’Tis the season of Halloween, and besides putting on a pair of mouse ears or paraphernalia associated with Ken Bone, Halloween is also the time of year that horror movies make their grand reappearance on network television.
Although the majority of these movies are available year-round, there’s always something special about the tradition of Halloween horror flicks. Perhaps it’s the ambiance of the season that causes our brains to crave the jump-scare; maybe it’s the gloomy weather that confines our entertainment to indoor activities. Although both of these options are cause enough to justify kicking back for a horror flick with some pals, neither one accomplishes more than scratching the surface of why we prefer Halloween with a side of horror.
In preparation for October 31st, Freeform and Syfy provided viewers with channel lineups of popular horror movie flicks under the brands “13 Nights of Halloween” and “31 Days of Halloween,” respectively. Where Freeform (traditionally ABC Family’s “13 Days of Halloween”) tends to err on the side of the family-friendly scares, Syfy’s rendition of the Halloween marathon series played fan favorites like “The Conjuring” and network originals such as “The Night Before Halloween.”
However, devoted fans of ABC Family’s original lineup were disappointed to learn that many of Tim Burton’s films would be left out of the lineup this year, along with the “Halloweentown” series, which only aired on the graveyard shift for those of us still awake and craving that essential piece of our childhoods.
While the films in the Freefrom lineup are not necessarily scarier than a film like “Hocus Pocus,” we seem to miss them the most out of the set this year. In fact, one could say Freeform’s decision not to include the Burton movies as a crime against Halloween itself, with the creepy and terrifying nature of the flicks as the perfect ambiance for a Halloween marathon.
Even for networks that don’t typically run a Halloween program like Syfy and Freeform, the creepy vibe was in the air. While FOX aired their rendition of the 1975 fan favorite “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” MTV put on a Halloween special as promotional material for their reimagining of the “Scream” franchise. With all of these options to choose from, the lust for horror was palpable, only growing stronger as the date itself approached. And while those looking for a Halloween throwback often find themselves on the Freeform end of the spectrum, viewers craving spookier and generally scarier flicks found themselves on channels like Syfy and AMC this Halloween.
Yet, for those who fall on the scarier side of the spectrum, their choices will generally lack that “feel good” quality, opting instead for edge of the seat suspense and scare tactics to freak viewers out. This is a common aspect of the Burton films, which are in no way kid-friendly, despite its achievement in animation. So, if movies such as these cause us to jump in our seats and clutch those blankets just a little bit tighter, why do we like them, and even prefer them to the softcore horror films such as “Halloweentown”?
Psychology and evolution has taught us that fear is essential — lifesaving, even. The sympathetic nervous system initiates our “fight or flight” response as a result of environmental triggers. Everything from a pop quiz to a bear attack induces a fear response, which writers and directors in the horror genre utilize to their advantage in an incredibly formulaic production. As is often the case in this genre, suspenseful music and camera angles push our fear response closer and closer to the edge. This is often utilized through the technique of ‘jump scares,’ which originated in 1976’s “Carrie” and became a building block for the horror genre. However, despite these fear tactics built to give audiences a mini heart attack, audiences keep coming back for more. But why?
The answer is that there really is no concrete reason for why we like scary or gory movies. However, that hasn’t stopped multiple theories from emerging either in favor or against horror — while Aristotle stood by the idea of catharsis, film scholar Noël Carroll believes horror movies are the product of curiosity and fascination, the latter of which is a common and agreeable theory.
Take the “Saw” franchise for instance, which works up your sympathetic nervous system as the brutal game of survival plays out on your screen. During those films your subconscious may be playing its own game of survival, testing your brain in a secret “what would I do in this situation” and playing it all out, silently, in your mind. Only your body registers these physical changes by the hammering of your heart and the quickening of your breath while, all this time, your brain has been learning and absorbing information along the way. So, if these scarier, jumpscare, movies are inducing a sort of learning, take it as a free pass to binge all of your favorite horror flicks during Halloween season. You might pick up a thing or two along the way.