Why do people like horror? Putting to one side the fact that to properly answer this question would require a hefty amount of research, I’ll venture a few points off the top of my head:
Horror (if it’s any good) elicits a physical response (our fight or flight response) and its appeal is often compared to that of a roller coaster. It’s the thrill of being simultaneously terrified and safe.
It allows the viewer or reader to be privy to taboo subjects: violent death, torture, monstrosity, the desecration of the body. But since it’s fake, you’re not a bad person for watching!
I tend to use ‘horror’ as a catch-all phrase for any sort of fiction with ‘darker’ elements. In this sense, horror has been a vital presence in art and folklore for aeons, in many guises and permutations. Witness the evolution of the vampire from the corpulent demonically possessed corpse of Eastern European folklore, through Stoker’s ancient Count, to the brooding Edwards, Bills and Erics of today. In the first volume of his Greek Myths, Robert Graves writes of the Empusae of ancient Greece, children of Hecate who, among other things, were said to disguise themselves as beautiful maidens, lying with men by night and sucking their vital forces until they died.
Horror tends to mirror contemporary societal fears and anxieties. Think of Romero’s Left-leaning Dead films where zombies on one level symbolise the oppressed masses. Or the big-time emergence of the serial killer in countless slasher films dating from the 80s.
Finally, watching a horror movie can be a cathartic experience. You spend one and a half hours writhing around in the mouth of madness, and emerge unscathed…