MOVIES: Don't dance with the devil
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- It's that time of year when haunted houses suddenly creep up in shopping malls, every cable network runs either classic fright flicks or "Halloween" rip-offs and, of course, Hollywood will no doubt dig up a new theatrical paranormal "true" story.
So, each trick-or-treat season I raise the question, should we Christians put this stuff in our heads?
Lots of people enjoy scary movies. They like being spooked so long as there's no real danger. And when it comes to demons, faithful followers of films containing such subject matter often are mesmerized since they really don't believe in them. It's all gothic fantasy for nonbelievers.
Let me give you an example of one terrifying film I walked out of and why. Undeniably well written, directed and acted, my problem with the 1992 "Silence of the Lambs" was its demonic aura. The Oscar-winner for Best Film that year wasn't about demonic possession, but its lead character enjoyed torturing people and eating them. And that ain't demonic?!
I left that film before the final 30 minutes or so, and to this day refuse to view its conclusion. I'm convinced the Holy Spirit was nudging me, as if saying, "That's enough, get out." Hey, I'm not going to argue with the Holy Ghost.
Though I've often used this quote from the obscure film "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing," it bears repeating: "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."
Are there exceptions?
Occasionally a horror flick stands out as more than a fear fest. M. Night Shyamalan's 2002 psychological sci-fi shocker "Signs" about alien beings coming to take over Earth includes a subtext about a man losing, and then regaining, his faith. The film also has an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives: Do things happen by chance or is something else at work? Signs is about finding our way -- or finding our way back. I guess you could say it's a thinking man's horror movie.
But let's face it: Thought-provoking thrillers are few and far between.
In the 1930s and '40s, spooky movies such as "Frankenstein" were actually morality plays, where good was triumphant over evil. And because of decency codes during that era, studios mandated that their filmmakers not offend the churchgoing 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.
Today, such positive elements are generally buried by movie shockmeisters, whereas tales of zombie flesh-eaters and other vile things that go bump in the night are the new stuff of which nightmares are made.
Frankly, I'm not sure any of us realize the true effect gory movies have on our psyches. Here's something we should consider: Like all living things, the spirit of man needs to be nourished.
I haven't seen the new "It," despite rave reviews. I don't like benevolent clowns, let alone malevolent ones. I'm more an "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" kind of guy. But if you want to squirm in the comfort of your living room La-Z-Boy, here's your movie: "The Wrong Man."
Alfred Hitchcock directed Henry Fonda in a tale of a mild-mannered musician wrongly accused of several robberies. The accusation, subsequent arrest and trial turn his family's life into a nightmare. It's based on a true story, and it still unnerves due to the possibility of any citizen being accused of something he or she didn't do and how that moment can affect an entire life.
In this electronic age, for instance, our identity can be stolen or our reputations ruined by slanderous online attacks. I guess we're lucky when such evils don't occur. The Wrong Man is from decades past (1957) and in black and white, but the storyline holds up because it dramatizes how such poisonous attacks can alter our staid lifestyles.
The Wrong Man is not a horror film per se, but it is a movie with substance and it will scare you -- or, at least, unsettle you. It is exquisite filmmaking and the story contains an inspiring element. The lead character eventually turns to God for help in a moving scene that represents the need each of us has for the gracious help of the One in whom all things are possible.
Ultimately, that's what I seek from any film -- something that uplifts and feeds the soul.
Don't dance with the Devil. Stay clear of him. When it comes to choosing entertainment, remember: "Finally, brother, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).