The Need To Be Afraid

December 4, 2009
In October, Americans will spend over $1 billion on eerie Halloween costumes, theme parks and creepy home decorations (Rowe 1). The images of monsters and horror movie villains will be seen from every television screen in an attempt to make the viewer scream bloody murder. Whether it’s the victim being chased to their demise or the grotesque faces of the evil doers, people everywhere will find some sort of fright. But why?

Evidently thrills can be had in being afraid. Danger makes the heart race, and the idea that you ‘might not make it out alive’ makes the thrill even greater. Humans are avidly seeking these ‘thrills’, especially throughout the month of October, when haunted houses are almost inviting you to enter...if you dare. No matter the cost, people will sell their sanity for a momentary rush. I was in line to go to the Darkness, which is one of the most popular haunted houses in America. While enduring the two hour wait, characters of all sorts walked up and down the line, trying to scare the innocent bystanders. My friend Danielle and I were walking towards where the line began, and a masked creature came up behind her and she screamed, which caused us to run off to our place in line. The initial encounter was horrifying: a pig-like creature creeping up from behind and snorting in her ear. However, shortly after the incident we found ourselves laughing at her misfortune. Were we laughing out of relief that it was over? Or were we simply satisfied that we got our fill of horror?

What if the art of being scared is not the only concept driving us to the extreme? Maybe it is the escape from our seemingly normal lives. A haunted house is an alternate world, a place of monsters and mayhem that gives off the illusion of something beyond this world. We know these monsters are not real and that the sewer monster exists only in nightmares. We are well aware that Frankenstein’s monster was just a character and a zombie invasion, rationally, cannot happen. Even with the knowledge that our nightmares are only in our imagination, we are still scared. We are still seeking justification that our fears are legitimate, when in truth, they are not. Some of this fear pertains to rational thoughts, such as the movie When A Stranger Calls, which could actually happen. The story is that a man breaks in while a young girl house-sits and watches the children. On the other hand, a movie such as 28 Days Later, in which a virus infects the public, turning them into hideous creatures bent on destroying humanity, could never happen. Discerning the difference between what is realistic fiction and what is completely out there doesn’t stop the fear, even though it would make sense if it did. Should we even be afraid of things that will never happen?
When we are alone in the dark, we can’t help but think that the shadow in the corner could be home to a ghost or a masked killer. Being scared is relative; it varies from person to person. But why subject yourself to it at all? What advantage will you gain from being scared out of your mind for a few hours? Horror movies are the stuff of nightmares, and whether you’re alone or in a group, the scare tactics will never fail. Not a social aspect, fear can exist when you are on your own. Although, when a group of friends enters a haunted house together, their fear seems to bounce off of each other. When one person thinks they see or hear something, the whole group will be on edge. The fearful sensation seems contagious, and it is a sensation that cannot be explained, although the fact remains clear: we constantly want to be scared. Fear of the unknown leaves us begging for more. It’s the same type of feeling you get from being on a roller coaster: knowing you are at a dangerous height, aware of the extreme speeds of the rides. Nervous for it to begin, screaming for it to stop while we’re there, but when it’s all over, we always want more.

Scaring others is a lucrative business, and people will never grow tired of paying money to get scared out of their skins. We know there is a safety net between the monsters and us, so we know that no real harm can come to us. “Confronting a man in a mask is a far cry from real life terror, however, and it is only within the ultimate safety of artificially created horror that people will find a charge” (Rowe 1). We like the idea of being chased down a dark alley by a man wielding a chainsaw, and the danger involved, more than the thought of an actual encounter.

So what really causes fear? Why would we intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way, even if it is imaginary? Whatever the reason, humans all have the natural need to feel exhilarated, whether it’s being scared from a horror movie or speeding down a roller coaster track. The only thing left to be determined, is why?

Works Cited
Rowe. "The Thrill of Being Scared Keeps Fright Industry Going." New York Times. 10
November 2009. Web.

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