Horror movies : a question of age or sensitivity?

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As Halloween, one the most loved celebrations of the year, approaches, everyone is searching for new and classic horror movies to get into the scary mood. However, young people, excited to spend a movie night with their friends, may sometimes be exposed to content that is not necessarily appropriate for them. Indeed, some of the most terrifying films are watched by a younger audience. A lot of people will argue that those kinds of entertainment should not get into the hands of underage viewers, but is it that simple ? What classifies as a young audience and when should it be deemed appropriate to watch horror films so that we may fully enjoy them?

It has to be said that today’s technology does not facilitate the censoring of movies among underage audiences. Parents cannot always look after their children when they are on the internet, teenagers often ask their friends for entertainment recommendations, and young adults may try to be a little more bold on special occasions. Streaming websites do not differentiate ages for their huge amount of visitors. The result of this is that all of that generation can be exposed to the same horror movies as their elders. Thus, what would theoretically be the ideal age to be exposed to them?

First, let’s have a look at different kinds of horror movies. Some are even made for children such as Beetlejuice (1988) or Frankenweenie (2012), which could arguably be categorised as scary films for little children due to the presence of spooky elements in the plot. Some might also contain humour or love to soften the horror elements. For instance Sleepy Hollow (1999) where a headless man riding a horse is overshadowed by Johnny Depp’s romance with Christina Ricci, or Zombieland (2009) whose jokes rather than the zombies made it one of the best movies of its decade. But then other films may only concentrate on evoking one emotion- dread: Saw (2004) or The Conjuring (2013)… This is the main version of horror that we see so much of in our media.

Referring to the latter type of horror that I mentioned, in my opinion there is no ideal age to watch these films. Many factors contribute to my reasoning for this. Firstly, everyone has different sensibilities; even some adults cannot bear to see a drop of blood, or to think about ghosts and spirits, and when exposed to such they might be in a high state of anxiety, leaving them with weeks of nightmares. Also, everyone is scared or made uncomfortable by different things or situations. No one would think of watching The Blair Witch Project (1999), or Paranormal Activity (2007),  if frightened by supernatural events. Or in my own case: no spiders are allowed in a movie, especially not one where the plot is centred around them! That is also why age ratings are an incredibly sensitive subject as everyone will respond differently. Those ratings should therefore be taken as a guidance rather than a golden rule.

Another element that must be taken into account, is that the degree of blood and cruelty as well as the likely presence of a child protagonist must be assessed when children are watching; the younger a child is the more impressionable they tend to be. The context in which the movie is watched matters a great deal too. Watching a terrifying film with someone you trust might lessen the impact of the images in front of you, as is also the case if the person with you stays calm and is unaffected. Although, the group effect (experiencing the movie with a group of friends) can either soften the blow, or on the contrary, accentuate it. But, in spite of the fear and the distress one might experience during the viewing, are there any other psychological effects?

Of course, for the most sensitive the anxiety does not stop at the end of the movie. Nightmares,  sleepless nights, unexplained panic attacks and the like, are some of the effects that can be triggered by horror movies. While it might be more common amongst children who watch a scary film, adults can also experience those side effects. More than that, in rare occasions this distress stays longer than one could imagine, even lasting years after the first viewing. Who didn’t nearly have a panic attack when one had a blocked ID call in the credits of The Ring (2002)? Or even started being a maniac by unplugging the TV each night to avoid a horrific encounter?

People should be careful with horror movies and never force themselves to watch one because of social pressure. Some people are more sensitive than others, and as we do not all have the same taste, we do not have the same fears either. Halloween is the time when you will most likely be confronted by that genre of film. But remember if The Exorcist (1973) isn’t your cup of tea, you can try Corpse Bride (2005). I’m sure you’ll love it.

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Second year Business Student. Loves Sherlock, writing, books and coffee.

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