≡ Menu

Is “Christian Horror” Alive and Well?

remaining_xlgBack in 2008, I asked the question “Is Christian Horror Becoming a Trend?” The “horror” label has always posed problems for Christian writers, publishers, and filmmakers. Terms like “thriller” or “supernatural suspense” are far more manageable when dealing with anything potentially “faith-based.” Part of the perceived incongruity of those two words — “Christian” and “horror” — is that within pop-cultural circles, Christian films and fiction have come to mean “inspirational,”  “hopeful,” and “family-friendly.” Which is why portraying evil and horror have become problematic for the Christian artist.

Nevertheless, the genre of “Christian horror” appears to continue its trending.

The most recent evidence is Casey La Scala’s The Remaining, releasing this week in theaters. La Scala’s credits include the cult classic “Donnie Darko,” the horror remake “Amityville: The Awakening,” and one of the most influential, groundbreaking faith films ever made, “A Walk to Remember.”

Diabolique Magazine, in their interview with La Scala, sets up his story like this:

At this point in time, despite there being a rich history of films within the horror genre that rely on Christian ideology as a starting point, few horror films have purported to be “faith-based.” Faith is often a place of departure, used either to justify the existence of the supernatural, or as a point of contention. The films that have been released with the expressed intention of carrying a Christian doctrine—films like The Lock In and Left Behind—have failed to find crossover appeal. However, in the past year, there appears to be a growing movement in Hollywood to present “faith-based” stories. Of these films, Casey La Scala’s The Remaining emerges as one of the more unique titles. A self-professed balance between the faith-based world and the secular mainstream world, La Scala’s horror-thriller has already been generating a strong response in the faith-based community.

La Scala is not the first Christian filmmaker to affirm the intersection of the “Christian” and “horror” genres, Scott Derrickson, director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us from Evil, currently being one of the most prominent. Interestingly, while La Scala is clearly seeking crossover appeal, he set about aiming first at the faith community, pitching the film to Sony Affirm films, producers of faith-friendly projects like “Fireproof” and distributor for movies like “Soul Surfer” and “Mom’s Night Out.” Unsurprisingly, the studio hedged.

In his article Faith Film to Scare the “Hell” Out of Audiences WND editor Drew Zahn writes,

“‘The Remaining’ has a lot of Christian themes; would this be embraced by faith-based community?” La Scala recalled. “They didn’t know. I argued [faith consumers] would be interested in something like this, because when you look at ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ it’s technically a horror movie. It’s a faith-based horror movie. That’s what it is.”

The Remaining chronicles the day of the Rapture — an event many Christians believe will transpire shortly before the Great Tribulation in which all true believers are taken to heaven — and the ensuing apocalypse.

Picking up in the Bible’s Revelation, Chapters 8 and 9, “The Remaining” depicts the angels’ trumpets of judgment: hail and fire falling from the sky, and even more terrifying, the release of demonic “locusts,” with thundering wings and teeth like lions and stings like scorpions.

Indeed, some of the most visceral horrific images found in Scripture are found in the back of the book. (As a side note:  I was raised to believe, and still do, that the events described in the Book of the Revelations are mostly literal. So I was surprised to learn that many Christians eschew such a position, many holding to a preterist view of eschatology, that the events of Revelation have already occurred in some form. La Scala then is clearly aiming at the more traditional evangelical wing of the church that interprets Revelations literally.)

But perhaps the trickiest part of this feat is what the Diaboloque author described as “balance between the faith-based world and the secular mainstream world.” Says La Scala:

“…the process was trying to turn that script into something that could stand up to the evangelical debate. I started inputting the rules, and trying to tell the story a way that really followed everything Biblical.”

To me, this is one of the most fascinating angles on such endeavors, trying to write something that will “stand up to the evangelical debate.” Really, what stands between the “Christian” and “horror” genres is not a lack of biblical precedence for horror, the macabre, the monstrous, and the depraved.

“The Bible is full of horror tales,” La Scala’s co-writer on the project, Chris Dowling, told WND. “If you want to read something scary, read Revelation. It’s not a far cry to read Revelation and go, ‘Wow, this sounds straight out of a horror film.’ That’s why it made sense [to make this movie].”

