- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

Every relationship can use a little Dracula. Scary movies reinforce traditional behaviors among men and women for the better: He gets all protective and brave; she squeals and grabs his hand. Harmony ensues.

It’s all perfectly fine, according to Kansas State University psychologist Richard Harris, who advises couples to embrace their differences — and maybe each other — when the action gets hair-raising on screen.

“Guys tend to act very unafraid, very cool. They might even laugh at the movie to show how much it wasn’t scaring them,” Mr. Harris said. “Women, on the other hand, are socially free to express emotion. They could grab on to their date or cover their eyes. It allows them an excuse to be physically closer to their dates.”

He studied the behaviors of 233 college students at horror movies, gauging their etiquette and expectations. The more traditional the roles during horrific moments, the better the relationship, he found.

“Guys didn’t like it when their date was unafraid, and girls didn’t like it when their dates were scared,” Mr. Harris said.

“We thought that students with nontraditional gender role attitudes would report differently, but they didn’t. Even those students followed traditional gender roles,” he said. “By using the dating context, we were able to look at how the movie plays into advancing the relationship.”

Other researchers also have found that horror movies provide a showcase and a forum for audience masculinity and femininity. There are expected behaviors during the films, according to Virginia Tech’s Laboratory for the Study of Human Thought and Action, which found that men are actually disappointed if their dates don’t cringe during scary scenes.

“If he’s queasy at the bloody parts, she enjoys the movie even less. He becomes less desirable,” its study noted, adding some advice for the ordinary man.

“Playing macho while watching horror movies, then, appears to be most beneficial to the appeal, sexual and otherwise, of men not equipped with an irresistible physique,” the researchers wrote.

Hollywood, meanwhile, reports that female audiences are warming to cold-blooded movies.

Lionsgate, which produced the “Saw” horror film series, reported earlier this year that 32 percent of the audience for “Saw II” were women younger than 25 and that two-thirds of teen girls considered themselves horror movie fans — compared with about half of teen boys. Sony also surveyed audiences leaving the gory “Silent Hill” and found that women composed nearly half the audience.

“The shocking fact is that many horror films are ‘chick flicks’ in disguise,” said Crystal Guillory, a writer for Horror-wood, an online film journal. It’s the melodrama that often draws them, she said, although some studio executives maintain that women have become attuned to new horror films that feature females as heroines rather than the victims.

“There has been an increase in films with women as aggressor, definitely,” Mr. Harris said. “But we’re also seeing an increase in men who like romantic chick flicks. It can be a complicated business.”

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