Can Christians watch or make horror movies? Doesn’t it go against the principles of scripture to scare people?
It depends on how we choose to define “horror”. There are some who see horror as simply grotesque images, jump scares, and human torture with gore. This is largely a product of the most shocking of “horror” films which are splatter films or “torture porn” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splatter_film ).
However the definition of horror can equally apply what we may call:
supernatural thrillers like Pan’s Labyrinth or The Wailing
crime dramas like Se7en, Identity or the Silence of the Lambs
monster action films like The Mummy or Train to Busan
historical pieces like from Hell, the Devil’s Backbone, or Interview with a Vampire
science fiction like Get Out, Alien, Stepford Wives, the Thing, Moon or 2001: A Space Odyssey,
ghost stories like The Babadook or It Follows
comedies like the Evil Dead, Zombieland or Shaun or the Dead
psychological dramas like 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Shining, the Fly, the Others, or Psycho
philosophical television like The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, or Black Mirror
nature amok films like Jaws, the Birds, The Shallows or Cujo, or even
supernatural faith battles like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Rosemary’s Baby, or The Conjuring,
Because of that here are some reasons why I believe that Horror is not only a viable genre for Christian ideas, but can sometimes be even optimal.
Fearing something more than God is a way to expose idols of the heart.
“If there is a God, one whom we naturally (and rightly) should fear; and if we have suppressed this truth, as Romans 1 says we have; and if, as I am arguing in this book, powerful truths such as these cannot and do not remain suppressed, then perhaps we now have a way of understanding the business and art of fear for pleasure. If God (and fear of him) has been removed from the forefront of our conscious minds, yet we are “built to fear” something infinitely greater than ourselves, something awesome, terrifying, mysterious, and incomprehensible, then we find ourselves predisposed to replace fear of him with fear of something.” Grant Horner, Meaning at the Movies (Crossway, 201), pp. 130, 131-132.
We see this when Jesus encounters the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 19:16-22, and Luke 18:18-23). Jesus shows the man his fear of poverty or specifically of losing his wealth. In that fear, his idol is exposed.
In Matthew 28:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20, Jesus casts out legion into pigs, but the village was more afraid of losing the pigs than losing the man who was possessed.
Christians acknowledge the supernatural and demonic spirits in order to show their strength compared to humans but their weakness compared to God.
Ephesians 6:10-13 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
The encouragement of Paul was to acknowledge the evil forces, but to allow that acknowledgement to point to the need for God.
Mark 9, Jesus is heals a boy with an unclean spirit who has been possessed his entire life and even the disciples could not heal him.
Mark 9:28-29 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
In 1 Samuel 28, Saul hires a medium to conjure up the ghost of Samuel. Samuel does not chide him for doing so, but rails against him for not trusting in God.
James 2:19 “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" Does not ignore the presence of demons, but instead highlights how demons are afraid of Jesus.
This is John MacArthur’s main point in his sermon “Jesus’ Authority over Demons”
Robert Morris’s Message “Free Indeed”
We must show fear in order to highlight hope
1 John 4:15-21 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
How can we highlight the power of love casting out fear if we are unwilling to talk about fear itself?
In this we see that BAD horror is one that evokes fear to promote fear. But that good horror evokes fear to expose fear and to promote hope.
In my opinion, the horror genre is a perfect genre for Christians to be involved with. I think the more compelling question is, Why do so many Christians find it odd that a Christian would be working in this genre? To me, this genre deals more overtly with the supernatural than any other genre, it tackles issues of good and evil more than any other genre, it distinguishes and articulates the essence of good and evil better than any other genre, and my feeling is that a lot of Christians are wary of this genre simply because it's unpleasant. The genre is not about making you feel good, it is about making you face your fears. And in my experience, that's something that a lot of Christians don't want to do. To me, the horror genre is the genre of non-denial. It's about admitting that there is evil in the world, and recognizing that there is evil within us, and that we're not in control, and that the things that we are afraid of must be confronted in order for us to relinquish that fear. And I think that the horror genre serves a great purpose in bolstering our understanding of what is evil and therefore better defining what is good. And of course I'm talking about, really, the potential of the horror genre, because there are a lot of horror films that don't do these things. It is a genre that's full of exploitation, but the better films in the genre certainly accomplish, I think, very noble things.
- Scott Derrickson (BIOLA grad, and director of Doctor Strange)
from and interview in 2005 in Christianity Today ahead of his film “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
- C.S. Lewis “The Screwtape Letters”
Horror can be less scary than real life and can help us deal with real life issues that are too graphic or broad for other genres.
Like Jesus versus legion (Matt 28 & Mark 5), the real evil that was being exposed was not demonic possession, but the greed and apathy of the village that would rather have one man possessed then to lose 2,000 pigs.
Even 9 of Jesus’ 37 parables feature a “horrific” element to it:
The rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31
The strong man in Luke 11, Matthew 12, and Mark 3
The wheat and the tares in Matthew 13
The barren fig tree in Luke 13
Drawing in the Net in Matthew 13
The wicked husbandmen in Matthew 21, Mark 12, and Luke 20
The Great Banquet in Matthew 22 and Luke 14
The Ten Virgins in Matthew 25
The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25
Eric Molinsky’s interview with Steven Sheil. Steven was a 3 year old when his 9 year old sister and he witnessed the murder of their father by a home invader. Horror became a way to process that grief and understand the evil that had happened to him without falling into depression or reliving the experience over and over. Years later the film, the Babadook, which also features a father being killed, helped Steven and his sister grieve together.
Other examples are:
Get Out’s ability to deal with new racism in America.
Dawn of the Dead ending highlighted the fears of both whites against blacks but also of blacks against the mobs or white people.
28 Days Later warning against unhindered scientific exploration
Alien’s depiction of blue collar worker’s subjugation under corporate elites.
Silent Hill 2’s (the game not the movie) ability to tackle grief and regret after the death of a loved one.
Se7en’s warning about being desensitized to or overly fixated with violence
Pan’s Labyrinth’s exploration of choice and disobedience especially in regards to survival during facism.
Horror can make it easier to talk about hard-to-talk about issues.
Especially with the ease of information on the internet now, a film can have strong subthemes that aren't fully explored just posited.
This is has been especially true for recent big horror films.
Get Out’s message about racism
It Follows message about casual sex culture and STD
The Babadook’s message about post-partum depression
The Purge’s message about government corruption
Unfriended’s message about cyber-bullying
Not only are horror movies able to bring up sub-themes that are often seen as “preachy” but they are one of the few genres where it’s actually welcome.
Other Literature examples:
C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters
Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
Frank Peretti’s Prophet Series
Orson Scott Card’s Homebody and Treasure Box
Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves
Stephen King’s Under the Dome
H. P. Lovecraft’s At the mountains of madness
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
HG Wells’ The Invisible Man or Island of Doctor Moreau
Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Grey
Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis
JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (http://www.mythsoc.org/reviews/mirror-crackd-fear-horror-tolkien.htm)
Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw
Interview with Scott Derrickson:
History of Horror from AMC:
“Why Horror Movies Make Me a Better Christian” written by MJ Smith on June 10th, 2016