Well, it’s that time of year when haunted houses suddenly spring up in shopping malls, every cable network either runs classic fright flicks or “Halloween” rip-offs or new made-for-TV attempts to further utilize the macabre and the grotesque. And of course Hollywood, the land of make-believe and exploitation; will no doubt push 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?
A few months ago I was offered a press junket trip to L.A. to view the The Conjuring. Despite the fact that The Conjuring has a Christian couple doing an exorcism, I decided to skip the screening of this R-rated horror film about demonic possession. Over the years, I’ve seen several, including The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite, and, of course, the godfather of this particular 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 personally felt uncomfortable with viewing such subject matter for entertainment purposes.
The horror film has undergone more transformations than Katy Perry’s musical career. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, spooky movies such as Frankenstein and The Wolf Man were actually morality plays, where good was triumphant over evil. And 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 1950s, most horror films were, well, goofy, the Saturday matinee screen being proliferated by 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). That studio was known for using vivid color to captivate, especially with the use of 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 departments, and malevolent and apparently indestructible ghouls such as Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddie Kruger, Halloween’s Michael Myers and Friday the 13th’s Jason returned sequel after sequel to kill as many randied teenagers as possible in 96 minutes.
The 1990s once again unearthed the original blood-sucker – with a twist. In Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, his child of the night was an omnipresent creature who contemptuously burned a crucifix with a stare, rather than turning away from the significance of the cross – something the vampire had done ever since Bela Lugosi first put on a set of fangs. This gothic spin 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.
Some of you may have read my appreciative critique of M. Night Shyamalan's psychological thriller Signs, about alien beings coming to take over Earth. In it suspenseful Hitchcockian elements served to unnerve the audience. Added to the unsettling atmosphere, the story's subtext concerned a man losing then regaining his faith. The film also had an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives: Do things happen by chance or do they serve to 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.
Thought-provoking thrillers are few and far between. Whereas, tales of conflicted wolfmen, alien space invaders, zombie flesh-eaters, and other vile things that go bump in the night have remained the things that nightmares are made of. But 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 escapism 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. 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” (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, Miramax Films).