Gory Fascination: Why Does Horror Fascinate Us So Much?

Last updated by Katie M.

From serial killers, gruesome crime stories to horrific fiction there are certain seemingly twisted topics that we can't get enough of. Indeed, being confronted with horror and terror seems to excite our brains to the point of giving us goosebumps. Although it makes us feel uneasy and puts us on edge, many of us are totally obsessed. This dark universe draws us even the sweetest and most innocent amongst us in, but why does it have such a strong hold over us? Why do all things scary and terrifying fascinate us so much? Let’s get some answers.

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For centuries, people have always been terrified by ogres, children-eating wolves in fairy tales, vampires and more recently by movies such as the Exorcist. 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?

Why are we so fascinated by gory things? - A mixture of compassion and pleasure

What happens 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 is 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.

Why do we have such a 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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