The demise of one of the Ramsay brothers, associated with the horror genre, has again engendered the debate as to why horror films and stories give us a thrill that's well-nigh impossible to articulate.
The rational mind doesn't believe in ghosts and paranormal phenomena, yet when it comes to watching horror films and reading horror stories, even rational and sane minds evince as much interest as irrational or forever frightened people do.
British psychologist Damien Metcalfe, of New Castle University, tried to analyse this phenomenon in his book, A Visit to a Cemetery that “Humans are basically scared beings.
All our so-called ostensible dare-devilry is a mask to hide our perennially frightened subconscious and unconscious selves.” This explains as to why we are all nuts about watching, reading and hearing horror stuff.
Modern Genetics has clinically proven that the human brain is innately, intrinsically and implicitly structured with the pre-civilisational/ pre-historic ideas of god and ghost/s.
In other words, the human brain, with its cogitative capacity, is programmed to believe in all that is supernatural and esoteric. This is known as the G-G Syndrome (God-Ghost Syndrome) in parapsychology. Every individual's brain follows an Irrational Belief Pattern (IBP) that facilitates the idea of ghost/s to survive and thrive.
Moreover, when we watch a horror film in a theatre along with many viewers or read a horror story in the safe and secure confinement of the four walls, we know very well that we stay unharmed and no ghosts can come here to scare us.
At that moment, the brain creates a ‘simulated sense of (blood-curdling) fear’ that's more cathartic in nature. It can be likened to the general fixation on watching a violent film. You know that the blood and gore shown on the celluloid don't actually relate to you physically.
So, brain stays emotionally attached to an act happening to some other, but detached to its tangible violent outcome happening to a viewer. The deep-seated attitude of otherness in human psyche also works and contributes.
This is vicarious voyeurism of violence (VVV or 3Vs). The same pattern happens when you watch a horror film ensconced in the safety of a theatre.
Surrounded by other viewers, your brain builds up a rampart of safety but also lets a part of it remain loose and intentionally unguarded to indulge in your unfounded fantasies, fears and irrationalities.
In a way, the human brain strikes a balance between reason and un-reason, fear and faith and light and darkness. At the same time, secretion of certain hormones like beroxtin and primvin while watching a horror movie can be euphoric like dopamine, released by human brain's neurotransmitter.
The oxymoronic phrase 'Happily-scared' came into existence when the father of English horror stories Edgar Allan Poe underwent this paradoxical experience while watching dead-bodies being exhumed and consumed by stray dogs! Strangely as well as interestingly, we often unknowingly and unwittingly enjoy macabre indulgences and activities.
Horror stuff is one of the ramifications of ingrained human proclivities. Human brain functions in a balanced juxtaposition of two contradictory emotions. So, what pains you also gives you pleasure. And what scares you, satiates you as well.
Sigmund Freud, who also worked on the concept of spirits, found that most of the people, liking horror films or reading horror stories are those who (temporarily) want to believe in the phenomenon of ‘Contradictory Juxtaposition’ (CJ) to exactify English poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s critical theory of ‘Willing suspension of disbelief’.
Psychological critic Norman Holland points to a neuroscientific explanation. When we hear or watch any narrative, our brains go wholly into perceiving mode, turning off the systems for acting or planning to act, and with them go our systems for assessing reality. We have, in Coleridge’s second, more accurate phrase, “poetic faith”.
That’s why humans have such trouble recognizing lies: they first believe, then have to make a conscious effort to disbelieve. To contextualise this in terms of horror films, brain willingly drops the idea of reservations or scepticism about ghosts and turns into a pleasurable (dis)believing mode to enjoy horror flicks. Verily, human brain is bizarre. It finds pleasure in pain and pain in pleasure.