Horror fans are a rare breed of filmgoer. Once they find a film to love, it becomes their baby, no matter how the film’s context changes with age or how abysmally it may be critiqued. Even though there are so many amazing horror movies in the world, it’s hard to choose a favorite from the list of the best horror movies ever. With that being said, you’re probably screaming the title of one of the classic horror movies on this list at your computer monitor right now. Have you ever wondered why you like certain movies or what your favorite movies say about you? For instance, if you love Hellraiser, does that make you a card-carrying member of the Cenobite whips and chains club? Or are you just open to new experiences?
Horror movie psychology can tell you quite a bit about what kind of person you are, and as genre films have begun to be accepted as true works of art, more scholars and academics have begun to parse the great horror movies in order to find out what they say about the people that love them. Maybe you love The Exorcist, but does that mean that you’re really worried about a Catholic demon that’s going to swallow your soul? Or are is there something more real in your connection to the film? As a wise editor once said, “movies maketh the man,” so continue reading and see what your favorite horror movies have madeth you.
The Exorcist is arguably one of the best horror films that's ever been made. No matter how many times you see it, Reagan's possession by Pazuzu is a horrifying prospect to consider, regardless of whether or not you believe in a demon from below that's waiting to feast on your soul.
Enjoying a film that's essentially about coming to grips with mental illness and the weight of the choices you've made in your life basically means one of two things: either 1) you're on somewhat psychologically stable ground (or at the very least that you don't worry about being possessed on a daily basis), or 2) you're very emotionally unstable and looking for ways to excuse your own poor behavior (with demonic possession coming as a seemingly reasonable option). In 1974, Dr. Vladimir Piskacek discussed the film with Time Magazine, saying: “[The Exorcist] is dangerous for people with weak ego control, but it would not cause psychosis.”
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On the surface, Hellraiser is a story about a sexy bag of meat convincing a woman to murder for him so they can have sex and escape a BDSM demon from another dimension, but the subtext of the film may be one of the most confusing psychological examinations you'll ever take. Is it a warning story about the never-ending search for pleasures of the flesh? Or are we meant to find Pinhead and his BDSM pals intriguing?
One psychological examination of the film notes that the viewer is more likely to be experiencing the film through the eyes of Frank (the meat bag in question) rather than Kirsty, the film's doe-eyed protagonist. Frank, AKA the viewer, "exists in a symbiotic relationship with the dominant sadomasochists (the Cenobites). He willingly undergoes tortures of varying extremity as a form of pleasure." This pleasure from sadomasochistic pain is similar to the relationship that the viewer has to the film (and the horror genre in general). So, are Hellraiser fans just begging to be tortured by their film's antagonist? Kind of.
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In Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws, the author dives into what audiences could possibly get out of a film about a man who wears someone's cut-off face and chases people around with a piece of farm equipment. Much of Clover's findings contend that many viewers who connect deeply with Leatherface have their own forms of dysphoria - the feeling that something within or about themselves doesn't quite "match" or "fit" - whether it be with their bodies or sexuality. Throughout the film, Leatherface changes his sexuality via the masks he chooses to wear and the instruments that he wields, but he never acts on his desires, which Clover believes has something to do with the fact that Leatherface is locked in his own adolescence due to the absence of his mother. Are Chainsaw fans dealing with leftover issues from childhood? Or do they just really like tools?
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If you've seen Sleepaway Camp, you know that it's a complex and problematic film, rife with generalizations about homosexuality, the transgender community, and young people in need of mental health help. It's also really good. It's hard to look at this film in the context of how the world was in 1983, especially when the film's final reveal seems almost like a throwaway WTF moment. Despite the film's ridiculous premise, it manages to continue to allow audiences to find something in common with Angela, the film's slasher. While she's presented as the film's antagonist in the final scene, if you were bullied at all as a child, it's impossible not to side with her, even if you've never thrown a bee's nest into a bathroom or done something awful with a curling iron. If you love Sleepaway Camp, it's probably because at one point in your life (or now) you felt like a secret freak who was trying to hide who you were from the true monsters of the world.
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