In fact, what stands between “Christian horror” and mainstream audiences is “the evangelical debate.” That “debate” is the same one Darren Aronofsky’s Noah faced about how true to Scripture the story stays. There’s no question but that “The Bible is full of horror tales.” The only real issue is whether or not Christian audiences want only what is “inspirational”  and “family-friendly.”

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on Reddit
{ 11 comments… add one }
  • D.M. Dutcher September 1, 2014, 11:27 AM

    But it’s yet another stupid end times film.

    it’s like saying “here’s this awesome new Christian thriller coming out,” and you get interested and find out its a retelling of 1 Kings. Yeah, he’s emphasizing the horror element with the locusts, but why is it so hard for Christians to break free some the same old tired tropes of exorcism and end times? It’s not like you are ever going to top The Exorcist or The Omen, so why not try something new?

    • Mir September 1, 2014, 11:44 AM

      I don’t see why either The Exorcist or The Omen could not be topped.

      • D.M. Dutcher September 1, 2014, 9:13 PM

        That’s like saying Star Wars or Psycho could be topped. You’d have to be a master to do it, because those films created many of the tropes of the genre you’re working in.

  • Mir September 1, 2014, 11:43 AM

    I saw the trailer for THE REMAINING a couple weeks back and it definitely intrigued me, unlike the LB trailers, which were unimaginative and dull (and did not bode well for my bothering to even Netflix it eventually.)

  • HG Ferguson September 1, 2014, 7:28 PM

    I find the current evangelical hatred of horror both laughable and lamentable, given the fact that as you so rightly observe, the Bible is full of it and the locusts of Revelation, whatever your interpretation, are monsters. The hard facts are the horror story had its birth out of Christian/biblical worldviews in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When horror left these moorings along with the rest of western culture in the late 1960s (Rosemary’s Baby, anyone?), it began a slow but steady descent so that now what’s called horror is actually torture porn, and I’ll argue that one anytime, anywhere. Horror is the only genre that’s capable of presenting to people the realities of eternity and the inevitability of damnation outside of the Savior — indeed, of presenting the very FEAR of YHWH, which is the beginning of wisdom. It was not A Thief in the Night that brought someone I personally knew to faith in Jesus Christ. No, it was The Omen. It also amuses and saddens me that so many evangelicals proclaim WE DON’T DO HORROR but adore the exploits of a boy wizard who practices what God says He hates. Something is very, very wrong here, when the one is condemned and shunned but the other is cherished, when the Word of God has plenty of horror in it — and monsters — but condemns magical practices from the mouth of God Himself.

    • D.M. Dutcher September 2, 2014, 7:21 AM

      Well, you can’t really blame them. Horror has always had a strong, transgressive element even when it seeks to uphold the moral order. And most modern horror hasn’t cared so much to uphold the moral order in fifty years. Even in past that, it’s been like this; usually the difference between a hokey universal horror film and an effective chiller of the past is how transgressive it is.

      Like watching the original “Village of the Damned” is unnerving to this day because it transgresses hard the idea that children are innocent and that you can “train up a child in the way they should go.” It slaps us in the face with the uncomfortable truth that not only can children be alien from their parents’s values, there’s nothing in the end you can do about it and it can happen without any choice on your part. It can be inborn.

      It really depends on what you turn the lens on. TBH I think there’s a lot you could do with it that is lost because we refuse to criticize Christian culture in itself with horror.

  • Luc M September 2, 2014, 1:37 AM

    I’m a big Christian horror fan, and I’m currently writing a horror novel right now. I saw the trailor of the Remaining and was instantly intrigued. I completely agree with Revelation being the true horror book of the Bible. I’ve only read it twice because it is so heavy handed, but it’s true. And like you Mike, I do believe everything it says will be literal.
    I know a lot of Christians who say that horror is no good for a Christian because it gives place to the devil, and though I agree in part, it can still be used for God’s glory. Horror shows the true realities of a life without Christ, and last year’s the Conjuring did that brilliantly. I actually think horror has more of an impact on the unsaved than say Fireproof, not that that’s a bad movie, I love it, but I think a person has more of a chance of getting into a religious conversation with say, the Exorcism of Emily Rose, than other inspirational Christian films.
    Another thing a lot of Christians shun are demons themselves. I’ve heard a lot of Christians say that they don’t want to talk about, or know about demons. If we don’t know our enemy, he’ll take us down, because the Bible says, “They fall for a lack of knowledge.” It’s sad, because here in Australia, churches hardly do exorcisms or deliverances anymore.
    And another useful aspect of horror, it shows the horrible world Christ came to save us from, so again, more conversation starters.
    Mike, I hope you’re right that Christian horror is alive, because the world needs it, and when the Remaining hits Australia, I’ll be first in line.
    God Bless Mike, love reading your posts, always thought-provoking.

