Halloween: Love of Fear

Halloween is almost here. With it come the scary costumes, gory horror films, and trick-or-treating. When I arrived in London 8 years ago, the experience of Halloween was quite new. I had never fully experienced it before, because Halloween is almost non-existent in my country. We celebrate something similar on the 2nd of November, a celebration that roughly translates as a celebration of “Little Souls.” However, this celebration does not have any of the hype surrounding Halloween.
Illustration Halloween Pumpkin Jack Graveyard

In my country, we go to a cemetery, light a candle on the grave of a relative, and leave fresh flowers. We Czechs were always rather a melancholic nation! But I have to say, I love Halloween the way it is celebrated in the UK and the USA. There are creative aspects to it like dressing up and carving pumpkins, which I am really looking forward to this year. With all of these celebrations of death and fright going on, I wonder what it is that makes us love being scared.

The Love of Fear

Horror movies are a big part of the film industry, and certainly generate a lot of money. The highest grossing horror movie ever, the Sixth Sense, made about $295 million. We love horror movies, or at least some of us do. I am intrigued by this idea, but I can hardly watch any horror movies because my brain does not perceive enough of a difference between what is happening in reality and what happens on the screen. This is actually the core of what makes us love being scared, the ability of our brains to see the difference between danger and safety shortly after the scare happens while still giving us the attendant changes in our body chemistry. When we get the initial fright, our bodies release adrenaline and other chemicals into the blood stream. Our heart rate increases, our muscles tense up, and we breathe faster. Adrenaline also charges us up so that we feel stronger, more alive. Experiencing this is called an ‘adrenaline rush.’

The Monster is Not Real!

The key to enjoying a horror movie, haunted house, or any other simulated frightening experience, is the ability of the brain to realise there is no actual threat. If you watch a creepy pale girl climbing out of a television determined to eat the soul of anyone around, and your brain knows that it is just entertainment, the hormones released into your body have a different overall affect. Because there is no need to fight or flight, our normal reaction to fear, we can relax and enjoy the sudden rush of all those hormones into our system. To some extent, the self inflicted fear is a way to dope ourselves.

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

But what does it mean if you are a person who does not enjoy horror movies? From my own experience, I would say that you are not entirely convinced that what you are seeing could not happen. I can watch movies about serial killers with no problem. Movies like Hostel or Saw do not really scare me, because their violence is often very unreal. My brain can feel safe knowing it isn’t real. However, films like the Ring and Paranormal Activity freak me out to the point that I can’t fall asleep without all of the lights in the house on. That’s because when it comes to ghosts, you can never be too sure that they aren’t real….Just wait and see this Halloween!