Before there were scary movies, there were scary plays. Before there were scary plays, there were scary stories. Scary has been very popular for a very long time. The top twenty box office champs are all scary, from Titanic to the Indiana Jones and of course the first modern blockbuster Jaws, which still has some people afraid to go into the water. Horror and terror have been popular since stories began. Did you hear the story about the man who chopped up his enemy’s children into a pie and fed them to him? It was written by the same guy who wrote about suicidal teenagers and murderously ambitious would-be kings — Shakespeare. And then there’s the one about the guy who killed his father and put out his own eyes — written around 429 B.C.
Scary movies are especially popular with teenagers. They serve as a sort of training wheels for social interaction and a way of letting off steam. Teens watch them in groups, grabbing each other and screaming, then talking afterward about the experience.
The two best pieces I have read recently on the subject of scary movies are Desson Thomson’s article in the Washington Post about the difference between what is scary and what is gory and a piece by Grady Hendrix in Slate about the grisly and very popular “Saw” movies.