The climactic music always lets you know you're about to get the pants scared off of you as you sit there in the darkened movie theater. The shark in the water is approaching, or the ax murderer is waiting behind the curtain to chop a couple fingers off unbeknownst to the dumb teenagers (or late 20s actors pretending to be teenagers) getting drunk or making out in the room, or some alien is about to jump down from the overhead hatch to eat everyone alive.
While this is going on, several different reactions occur in the audience. Some people clench their eyes shut, shove fingers in their ears, and wait for it to be over. To these people i ask...why the heck did you spend 12$ to come in and watch the movie in the first place? Others grip their armrests and gawk at the movie with wide eyes and high-sprung tension. Sleazeball guys take this opportunity to sling an arm around the date with a "It's okay...I'll take care of you" maneuver. It took me a long time before I understood why guys' eyes light up when I suggest a horror movie. I just want to see a good scary movie; they think it's an opportunity to make the moves. Admittedly, girls can be just as conniving. Every jump scene is a good chance for them to squeal and grip the burly and well-muscled arm of their date: "Oh please, save me from that scary scary werewolf being projected on the screen in front of us--oh hey, nice guns."
I don't watch scary movies with guys anymore.
People react to horror movies much in the same way they react to rollercoasters. There are basically three different people when it comes to rollercoasters. There are those who just hate them. They're dragged on by some friends, they get spun around like crazy on the rollercoaster all the while thinking that "this is awful I'm going to throw up why did I let them drag me into this" and once they're off they swear never to do it again.
As for the second group of people, they're all gung-ho when everyone suggests the idea of the rollercoaster...but once they're waiting in line, they look up and see that the rollercoaster is a lot bigger and steeper than they'd originally thought, and once they get up to it, they feel very queasy (although they'd never admit it). And once the ride is over, they have the loudest voices about it. You hear their false sense of bravado in the proclaimed: "Oh yeah, that was wicked! Scary? Yeah, right! Did you hear Brandon scream like a little girl?"
As for the third group--we wait in line, we jump into the front seat, and then we get off only to get into line again. Rollercoasters aren't any fun unless you're in the front seat, feeling the magnitude of every single drop, feeling the flirt with death you get when you raise your arms, and feeling that lurch in your stomach that tells you for one second that you're not completely safe.
Horror movies are the same way. There are some who hate em (and they'll forever make you regret the fact you dragged them to one), some who pretend to love em (and these people are annoying because they act so tough about it), and some who just love em.
Once the movie is done, I usually take the movie apart with my friends-- from the snarky: "get a load of this guy, going outside to see what that suspicious noise was" to the cinematographer/critique wannabe: "oh the suspense in that scene was well-executed. Did you see how he used the POV and reaction shot to build that up?" I think it's mostly to console myself that the movies could never ever happen in real life. After all, the smart thing to do when a murderer is running loose is to make sure your cell phone is fully charged, lock all the doors, and buy a couple uzis...not to go looking for your pet dog in the woods at night. And come on, I know it's a hard job being a parent...but if there's a serial killer out there are you really going to let your teenage daughter go to a slumber party/house party for fun?
But then when it's dark and when we get home, the comforting rational explanations melt away once you're not with a circle of friends laughing at the thought of some girl crawling out of a tv.
The worst is when you go into the bathroom to do your nightly wash-up ritual. Somehow after watching a horror movie the shower curtain is always drawn close. Okay, now we know some sinister plot is at hand. You jump forward, whip the curtain back, and jump back in place again, expecting no less than Jack the Ripper to be waiting behind the blue curtain decorated by smiling fish. Nope, nothing.
Okay next dilemma...keep the bathroom door open or shut? If you keep it open, the chances of some apparition to walk past the door while you're looking elsewhere is pretty high. Ugh. It always happens in the movies. But if you close and lock it, what are you going to do when Bigfoot climbs out of the toilet? All right, open it is.
Brushing the teeth is a rather mundane ordeal. Except you keep thinking you hear odd creaks or whispers. When you stop brushing to cock an ear out the door, there's nothing, but you're getting those prickly goosebumpy feelings on your arm...and Haley Joel Osment has kindly informed us that that's a sign that a ghost is about. Thanks a lot.
Then you're faced with a huge problem when washing the face. A couple dashes of cold water to the face and then a darted look around and in the mirror to see all is still well. This is fine until you add soap into the mixture. Soap on, eyes automatically open to make sure there's no one lurking behind you, and then you get soap into the eyes. Then utter panic for those few brief seconds when you're blinded and you frantically splash water into your eyes.
Heaven forbid if you're a night shower-er. Hitchcock knew it best. There's nothing worse than being attacked when you're at your most vulnerable and naked state. I can't help but think that if I was attacked in the shower, my first instinct might be to grab a towel to wrap around myself before anything else.
All right, now that that's over...we get into pj's and whatnot and climb into bed. Then the bedside lamp goes off. What the! What is that on the ground?? It's climbing towards the bed!
Light snaps on. Oh...just a pile of clothes.
Light goes off again. WHAT THE! What is that noise?? It's like...someone's breathing right next to me...
Light snaps on. Nothing.
Confronted with yet another problem, people take many different measures. Some bring in all the lights of the house--christmas lights, lamps, flashlights, floodlights...electric bills be darned. I don't know why this makes us feel better. If Michael Myers is in your closet, I doubt that a little extra illumination is going to deter him.
You can always crawl out of your own room and into the comfort of someone else's bed--two is better than one...and if that person is bigger than you all the better. The monster will probably go for the juicier person anyways. Zombies catch the slower fatter people. Just make sure that the person you're sleeping with hasn't had some random weird encounter with an odd homeless person earlier that day that bit them.
And then again, there's always the possibility of just not going to sleep at all.
However, most of us know deep down...there really is nothing under the bed or hiding in the closet, waiting to devour us once we shut our eyes.
And really, 99.9997% of all people survive that first night after watching a horror movie.