The Genre of Horror: Let’s Talk About It.

Scary Young Girls Face On Halloween Day

 

For many Christians, the idea that horror literature could be legitimate as an expression of faith and love sounds like heresy. After all, how can someone that claims to serve the God of peace and love purposely intend to terrify people? I mean, isn’t intentionally scaring people some kind of sin, or if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

Those questions are valid and move this discussion from mere literature into theology.  When you consider The King James Bible has 71 instances where there is a command to “Fear not.” The idea of frightening people seems antithetical to the basic tenants of the gospel.

Any student of Church History understands clergy have been scaring people into the Kingdom of God for centuries, does that make it right? No one’s figured that out yet. One of the most noted and famous sermons preached from our side of the 16th century is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That sermon is as much a horror story as any Stephen King novel. More important, the sermon underscores the one aspect of God that people seem to forget. Life apart from God is a life of misery and loss.

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Going to Hell is everyone’s right of choice and God doesn’t mind accommodating anyone’s desire to spend eternity out of his presence. For many of us believers the idea of being apart from God, now that we have tasted his love and generosity, is terrifying. Remember Christ’s words on the cross when the full judgement of the world’s sin came upon him, and his true parent turned his back to look away from the only Begotten of God?  Jesus said,  “My  God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s pure abandonment and fertile ground for the horror genre.

Horror is as much apart of the Bible as faith and blessing. Consider the beggar Lazarus wanting to warn his family about the judgement waiting for them and is told “no.”

Many people consider that horror is only about frightening people.  Who wouldn’t think that when looking at pictures of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, or watching a long list of movies made for the sole purpose of shocking and terrifying audiences. What people don’t realize is that horror isn’t strictly about scaring people.

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Horror explores important topics like hubris, monsters, the unknown and our responses to things we don’t understand. This genre, when done well, allows us to explore our own darkness from the safety of our favorite chair. Some of my favorite horror stories such as  The Birthmark by Hawthorne, or Frankenstein by Shelly, or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Marlowe deal with the topics of unforgivable sin and hubris. These dark tales aren’t grossly gory, but they are entertaining and cautionary in nature.

Horror can also deal  with hope, redemption, acceptance and love. Don’t believe me? Read the stories I mentioned and decide for yourself. Of course not all horror is good or even entertaining. Some of it is genuinely awful, but that’s true of all the other genres too.

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There are those tender hearts out there that say,  “Fear is always bad.” To that response I’d  say fear as an emotion isn’t intrinsically a bad thing.

My family owned land and horses in Southeastern Washington State. It’s very arid and dry and home to rattle snakes, scorpions, millipedes, and a few other venomous creatures, Bringing the horses in from pasture could be an adventure as it sometimes brought me face to face with this innocuous little rattle from the tall grass or from beneath a sage brush. That little sound could make my heart stop, not to mention my feet.

I would turn around, and go back the way I came, why? Because I stood a good chance of getting bit by the thing making that sound.Was I afraid? Yes, but in a good way that kept me from harm.

Before we dismiss all instances of fear as ungodly. Let’s not forget that running away from temptation because we fear entanglement is completely encouraged. (1 Cor 6:18, 1 Cor 10:14, 1Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22).

There are things that should genuinely should frighten us, like hardening our own hearts to compassion, kindness, and the leading of God’s Spirit. We should always fear injustice, bigotry, and genocide. The violence of Fergeson and Baltimore were far more horrifying than any zombie apocalypse, but very similar to those stories – except no one was eating brains.

Digital Illustration of a Dragon

The genre of horror serves a cautionary purpose, useful for discovering our own personal evils as well as exploring our own redemption, forgiveness, and pathos. I maintain that horror has as much place in Christian fiction as romance, fantasy, mystery, and any other genres you can mention – maybe even more so.

Click on the link below and be prepared for a pleasant surprise. It’s an award winning zombie short film that will surprise you and make you rethink the uses of horror.

Can you define the components of  horror as a genre? Do you think it’s appropriate for people who call themselves Christians to read it, write, or watch it? Why?

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4 thoughts on “The Genre of Horror: Let’s Talk About It.

  1. Ok. I held my nose and watched the video. The whole thing. Have to admit it’s the first horror flick I’ve watched with selfless actions in it.
    But when it comes to reading, watching, listening, viewing, I want to stick with the admonition in Philippians 4:8 to keep my mind on GOOD things.
    Even your example, while it teaches a godly lesson, started with a horrifying view.

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    • That’s not an uncommon response and I realize that everyone has personal preferences. Kudos for trying. But in all honesty, i can’t immediately classify women’s fiction, romance, or contemporary fiction as wholesome or pure just because it’s not horror. In most cases, the genre’s I mentioned are just as bad as a lot of horror when it comes to impurity. My complaint with the common view on horror is that it is immediately classified as an evil, impure, genre. While that is true in a lot horror movies and books, it isn’t a given in the genre itself. Horror is one of the few genres that purposely holds up good and evil side by side, and asks what is good and what is evil. The problem is that few people ever find the really good stories and seldom wish to put in the mental energy to think about them. In fact the reason I think horror gets such a bad rap is that those stories are very unveiled in the portrayal of evil and good. Life can be horrifying, but God has an answer for it.

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  2. I think maybe horror covers too wide a spectrum and/or means something a bit different depending on perspective and time period. Frankenstein is considered horror, correct? And yet it’s definitely not where my mind goes when I hear the term. I very much dislike “horror” – with my active imagination certain images haunt my sleep, color my waking thoughts, and affect the way I interact with others. I had to quit watching SVU due to those repercussions and most people definitely wouldn’t qualify that television show as horror. 😉 But certain darker tales that have depth (like Frankenstein for one) I really enjoy.

    As for the type that have no purpose other than frighten – I just can’t see where God would take any joy whatsoever in them. And many of the ones that have a purpose, I tend to feel could convey the sentiment without going so far… And Linda is braver than I am. I debated clicking but… zombies… I just can’t…eww…

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    • Thanks for replying Sparky, there’s a lot I can reply to, but let’s take your statement about God’s purpose. So many Christians talk about tragedy in there life and will pontificate about how beautiful and meaningful there cancer, dementia, or whatever horrible experience became. That is a horror story if I ever heard one. God using horror? Sure, why not. If he can use death, cancer, and whatever, why not horror? The zombie movie? A lot non-horror fans often can’t get beyond the first outward appearances of zombies, its a very human problem and great impetus to the monster story. To me, the video isn’t about a zombie, its about a father that cannot control what is about to happen to him and he desperately wants to save his child from himself. This is also an adoption story, a family drama. The zombie dad literally retains his humanity to his very end inspite of his transformation. It is triumph of the character. You can tell when the woman character looks at the man as she holds Rosie. I don’t see horror in that movie, I see something deeper.

      Sometimes horror stories aren’t supposed to be deep, and I don’t bother with those stories. Checkout the next videos on the next post.

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