Halloween is nigh, and along with the parade of adorable elves and fairies
knocking on your door come some more disturbing phenomena: scary haunted
houses, wild parties and, perhaps most jarringly, a new onslaught of ghastly
horror films. This year the biggest new release will be Saw IV, the
fourth installment of a tale of a psycho who delights in putting his victims
through ever more elaborate and deadly traps.
Scary movies are nothing new, but films like those in the Saw and
Hostel series have offered something different: They focus less on the
suspense of the chase and more on the suffering of the victim, leading
some to dub them "torture porn." They feature levels of gore and
violence once reserved for cult films. And despite the extreme gore, they're
attracting big crowds at your local megaplex -- and may already be loaded into
your teenager's DVD player.
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If you're not a horror movie fan, you may be puzzled about why people put
themselves through the ordeal of watching such movies. Many behavioral
researchers share your puzzlement, giving rise to a term: the "horror
"No doubt, there's something really powerful that brings people to watch
these things, because it's not logical," Joanne Cantor, PhD, director of
the Center for Communication Research at University of Wisconsin, Madison,
tells WebMD. "Most people like to experience pleasant emotions."
Defenders of these movies may say they're just harmless entertainment. But
if their attraction is powerful, Cantor says, so is their impact. These impacts
are felt by adults as well as children, by the well-adjusted as well as the
disturbed. They may linger well after the house lights go up -- sometimes for
years. And they may be anything but pleasurable.