Why do we watch scary movies in October? Follow me, won’t you, on this wildly speculative evolutionary psychology theory, unreviewed by any peers and free of academic rigour. First, let’s unquestioningly accept my axiomatic assumption that scary movies are an outgrowth of scary stories, tied directly to millennia of oral tradition.
If you’re living in a proto-european farming village in the neolithic, October is a deceptively easy time. The death rate of your community is low all summer, when there’s lots of food for humans and lots of food for things that might eat humans. You’ve let your guard down a bit, and why not? you’ve earned it. The big work of the harvest is just over, and everyone has so much food, you might as well make a lantern out of a turnip. Who cares? You’ve got so many, and even in the neolithic nobody really likes them.
As the days get shorter, the elders start speaking of death, both myths of death as is it culturally understood, and also just stories of death in the community. The are people that you know, or at least have heard about. In these stories, winter will be well-represented. Starvation, cold, hungry predators, isolation; all kinds of hazards that you’ve sort of forgotten. October is a great time to start thinking about these things again. This is where we get all the holidays like the mortality-centric All Soul’s Night, or Samhain (which is partly about warding off evil for another six months, and partly about the ritual intimidation of haves by have-nots who might depend on communal resource redistribution in the cold winter. We call it trick or treating now). Yes, I’m suggesting there is (or was) evolutionary pressure that selects for individuals who enjoy spooky stories in autumn. This is a free doctoral thesis idea if you want it, because lord knows I’m not going to put the work in.
I personally experience this definitely real biological urge every October. My problem is that horror films are notoriously quite scary, what with the gore, jump scares, tension, and narrative universes that are casually indifferent to human life. That said, I love monster movies, which are sort of nominally horror movies but tend to be less cruel, more fun and accessible. An arbitrary distinction, for sure. Probably it’s because my ancestors were just very concerned about the ravenous beasts of winter, and they passed that on to me.
Anyways, I watched a bunch of monster movies and now I’m going to talk about them
Spoilers, obvs. Not big ones but you should know.Continue reading