I believe in demons.
I believe in angels. I believe in witchdoctors, voices, and the Canaanite god Moloch. I believe in the Scientific Method. I believe in Satan. I believe in total depravity. I believe in common sense and the power of prayer. I believe this because I am a Christian. I believe this because as a child raised in the shadows of volcanoes tilting over Guatemala City, in a culture that syncretized Catholic saints with Mayan gods, I had no reason to believe otherwise.
I believe in supernatural horror as much as I believe in the reliability of my Merrell shoes.
But what I believe is not the same thing as what I like or do not like.
What I do not like is watching horror films at night—or the day—or at any other time. Not Se7en. Not The Ring. Not Poltergeist—at all. I just can't. I tried watching Halloween in high school and I almost died of fright. I couldn't handle the images. I took them too literally. How could I not? People I knew as a child had been harassed by honest-to-God demons. Of two things I was certain in my youth: 1) I did not like horror movies, and 2) Christians did not watch horror movies, not for stylistic reasons but for the theological conviction that we should not. It was verboten.
Migrating to the suburbs of Chicago as a teenager, I discovered a culture of teenagers who watched and loved horror movies. But why? I couldn't understand. What was the fascination? What need did they satisfy? A good laugh? A good scare? Did they not know that these scary things really did exist—on the other side of the veil—with Wormwood and Lucifer in tow?
A Bonanza of Horror
Twenty-some years later, I'm driving down to my local Blockbuster and there, I buy a one-month pass. With it, and despite all my childhood fears, I rent A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Blair Witch Project, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Carrie, Child's Play, The Exorcist, The Shining, Friday the 13th, Species II, Nosferatu and add them to an already-existing list: Psycho, The Others, What Lies Beneath, Alien, Silence of the Lambs, Jaws, Gremlins, Sleepy Hollow. I watch them because I must. The theologian in me who pretends to be a scientist needs an answer. Why in heaven's name do horror movies exist? Where do they come from? What do I, as an Arts Pastor, tell my filmmaking friends when they ask what to do with horror movies?
Naturally, I prayed before watching each one. I crossed myself. I said the "Our Father." I sprinkled a dash of holy water on The Exorcist DVD case. Better safe than sorry, I figured.
Sitting there with my eyes scrunched up, squinting at all this blood and terror, I found myself asking: Why don't Christians make any of these? Where are the Christians telling horror stories? Sure, you get a Charles Williams here and a Flannery O'Connor there trafficking in horror, but they're the exception. Is the horror genre simply unredeemable? Is it fallen? Misunderstood? What?
So I decided to go on a quest. A quest! I began with a basic question: What is horror?
Horror, I soon discovered, is a way for us humans to deal with three of our most primal fears: the fear of the dark, whether in the natural or supernatural world; the fear of the future, including our immediate future as well as the far-flung apocalyptic; and the fear of the unknown. Looking at it cock-eyed, I realized that horror has everything to do with things we cannot control. We cannot control demons like the kind we find in The Exorcist or Fallen. We cannot control beasts and forces of unforgivable size, such as Jaws and Aliens. We cannot control the horror we find inside ourselves: the unhinged mind (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), the warped spirit (Child's Play), the disturbing wildness of our physical bodies (The Elephant Man).