Latinos’ Hard-Wired Love of Horror Films: The Diathesis–Stress Psychology Model

Latinos helped re-elect President Obama and Latinos will vastly propel the horror and paranormal film genres forward.

My mom used to watch horror films every other weekend in the movie theater (when we had disposable income). We would stay up late to watch horror films on late night television. She was on a first-name basis with Freddie, Jason and Chucky.  And, the phrase “Run to the light, Carol Anne” while making me laugh, still also gives me the chills. Although, I accompanied her on these viewing sessions (I was an only child for a large part of my childhood and thus my mom was my playmate) I was a bit skeptical.  I had an affinity for dramas or movies where the woman ruled although in a nefarious manner such as could be found in film noirs. My all-time favorite movies include Blade Runner and Silence of the Lambs, and Grosse Point Blank (Ok, that may not fit in this list). Anyway, I cannot stand the Saw movies. Not one bit!

When I was pregnant, the weirdest thing happened to me. Besides developing a taste for Sara Lee French Cheesecake, I craved, craved craved horror films. I would watch the worse movies ever on late-night cable television, including original SciFy programming.  I would go to sleep late and wake up at 3:30 am to catch these awful movies.  There was something in me that needed to be horrified. Maybe I was scared of becoming a parent and needed an outward point to project fear.  Watching horror films gives you someone to root for and to the constant startles keep you on your toes. The strength and agility eventually shown by the survivor can be inspiring in a twisted kind of way.

Or, I could also argue that Latinos love to be scared. I grew up hearing about all sorts of monsters and warnings about things that go bump in the night.   Just the other night, I shared with colleagues the story I was told as a child about not looking in the mirror at night because of what may eventually stare back at you.  We then all proceeded to go back to our creepy hotel that seemed a bit out of the Shining.  Lo and behold in the big bedroom there was a huge mirror that we each proceeded to avoid looking at that night.  Of course in pop culture, we have the Latino stories about La Chupacabra (“The goat sucker”) and  La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”) coming to get you if you’re bad.  Furthermore, besides the love of superstitions and strange folklore, there were also the yearly visits to Botanicas where we could find antidotes to bad vibes. There was a constant element of “horror” in the more global sense of the word.

So, did my pregnancy bring out the Latino hard-wired love of horror?  Could this be akin to the thoughts around diathesis–stress and schizophrenia or PTSD?  The diathesis–stress model is a psychological theory that attempts to explain behavior as a pre-dispositional vulnerability together with stress from life experiences.   Here is an example from the psychology field. A child who has a family history of depression and who has been exposed to a particular stressor, such as exclusion or rejection by his or her peers, would be more likely to develop depression than a child with a family history of depression that has an otherwise positive social network of peers. Diathesis can also be conceptualized as situational factors, such as low socio-economic status or having a parent with depression. But let’s go back to the silly notion that love of horror films is hard-wired.

Since I have given birth, my pop culture and media viewing habits have changed drastically again.  I now watch shows at midnight on DVR instead of the hour at which they originally air. I also watch TV shows with closed captioning since I have a crying toddler, Netflix running on the IPAD, and in the past a howling dog in the living room.  But more troubling, my Latina credentials will soon be called into question since in the past four years I have seen only two movies in the movie theater one of them being Precious and that was beyond depressing and not likely to get re-energize my movie going habit.  Why, will my Latina credentials be taken away? Well, you see Latinos attend movies almost twice as much as any other group, making up 25 percent of moviegoers (at only 16.4% of the population). Latinos are 80 % more likely to see a movie in its opening weekend.  Because of this hard-wiredness and movie-going behavior, Paramount is planning a Latino version of the Paranormal spin-off. Opening sometime in 2013, the projected film is preliminarily titled The Oxnard Tapes.  I have not even seen Paranormal One.  Will I get a chance to catch the Latino paranormal? The supposed hard-wired lust for horror films appears to have dissipated in me.  So, even if I am vulnerable to loving horror films, the stressful environment of being pregnant has long since passed.  But I will assuredly still share all the Latino and specifically Puerto Rican superstitions and horror stories with my son. Ensuring that his hard-wired love of horror films may one day rise to the occasion and maybe by then, there will be more Latinos cast in horror films as the protagonists.


2 replies »

  1. I hope this means Hollywood tries harder with its horror movies in the future. I love myself a truly scary horror movie, but the genre’s been sorely lacking in talent in the last 10 years.


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