Gory Fascination: Why Does Horror Fascinate Us?

Serial killers, gruesome crime stories, car accidents, being confronted with horror and terror excite us so much that it makes us feel uneasy, but we just can’t look away. So why do all things scary and terrifying fascinate us so much? Let’s get some answers.

For centuries, people have always got scared: ogres, children-eating wolves in fairy tales, vampires and more recently the Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs, Zodiac. As well as a whole range of series showcasing murderers and monsters: The Walking Dead, Dexter, Mindhunter, American Horror Story, etc. So why do we enjoy being confronted with horror? How can this fascination for evil and gore be explained?

Fascination for gore: in between compassion and pleasure

What’s going on in our brain when we’re confronted with horror? Researchers have found that when faced with gruesome news stores we experience both suffering and pleasure. In fact, in our brain pleasure and pain work together and it’s impossible to separate the two.

The brains pain pathways allow us to sympathize with victims of pain, but at the same time, the brain’s pleasure pathways are also activated. That explains the confusing feeling of fascination and repulsion.

Fear: a cathartic pleasure

Why do we slow down in the car to try and catch a glimpse of the victims of car accidents? Why do we read a Stephen King novel for pleasure or watch Hannibal Lecter feasting on a brain?

Firstly, our attraction to gruesomeness is a sign of our empathy; we experience someone else’s suffering, whilst reassuring ourselves. By watching victims, we ward off our fear and so, as a result, are not victims ourselves. We confront death to feel more alive.

Being a witness to gore allows us to create catharsis, in the psychological sense of the term, meaning we externalize our trauma. At the cinema, the theater, in literature and within our own material comforts, we impose fear on ourselves: knots in your stomach, a dry mouth, chills, goose bumps, jumping through fear…all whilst knowing that that we can put an end to it all and look away at any time we want. We hold our nerve, whatever happens, it’s not real but purely fiction.
scary bike

According to some specialists, it’s our feeling of powerlessness when confronted with real-life tragedy that pushes us towards gore, which we can control and which allows us to look away.

Fascination for serial killers

Real-life monsters and fictional heroes, the serial killer is a huge reason why we are attracted to gore. In between fascination and condemnation, it replaces the popular werewolf and vampire figures. It represents danger to the community and actually strengthens that community.

Their abnormality reassures us of our own normality. However, the fact that they seem to be everywhere forces us to take a look at ourselves. Would we too have been capable of committing those crimes? Serial killers therefore represent the boundaries we are unable to cross, for fear of losing our humaneness.

What is hybristophilia?

Hybristophilia is when fascination with a serial killer turns into an attraction, romantic or sexual. It’s a genuine condition.  

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