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Embodied VisionsEvolution, Emotion, Culture and Film$
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Torben Grodal

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195371314

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195371314.001.0001

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Undead Ghosts and Living Prey

Undead Ghosts and Living Prey

Fantasy and Horror

(p.97) 5 Undead Ghosts and Living Prey
Embodied Visions

Torben Grodal

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the mental mechanisms that evoke fascination with film types such as fantasy and horror. It first discusses general reasons for the salience of fantastic and counterintuitive phenomena, and why the evolution of reason also supports as a side-effect superstitious over-causalization. It then discusses why some themes—agency, predation, death, morality, and social exchange—are central in “supernatural” films. Humans have evolved innate fears of dangerous, and even invisible creatures that feed on humans, and horror films abound with fears of powerful devouring monster-agents like Dracula. Death has been a central problem for mankind, partly because corpses are strongly contagious, and horror films activate innate fears of pollution. Further, in folk psychology, the body is controlled by a strong spirit, and when the body dies, the spirit/ghost poses problems and must also be killed (cf. Dracula). Moral surveillance in large groups is difficult, and counterintuitive agents are often invented to deter immoral behavior, like Sauron or Satan, who prey on those who misbehave. Finally, films with a supernatural content often project models from social life, such as exchanging favors and goods, as a model of how you may deal with nature or supernatural phenomena (by sacrifices, gifts, and so on).

Keywords:   fantasy films, horror films, evolution, supernaturalism, monsters, counterintuitive agents, imagination, undead, magic

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