The Horrific Psychology – Interview With Mike Battista

December 14, 2012 12:09 pm

There’s always been one question that’s got me wondering. Today, I am on a journey of discovery to seek the answer! Ever since I was young I’ve paid significant attention to the horror genre of cinema. It’s left me wondering: why do we scream at every little unpredictable moment on the big screen? To help me uncover the psychology, and understand the theory of which I call “The Horrific Psychology’ is Mike Battista, a graduate, and writer with a PhD in Personality Psychology, as well as the author of many titles including; Does Anyone Really Like Horror Movies? – Personality & Automatic Reactions To Frightening Films, and Thinking About Polar Bears.

At first glance, horror titles are considered to be scary because of what we see on the surface; the blood, guts, and gore. However it’s better to move away from the thought of; what makes a horror title scary? Yet, remind yourself of fear being an emotional characteristic of oneself. Fear is within us along with a collection of other emotions that seem to be countless! It is because we see ‘fear’ as an emotion that we, as an audience, portray such a natural reaction to what we see on the big screen. It’s almost as if we react without realising it. Battista believes that evolution is what it’s all about. A natural reaction is provoked, depending on the atmosphere, that surrounds us.The descent

“A lot of it is natural. Evolution has shaped us to automatically be scared of potentially dangerous things like the dark, blood, and strange creatures. We are built to be tense when there is an unknown danger lurking nearby, then jump when it finally pops out. Horror movies capitalize on these natural tendencies, exaggerating the dangers or drawing out the suspense to cause us fear even though the danger isn’t real.” He says.

It’ll be a natural instinct to associate ‘fear’ with the visuals on screen – the blood, guts, and gore. This is where a jump scare can be most effective, because as an audience, the first thing we see is the visuals. In my experience, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say this, if I experience a jump scare, I don’t always remember the storyline. All my energy goes towards that one incident that made me scared in the first place.

Battista explains the ideology of behind true terror. He says; “I think real terror–the more subtle fear that Stephen King calls “the finest emotion”–requires a little more depth of story and character. The most terrifying horror has layers of meaning, and that meaning requires knowing who is experiencing the terror and how they got there.”Monster Squad

There’s one thing that directors / producers alike have in common. It’s in their best interest to attract audiences, as they intend to bring forward every single emotion that is within you. Fear, excitement, anxiety, courage as well as others; but fear being the most important characteristics to bring centre stage. How is this even possible? A solid storyline; pure and simple! Once there’s a storyline in place, the connection between the audience and the characters on screen start to evolve, as if by magic! This connection opens the door to endless possibilities. Audiences begin to feel sympathy for on screen, for people who are actually non-existent. Watching the story unfold is strengthening the connection between the audience and movie characters. There’s almost this sense of urgency to find a solution to the situation the on screen character is in. As an audience, you feel like you’re in it together. The more you watch, the more it feels like you’re doing everything you can to make sure that character is safe! It’s like you’ve been taken out of your comfort zone (behind the big screen) and sucked into the situation.

My curiosity got the better of me. I asked the one thing that maybe on everybody’s minds. What are the three main denotations / connotations in the horror genre which encourage fear? The answer to this question leads to a doorway that encourages one to think outside the box. Instead of focusing on the ‘in your face’ facts about the horror genre and how fear emerges, we are invited to take the magnifying glass, and look closer, analyse it, and understand it. When you’re sitting in front of a big screen, with a bucket of popcorn and a cold drink sitting comfortably in its cup holder to your side, the lights fade into pitch black darkness, you find yourself automatically drawn to the big screen. The scene is set, and your atmosphere is adjusted. It’s when the adjustments are in place; that these three elements come into play very easily. These are as follows, just as Michael Battista suggested.the exorcist

  • Exaggeration. Because horror is only on a screen, it has to exaggerate to have any effect. Real knives are pretty dull (hah), but in horror movies they make metallic swishy noises every time they move, they sparkle even in the dark, and they’re accompanied by discordant violin music. Horror kicks everything up a notch so you feel unsafe even when you’re sitting comfortably in a movie theatre munching on popcorn.
  • Expectation. Horror, perhaps more than other genres, relies on our previous experience of horror. Everyone knows that slowly building music is going to end in a jump scare. They know that the bad guy lying on the floor isn’t actually dead yet. Good horror movies use this expectation to add tension. Great horror movies know when to break from expectation to take it even further.
  • Extrapolation. (I probably could’ve used a different word, but I liked the three “ex” words. What I mean by this is that a lot of horror is in the viewer’s mind. Low lighting, claustrophobic camera angles, fast cuts…they all obscure what is actually going on, so we the viewers have to fill in the details ourselves. Half of horror is in our own heads.

“The following is based on a true story!” How many times have we seen this sentence on a black screen, most of us are left with an eerie feeling, and the movie hasn’t even passed the one minute mark. Horror movies that are based on true stories seem to have a powerful and deeper impact on the individual. The possibility of experiencing similar encounters to what you see on the big screen, suddenly the impossible becomes possible! Highly educated, as well as a research analyst at present. Mike Battista is dedicated to uncovering the secrets of the horror genre, as if it was ‘The Blair Witch Project’ reincarnated and agrees that horror movies that are based on a true story carry entirely different weight on one’s shoulders.

“…It’s another method of closing the psychological gap between knowing it’s only images on a screen and being frightened by it anyway. Knowing it could happen in reality drives that primordial voice in your head that says it could happen to you.”

Do movie lovers go to the movies because  they enjoy being scared? Just how crazy is this question? it’s crazy enough for anyone to think outside the box, and reach the end of a horror movie with a sense of relief.The Amityville Horror

“One theory of horror enjoyment states that people donot actually enjoy the horror part of horror movies. It’s genuinely unpleasant for them. But then the relief that comes at the end (e.g., the good guys overcome the horror, or at least the movie ends), and that is what people actually “enjoy.” Some people “enjoy” being able to hold their girlfriend’s hand and act brave throughout the horror. Does that count as enjoying being scared? It’s enjoying the movie when you look at the big picture, but I’m not sure it counts as enjoying the fear itself.”
Let’s make this article a little personal. I asked horror enthusiast Mike Battista to name three favourite horror movies of all time. His were as follows, although his choices may vary on a regular basis just like everyone else;
  • The Exorcist
  • The Descent
  • Monster Squad
 My horror favourites are;
  • The Exorcist
  • The Amityvile Horror
  • Paranormal Activity series

There are so many to choose from. You’re spoilt for choice!

The 32nd US President Franklin D. Roosevelt  once said; “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself!” Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have just uncovered ‘The Horrific Psychology!”


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