Scar­ing up plea­sure

Fear brought on by hor­ror films cre­ates dopamine movies mu­sic

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - YOUR ESSENTIAL DAILY NEWS - Richard crouse For Metro Canada

In the movie Hitch­cock, the mas­ter of sus­pense, played by Anthony Hop­kins, says, “Au­di­ences want to be shocked — they want some­thing dif­fer­ent.” He’s re­fer­ring to the lurid hor­rors of his ground break­ing 1960 film Psy­cho but he could have been talk­ing about any num­ber of frights avail­able on screens this month.

Trends come and go but one thing is for sure, au­di­ences will al­ways line up to get scared at the movies. Whether it is the time loop ter­rors of Happy Death Day or the re­turn of Jig­saw, the evil mas­ter­mind from the Saw se­ries, there is no short­age of things that go bump in the night at the movies this Halloween.

But why do we pay to be scared? Isn’t that coun­ter­in­tu­itive?

Sci­en­tists tell us that we like the rush of adrenalin that comes from watch­ing Leather­face chase vic­tims, chain­saw roar­ing.

That jolt of fear makes the heart race and re­leases a hor­mone called dopamine that’s also as­so­ci­ated with plea­sure. Sci­ence jour­nal­ist Jeff Wise called the ex­pe­ri­ence of ex­treme movie fear “the bi­o­log­i­cal equiv­a­lent of open­ing the throt­tle.”

A Satur­day mati­nee screen­ing of Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity was the first and only time I ever heard any­one ac­tu­ally scream in a theatre.

I don’t mean a quiet whim­per fol­lowed by an em­bar­rassed laugh or a fright­ened lit­tle squeal. No, I mean a ful­lon, open throated howl of ter­ror. But the woman didn’t run from the theatre. She stayed and en­joyed the rest of the film, so she must have liked the cathar­tic re­lease of ten­sion the scream gave her.

Leg­endary film­maker and show­man Wil­liam Cas­tle took full ad­van­tage of the au­di­ence’s love of shocks.

The ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign for Macabre, his 1958 schlock­fest about a doc­tor’s daugh­ter who’s been buried alive, boasted that ev­ery ticket pur­chaser would re­ceive a $1,000 in­sur­ance pol­icy against “death by fright” is­sued by Lloyds of Lon­don.

Those brave enough to make it through to the end cred­its were re­warded with a badge that read, “I’m no chicken. I saw Macabre.” The gim­micks worked, draw­ing thrill-seek­ing crowds who spent an astro­nom­i­cal $5 mil­lion (roughly $42,505,633.80 in to­day’s dol­lars) at the box of­fice to see a movie that cost Cas­tle a pal­try $90,000 to pro­duce. Al­fred Hitch­cock knew how to scare the wits out of peo­ple. The shower scene in Psy­cho, for ex­am­ple, is a bench­mark in cin­e­matic fear. If he had any doubts about the ef­fec­tive­ness of that se­quence they must have been put to bed when he re­ceived an an­gry let­ter from a fa­ther whose daugh­ter stopped bathing af­ter see­ing the bath­tub mur­der scene in Les Di­aboliques and then, more dis­tress­ingly, re­fused to shower af­ter see­ing Psy­cho.

Hitch’s re­sponse to the con­cerned dad? “Send her to the dry clean­ers.”

The direc­tor was al­ways quick with a line, but when it got down to the busi­ness of ter­ri­fy­ing au­di­ences he summed up the ap­peal of the scary movie in one brief sen­tence: “Peo­ple like to be scared when they feel safe.”

But what scares the peo­ple who scare us?

Guillermo del Toro, direc­tor of Pan’s Labyrinth and the up­com­ing The Shape of Water, says, “I love mon­sters the way peo­ple wor­ship holy im­ages,” but it isn’t Franken­stein or Drac­ula that gives him the willies. “Politi­cians,” he said re­cently, “they’re the scari­est thing there is right now.”

Hand­out/aP Files

al­fred Hitch­cock is known as the mas­ter of sus­pense be­cause of such films as Psy­cho, which fea­tures Janet leigh, left, in the fa­mous shower scene.

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