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Why Horror Seduces

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From vampire apocalypses, shark attacks, witches, and ghosts, to murderous dolls bent on revenge, horror has been part of the American cinematic imagination for almost as long as pictures have moved on screens. But why do they captivate us so? What is the drive to be frightened, and why is it so perennially popular? Why Horror Seduces addresses these questions through evol From vampire apocalypses, shark attacks, witches, and ghosts, to murderous dolls bent on revenge, horror has been part of the American cinematic imagination for almost as long as pictures have moved on screens. But why do they captivate us so? What is the drive to be frightened, and why is it so perennially popular? Why Horror Seduces addresses these questions through evolutionary social sciences. Explaining the functional seduction of horror entertainment, this book draws on cutting-edge findings in the evolutionary social sciences, showing how the horror genre is a product of human nature. Integrating the study of horror with the sciences of human nature, the book claims that horror entertainment works by targeting humans' adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe, allowing a high intensity experience within a safe context. Through analyses of well-known and popular modern American works of horror--Rosemary's Baby; The Shining; I Am Legend; Jaws; and several others--author Mathias Clasen illustrates how these works target evolved cognitive and emotional mechanisms; we are attracted to horrifying entertainment because we have an adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe that allows us to experience negative emotions at high levels of intensity within a safe context. Organized into three parts identifying fictional works by evolutionary mode--the evolution of horror; evolutionary interpretations of horror; the future of horror--Why Horror Seduces succinctly explores the cognitive processes behind spectators' need to scream.


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From vampire apocalypses, shark attacks, witches, and ghosts, to murderous dolls bent on revenge, horror has been part of the American cinematic imagination for almost as long as pictures have moved on screens. But why do they captivate us so? What is the drive to be frightened, and why is it so perennially popular? Why Horror Seduces addresses these questions through evol From vampire apocalypses, shark attacks, witches, and ghosts, to murderous dolls bent on revenge, horror has been part of the American cinematic imagination for almost as long as pictures have moved on screens. But why do they captivate us so? What is the drive to be frightened, and why is it so perennially popular? Why Horror Seduces addresses these questions through evolutionary social sciences. Explaining the functional seduction of horror entertainment, this book draws on cutting-edge findings in the evolutionary social sciences, showing how the horror genre is a product of human nature. Integrating the study of horror with the sciences of human nature, the book claims that horror entertainment works by targeting humans' adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe, allowing a high intensity experience within a safe context. Through analyses of well-known and popular modern American works of horror--Rosemary's Baby; The Shining; I Am Legend; Jaws; and several others--author Mathias Clasen illustrates how these works target evolved cognitive and emotional mechanisms; we are attracted to horrifying entertainment because we have an adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe that allows us to experience negative emotions at high levels of intensity within a safe context. Organized into three parts identifying fictional works by evolutionary mode--the evolution of horror; evolutionary interpretations of horror; the future of horror--Why Horror Seduces succinctly explores the cognitive processes behind spectators' need to scream.

30 review for Why Horror Seduces

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Finished: 23.06.2018 Genre: non-fiction Rating: A #20BooksOfSummer Conclusion: M Clasen explains why we are drawn to the dark side, with sweaty palms, a racing pulse and a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Remember the iconic opening scene in Jaws (1978)? Remember the music? Da-Dum...Da-Dum...Da-Dum-Da-Dum-Da-Dum Review Finished: 23.06.2018 Genre: non-fiction Rating: A #20BooksOfSummer Conclusion: M Clasen explains why we are drawn to the dark side, with sweaty palms, a racing pulse and a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Remember the iconic opening scene in Jaws (1978)? Remember the music? Da-Dum...Da-Dum...Da-Dum-Da-Dum-Da-Dum Review

