What attracts us to spooky stuff?

Published May 20, 2023
Illustration by Sumbul
Illustration by Sumbul

I was recently reading a book about djinns and spirits, and it reminded me of my teen years when we (friends and cousins) used to sit in our comfy blankets at night during holidays and read aloud or narrate spooky stories we had read or heard from someone. These were mostly about haunted houses, people who were supposedly possessed by some spirit, or weird things/paranormal activities happening around the house or the neighbourhood and were ascribed to supernatural beings.

These stories would often scare the younger ones amongst us and they would either slide further in the blanket or run over to their parents or some older person to sleep with. Those who were older, pretended to be brave even if they were scared so that they were not made fun of later, though there were some who were not afraid of anything and always won the bravery badge.

Horror movies were another source of the spooky kick. Watching a movie alone does not give as much pleasure as it does with your friends and if it is a horror movie, the presence of friends doubles the fun, as in all cases. Movie nights would turn into fun-filled sessions; and later some would try to scare and make fun of those who had shown the slightest of cowardice.

Some children are brave and some are not so brave, some are plain cowards, even afraid of the dark, hesitating going to a dark room alone, and wanting to sleep with the lights on. There are others who fear there’s a monster under the bed, or other scary imaginary creature, who would come to eat them if they are alone in the room. Often children, and even adults, are afraid of being alone, of strangers, loud noises, like thunder or fireworks, etc.

The brave ones, not being afraid of anything, enjoy the scariest of tales and movies. But it’s a different story for the not-so-brave, who do watch scary movies, but keep closing their eyes when a scary scene comes or hiding behind an elder, as if the ghost, vampire, or the zombie would come out to grab them.

I remember, once we were watching a scary movie at my friend’s place and her young brother too wanted to watch it. For a while, he sat with us and then he got up and we thought he was not interested. But after a while we noticed him hiding behind a curtain and from there watching the movie, and whenever a truly scary scene came he would hide further behind the curtain. That way he watched the whole movie.

Why are kids attracted to spooky stuff?

You may wonder why kids watch spooky movies when they are afraid of the scary stuff. It is because children are very curious and, despite being scared, they want to see what was happening. Sometimes children also show interest in spooky stuff, such as vampire and zombie stories and movies, because they want to show their peers that they are brave enough; sometimes they do so to be included in the group because they like the social bonding that comes along with scary experiences. Another reason might be because they enjoy the rush of adrenaline they feel.

Then there are the children who, though not too brave, expose themselves to scary things because they think it will help them overcome their fear. In other words, we can say that by doing so these children are testing their level of fear.

What happens when we are exposed to spooky stuff?

People generally say that children should not be allowed to watch horror or scary movies as they might instil fear in them, while other believe that there is no harm in doing so. They rather think that it is a harmless fascination and can help to work through their fears and anxieties. In fact, I was reading somewhere that fear is an emotion that helps protect us and alerts us to dangers and prepares us to deal with them. Feeling afraid is something natural and it can be taken as a warning or a signal that cautions us to be careful.

When children are exposed to scary stuff, such as reading horror books or watching scary movies, they can learn how to respond to feelings of fear and anxiety. When kids witness how fictional characters cope with frightening situations, it may help them develop survivor skills. For instance, when a child watches a character in a movie fighting a wild animal, he will learn how to respond in such a situation and if he/she is faced with a dog ready to attack him, he may recall what happened in the movie and act wisely.

If you easily get scared, it is okay. In fact, scary stories are a way to help children understand that life is not always easy; they help children like you to learn how to deal with the real world. Stories about monsters and demons are fun and also help us understand scary situations, and how to cope with them.

Spooky stories have been around for long

If you think horror stories are a new phenomenon or an invention of modern times, you are mistaken. When do you think the most famous horror books Frankenstein and Dracula were written? Yes, in the nineteenth century. But horror stories date back to the Middle Ages and even before. Then there are the books from the horror novels series Goosebumps by R. L. Stine, in which the main characters find themselves in scary circumstances usually involving the supernatural or the paranormal. The series was so popular that from 1992 to 1997, 62 books were published under the Goosebumps title, and over 400 million books have been worldwide in 35 languages.

Even fairy tales can be frightening with evil witches threatening to boil and eat children, as in Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel, etc.

Some popular spooky fun

A favourite pastime of children who are into scary stuff is to dare their friends into doing scary stuff like going to a dark desolate place or watching a horror movie alone, even if they are themselves scared from within. There is no harm in doing so as long as you are not taking any undue risks, like going somewhere where it is not safe and your parents don’t allow you, just to try to show your bravery.

These days, Halloween parties or costume parties are often held, which makes it more fun for all those spooky stuff lovers out there. To cater to the demands of youngsters, masks and robes of almost all horror movie characters and some random ones are available in the market to play pranks with or give a unique entry in a party. If you have to attend a costume party or a Halloween party and have not been able to come up with an idea what to dress as simply wearing a scary mask is not a bad idea. At a fancy dress party while some children dress up like prince/princess or fairies, some prefer to dress up like ghosts and ghouls or some other character from a horror movie.

When we were young we would often dress up as a ghost and try to scare our younger sibling or even some unsuspecting elder (at the risk of being reprimanded or punished). Some kids often kept rubber snakes, lizards, or some other creepy crawly and, for the sake of fun, discretely leave it somewhere where someone can suddenly stumble upon them or a lizard may suddenly land in someone’s lap in a gathering. It was done in good humour just for fun, but some people would take an offence. So be careful who you play the prank with!

Summer vacation is not too far. Once you are done with your final exams, make a list of horror books and movies that you can read and watch during vacations. Do share the list with your parent or elder sibling, to make sure that they approve of what you are interested in, and also to see if it is suitable and there really isn’t something too scary for you, because some books and movies go really overboard and turn from scary to gory in no time.

Published in Dawn, Young World, May 20th, 2023

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