WATCH: An Ancestry of Fear -- The Phantasmagoria

03/03/2015 11:38 am ET | Updated May 03, 2015

I confess... In fact, I am proud to admit... When the lights go out, and my family is all safely tucked away to sleep, I scour the internet endlessly searching, in the dark, for... scary videos. (What will the neighbors think?)

In fact, ever since i was able to change the channel, I would click through ways to put myself through some sort of emotional torment. From 80s slasher flicks, to stories of demonic possession, to forcing myself to go into my basement with all the lights off to find the boogeyman -- I was obsessed with trying to amuse myself with fear as both the protagonist and antagonist. And, apparently, I was a member of a historical legacy of fear-seekers...

It may surprise you (though it doesn't surprise me), that our ancestors were as addicted to terrifying themselves as we are here in the "enlightened" age. In this film, Mervyn Heard, a historian of the "Magic Lantern," tells us about the phantasmagoria shows of the early 1800s. Our 200-year-old ancestors would subject themselves to total darkness, floating skeletons and demons, drugs, electrical stimuli and many more sensory abuses, all for a cheap thrill.

Preceding cinema by almost 100 years and serving as some of the earliest form of stage magic, the phantasmagoria shows set out to not only bewilder audiences, but to terrify them -- and in big style. Why do we consistently seek out ways to put ourselves through some sort of existential hell? Perhaps, the thrill of fear, is a necessary part of our emotional evolution... Or, perhaps we just like a good scare!

The film is the first of the new Morbid Anatomy Museum Presents film series.