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Many academic books now claim that they will appeal both to scholarly specialists and to a wide general audience. This claim is very seldom true. In the case of Clasen’s book on horror, it clearly is true. Books that appeal to a wide general audience typically have to be personable and accessible in style. They have to get to the point quickly, state ideas firmly and cogently, offer satisfying moments of insight, and contain arresting images and suggestive anecdotes. In high-quality popular scie Many academic books now claim that they will appeal both to scholarly specialists and to a wide general audience. This claim is very seldom true. In the case of Clasen’s book on horror, it clearly is true. Books that appeal to a wide general audience typically have to be personable and accessible in style. They have to get to the point quickly, state ideas firmly and cogently, offer satisfying moments of insight, and contain arresting images and suggestive anecdotes. In high-quality popular science writing, books also need to give pithy bits of scientific information but never get bogged down in plodding academic summary. Clasen succeeds splendidly in all these respects. Clasen knows as much about horror, I suspect, as any scholar now working on that genre; he gives a masterful historical survey of previous scholarship and assimilates it to his own criticism, using it sometimes as a foil, often assimilating what is good in it; sometimes correcting it; and always offering a fresh and convincing view of the works he considers. Many theorists of horror, from various schools of theory, would agree that horror as a genre is defined by “emotion,” a specific emotion: fear. But Clasen is the only scholar who has taken the obvious next step: going to research on the psychology of fear, finding out what scientists know about it, and bringing that information to bear on his understanding of the genre as a whole and on specific works in the genre. Clasen takes in the “cultural” criticism that has dominated horror studies but integrates it with research into the psychobiology of horror. His work is thus genuinely “biocultural.” No one else has done this. Clasen shows that it needs to be done, that doing it can produce new and better understanding of the subject. As Clasen observes, many scholars have attempted to give respectability to horror studies by adopting liberationist political stances that tend to distort and obscure what is actually going on in the films and novels. Clasen argues that understanding what is actually going on is in itself a legitimate purpose, and that without fulfilling that purpose, no other purpose can be adequately realized.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    Some of us watch horror movies and don't know why. Clasen, who writes in an engaging English style, wants an answer to that question. His book, which includes several chapters of case studies on actual horror films and novels, is an attempt to find an answer. He argues, reasonably enough, that evolution could provide an answer. Our ancient ancestors, known prey to large predators, likely found a psychological release in telling scary stories. More than that, such stories taught survival techniqu Some of us watch horror movies and don't know why. Clasen, who writes in an engaging English style, wants an answer to that question. His book, which includes several chapters of case studies on actual horror films and novels, is an attempt to find an answer. He argues, reasonably enough, that evolution could provide an answer. Our ancient ancestors, known prey to large predators, likely found a psychological release in telling scary stories. More than that, such stories taught survival techniques. Clasen lays out the theory at the beginning, showing that we need to apply what we know of the brain in order to make sense of why humans do strange things. Horror is a huge draw. Some of the best-selling authors of the day are horror writers. Some of the highest grossing movies are horror films. Some of the most sought after video games are horror based. This is an enormously popular industry. Clasen applies his thesis to all of them. A guilty pleasure read, this is a book any horror fan would appreciate. As usual with books I discuss here, I say a bit more about it on my blog: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World. Since I've written a book on horror movies that I hope will appear on Goodreads soon, this book was a very helpful, as well as enjoyable, find.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emelie