  • Mike G September 3, 2014, 10:41 AM

    No doubt this is thought-provoking.

    Can Christianity be rationalized with a horror plot? Not if one uses the traditional horror storyline. No. Of course you can’t do it with Romance either and its hard as the dickens to make it square with science fiction as well.

    You see, a storyline is nothing more than a collection of details arranged in such a way as to deliver a particular meaning. Thus all storylines suggest a worldview (a set of assumptions in regards to meaning). For example, the romance storyline is a product of the humanist world, where salvation is found through romantic attachment. Prior to Jane Austen, love stories were called comedies, not because they were funny, but because the word ‘comedy’ comes from the word ‘comely’, meaning attractive or seductive — in other words they were unrealistic (think fairy tales). The idea that another human being could find their highest meaning in another person was one of the many ideas that had to wait for a humanist world to find it believable.

    Horror comes from a nihilistic form of the pagan worldview. Getting the paganism out of the story isn’t too hard, but the nihilism is almost fundamental. In most stories these days the main character (the ‘hero’, or ‘protagonist’) is vindicated at the end. They succeed; or at least what they were fighting for succeeds.

    But in the horror story it is the creature that who is usually vindicated at the end. Think of how many horror movies you’ve watched where it looks like the good guys have triumphed only to see the monster rise again in the last scene. The idea that evil is stronger than good is what generally gives a horror story its shape, and what draws most of it fans.

    Think about it. It’s not the popular kids who generally have the monster posters, its the disaffected. The less socially acceptable. The ‘freaks’. In other words the people who would have a reason to want to find their escapist moments in a horror story — they can believe that the bad is stronger than the good, so it has an inherent believability to them.

    And no. The Bible has nothing like this story structure anywhere in it.

    • D.M. Dutcher September 3, 2014, 8:32 PM

      It’s not all like that. Your average ghost story is an example of moral horror, in which usually:

      1. A transcendent moral order exists.
      2. Someone transgresses that order.
      3. Ghosts come to punish the wicked. Often with collateral damage.
      4. Either the transgressor is punished, or repents, or the transgression is rectified. (A mystery is solved, a cursed item destroyed, a stolen item returned to its ghostly owners.)

      A Christmas Carol is a good example of this, though it’s rare the horror aspects get noticed these days. If I remember right, John Carpenter’s The Fog was this too. There’s a religious version of this where it’s not so much transgressing morals as it is desecrating the holy or trespassing on the unholy. While not Christian, they can awaken the numinous sense in a person. This structure ironically is in the bible-don’t stumble when you carry the Ark of the Covenant!

      I agree that many horror films take the classic story and add a nihilist twist to shock at the end. I think you can take the classic horror story structure and make a Christian tale out of it; Mike does it in his books, and there is a moral aspect to horror that can be friendly to that. It’s just fallen out of fashion.

      • Mike G September 4, 2014, 4:25 AM

        DM, I think you missed my point. I wasn’t commenting on whether or not a horror story (or romance or science fiction) could contain a Biblical moral somewhere within them. My point was that the structure of the story type works against a Biblical worldview.

        Ghost stories are a perfect example of this. In a ghost story a human spirit is tied to earth because of something which needs to take place… here on earth. Of course in the Biblical worldview this is not the case. Even if justice is denied here on earth, it will take place before the throne of Heaven. And that judgment is absolute. Thus no one is ‘haunted’ in the Bible because this is not a haunted world.

        Your example of the Arc confuses the Biblical moral. It was not the “stumble” that led to the man’s death. It was the lack of reverence in regards to a specific command (only Levites could touch the arc). If he had died because of the physical movement, apart from the higher moral then yes, it would have supported your contention. It also would have inserted an element of a pagan worldview into an otherwise completely Sovereign God view and I assure you, no such thing exist. The Bible is miraculous in its consistency.

        Let’s be clear: I’m not calling a person who writes Christian speculative fiction an apostate. I’ve written both horror and sci fi in the field. I also understand if a reader or publisher has concerns or if they feel that the end product should go by a different name.

Leave a Comment