Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states
When I was just a boy, the family and I would gather around the television to watch re-runs of…Boris Karloff, Lone Chaney and Bela Lugosi, among others. Of course, these actors epitomized the genre of horror movies. With a delicious sense of anticipation and expectation, we waited for Bella Lugosi, as Count Dracula, to suck the blood of the frightened citizens of Transylvania. We experienced chilling fear and goose bumps as Frankenstein wreaked terror everywhere he went. Even better than television was to go the local movies houses to watch the same reruns, never tiring of the same story. In knowing what was going to happen seemed to make the whole experience that much more scary and wonderful.
When my daughters entered early adolescence, they and their girl friends would go. as a group, to watch horror movies that were more violent and frightening than the old reruns from the 1930’s. They would huddle together in the dark movie theater, filled with other youngsters of a similar age, and delight in hiding their eyes, screaming with fear and telling one another that they couldn’t stand it, laughing as they screamed. They couldn’t stand it? Just try to stop them from going to the next horror movie!! After the movies, they would joyfully talk and laugh the best and most scary scenes. By the way, none of them had nightmares, insomnia, fear of the dark or any other traumatic reaction.
If you believe that only kids delight in this type of entertainment, think again. Just like the adults did in my childhood home, people of all ages revel in getting scared in dark theaters.
Why is this so? Are we sick? Is this another symptom of the corruption and decline of western civilization? Absolutely not. Horror stories are not an invention of modern times. Dracula and Frankenstein are rooted in 19th century literature. Actually, dark tales of the undead reach back into the Middle Ages and before. Every culture around the world has it’s own version of terrifying stories. Even fairy tales can be frightening with evil witches threatening to boil and eat children, i.e. Hansel and Gretel, etc.
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Many books and articles have been written by great psychologists, philosophers, psychoanalysts and other intellectuals and scholars about this subject. However, in my humble opinion, all of that study is wasted effort. Frankly, we love to be scared in the safety and warmth of our homes or in the safety of movies houses all huddled together with other children, teenagers and couples. After all, what’s Halloween really all about?
I do not recommend that children, between the ages of two to roughly ten years of age, be exposed to this because they are not yet mature enough to handle what seems to them like real blood and gore on the movies screen. I wouldn’t make a regular diet of it. After that, I see no harm in an occasional horror moves and actually believe it’s helpful because it discharges a lot of our darkest childhood fears but in ways that are safe and helpful.
Speaking for myself, when I’m in the mood, I will serve up the popcorn and soda and indulge myself in the thrill to come. When they were young, I took my kids on the most thrilling of roller coasters that made them let out chilling screams, breathe a sigh of relief when the ride ended and then demanded to the end of the line and ride again. Why not, it was all fun.
Your comments and questions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
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