What’s the allure of scary stories?

scary

It is debatable whether or not fear of the unknown is greater than fear of the known, but in childhood so much is unknown that a child, in order to make sense of fear, must isolate and identify it; only the known can be dealt with.

Jan Mark, British Writer

I believe that children should be allowed to feel fear … Walter de la Mare … believed that children were impoverished if they were protected from everything that might frighten them … Once one has answered this basic question … the second problem arises of how it is to be presented. This is really a technical problem which has to be faced by every writer for children.

Catherine Storr, from ‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’ in the Sunday Times Magazine, March 1971

“We’re not really being scared by movies at all, at least not in the ‘brain chemistry way’.”

FilmmakerIQ

The Allure of Scary Stories

1. Shock

2. Relevance – a universal, cultural, subcultural or personal relevance

3. Unrealism – sounds counter-intuitive, but isn’t. At some level we know that what we are watching is not real. Our disgust-o-meter doesn’t necessarily go off when we know something is fictional. Children have a harder time separating reality from fiction, which should be the basis of age censorship.

Does watching violence on screen make us angry or does it have a cathartic, and ultimate calming effect?

Do certain personality types like horror movies more than other personality types?

Different people watch horror movies for different reasons:

1. gore-watching — low empathy, strong identification with the ‘baddie’

2. thrill-watching — high empathy, high sensation seeking motivated by the suspense

3. independent watching — high empathy for the victim and with positive feelings at the end of the film, and

4. problem-watching — high empathy for the victim but negative feelings of helplessness at the end of the film.

Do men like horror films more than women? (Men enjoy horror films more when their female romantic partner is visibly scared, but women enjoy horror films more when their male romantic partner is visibly stoic. I think this just explained to me why it’s always a female voice screaming in the sound effects, and why male screaming is only ever used to comic effect.)

Horror films require us to face the unknown — they allow us to face our fears and put them into context. They shape our belief system, and provide a good, safe space to explore.

 

For more on this interesting subject, watch The Psychology of Scary Movies.

 

Unusual Eating Phobias

Getting annoyed at someone when we listen to them eating or breathing is called Misophonia, and it’s an actual neurological disorder.

 

Here are some more strangely specific fears:

 

Air swallowing- Aerophobia

Alcohol- Methyphobia or Potophobia

Chopsticks- Consecotaleophobia

Cooking- Mageirocophobia

Crystals or glass- Crystallophobia

Dampness, moisture or liquids- Hygrophobia

Dining or dinner conversations- Deipnophobia

Eating or swallowing- Phagophobia

Eating or food- Sitophobia or Sitiophobia

Eating or swallowing or of being eaten- Phagophobia

Food- Cibophobia

Garlic- Alliumphobia

Meat- Carnophobia

Mushrooms- Mycophobia

Sourness- Acerophobia

Taste- Geumaphobia or Geumophobia

Teeth- Odontophobia

Vegetables- Lachanophobia

 

Children’s Literature: How scary is TOO scary?

Writing scary tales for children is difficult, because it has to be interesting without being too scary. How is it done? Where’s the line? What have storytelling experts said on the subject?

I’ve always believed that children, even at a very young age, know their limits, and if a story is too frightening and overwhelms them in some way, they will either fall asleep or walk away.  If you read to your child on a regular basis, it’s easy to navigate this terrain with conversations about each story that help you instinctively calibrate what is appropriate for bedtime reading.  Reading fairy tales may expose children to the dark side, but it also introduces them to survival skills, teaching them to use their heads to outsmart predators.  Shoving the witch into the oven may be a bridge too far, but no reason to be reverent about the words on the page, especially for the younger crowd.

Maria Tatar

People say, ‘Your book keeps giving me chills,’ but I don’t know what that feeling is. Horror always makes me laugh. Normal adult things scare me, but not things from a book or a movie.

– R.L. Stine, from an interview with Village Voice

“There’s no formula. I think you have to create a very close point of view. You have to be in the eyes of the narrator. Everything that happens, all the smells, all the sounds; then your reader starts to identify with that character and that’s what makes something really scary.”

– R.L. Stine from an interview with mediabistro

 

What’s the difference between a monster movie and a dark fairy tale?

It’s a very, very, very thin difference. I think that horror stories come from fairy tales, in a way. They share a lot of similarities. I think the difference is tonal. You know, the fairy tale contains a lot more elements of magic and whimsy and the the horror story contains a lot more, sort of, almost existential feelings — sort of dread, and ultimately they are similar melodies, played at a very different key.

– Guillermo del Toro

Over time, supernatural and horror fiction that has been targeted to children and young adults has become darker. If we look at books from the early 20th century through to the 1950s or 60s, we see books similar to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in their mild handling of frightening characters and scenarios. As we move into the 1970s we start to find horror novels targeted towards young adults. Stephen King’s works Salem’s Lot and Firestarter won the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award in 1978 and 1981 respectively, showing that children and young adults have been quite willing to read scary literature for some time. Neil Gaiman’s books Coraline and The Graveyard Book are also targeted for the tween audience, and could easily be considered scarier than even these specifically labelled horror books from authors such as King and Dean Koontz. In recent years, it appears clear that more and scarier books are being targeted to the child and young adult audience, and as a result, children are reading scarier books than in the past.

Thomas Pynchon

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