Horror fiction – in print and on screen – is big business because it’s immensely popular. Stephen King has sold more than 350 million books. Horror films tend to be Hollywood’s surest bets for turning a profit at the theatre. There are entire industries dedicated to delivering frights, thrills and gross-outs. So why do audiences line up and pay up in droves to experience horror and disgust – two emotions almost universally thought of as negative? In this Aeon Interview, Noël Carroll, distinguished professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), dissects why horror fiction gets its hooks so deeply into audiences despite putting them in states of discomfort.
Noël Carroll holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a PhD in cinema studies from New York University. He is the author of numerous books on art and culture, including The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (1990).
Interview by Nigel Warburton of Philosophy Bites.
Producer: Kellen Quinn
Editor: Adam D’Arpino
Film clips and stills, in order of appearance:
The Twilight Zone: ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ (1963)
The Walking Dead: ‘Spend’ (2015)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
Alien 3 (1992)
The Thing (1982)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Fly (1986)
The House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
The Blob (1958)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014)
The Wolf Man (1941)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Ring (2002)