Why do people like horror? Why is it that, even though monsters aren’t real, you can’t help but worry something’s going to jump out of the dark and get you? What’s fun about getting scared?
When you’re afraid, it triggers your brain’s “fight or flight” response. You get hit with a strong dose of adrenaline which, in the simplest of terms, gives us a mini-high. Your heart beats faster, your body gets more oxygen, and your brain is put on overdrive as it tries to figure out if it needs to escape or prepare for battle. But in a movie your brain knows it’s safe and that the objects on screen aren’t really able to harm you, which allows you to enjoy your body’s instinctive response to fear. (Feeling fight or flight when you see a movie is fun, but experiencing fight or flight when you’re cornered by a pack of rabid wolves is less fun, as your life literally depends on it.)
Your brain also releases dopamine—which is associated with pleasure—and it’s why some people not only like getting scared, but get hooked on it. It’s why people see a scary movie, cover their eyes, throw popcorn everywhere, and feel like they want to throw up… only to repeat the process when the next big blockbuster splatter flick comes to their local cinema.
But this primal, knee-jerk reaction isn’t the only reason we like it.
Horror—brace yourself—is really fucking smart. Really smart. Not all the time, and not every movie, but horror is a genre that’s often overlooked for its intelligence. Horror films like They Live, Night of the Living Dead, Ginger Snaps, and Get Out explore some pretty intense socio-political themes. Everything from class and race to gender to identity is explored through these movies. And, because it’s horror, nothing has to be off-limits. Filmmakers don’t have to play it safe because horror, by nature, isn’t meant to be safe. It’s meant to make waves, cause controversy, and get people talking.
So dim the lights, grab some popcorn, pull on some plastic spatter gear, and get ready to bulk up your Netflix queue as WatchMojo takes you through the 75 most influential horror films of all time.