Whether to make the effort to go to a theater or enjoy a movie at home is an ongoing debate, especially amidst higher ticket prices and easier online access to films. However, in order to get a broader idea of the options, let’s first look at a very familiar flick. Would YOU rather watch a movie at home on a big projection screen with the best home projector or at the “big screen” at the movies??
I’m sure all horror fans seen the trailer to the first installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise. Unwitting moviegoers file into a theater and the night vision camera picks up their terrified faces at the on-screen frights. This trailer isn’t even really selling a movie, as the actual plot still remains vague and peripheral.
Rather, it’s selling the movie-going experience, with the not so subtle subtext being an appeal to the trailer audience’s desire to be one of those terrified faces in the dark. This ultimately leads to the question: why would hard working people around the world fork over their hard earned money in order to be scared senseless, especially in these tough economic times?
The Audience: Good and Bad
Even some die hard horror fans have bemoaned the fact that watching a horror film in the cinema often ruins the effect due to fellow audience members doing things like laughing at inappropriate times, yelling at the characters who are walking into an obvious trap, etc. In other words, the suspension of disbelief is at such a high level when watching a horror movie in theaters that there is an unspoken etiquette along with many unwritten rules. However, despite these concerns about potential disruptive audience members, there is still not a doubt in my mind that a movie theater experience is the most optimal for viewing a horror film.
Because the theater environment itself is so immersive, featuring state of the art sound and projection technology along with the buttery olfactory pleasure we all know and love, replicating these basic elements in your home is next to impossible.
Also, going to a theater makes various evasion techniques that might be employed by the more timid horror film moviegoer much more difficult to pull off. When I went and saw Paranormal Activity in a theater, one of my friends covered his face out of fear during the entire movie. Needless to say, we don’t let him forget it almost five years later. At home, if a scene becomes too frightening, if the fear of a little girl slithering out of your television set becomes too much to handle, there is always a pause button. When you watch a horror film in a theater you are entering a communal space, which makes avoidance of what’s happening on screen much more conspicuous, but the payoff is much more valuable.
Often replicating the conclusion of the movie you just watched, having the shared experience of surviving a uniquely frightening experience leaves you with a sense of pride, relief and camaraderie with your fellow moviegoers.
And the thirst for the theater experience shows no signs of abating. The twenty seven horror movies shown in mainstream theaters during 2013 raked in just under half a billion dollars, which almost doubled 2012’s earnings.
While watching a movie at home may be slightly more convenient than getting in a car and going down to your local multiplex, it is also more isolating. The thrill of being engrossed in the terrifying spectacle of horror is impossible to resist when in a theater and the best part is that you’re not alone.