FIRST-PERSON: Are horror movies for Christians?
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- It's that time of year when haunted houses spring up in communities across the country and when cable networks run classic fright flicks, "Halloween" rip-offs or new made-for-TV offerings in the macabre and grotesque.
Should we Christians put this stuff in our heads?
Thought-provoking thrillers are few and far between, amid tales of conflicted wolfmen, alien space invaders, zombie flesh-eaters and other vile things that go bump in the night.
A few months ago I was offered a press junket trip to Los Angeles to view "The Conjuring." Despite the fact that The Conjuring portrays a Christian couple doing an exorcism, I decided to skip the screening of this R-rated horror film about demonic possession. I've already seen several, including "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "The Rite" and the godfather of this genre, "The Exorcist."
But the subgenre of horror movies about demons bothers me spiritually. It's important for people to be aware of the existence of demonic spirits but I feel uncomfortable viewing such subject matter for entertainment purposes.
The horror film has undergone more transformations than Katy Perry's musical career. In the 1930s and '40s, spooky movies such as "Frankenstein" and "The Wolf Man" were actually morality plays, where good was triumphant over evil. Because of restrictive decency codes during that era, studios mandated that their filmmakers not offend the church-going public. So when you view "The Bride of Frankenstein" or "The Cat People" or even Bella Lugosi's "Dracula," you can detect a moral message amid the jars and jolts.
In the '50s, most horror films were goofy, the Saturday matinee screen being bombarded with giant lizards and ants and even a 50-foot woman. The '60s saw classic creeps resurrected by Hammer Studios ("Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed," "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave") and its penchant to use vivid color to captivate, especially a thick red liquid that looked more like candy apple syrup than gushing blood.
During the '70s and '80s, horror films became gruesome showcases for studio special effects. Malevolent and apparently indestructible ghouls such as Freddie Kruger of "Nightmare on Elm Street," Michael Myers of "Halloween" and Jason of "Friday the 13th" returned sequel-after-sequel to kill as many randy teenagers as possible in 96 minutes.
The '90s once again unearthed the original vampire, but with a twist. In Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula," his child of the night was an omnipresent creature who, rather than turning away from the significance of the cross, contemptuously stared down crucifixes until they burned. Ever since Bela Lugosi first put on a set of fangs, crucifixes had trumped blood suckers. This gothic reversal changed the entire theme of the Dracula legend. No longer was God the conqueror of the devil; now man alone was in control of his fate.
I once wrote an appreciative critique of M. Night Shyamalan's psychological thriller "Signs," about alien beings coming to take over the earth. In Signs, suspenseful Hitchcockian elements served to unnerve the audience. Added to the unsettling atmosphere, the story's subtext concerned a man losing and regaining his faith. The film also had an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives: Do things happen by chance or do they intentionally develop our nature? Shyamalan's film was about finding our way -- or finding our way back. I guess you could say it's a thinking man's (or woman's) horror movie.
I'm not sure any of us realize the true effect of horror movies on our psyches. We are bombarded by a great deal of media influence, much of which doesn't feed the soul. Still, some will defend the escapist value of the horror film, while others steadfastly maintain that it is a genre with a satanic impact. Here's something we should consider: Like all living things, the spirit of man needs to be nourished.
I couldn't possibly say it any better than the following quote, and it came from a movie, Miramax Films' "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." You might keep it in mind when attending any new release.
"Your head is like a gas tank. You have to be really careful about what you put in it, because it might just affect the whole system"
In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to "The World and Everything in It," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).