Horror Reactions in Action

I have always loved the medium of cinema as a platform of expression, not only for those who create film, but also for those who watch and engage with them. I particularly enjoy horror movies and how as a genre they can accurately communicate this expression through audience reactions. As one of my favourite movie directors Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it” and I believe this is what makes horror films such a unique and valued cinematic experience for audiences.

With these interests in mind, I’ve conducted a small media project to look further into the nature of audience reactions to horror films. The participants watched three different horror films from three different horror subgenres; psychological, paranormal and slasher. I have recorded their reactions to each film and followed the viewing up with a short interview to gauge their thoughts, feeling and reactions to each film.

The participants I included in my study have varying experiences with the horror genre. Sarah and Madeline have watched many horror films and are quite familiar with the themes, tropes and conventions the genre often employs. For this reason I expected them to be the least affected in terms of their reactions to the films content. Dean despite being a massive cinephile hasn’t watched a lot of films in the horror genre, although he is very familiar with the common themes, tropes and conventions. Thus I expected he may react to some elements throughout, or he may not. My last participant Georgia has never been exposed to the horror genre in her life, therefore I expected that she would be the most affected out of my participants as she looked at the content with fresh eyes and  therefore is completely unaware of the tropes and themes that my other participants could see coming.


Psychological- The Shining 

The Shining is a 1980 psychological horror movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel of the same title by Stephen King.The Shining focuses on the troubled Torrence family who move to the isolated Overlook Hotel over the winter where the past and present ghosts of the hotel influence the father’s decent into madness and violence. Meanwhile, his son sees horrific premonitions from the past and future. The movie focuses predominately on themes of family, isolation, time and space which Kubrick uses to a distinct advantage throughout the film to create “a sense of ambiguity… because the absence of knowledge makes everything scarier; it feel’s evil and that’s all it needs” (Carl 2013) 

Paranormal- The Ring 

The Ring is a 2002 paranormal horror movie directed by Gore Verbinski. The film centres around an urban legend where viewers of a nightmarish videotape receive a call after watching it, informing them that they will die in exactly seven days. A journalist is skeptical of  the tape until she watches it herself. Now she must unravel the videotapes mystery before her time is up. The central themes of this film are the harmful effects of media (contextually relevant as the Ring was released when media anxieties were high in relation to emerging media forms ie. the internet),the responsibility of parents and guardians and feminine roles.

Slasher- Halloween 2007 remake 

Halloween is a  2007 slasher horror movie directed by Rob Zombie as a  remake of the 1978 cult classic of the same name. Halloween centres around troubled child Michael Myers who on Halloween murders his mother’s partner, his own sister and her boyfriend. Twenty  years later he returns for his baby sister. This movie targets themes of family, insanity and obsession.

Sarah’s and Madeline’s Overall Reactions 

When interviewing Sarah, much like I had predicted she had not been affected by any of the three movies. This is most noticeable throughout the reaction videos as she is often joking about the situations and the characters and doesn’t seem to be emotionally involved in what was happening on the screen. She was also more likely than the other participants to be distracted by her phone or other distractions present in the space.

However while Sarah did not get scared by anything depicted on screen, she did mention in her interview that she was curious as to what was going to happen. This aligns quite closely with a study into the philosophy of horror which states that through horror “curiosity, fascination and our cognitive inquisitiveness are engaged, addressed and sustained in a highly articulated way.” (Carroll 1990)

In terms of interacting with the film, Sarah’s reactions were much more logical rather than emotional. This is shown throughout the videos with her tendency to predict future events of the film. When asked later about this, Sarah indicated that this was because she is intrigued by how closely horror movies follow the stereotypes of that genre. This is to be expected when she is so familiar with the conventions, tropes and themes . In confirmation of my hypothesis Sarah confirmed that she was less scared due to what she described as desensitisation through exposure to the genre.

Similar to Sarah, Madeline stated that she was not particularly affected by any of the movies we watched, but was intrigued by the psychological subgenre and enjoyed The Shining. However, even though she stated that she wasn’t affected by the films, her physiological responses of screaming, covering her eyes, talking back to characters were much more prominent than in other participants, illustrating at least a surface level of emotional involvement with the films. This is clearly demonstrated throughout the reaction videos. When asked about this Madeline said that she gets scared by the movie while she is watching it, but afterwards is not affected by them. like Sarah, Madeline was distracted in slower parts of the movie, looking at either her phone or eating when there wasn’t much going on. This distraction once again is likely due to the fact that she is so familiar with the horror genre that she knows what to expect.

