We love things that are unpleasant. The pleasure of spicy food is in the pain it causes our mouths. The pleasure of alcohol is the brain cells that it kills. And we love horror films.
I’m sure there’s some pseudo-scientific reason why we love horror films — adrenaline rush, heightened emotions, &c. — but what is perhaps more interesting about movies is the way in which they scare us. When we watch the films, we know that they’re up on a screen and that they are fiction. There’s something about horror films which bypasses that cynical awareness of reality to make us embody the physical state of fear.
Curious and interested as I am, I watched Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge, and Pan’s Labyrinth in order to understand what it was about the stories and the way they were told which makes me frightened. A bit of a masochist project, I admit, as my already rubbish sleep schedule was plagued by nightmares that night.
Before I jump in to overthinking horror films, it’s probably worth noting that the films I chose are clearly from a particular style of horror film: the fantasy, absurd, surreal sort of horror. I’ve never been a fan of slash/gore films and don’t find them particularly scary. I imagine that the analysis of those films would be easier: we respond to the violence on the screen. In two of the three films I chose, there’s very little violence. Something else is going on with these films beyond mere response to the obvious physical threat of people who wish to smear our organs across walls.