Vampires, werewolves, serial killers, giant bugs, monsters, zombies, demonic possession, demented children, fallen angels, hell dimensions, ghosts, and more than I'm sure I'm thinking of right now often tie back to one thing: horror.
While at a glance, this list doesn't give any given movie extra points for me, even some of these things can lead to good story with powerful themes. But I want to stress again, if something goes against your conscience, it's not worth risking your spiritual walk. Just don't watch it.
Unfortunately, the thing horror films are most known for is their copious amounts of blood. But that's really a generalization. (The fact that the Saw franchise is so successful doesn't help this stereotype.) There is a whole subgenre dedicated to sadomasochism where the focus of the film is self-inflicted or other-inflicted pain and agony. This has been dubbed as "torture porn" where the focus is to give the audience a sexual kick out from viewing pain. And, again unfortunately, pain being a sexual stimulant is something that's coming more and more into mainstream movies. But this isn't exclusively what horror is, nor is horror exclusively responsible.
There are two factions in terms of scare tactics: those that focus on blood and guts and violence, and those that rely on an eerie atmosphere. Some movies have both. Either faction has the potential to tell a good story from which we can learn.
Silent Hill (2006) focused heavily on atmosphere for a fair chunk of its creepiness, with a town shrouded in ash fall and exceedingly short days. It did have some pretty graphic displays of violence thrown in as well. And while Alien (1979) is known for the alien-bursting-from-the-guy's-chest-at-dinnertime scene, that is the only graphically shocking part of the film. Otherwise, most of its scares are from what you don't see, little scratches and noises that, without the context of the film, wouldn't be nearly as frightening. The Ring (2002) and When a Stranger Calls (2006) are two more recent examples that focus largely on psychological scares.
Like most story genres, horror comes with variations of its base definition into a multitude of sub-genres. While at its core, horror focuses on fear—how that fear is executed and what type of fear it is—the way it is translated into a film can be done many different ways. What distinguishes horror apart from other genre fiction is its emphasis on atmosphere and perception.
Like its sister-in-persecution, romance, horror is defined by something more vague, more ethereal, and immensely more personal than just setting and plot points: emotions. The parent genres of science fiction and fantasy are less defined by "how do you feel about that?" and more by their setting, while horror tends to be more focused on presenting the psychological reactions (generally dread) to unusually intense circumstances.
All stories need conflict. Horror just uses the fears of the characters as one of its layers. And, outside of the saving grace of Christ, and inside the imagination of a storyteller, there is a lot to be afraid of.
Remember, most horror movies are coming from a secular viewpoint. Most of them are not claiming a Christian worldview, and that directly reflects in how the characters act. But that gives us a good opportunity to tackle fear questions like: How might someone with no Biblical background or salvation whatsoever act in the face of death? How might they approach the world? If they throw themselves into the "lusts of the flesh," will they ever find that "all is vanity"? This is a topic many vampire movies tackle (1994's Interview with a Vampire is a good example).
Stories in general should make us ask questions. We relate to fictional characters when they remind of us ourselves or the people around us. It is a growth experience to expose ourselves to how people see people. Even in secular fiction, characters are called on to make choices, and how those choices are framed, whether as good, bad, selfish or selfless, reflects how someone views the world, or perhaps it will ask you how you view the world.
Story begs you to ask serious questions, often without even asking them overtly. Story makes us ask: How does this make me feel? What am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way? Is that a good way to feel? No? Yes? Either way, why? Was this choice right? No? Yes? Why? From what moral standard am I drawing my conclusions? If you don't know, find out. Horror pushes those questions into areas of our lives we normally don't want to think about.
Though, of course, this depends on the quality and depth of the story you're watching. I have yet to find deep themes in Tremors (1990), though I most definitely am not looking for them.
Horror movies are filled with unknowns. No one knows what evil is out there, but there always comes the confrontation with that unknown—the realization of what it is, the planning of what to do about it, and from there, characters spring into action. Sometimes life is like that. So many things are unknown, and we must face our fears in order to act.
Horror, just like any genre, requires discernment. Like I said before, you know yourself best, so if you feel a conviction against watching a particular movie, don't watch it. An argument can be made against "acceptable" genres just as easily as an argument can be made for horror and even romance.
Honestly, there is no perfectly "safe" genre, and even for those who dislike fiction entirely, we can just as easily drown and be led astray by the news of what happens in the real world. The thing with fiction is that it doesn't normally claim to be real, and in the guise of story, it can reveal so much truth.
The world says "There is No Absolute Standard," but most people still dislike the whiny character who sacrifices everyone else's safety to save his own skin. A non-Christian would likely still say that person is morally wrong to leave everyone behind. Why? How can they have moral standards without knowing there is an ultimate good and evil? Because even in secular storytelling, even in horror, this biblical truth shines through:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." —Romans 1:18-21
September is an aspiring novelist, book
hoarder collector and movie watcher. She has an incredibly tolerant cat named Scout, an assortment of plants that seek global domination, and a distinct lack of awareness for where she is at any given moment.