Overall it has been a disappointing summer for Hollywood, but one movie recently provided a significant bump in box offices sales. The movie It is an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel and broke many box office records for September.
Why is a scary movie doing so well in theaters? There are many theories. First, there was the buildup to the movie after the first trailer was released in March. It set a record with 197 million global views. Of course, you could point to other movie trailers that did well but didn’t perform when it came time to put people in the seats. Movies like Transformers, King Arthur, and The Mummy with well-known titles and huge budgets flopped this summer.
Second, there is the physiological response. Scary movies increase the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Professor Glenn Sparks explains that frightening films leave a physiological arousal known as the “excitation transfer process.” The rush of excitement keeps them coming back for more.
Third, Joanna Robinson writing inVanity Fair reminds us that people “tired of being shushed or those tired of shushing,” don’t have that problem in horror movies. People are expected to scream, shriek, and even talk back to the screen (don’t go in there). It is a communal experience of shared terror.
Last month I quoted from Pastor Rick Stedman who argues that superhero movies and horror movies are popular because our materialistic society has repressed belief in the supernatural. Quoting from the book, Monsters from the Id by Michael Jones, Rick Stedman uses the psychological terms of sublimation and displacement to explain our fascination with these movies. As a society we may deny the supernatural, but God has placed eternity in our hearts so we look for the supernatural element in other areas, like fantasy films and horror movies.