Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ghosts and Goblins and Ghouls, Oh My!

by Jo Robertson

Psychologists theorize about why people enjoy being scared half to death in the name of fun. Rides at amusement parks, scary movies, and recklessly fast driving all apparently give risk-takers some sort of vicarious thrill.

But what’s so fun about being frightened?

Those same doctors suggest that scary movies and books, fast thrills, and watching others engage in risk-taking behavior provide a release for our natural inclination for daring excitement in a safe environment.

In a movie we can watch the heroine get the mysterious phone call, hear a strange noise, and YEP go into the basement to check it out. "Don’t go downstairs!" we yell from our safe seats in the movie theatre. By the way, why does she always go down there anyway? If we authors wrote such action for our protagonists, we'd say they’re TSTL (too stupid to live) and kill them off in a hurry.

But I LOVE those movies!!! I watched SAW One, Two and One Hundred even as I knew how stupid, violent, and silly the whole thing was. I love being scared, sitting in my house, safe and warm, reading a book or watching a movie, knowing I am secure while the heroine, idiot woman that she is, gets chased by the monster.

Those same doctors insist we like watching scary movies and reading scary books because they remind us that essentially we’re protected. They provide us the thrills we crave from a safe distance.

When my husband and I were engaged, and poor as church mice, we spent every Friday night watching the Friday Night Spook Movies on TV and eating homemade popcorn. I loved the old Bella Lugosi and Vincent Price movies, the scariness of the black and white screen, and the vicarious thrill.

When I was a young mother, I read a book whose name I've forgotten, about a possessed house, a sort of poltergeist (before those movies), an evil historical entity that threatened the whole family, a la Amityville. My husband was gone on an overnight conference and I was so frightened that I woke up my new-born baby and one-year old, just to have company. And I kept the lights on ALL night.

My favorite scary movie? It's "Night of the Living Dead," the 1954 movie that gives me the creeps to this day.

So, what about you? What's your favorite scary movie or book?