After my initial comments, he discussion from the Hollywood Jesus Annual Gathering panel on “Horror as a Genre” was opened up for general questions. Some I had anticipated or at least tried to prepare for.

The Enduring Nature of Common Horror Tropes:

Vampires. Bram Stoker created Dracula to be the perfect anti-Christ. This rich and dynamic lore is the prototypical case of the negation of the sacred creating the evil. This fact also explains why the sacred becomes a part of the solution to the problem of vampires. Vampires represent a resurrection to darkness. In vampires you see the perversion of the idea of blood being necessary for eternal life. Resurrection into this life occurs after three days. In the novel, Dracula even comes with his own forerunner (John the Baptist type) in the form of Renfield. The evil of vampires is dealt with by images of the cross, baptism (holy water), or the sun’s (Son’s) light.

Dracula 2000 explains Dracula as being the undead soul of Judas Iscariot. A fascinating portrayal of vampires is depicted in the movie The Addition. “It’s an “arthouse” independent film that captures the moral spirit of the horror genre at its best. It is the story of Kathleen, a philosophy student at NYU, who gets bit by a vampire and descends into the dark shadows of bloodlust. The spiritual angle of this macabre story is that vampirism in the film is an obvious metaphor for human depravity. But that’s not all. The vampires are distinguished by their self-awareness, unlike those they prey upon. Kathleen bites her new friend, who then asks her if she is going to get “sick.” Kathleen answers, “No. No worse than you were before.” She adds to another, “Sure, it’s easy to spot in people like me. The cancer has grown obvious. But you’re as terminal as I am. You’re as addicted [to sin] as I am.” The only difference between the living and the undead is that the vampires are aware of their corruption, while the living are self-deceived in thinking they are not.

Ghosts. These disembodied spirits point to one thing: some part of us is eternal (we have souls) and we don’t know what happens to them when we die. [Let’s not forget that we tell and re-tell a ghost story every year around Christmas time: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol]

Zombies. These creatures portray a resurrection to walking death. A similar metaphor is found in the case of Frankenstein and the curse of the Mummy. They are the living dead, with no hope, only the eternal existence in a “body of death” (Romans 7:24). They are particular reminders that there are worse things than death.

Werewolf. Similar to what we see with the creature Mr. Hyde, we have a corrupted self with us. A side, a nature, in us that we must tame, restrain, or kill (echos of Romans 6:6).

Serial Killers. Similar as tropes to werewolves in depicting the dark side to our nature, serial killers specifically remind us that evil death is all around us in the form of each other, lurking in the ordinary. The show Criminal Minds has become quite the hit exploring the idea of why we do these things to each other.

Even the movies that the Scream franchise deconstructs and the Scary Movie franchise parodies have a sense of Old Testament morality running through them: the judgment for doing drugs is death; the judgment for sex outside of marriage is death.

Monsters. By default become our catch all category. With movies such as Jeepers Creepers or The Nightmare on Elm Street (don’t forget, Wes Craven went to Wheaton College), we see creatures that embody our fear of the unknown. They also serve as reminders that fears can be blown out of proportion and can consume us.

In a lot of ways, religion–particularly Christianity–provides the “rules” of the genre. Granted, there is a certain amount of reaction to the Enlightenment worldview that led to the creation of the classic pantheon of horror monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man). However, it is Christianity’s concept of good and evil, God vs. the devil, heaven and hell, that often sets the stage for many a horror tale. These are the universal touchstones that are common and explain the enduring appeal of certain horror creatures.

My Responsibility as an Artist:

My responsibility as a writer is to tell the best story possible. Too often we confuse being a Christian (whatever) and being a (whatever) who is a Christian. If I am more concerned with proselytizing over story-telling, what I will produce is propaganda, not art. I don’t worry about injecting Christian ideas into my stories any more than injecting black themes into my stories. I am a Christian. I am black. Those areas form my worldview. It is from the grid of my worldview that I interpret the world and create my art. All artists do this. If I had a nihilist worldview, I’m sure that would come out in my art also. But no nihilist that I know worries about whether or not his nihilist worldview comes through in their stories.

When writing, I take quite seriously the idea that I may be “glorifying” evil or somehow making cool the dark and macabre things of this world. That being said, those drawn to such things will find them in anything. And when creating evil, if evil wasn’t seductive, we wouldn’t struggle with the temptation of it. Naturally, the next verse that typically gets thrown out is I Thessalonians 5:22 “Avoid every kind of evil.” I won’t even go into how this verse is typically ripped right out of context. When we wrestle with evil–the “why we do what we do” and the “what we do what to one another”–it’s not going to be pretty. The “inventive” kills of slasher movies from Friday the 13th to Saw don’t come close to the true, and very human evil, portrayed in Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda.

Do I worry about the desensitizing nature of horror? I’m against gratuitous sex and violence because they are generally lazy story-telling. Horror makes an easy target for the charge of desensitization, particularly for violence, but I think that if you are going to do that to horror then other genres need to be held up to that same standard. I think one of the greatest desensitizing genre is romance. I know women who pursue steady diets of romance movies and books. Think of how the idea of romantic love distorts our ideas of what love, what real love is. It turns us into narcissistic lovers (all about our own needs, feelings, and wants) rather than sacrificial lovers (pursuing the needs of our other). The harm from that notion has greater and more pervading reverberations within our culture.

Romans 14 discusses how we are to care for our “weaker brothers” whi
le pursuing the freedoms we have in Christ. Yet somehow while applying these verses, we’ve let a “lowest common denominator” mentality drive how we wrestle with culture. The fact of the matter is that some of us have more sensitive spirits than others. So guard your hearts. We have a tremendous amount of freedom in Christ, not a list of dos and don’ts. With that freedom come responsibility. We’ve also been given wisdom. Don’t sin against your conscience by attempting to view things you may not be ready to handle. Draw your lines. However, don’t confuse the line you have drawn for yourself for the demarcation that all Christians should follow.

Conclusion:

If there was one thing that The Passion of the Christ did is that it made many of us re-think how we view movies. That movie had painfully extended, Hellraiser-esque depictions of violence and torture; but we never lost sight of the overall message and point of the story.

We live in a world of sin, suffering, and evil. Horror stories, like any other kind of story, can be an important vehicle of truth. And I certainly wouldn’t argue about the transformative power of story.

Horror is not for everyone. I’m not going to try and justify all of it because a lot of it is crap. Much of modern horror has drifted from its moral center into little more than exploitative mediocrity. Some books and movies have no agenda beyond seeking to push the boundaries and attack our notions of what is acceptable. There is an element of titillation to glorified sadism. I have my own lines and there are friends of mine, good people and fine writers, who I won’t read because I know that their work would be too much for me. Then again, much of any genre is crap. The truly good stuff rises to the top and is worth consideration.

Philippians 4:8 is the primary verse that often gets lobbed against horror: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I see what people are getting at when they toss that verse around. We see this divide between the secular and the sacred and we don’t want to be “of this world”. Many of people choose to separate from mainstream culture, retreat to their Christian ghettos, rather than risk being tainted by the word. Good! Do what you have to do. A maturing believer knows their lines.

However, and I say this with all due caution and humility, as we mature, we, like the apostle Paul, can expose ourselves to culture, draw the good out from it, interact with it in such a way as to use it for redemptive purposes. Yes, we are called to be priests, to be set apart; but set apart, not for our own comfort and edification, but for a purpose: to join in Christ’s redemptive mission.
If God can communicate through a burning bush and a talking donkey, He can certainly do it through some scary stories.

I see myself as a writer, joined in God’s creative ministry, doing what I was called to do, working out my faith with, and in, “fear and trembling.”