To ask the question, are horror films bad – or even, evil – is to pose a very broad question, isn’t it?
Horror is not a monolithic genre. To put all sub-genres of horror into one category, judging them all as one is to be disingenuous and unfair. Horror has many facets and involves many types of films. There are countless variations and sub-genres.
When most think of horror, they think most commonly of the ‘slasher’ genre, which includes commonly known franchises such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Scream. Film Critic Roger Ebert famously labeled these films as ‘Dead Teenager Movies.’
He defined ‘Dead Teenager Movie’ as a “generic term for any movie primarily concerned with killing teenagers, without regard for logic, plot, performance, humor, etc. Often imitated; never worse than the “Friday the 13th” sequels.”
While this is perhaps the most mainstream or seemingly popular type of film in the horror, they certainly don’t represent it in its entirety.
There are supernatural films (The Exorcist), thrillers (Psycho), horror-comedies (Evil Dead II), zombie movies (Dawn of the Dead), torture porn (Saw), and countless other sub-genres that have emerged throughout film history, all with varying degrees of quality and moral value.
Christians unfortunately often respond to the horror genre, in its entirety, with disdain and fear. It is treated as the ultimate no-no for believers – as unredeemable, worldly entertainment. This raises the question for the Christian film fan. Should Christians watch horror?
When it comes to cultural engagement, we have three options: receive, reject, or redeem.
I want to break the horror genre, with all it’s facets, into those three general categories so we can determine which elements can be received, which should be rejected, and which can ultimately, be redeemed.
What can be received?
The medium of film itself can be received. The various storytelling techniques used within the horror genre are not inherently evil or wicked, and similar elements can be found in a wide array of other genres.
I strongly disagree with Patrick Mabilog of Christian Today who writes,
“[Horror films] are dangerous and completely contrary to the abundant and fear-free life that God wants you to have. There is no monster beneath your bed. There is no force out to kill you if you escape death. Sure there might be a few demons out to haunt you and who want to kill your spirit and your future, but there is a God who is bigger than any of the forces of darkness. Instead of watching a horror movie that can cause you to doubt God, choose to watch an uplifting movie that will reinforce your hope and faith in him.”
I don’t believe that such a sweeping statement can be made of the entirety of the horror genre.
There are films which glorify evil, and some that clearly show the triumph of good and the reality of spiritual warfare. Horror films in and of themselves are no more dangerous than a rom-com, action, or even children’s movie can be.
We must deal with each individual film based on the core worldview that is presented within, rather than by how it is framed externally.
What should be rejected?
There are certain common tenants of films in the horror genre which should certainly be rejected by the believer.
These would include:
- Visual depictions of nudity, sexual immorality which would draw the viewer to lust.
- Outright glorification of evil. (Not merely the presence of or reference to evil – there is a difference)
Ultimately, whatever would draw you, as the viewer to sin, or keep you from glorifying God, should be rejected.
Can horror be redeemed?
Ultimately, I believe horror does have redeemable qualities.
I think Victoria Le Sweatman hit the nail on the head with her article, What Horror Movies Teach Us About Christianity.
“The horror genre reminds us in a visceral way that we exist in a world of responsibility and consequences, of rightness and wrongness.”
She argues that well-done horror:
- affirms the importance of morality.
- shows the consequences of putting our faith in science or man.
- reminds us of our fallenness.
(I encourage you to read her full article here: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/what-horror-movies-teach-us-about-christianity#mcBEkryfRym7cKHB.99)
While there are movies that blatantly glorify evil, we should not throw out the entire genre because of that. There are many excellent conversations regarding good and evil, theology, and morality to be had.