Horror: The Perfect Christian Genre
Can a Christian make horror movies? Scott Derrickson thinks so. As a screenwriter—and a Christian—he has worked on quite a few films in the genre, including Urban Legends: Final Cut, Dracula 2000 and Hellraiser: Inferno, the last of which he also directed. His newest film as co-writer and director, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, coming to theaters on September 9, looks at first glance like more of the same.
But this movie is a little different. It is based on the true story of a German woman named Anneliese Michel, who died during an exorcism in 1976; the priest who tried to cast the demons out of her was charged with manslaughter. So the film is part horror story, part courtroom drama—and Derrickson says it will get people talking about God.
Derrickson spoke to Christianity Today Movies from his home in Glendale, California.
Why would a Christian get involved in horror films, of all things?
Scott Derrickson: In my opinion, the horror genre is a perfect genre for Christians to be involved with. I think the more compelling question is, Why do so many Christians find it odd that a Christian would be working in this genre? To me, this genre deals more overtly with the supernatural than any other genre, it tackles issues of good and evil more than any other genre, it distinguishes and articulates the essence of good and evil better than any other genre, and my feeling is that a lot of Christians are wary of this genre simply because it's unpleasant. The genre is not about making you feel good, it is about making you face your fears. And in my experience, that's something that a lot of Christians don't want to do.
To me, the horror genre is the genre of non-denial. It's about admitting that there is evil in the world, and recognizing that there is evil within us, and that we're not in control, and that the things that we are afraid of must be confronted in order for us to relinquish that fear. And I think that the horror genre serves a great purpose in bolstering our understanding of what is evil and therefore better defining what is good. And of course I'm talking about, really, the potential of the horror genre, because there are a lot of horror films that don't do these things. It is a genre that's full of exploitation, but the better films in the genre certainly accomplish, I think, very noble things.
How do you avoid what some might consider a fascination with evil?
Derrickson: It's something I've thought a lot about. I think of this kind of material in an almost dietary fashion. It's something that is potent and powerful and it's not healthy for anyone to overindulge in it.
I would be concerned if one of my children were constantly watching nothing but horror films or indulging in gothic literature without the balance of other types of art and entertainment. I do think that's a danger. C. S. Lewis had that very practical wisdom, well stated, in his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, when he talks about how the two great dangers, in regard to our thoughts about the demonic and the devil, are to think too much of them or too little of them. To be too afraid of them, to be too hesitant to engage in discussion or thought or art that deals with this realm, is to give in to fear; but to become fascinated with it and to indulge in the material is also very unhealthy.
So for me personally, I stagger the kinds of material that I do. I've written in other genres, and if I'm working on a project like the one that I just did, during the course of working on it, I don't watch any horror films, I don't read any scary literature, I try to fill myself with things that are a bit brighter, to keep myself personally balanced. But I think that both kinds of material are important for a balanced diet—at least for me.