotional processing and decision-making during the viewing experience. Scary movies cause our brains to anticipate action and prepare a response to threats, a combination that amplifies excitement.

Ramsay Wise, an instructor in the Film Studies Program at MU, says scary movies, including those about the pandemic, can help us confront our fears about real life. “There’s something cathartic about it because we all live with certain levels of fear and anxieties about things,” Wise says. “Sometimes it’s fun to confront those in a controlled, fictional way.”

It’s not just quar-horror films that allow us to face our fears. Ted Rogers, film programmer at Ragtag Cinema, says most horror films allow us to confront a fear and then find resolution at the end of the movie. Regardless of the subject matter, the genre offers a form of release for moviegoers across the country.

As the anti-racism movement gains momentum, many Americans have been encouraged to confront uncomfortable topics. The genre can help us reflect on timely issues of privilege, police brutality and violence. Horror movies that address racism are a way to observe our own feelings about prejudice and discrimination. Rogers points to Jordan Peele’s Get Out as an example that can help us confront these difficult subjects.

As a whole, the horror genre has become increasingly popular in recent years, with 2017 being the highest-grossing year for horror films of all time. According to the Morning Consult, a market research company in Washington, D.C., the genre boasted over $1 billion in sales at the North American box office in 2017.

Scary movies admittedly aren’t for everyone. If you are brave enough to venture into the world of horror during this already-anxious Halloween season, the medium of film may help you conquer your fears.

“The pandemic is not just going to be vanquished by the main character, but in a horror film, it is,” Rogers says. “It feels really good to have a clear enemy and to have a clear monster that we can put all of our fears into and then overcome. It’s a really safe space to confront things that make us uncomfortable.” 

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