The Virtue of Horror Movies

by Ethan Mack


If you asked people on campus about how the Jesuits have influenced them during their time at Boston College, you would probably get a variety of answers. Some would surely say the Jesuits taught them the importance of service. Others would say the Jesuits showed them how to think well. And others still would claim the Jesuits demonstrated to them the richness of Catholicism. However, I'm probably the only one who can say the influence of a Jesuit made me interested in horror films. A certain Jesuit (who will remain anonymous...but if you know the Jesuit Community at all, you can probably guess) shared with me his love of horror films early on during my time at BC. Watching horror films is now one of my favorite activities when with a group of friends. However, there are some who fail to see the virtue of films in this genre. Thus, I would like to explain what makes these films unique.

Perhaps the most important virtue of horror films is the social aspect of them. I find it to be the only genre of film where watching in a group vs. alone completely changes the experience. Watching a film like Citizen Kane (excellent in its own right) in a group is little different from watching it alone. Granted, a group showing of such a film can accompany discussion that can reveal certain insights one might miss by themselves. However, the immediate experience of watching the film itself is more or less the same. Alternatively, when watching a horror film, being in a group is essential to the experience. You react not only to what is happening on the screen, but also to the reaction of others. Moments where I would not be startled by a film become startling by the reactions of the people around me.


Horror movies also are unique in that they demand from us a paradoxical combination of enthrallment and detachment. The mere fact that horror movies have the power to scare or unsettle us indicates that we are enthralled in their content. When a person screams during a horror film, they are not conscious of the film as a temporally and spatially extended series of pixels projected on a vertical surface. Rather, they scream because these images are perceived with some sense of reality. However, even as we are enthralled in the content of these films, we are simultaneously detached from them. When a foolish youth decides to explore the cursed woods alone, we don't cry when he meets his inevitable demise. We don't attribute to these images of personhood the same concern and care we have for actual persons. If we did horror movies would be not fun at all, since they would be nothing but a series of funerals. Our detachment from these films allows us to have fun with them. We can make fun of the stupidity of a character leading up to his demise or of the complete illogic of the killer's motivation. Horror movies thus present to us both a sense of fear through our enthrallment and a sense of fun through our detachment.


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