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Nights of the Living Dead

Do horror films help us conquer our fears, or merely exploit them?
Nights of the Living Dead
Image: GoodLifeStudio / Getty

Organized months before the terror strikes of September 11, the eighth annual City of the Angels Film Festival presciently chose "Touches of Evil" as its theme for 2001. The four-day event, founded as a response to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and cosponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary, has evolved into one of the nation's most ambitious efforts at Christian engagement with pop culture.

Besides Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Dracula 2000, the impressive roster for "Touches of Evil" included:

Roman Polanski's still compelling Rosemary's Baby (1968), a chilling tale of a woman giving birth to a child of Satan. John Frankenheimer's eerily relevant thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which a Korean War veteran is the pawn of his ruthless mother and his stepfather, a U.S. Senator. Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter (1955), an ultimately inspiring portrayal of religious hypocrisy.

Appropriately enough, the headliner for this Halloween-week look at sinister cinema was Craven, a graduate of Wheaton College. Craven established himself in the 1970s and '80s as the leading purveyor of horror films.

He gave us the homicidal Nightmare on Elm Street and its six sequels featuring Freddy Krueger, a character based on a neighborhood bully from Craven's childhood. That Craven's mind is a fascinating mix of the carnal and philosophical is undeniable. Craven's re-marks about his troubled and un-satisfying time at Wheaton, and his declaration of agnosticism, was not the confession the festival audience seemed to expect.

Craven grew up as the fatherless child of a widow devoted to her General Association of Regular Baptists congregation. Craven ...

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June
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