Here is a potentially controversial topic: Watching horror movies with Christian discernment. Bear with me, faithful readers, because within this article, you will find a modest education on the finer points of why Christians should consider horror movies as valid, even insightful, pieces of media. There are even some films that directly relate to Christianity, as well as provide a positive message for believers. Here are a few:
• The Wicker Man (1975)
• The Omen (1976)
• Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Maybe you’ve heard of these, and maybe you’ve heard they’re not for the faint of heart. Here’s your challenge: Look past the gruesome visage our culture has presented, and instead focus your discerning eye on the underlying positive religious themes present in the horror genre.
Horror movies often reflect the fears of our time. Godzilla was a representation of nuclear war, Dr. Frankenstein a depiction of the dangers of science, the Xenomorph (from Alien) an embodiment of sexual assault. Do these themes not merit discernment? Do they not beg to be explored with a Christian mindset?
According to Victoria Le Sweatman, in a Relevant article titled, “What Horror Movies Can Teach Us About Christianity,” all viewing should be undertaken with discernment. “Not all horror movies are created equal. There’s a big difference between a movie that preys on fear for its own ends and a movie that uses fear to get at something deeper, and Christians have a special responsibility to be discerning of that difference.”
If we call ourselves true agents of Christ, we should be actively seeking to explore and right the wrongs committed by evil. Horror movies can be one way to remind us that evil is present in our fallen world, but God has the last word. Godzilla was defeated, Dr. Frankenstein’s creation destroyed, and the Xenomorph jettisoned into space. Evil is conquered with good. Here are three more horror movies brimming with Christian insight:
3: Children of the Corn (1984)
Believe it or not, there is a Christian message stored in the 1984 adaptation of Stephen King’s short story of the same name.
Burt and Vicky are road-tripping through corn-filled Nebraska when they hit a mysterious child with their car and go to the nearby town of Gatlin in search of help.
Vicky and Burt soon discover that Gatlin is populated only by blood-ritual-performing children, children who take Vicky hostage. Turns out the children serve a force called “He Who Walks Behind The Rows,” and Vicky is their next sacrifice to this entity. Burt shows up to rescue Vicky, along with a few friendly children, and they successfully light the cornfield/sacrifice staging ground on fire with fuel, thus vanquishing the entity.
To me, this film serves as a cautionary tale for the religious. He Who Walks Behind The Rows represents false altars or idols such as wealth, sex, and power. While the children of Gatlin, led by the creepy and misguided Isaac, worship the vague entity that stalks cornfields, believers should choose to worship the very real God. They should practice discernment and not get caught up in dangerous, cult-like group-think.
2: The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by James Wan and written by Baptist twins Carey and Chad Hayes, The Conjuring takes place in 1971 and follows the evil spirits that torment the Perron family.
Things start to get redemptive when the Perrons contact the Warrens, famed demonologists, who accept the case and investigate. The diagnosis: paranormal infestation requiring Vatican-approved exorcism. The Warrens go to the church with this evidence while the Perrons retreat to a motel. The battle between good and evil ramps up here—a possession takes place, followed by an exorcism.
Normally, popular movies like this one are little more than cash-grabs meant to jump-scare the audience into paying admission. The Conjuring rises above this, while still appealing to the masses. It is a nicely crafted story that showcases a battle between the righteous versus the shadow-dwelling Satanic. Satan, as the ultimate evil in the world, is the villain of every story, but in this case, he is the perfect villain to be vanquished by God-fearing protagonists.
1: The Exorcist (1973)
How could the No. 1 spot belong to any other? This cornerstone in horror cinema has it all: terrifying makeup, compelling practical effects, a haunting score, a rock-solid plot, and most importantly, a consistent and relatable Christian message.
The film starts with two stories. We meet actress and mother Chris MacNeil and her lovable daughter Regan. We also meet Father Damien Karras, a Jesuit psychiatrist whose mother is dying. When she passes, Father Karras feels tremendous guilt for not being there during her final moments at the rest home. This leads him to question his faith.
When Regan exhibits signs of demonic attachment after playing with a Ouija board, Chris tries every medical thing she can think of to help her daughter, including, finally, exorcism. Father Karras, although doubtful at first, confirms the need for exorcism, and the church contacts the experienced Father Merrin to lead the rituals.
What takes place next is a battle royale between good and evil. The fathers have their hands full. Karras is tormented about his mother by the demon, who claims to be Satan himself. Merrin sends Karras away because of this weakness. Unfortunately, Merrin suffers a heart attack and dies. Karras discovers this, and invites the demon to enter his body, hence sacrificing himself by throwing himself out a window to his death.
Obviously, this intensely graphic movie is not for everyone. Stories (and counter-stories claiming these to be marketing tactics) abound of people having heart attacks or going into early labor while watching. Yet it offers a profound commentary on faith, spiritual warfare, and doubts. Father Karras is wracked with guilt, struggling to figure out if God exists. We have all had our moments of doubt and fear, which makes Father Karras’ character all the more relatable.
This film drives home the point that self-sacrifice beats evil. Father Merrin’s verses, holy water, and prayers didn’t end up saving Regan. Only through the self-sacrifice of Father Karras was the demon finally cast out, and the evil finally sent back. There is an obvious parallel to Jesus. Upon Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, the evil of Satan was defeated for all time. At no point before this had Satan been cast out in such a profound way, thus making Jesus the ultimate cure.