The Exorcist or Why I Paid to See Soup Bile

In continuing with classic horror movie night...The Exorcist. What a horror movie! I almost didn't go see this one on the big screen recently out of fear of being grossed out by the post-dinnertime time slot/the pea soup vomit combo but, I am so glad me & my stomach braved the bile! First terms of horror sub-genres this film pretty much covers all the bases, however loose the plot: mythic relics, dream sequences, dead mom guilt, monster/devil, mental hospitals, murder, occult/religion, medical trauma, distrust of authority/social norms (religious, scientific), sacrifice, a boxer-psychiatrist-New York Italian-priest, possession- it has it all! As I watched The Exorcist though- seeing a bed shake up and down, lots of bright red painter-ly thinned blood, the aforementioned soup vomit- I couldn't help but ponder the low(er)-budget nature of a lot of this stuff? And a lot of horror movies in general...

Horror movies are historically the cheapest type of film to make allowing for this genre to rake in the profits against their miniscule budgets! We all know that Paranormal Activity cost, supposedly, $15,000 to make. This film, which was just ok on the horror scale in my opinion, raked in an estimated $195 million! Seriously? That is just crazy! The site Horror-Movies.CA (a pretty nice horror film website if I do say so myself!) has a run down of other break out horror profits too, Friday the 13th? $500,000 to make, made $60 million. Halloween? Made for $325,000, made $70million. As this CNN Money article points out, horror films have a lot going for them in terms of being money makers, often being able to be produced cheaply and also lending themselves to a more interesting/creative ad campaign that can reach a wide audience in a way that easily leads to box office numbers (the new horror film V/H/S for example had an ad campaign at Sundance 2012 consisting of VHS tapes duct taped to posterboard, a cheap & memorable way to spread the word...also, I just realized, Halloween masks alone are a constant horror film ad when it comes down to it! Not to mention the stickiness of many a catchphrase:  "Don't go into the light Carolanne!" ). The profitability of horror makes sense but, why the hell do we keep filling the theater seats? Why is it that there seems to be an inexhaustible audience for this genre? Why do people keep paying money to be scared out of their wits?

I found a few answers on the internet of course... A few years back two scientists figured out that our brains can process both negative and positive emotion simultaneously, a thing previously not thought possible...meaning that pleasure and pain in a horror movie experience can exist one in the same: some people just get pleasure out of fear! Along similar lines, many scholars propose that the immediate release of terror brought on by witnessing a horror film is a cathartic act, releasing tension  upon the film's end resulting in a euphoric calm! In yet another discussion, outlined in the book Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment, the following list is provided as to why we are drawn to the spooky screen: adrenaline, voyeurism, distraction and our collective want to shun social normality. Truly I think this is why I like horror movies where, for those brief two hours a tiny microcosm exists in which anything goes allowing for reality to be put on hold for a moment, replacing the real blood with fake, in the most comforting of ways! I mean, I am definitely not thinking about my own mortality as I sit in a movie theater and see the possessed rantings of a possessed, pajama clad little girl with a spinning head as she hurls people to their death out of her window as she is overcome with the pure spirit of the devil. Nor am I thinking about how I am going to pay my rent as her obscenities increase in dirtiness and the score tings along my spine. We pay to see horror movies to forget about the horrors of real life, a thing that many scholars seem to think fades with age as our real lives become more complex. But me? I think I would rather keep buying those movie tickets for those brief hours of thoughtlessness with the occasional start regardless of how closer I get to the actual grave!



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.