By Dan Vander Lugt
Today there are an astonishing number of movies in the genre of horror. A large proportion of the DVDs for rent in an average “family” video store are horror movies. The advance of computer-generated effects and digital photography has exponentially enhanced the ability of filmmakers to produce horrific special effects. But what generates the appetite for viewing them? Why do so many people delight in seeing things simulated in film that they would never in their right minds want to see in reality?
Perhaps the appetite for horror is unconsciously generated by a culture that worships affluence, comfort, convenience, youth, and beauty and represses awareness of human and animal suffering, aging, and even the natural cycle of predation. Perhaps a family that actually had to raise, feed, and slaughter hogs, chickens, or steers (or a favorite milk cow past her prime) in order to make a living would be less likely to find simulated horror and suffering interesting. Perhaps a culture in which the sick and aged died at home, nursed by the family instead of by strangers in a high-tech intensive care ward, and where the bodies of dead loved ones were personally prepared by family members for burial would be less interested in horror. Perhaps people who have fought in hand-to-hand combat or seen loved ones die of disease and malnutrition would think simulated death and violence less entertaining.
Be that as it may, the images we absorb—whether in real life or from the theater screen—will become part of us. Willful exposure of impure hearts to gratuitous horror and violence may unleash feelings that should have remained bound. Anyone who willingly focuses on movies that obsess on evil and the occult are likely to develop feelings of fear, anxiety, desolation, and alienation from God.
A person who kills animals for “fun” is a sadist; a person who enjoys raping and murdering people is a psychopath. What happens when people habitually watch movies that contain simulations of such things? How can we take issue with the sadist or the psychopath if we get a voyeuristic thrill from observing the things they do?
A fallen world contains many horrors, and few of us are fortunate enough to pass through a lifetime without encountering some of them. It is the context and interpretative framework in which we encounter horrors of life that make them something we can endure, or something that reduces us to despair. A well done film may contain elements of horror and be an effective tool for understanding the nature of evil and arming oneself against it. But many films exaggerate the power of evil and lack the realism to show good’s superiority in both value and power. Films like these trivialize evil, excuse it, and humanize it.
This is a clear violation of the principle expressed in Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (NASB).
This principle doesn’t imply that books or films that bring the reality of evil into sharp focus are wrong. If that were the case, the Bible itself might be seen as illegitimate reading, as it portrays evil in stark and shocking ways (Genesis 19:4-35; Judges 19–20). Some of the greatest evils committed by humanity result from our willful repression of reality’s dark side. However, the foundation of existence is not evil but our good God. God, the Creator, is love. If evil is willfully pursued—whether in real life or in the fantasy of cinema—its shadows begin to spread before our eyes until we are blinded to the power of our good God and lose sight of His light.
Horror can be appropriate if it is the foil against which goodness is contrasted. However, if we indulge in it frivolously, it will lead to anxiety, hopelessness, and alienation from God. If we plant horrific images deep in our subconscious mind, they are likely to haunt us at the moments of our greatest fear and physical agony. Our subconscious (the part of the mind that generates dreams) doesn’t know the difference between “real” and “make believe.”
This means that the same standards need to be applied to movies and books in the “horror” genre as we would apply to other films and literature.