Are Christians wise to dabble with Horror movies? The easy route is to criticize the genre and preach avoidance. But to do so is to dismiss a Biblical genre.
In his book, Christian Horror, Mike Duran lays out the argument that Christians ought to engage with Horror. Authors Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti are both popular Christian authors of speculative fiction that could be classified as Horror, and filmmaker Scott Derrickson, also a Christian, has made a fair share of Horror films including The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and Deliver Us From Evil.
Although the genre dwells on the dark side of life, so does the Bible, and its good message would be butchered if the darkness wasn’t there. Yes, Horror tends to exploit sin and glorify evil, but that doesn’t mean Christians can’t find their way into it and stake their own claim to it. A spark sets a dry forest ablaze, and although the cultural climate around us is too wet to light overnight, we have confidence that the Holy Ghost is blowing it dry for our works of art to eventually kindle something compelling in the Horror community
Of course, Horror isn’t for everyone, but for those creatives among us who find it a compelling platform for a biblical, Christian worldview, here are 6 tips to hone the spooks for your story-making.
1. Follow the Bible’s Example: Inspire Godly Fear
Reading the prophets and Revelation is enough to inspire some unnerving scenes in one’s imagination. Consider the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezek. 37), the blood that poured for 184 miles (Rev. 14:14-20), the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), or Christ on the White Horse (Rev. 19:11-21).
The Bible shows us what true horror is: the Living God (Heb. 10:31). For whether we’re shaking before him or shaking because we’re separated from him, true horror is found in God as he truly is (Ex. 20:18-20). Start with this; God is the best “thrill” that Horror fanatics could ask for. So give audiences a taste of the God of the Bible. Show that his wrath is real (Rev. 16).
Christian storytellers can use provocative imagery to illustrate our worldview, especially as it concerns the fear we evil humans face in the presence of a Good God. C.S. Lewis called this the fear of the numinous, likening it to the type of fear that one feels if they’re certain a ghost inhabited the next room. This is not the fear of a physical entity, like a tiger, Lewis says; it’s something wholly other, from which we cannot hide.
Horror focuses on darkness, so study the Bible’s approach to it (see Godawa’s essay for an extensive list of passages to start with) and try to apply its principles to a story you want to create.
Do you want to provide a polemic against the sin you see around you? Perfect. The Biblical prophets speak to that.
2. Don’t be Afraid of Using the Grotesque
Just as the Bible uses provocative imagery, so can you if the message you want to convey is true and honorable (Phil. 4:8). Flannery O’Conner wasn’t ashamed of bringing the shock:
The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience….you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.
Christians, understandably, have a hard time venturing into images, words and themes that upset those in the pews. But complacency requires provocation.
So don’t mind those who don’t want to be provoked; that’s their choice. Don’t worry, prophets were ignored too. Focus on those who have “ears to hear and eyes to see” (Mark 4:9). That’s who your audience is.
3. Play it Safe with Supernatural Tales
Supernatural horror is a perfect niche for Christian storytellers to nestle into. Dekker, Peretti and Derrickson all show that to be true. Angels, demons, and all the religious imagery and language that comes with them enable Christians to speak freely about Biblical matters like no other genre can.
So create stories that lean on the Biblical view that a plane of existence transcends ours, yet is undoubtedly linked to it. In Waking the Dead, John Eldredge says “we live in two worlds—or better, in one world with two parts.” Paul says we wrestle against powers in the heavenly realm (Eph. 6:12). Let your imagination wander into the ways that the bridge can be crossed.
This is one reason why the fantasy genre and speculative fiction in general (of which Horror is a part) is so appealing to me, personally: its “magical” atmosphere is highly compatible with the Christian understanding of powers that work beyond our capacity to either apprehend or fathom them.