The unreasonable popularity of scary

Every year around Halloween, I take my kids to a Halloween store to pick a costume. Every time I find myself surrounded by skeletons, scary masks, vampire costumes, fake blood, grave stones, evil laughs, screeching doors  and other scary sound effects, I shake my head in disbelief and wonder why we like this “stuff”. I never liked horror movies, death, blood, or otherwise feeling scared. Even my cell phone ringtone used to make me jump every time it rang (now I have chimes and, finally, in peace).  Yet, horror and fear seem to fascinate us in a hard to explain way.  Or is there a good explanation?

Let’s make a terrific project to explore this question.  How about looking at the whole horror genre in literature and in movies? There’s a lot to explore to fit your teenager’s taste and there’s so much to learn.  Gothic literature from the Victorian era to famous modern writers such as Stephen King. Here, for example, is a web resource where you can find a big collection of horror stories, including Edgar Allan Poe’s and Mark Twain’s.

Plenty of movies to explore and observe. What do they have in common that makes them so scary?  I like this collection of horror movie clips, especially the vintage trailers from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s but, also, the upcoming ones, including Stephen King’s “Carrie” and “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”, which have been released for 2013. Not surprisingly, the box office stats for this year shows that horror movies have, once more, been extremely popular. The Horror Stew site has a very big collection of horror movie trailers, too, but use with caution, especially if you engage younger teenagers in the activity.

There are, also, some good articles on the web there that you can explore with your middle-schooler in search of answers. The New York Times article “Be Somewhat Afraid” that gives you the state of the art in horror movies or the “Thinking Reader’s Guide to Fear“. Or check this one from Psychology Today.

I have been inspired by the collection of lesson guides that the New York Times has out together to run horror-related projects and highly recommend them to middle school and high school teachers.

Everything around us, even the scary stuff, is fascinating and worth exploring.

Happy Halloween!   (…and easy on the candy)

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