Dean’s Overall Reactions

Dean found himself most affected by the paranormal movie, The Ring. He found this movie to have more mystery and suspense, which in combination with the jump scares made the movie more terrifying. While he was scared by the content of The Ring, overall he found the Shining to be very creepy stating that the quality of the film kept him uneasy even in scenes where nothing was happening. Dean was the least affected by the slasher genre, stating that although entertaining it had more noticeable tropes making it harder to connect emotionally and intellectually with the movie.

When asked about his physiological responses to the film, Dean claimed he did not show any noticeable signs .However there is footage throughout the videos which contradicts this, indicating that these responses were involuntary in their nature.

When asked about distractions, he stated that he was affected slightly by having snacks in the room and a camera pointed at his face. In my observation Dean was the participant who was distracted by the space around him the least, and when he was distracted it was for a significantly shorter period than the other participants.

 Georgia’s Overall Reactions

Georgia was most affected by The Shining, the psychological horror movie. She found the plot, characters and overarching themes to be quite creepy and ‘trippy’. Often throughout the movie she had no idea what was actually going on which contributed to feelings of unease. The creepiest aspects of this film for Georgia were Danny’s premonitions, the twin girls and Jack Torrence’s descent into madness.
As I’ve been friends with Georgia for almost fourteen years it’s no secret that she likes to talk to the characters and predict future events throughout the movie. From my observations I noticed that she was the most talkative during The Shining, which Georgia stated in her interview was because she had no idea what was happening and wanted to know what was happening.
As I had expected, Georgia was my only participant that found herself affected by The Shining after viewing the movie. She stated that she awoke in the night and couldn’t get back to sleep since she kept hearing noises. What I found interesting from Georgia’s interview responses was that she was actually more scared by the thought of watching horror movies than she was when she actually watched them.
I had also thought that she would be affected by all three genres, as she has had no previous exposure to the horror genre. Therefore it was interesting when she said that she didn’t really engage with both The Ring and Halloween due to feeling bored while watching them.  In terms of distraction, like my other participants she was most distracted by her phone and this was predominantly during slow parts of the films.
In conclusion it is clear throughout my analysis that while all my participants to this study were affected by watching these films, there is a great deal of variation in the degree of how affected they were by each film. I believe this is directly correlated to how much prior experience each participant has had with the genre. Sarah was largely unaffected by all three films as she knew what to expect from them. Madeline whilst affected physiologically while watching the movies, was largely unaffected once the movie had finished. Dean who has had limited experience with the horror genre found some aspects affected him whilst others did not. My last participant Georgia was most affected after watching the movie, likely because she is not yet accustomed to horror movies tropes, themes and conventions. Therefore the results of my study directly proved my hypothesis.
How do you react to horror films? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! 🙂
GIF courtesy of giphy.com

-lizzellbee 🙂


CARL, 2013, The Shining: Review and Analysis, Some Films and Stuff,weblog post, 25th May, viewed 28th October 2016, <https://somefilmsandstuff.com/2013/05/25/the-shining-review-and-analysis/&gt;

Carroll, N 1990,The Philosophy of Horror: Or Paradoxes of the Heart,Routledge, New York.




2 thoughts on “Horror Reactions in Action”

  1. I love, love, love horror movies!! Some still get me. Not as much. Jump scares ALWAYS get me, even when I can predict it’s going to happen. The babadook is so far the scariest movie I’ve seen this last year. Even worse than the Conjuring! Currently been binge watching z Nation (zombie to show). Also enjoying the American horror stories latest season. It’s finally getting interesting!

    This was a great blog 🙂 well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. the Babadook freaked me out too! It’s interesting how it deals with issues of domestic violence through a supernatural lense. Great Australian film and director. I haven’t heard of Z nation but I should check it out. is that Roanoke? because I still need to catch up on Hotel. Thanks, glad you liked it 🙂


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