Confession time: I hate horror.
Okay, “hate” is a strong word. But I’ve never understood the appeal of having to watch a movie from between your fingers or purposefully walking through hallways in a haunted house to make yourself scared or scream or possibly pee your pants.
That isn’t to say I have entirely shied away from horror previously. Every couple of months, there’s a trailer that, despite my strong aversion to being scared, will pique my interest. I recently watched It Chapter Two in theaters, and the jury’s still out on whether I’m curious enough about the lore in the video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s to actually try playing the game. But I’ve never been to a haunted house, and I’m about as likely to sign up for a ghost tour as I am to get 10 hours of sleep on any given night during midterms. (Hint: It’s not that likely.)
So, with such a strong distaste for the usual lineup of Halloween frights, I’m inevitably left asking myself the same question around this time every year: Why would people ever purposefully subject themselves to being scared, and how do they manage to enjoy it so much?
As we reporters tend to do with nagging questions like these, I decided to put my investigative journalism skills to good use. AprilStarr Daly is a seven-year veteran actress at FearFest, and she was one of the first people I turned to for answers. Daly wasn’t allowed to watch any scary movies until she turned 13 — not even Hocus Pocus, she says. But when she finally did see a horror flick for the first time, she says she was hooked.
“It’s an adrenaline junkie thing, almost,” she says. “I think a lot of the people that like haunted houses and like horror films are the ones that really enjoy having that fight or flight thing kick in or that moment of suspense of belief of, ‘Oh, is this thing actually going to hurt me?’"
Having worked at FearFest for so many years, Daly says she’s come to recognize certain types of people that seem to especially enjoy visiting the haunted house. There are always those who see their visit as a dare to the actors to try and scare them, she said. Then there are those who seem scared before they even enter the attraction but enjoy the frights nonetheless. By far the most common visitors are the young couples who are on a date — one person normally gets scared, she says, and the other gets to act as a protector.
All in all, it makes sense why I wouldn’t have been to a haunted house. I don’t belong to either of the first groups, and something tells me a date to a haunted house wouldn’t go quite as well as the other person hoped (future boyfriends, take note). But I was still curious as to what people found so fun about being scared. Ted Rogers, the programmer at Ragtag Cinema, had his own explanation for that.
“Horror, at its heart, has always been really silly and has not been high art,” Rogers says. Ragtag recently showed a film called Midsommar and Rogers says he was “so happy to be scared.”
“During the most terrifying sequences, I realized I was sitting in this really specific way,” Rogers says. “I was pushing myself up on my toes and sitting on the edge of my seat, and I was just smiling like crazy.”
Rogers says that he sees horror fans existing on a spectrum with few people perfectly loving or hating the genre. Still, in all this, it’s important to remember the difference between fictional horror, which triggers a freeze, flight or fight response, and legitimate trauma.
“In an experience that we would feel is traumatic, that we would internalize as being a trauma, it’s a situation where we would feel like our lives or someone else’s life or something very specific to our well-being is threatened,” says Jessica Tappana, a therapist with Aspire Counseling.
As for why some people find horror so fun, Tappana says it allows for a distraction from the real world and can help create human connection through the shared experience of being scared.
This was exactly what Daly found when she began working at FearFest. “I obviously have fears of my own,” she says. “I’m a very submissive person in real life, so at the haunted house, when I’m in character, I’m just over 5 feet tall, (but) I can turn the table and have a 6-foot-5 MU football player cower in front of me. It’s an adrenaline rush and an endorphin thing, and I get the stuff out of my mind for a little bit.”
I’ve certainly never found myself smiling from being scared like Rogers, but I can certainly understand how a spooky story can help distract you from life’s worries or stresses for a little bit. Maybe I’ll never be that person who’s traipsing through a haunted house or lining up opening night to see the latest creation in dread-inducing cinema. Okay, it’s not a “maybe.” But at least I can understand what so many of my peers seem to like about the spooks inherent in spooky season.
So the rest of you fright fans: Keep your horror stories and jump scares. I think I’ll just stick with my countdown to Christmas.