From Horrifying Concept to Terrifying Object: The Aesthetic Mechanics of Experienced Horror

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Horror is one of the mainstays of the entertainment industries, generating annual film revenues estimated at over 11 billion dollars within the United States alone. Immersive horror experiences are a burgeoning part of this lucrative market, carrying the terror off the screen and into a real environment. Yet, this horror is something very different to real-life horror. Real-life horror is something we try to avoid, being unwelcome, stochastic, unaesthetic, and entirely without pleasure,3 whereas the horror genre relies on being the very opposite of these things; sought after, intended, carefully staged and aesthetically calibrated,4 effectively a form of intellectual ‘make-believe.’ In light of these points, immersive horror can be identified as a form of complex cognitive play, a mechanism which facilitates cultural exploration and construction. While much research focuses on the nature of horror’s appeal, and many studies address how meaning is conveyed in horror texts, this knowledge is counterpointed by a marked lack of analysis on how horror is actually made – the aesthetic, material and somatic elements which unnerve, scare, shock and entertain delighted audiences. The experience of immersive horror is an act of playful experiential synthesis, constructed from many overlapping parts. These parts are strongly conceptual; the recognition of categorical interstitiality and impurity which threatens confusion, infection and contamination, but they are embodied by the artefacts of production; sets, lighting, effects, costumes, make-up and props. These artefacts are the material ambassadors of horror, acting as manifestations of the audiences involvement in and negotiation of the problematic territories navigated by these narratives. By participating in and analysing an immersive horror environment, Fright Night in rural Northern Ireland, this paper will offer fascinating insights on the overlooked material and sensorial nature of horror.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)19-39
Number of pages20
JournalRefractory: Journal of Entertainment Media
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 25 Oct 2021


  • Horror, immersive, halloween, play, entertainment, culture, monster


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