    Most people have probably wondered what horror culture is about. Why do humans voluntarily scare themselves witless—and why do we pay enough for that experience to produce a massive multimedial industry? You may have puzzled privately over those questions, wrangled with friends, or rested in semi-articulated answers. This book treats such vague questing with a deeply human understanding, then cuts through it toward scientific answers. Clasen has the latest finds of the evolutionary social scienc Most people have probably wondered what horror culture is about. Why do humans voluntarily scare themselves witless—and why do we pay enough for that experience to produce a massive multimedial industry? You may have puzzled privately over those questions, wrangled with friends, or rested in semi-articulated answers. This book treats such vague questing with a deeply human understanding, then cuts through it toward scientific answers. Clasen has the latest finds of the evolutionary social sciences at his fingertips. With charm and humor, he guides the reader from startle responses and neurochemical effects to the evolutionary logic of phobias and the existential threats of ghosts. He creates a coherent and plausible argument about why we love to be scared. He applies that argument to a range of novels, films, and video games, showing that his deep answers can illuminate their peculiarities. And he does it all with the unfeigned enthusiasm of an aficionado, communicating—even to an outsider—the delighted shudder when Jason tilts his mask like a curious child. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand the paradox of horror.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Why Horror Seduces is a fascinating look at one of entertainment's most well-known genres. Tracing horror back to its historical roots, examining its role in the present, and looking toward its future, Clasen examines the social and biological drives that keep audiences returning time and again to stories of fear and survival. While the lens that he applies is quite specific, Clasen makes a compelling case regarding those fundamental pieces of us that horror activates and engages. Setting aside Why Horror Seduces is a fascinating look at one of entertainment's most well-known genres. Tracing horror back to its historical roots, examining its role in the present, and looking toward its future, Clasen examines the social and biological drives that keep audiences returning time and again to stories of fear and survival. While the lens that he applies is quite specific, Clasen makes a compelling case regarding those fundamental pieces of us that horror activates and engages. Setting aside common interpretations of sexual repression or political reactivism, Why Horror Seduces plunges deep into human concepts of predation, survival, and community. His discussion acknowledges some of the risks and shortcomings of the genre at present, but successfully examines the staying power and benefits horror offers as well. Clearly academic, but written with a great deal of accessibility, Why Horror Seduces is an intriguing read for fans of the horror genre seeking to give it a little more consideration, or for anyone interested in looking at human behavior and psychology.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bob Lewis

