Thursday, December 29, 2011


At the onset, come clarifications:

(a) I have not studied horror as some have. There are some books (which I have not read) but which look valuable, and there are excellent articles on this topic that I have read, carefully, and recommend.

(b) My taste for horror is limited to those stories where the meaning is rich and thick, and the effects minimal.

(c) Most horror gratuity (explicit effects) is moral excess that can serve to dull and numb the conscience.

(d) I think well-crafted horror services a valuable purpose and I recommend such films, e.g. ALIEN, I AM LEGEND, THE DESCENT, (and the like) and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (yep, that's horror).

The best article I’ve seen is Brian Godawa’s AN APOLOGETIC OF HORROR that examines the horror genre in light of Christian theology and what is found in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  I highly recommend it, and will again. I won't attempt to summarize Brian's work, because it is efficient and exhaustive, and doesn't need my spin. It stands alone.

In my consulting and teaching a question keeps popping up, and so I need to answer it briefly, and let other experts expound and correct me, like Brian. The question is this:

"If the popularity of a movie is proportional of the truth communicated by that movie, how do horror movies (which are very popular) teach truth?" In other words, “Why are horror movies so dang popular?”

I think there are a host of reasons. Here is a brief list, which assumes that the movie in question connects with audiences on a large scale. All of these reasons relate to “the moral premise” -- characters make moral choices that have physical consequences that correlate with natural law. In no particular order, and with considerable overlap which I am too per-occupied otherwise to correct at this time:
  • Horror movies emotionally involve the audience and remind them that their soul is in danger of damnation. Pay attention ye mortals.
  • Horror movies cause us to identify with the protagonist. We fear for him or her, we yell out to watch out. In short, we practice compassion...a virtue... and, thus we are taught to warn our friends of evil lurking in dark places.
  • Horror movies reveal the consequences of characters who are sinful or foolish or weak. Such stories remind us “DON’T DO IT”. They “scare the hell out of us.” (And that’s a good thing.)
  • Horror movies, as in all well-crafted movies, prove that SIMULATION is safer than ACTUAL EXPERIENCES. See what happens to others, but don’t go near it yourself. Learn from experiences or learn from simulation. I’ll take the simulation.
  • Horror movies boosts our self-confidence by reminding us (hopefully) that we will not be as stupid as the girl who just got killed.
  • Horror gives those in the audience who have experienced abuse, a way to get control of their emotions by CHOOSING to walk out of the theater, even at the end, and know that my life isn’t as bad as what was portrayed in the movie... or if it was that bad, to walk away from it.
  • Horror in many (if not most) circumstances is social commentary. Zombies might refer to mall rats or greedy predators. Vampires remind us of the monsters that tyrannical dictators lord over their populaces, controlling them with evil seductions. Monsters (on skyscrapers or in caves) metaphor social powers, physical abusers, or unconfessed sin dodging us as guilt.
  • Horror can remind us that suffering can be good, when the common or greater good is served.
  • Horror reminds us that no one is entirely innocent.
  • Horror presents commentary about the consequences of sin to a society that that has avoided softer words of warning. It instills a holy fear of sin, as well as a fear of foolishness and stupidity.
I discuss some of these points in my two posts on CLOVERFIELD and THE DESCENT.

And again, I recommend you study Brian’s excellent article referenced above.


It also seems that there is a ranking of horror sub-genres from realism to fantasy. By no means exhaustive, here is a short list that might be useful when comparing and contrasting stories for critique or for consideration by an author.

1.    Stark Realism (PRECIOUS, SCHINDLER’S LIST)
2.    Psychological Horror (BLAIR WITCH, THE VILLAGE)
3.    Spiritual Realism (THE EXORIST, THE RITE)
4.    Magical Realism (THE GREEN MILE)
5.    Gothic Horror (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA)
6.    Monster Horror (CLOVERFIELD, KING KONG)
7.    Sacramental Horror (all Vampire and Zombie stories)
8.    Slasher Horror (gratuitous exploitation of all the above)

1 comment:

Anna Labno said...

I don't like horror movies. But I do love stark realism. I don't like magic, but I did enjoy the Green Mile. I didn't know these movies are considered horror.