Halloween began as a religious holiday. I won't discuss the whole Samhain thing here, let's just say it came from an agricultural based philosophy and signified beliefs dealing with the change of seasons and the concepts of life and death. But somehow this event, celebrated as it is in America, metamorphised into something else...into a celebration that encouraged hedonism, recapturing childhood fantasy, and and a celebration of one's fears. There's a good deal of material there and I could several pages just talking about dealing with inhibition from a sociology perspective. However, let's focus on the last, the celebration of fear.
"I want to be scared," someone will say, entering a movie or a "haunted" house. Of course. We can and should translate this into "I want to experience an intense emotion safely so I can deal with it. I want to be vicariously afraid."
Why? Well, first I assume that there is a rush in fear. Some people are adrenelin junkies. To put it clinically, as the system is shocked and a burst of adrenlin is released, there is also a subsequent burst of endorphin. A sensation of euphoria ensues. Charles could probably do a better job describing this.
Next, there is a psychological satisfaction in being presented with a fear response and overcoming it....safely. For instance, we love roller coasters, it allows us to cope with the speed and the illusion of danger. However, put that same person in a car, run it over a hundred miles an hour down an expressway in the middle of a rainy night, and although some of the same sensations might be produced, the danger is real and the event---not as much fun. We might enjoy screaming at Michael Meyers in Halloween. However, open the door at midnight and find a tall, hulking masked figure standing there, a machete danging from one hand....and suddenly...not so much fun. The point of horror is that it allows us to experience this fear from a distance, to handle it safely.
Another reason to celebrate the fear in Halloween? Because it's a rite of passage. Overcoming certain fears is part of growing up. As we've made different icons of horror safe for the little ones (the cardboard witch with the goofy smile, the gentle and socially awkward Frankenstein monster), we are helping them deal with the discomfort they feel at the unfamiliar or the misunderstood. Some fears are productive and necessary to survival. Halloween is a great time for us to help kids understand that there are rational and irrational fears and that there are ways to overcome some of the irrational ones. Of course, I'm not sure why adults want to do this..there is something delicious about seeing kids run screaming from a paper ghost.