    In many ways, this is like the perfect book for me. I'm a lifelong horror fan (and creator) as well as a lifelong student of psychology. What's more, I have a particular interest in evolutionary psychology, which serves as one of the central pillars on which many of this book's arguments rest. And indeed, I found Why Horror Seduces completely enjoyable from beginning to end. However, just because a book seems perfect for me as a reader, that doesn't necessarily mean the book is perfect in an obje In many ways, this is like the perfect book for me. I'm a lifelong horror fan (and creator) as well as a lifelong student of psychology. What's more, I have a particular interest in evolutionary psychology, which serves as one of the central pillars on which many of this book's arguments rest. And indeed, I found Why Horror Seduces completely enjoyable from beginning to end. However, just because a book seems perfect for me as a reader, that doesn't necessarily mean the book is perfect in an objective sense. It's a good book--impressively so--but does leave a few stones unturned. Probably the biggest downside to the book its its length. While that makes for a wonderfully succinct treatment of the subject (easily readable in a single sitting if you happen to sit long enough), it also means some ideas are either omitted or given too brief a treatment. Most of the book's argument won't be news either to evolutionary psychologists (or, indeed, any psychologists worth their salt) or to dyed in the wool horror fans. Of course the book unearths a few studies and pieces of evidence with which I was unfamiliar, but the overall thrust of the argument bears striking resemblance to thoughts I've had before (but just haven't had time to systematically organize and put to paper). In that sense, rather than a revolutionary work of great new insights, the book's greatest accomplishments may be, indeed, that it does provide a formalization of thoughts that I think a lot of us have been mulling over for a while, which hopefully will rally the academic troops, so to speak, toward developing a much more in-depth interdisciplinary theory of horror, both as a genre and as a psychological (or even psychophysiological) phenomenon. The final chapter suggests the author is hoping for much the same thing I am. Furthermore, though horror fans are likely familiar with much or all of the horror-related content in the book and psychologists are likely familiar with much or all of the psychological content in the book, the author should be applauded for introducing these groups to one another by allowing their ideas to intermingle. Some readers might object that psychological treatments of horror have been published before, and there's some truth to that, though I'm not aware of any introductory treatment that surveys the literature as thoroughly as this one while also maintaining a readable tone throughout. Furthermore, much of the theorizing about the horror genre has been, quite frankly, unimpressive at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. And therein lies another triumph of this book: in relatively few pages per instance, it utterly annihilates any excuse for subscribing to a wide variety of discredited and politically-motivated horror "scholarship" that has disgraced the academic literature over the last several decades. No, The Shining is not about Jack Torrance's repressed homosexual desire for his own son; no, The Blair Witch Project does not betray its secret misogynistic intent through an on-screed depiction of marshmallows; and no, the people who posited such hypotheses do not deserve to be taken seriously. The author of this book, though he maintains a much more friendly and professional tone than I am willing to in such cases, nevertheless makes quick and easy work of distancing what we can call legitimate horror theory (that informed by evidence-based social science--such as evolutionary or cognitive psychology--and the actual texts of the works under consideration) from works of pseudoscholarship informed by its authors' politically-derived preconceptions. It's refreshing to read literary theory that doesn't insult my intelligence, and this book should be considered a shining example. On the other hand, while the author quickly and quite correctly dispenses with naive psychoanalytic interpretations of horror (Michael Myers' knife, for instance, is NOT best understood as some kind of phallic symbolism) and flat-out-wrong Marxist ideas, I think his consideration of psychoanalysis as a whole was probably too rushed. To be sure, psychoanalysis is controversial at best, but despite its debatable status as a science, it remains an active field of practice in psychiatry and clinical psychology. What the author really means to argue against is the Freudo-Marxist interpretations of literature that became popular among some ill-informed scholars. However, a Jungian (or neo-Jungian) approach to psychoanalysis actually bears substantially more resemblance to the author's own ideas than he seems to give it credit for (and no wonder--Jung doesn't appear in the index or citations even once!). That's not to argue that Jung was correct in all--or even necessarily in any--matters. However, the author's evolutionary psychological explanation for our attraction to horror should at least be investigated in comparison to Jung's ideas of archetypes and the so-called collective unconscious. To dismiss all psychoanalytic thought as being as discredited as Marxism does a disservice to the richness of such thought, which might have made for an interesting chapter in its own right. To the extent that some legitimate work has already been done on the intersection between horror and psychology, this book's overview is quite (perhaps unnecessarily) brief. Early chapters allude to results from neuroscience, but once those arguments are made, the topic is largely dropped. The book doesn't go into any great depth to support the reader's understanding, and it doesn't always connect all of the elements of its psychological thesis to the discussions of the several case-studies in horror media that comprise the latter half of the book. Despite these (relatively minor) flaws, I'm thrilled to have read such a book that's at once entertaining and thought-provoking. Readers worried about spoilers for classic works of horror (particularly the seven case-studies included in the book's second half: I Am Legend, Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Jaws, The Shining, Halloween, and The Blair Witch Project) should be warned that the entire plots of books and films are discussed without spoiler warnings. Everyone else who has even a passing interest in either horror or psychology (and especially those who, like me, have a strong interest in both) should buy and read this book immediately.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dan Guajars

    Devoré toda la teoría y mientras leía se me ocurrieron historias nuevas para atormentar. Excelente lectura. El último tercio del libro hace una descrición completa de películas y libros de horror y ahí no los leí todos. Los que leí son puro análisis e historia. Excelentes conocimientos para quienes navegamos en la escritura creativa.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    A really interesting beginning which I felt was rather let down by some inconsistencies later on, made worse by a choice of media which rather limited the possible conclusions. Still, it was fun in some ways and I look forward to seeing the ways that horror research moves forwards.

  9. 4 out of 5

    max thien

    Clasen has delivered an incredibly accessible and insightful work. Why Horror Seduces effectively supports and guides both the newly interested and long-term fans of fictional horror in an exploration of the genre and provides the framework for further studying.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Esben Elkjær

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Blaker

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim Archer

  13. 4 out of 5

    João

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eva

  15. 4 out of 5

    K

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jjannette

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chad Brock

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christy

  21. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Terkildsen

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  23. 5 out of 5

    Camilla Henningsen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Mckee

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Yasin

    Enjoy the premise of evolution & survival - ties close to Lisa Cron's words on brain science. Enjoy the premise of evolution & survival - ties close to Lisa Cron's words on brain science.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andrew S

  29. 4 out of 5

    Agnieszka Kotwasińska

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christina Færge-broberg

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