Over the last hundred years, movies have moved from being a curious and magical novelty to something so ingrained in mainstream culture that to have never seen a movie is similar to having never ridden in a car or touched a computer. And over that period of time, movies have become not just a tool for mindless entertainment, but also a tool for spreading messages—both positive and negative. Healthy and unhealthy. Storytelling is a powerful tool for things deeper than just "entertainment" and often reflects some grain of truth from Romans 1:18-21 about the hearts of men.
A horror movie is, by definition, a story that produces "an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust." Scary stories that would fall into the horror category have always been around, tailored to their cultures of origin. Many classical fairy tales (which are just as brutal, if not more so, than a lot of today's "horror") were told to teach lessons to children, or to discourage wrongdoing.
But with people becoming more and more desensitized, something that used to be considered a nightmares standard might now be used as a cheap thrill that's tame enough for a TV commercial. As such, it is harder to shock an audience that has grown up around stylized carnage and a less solid standard of good and evil, right and wrong.
Horror tries to shock people in a variety of ways: gratuitous gore, psychological terrors (What's around the corner? Is there actually a monster in the house?), supernatural elements, or even just jump-out-of-your-seat scenes that make the audience hit the ceiling from an adrenaline rush of fear. Often the shock is there for the shock itself—not for any grand, overarching point.
That's not to say that you can't learn anything from a horror movie, but you should still exercise discernment when watching or reading or playing anything.
As Christians, we should be extremely aware that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). We know that very real demons are out to "steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10). Satan and his servants are trying to trip us up at any chance they get; spiritual warfare is not a subject to be taken lightly.
Regardless of what type of decision we're making—whether it be about life or media choices—we must always listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through our conscience. Is He saying, "No, don't watch that"? Then don't! Are you not sure if the Holy Spirit is saying no? Then it would be safer to avoid whatever it is you're wondering about, just to be on the safe side—at least until you have a clearer answer. Nothing is worth stifling God's voice (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30)!
Secondly, have your parents told you no? Then no matter of what movies you think are okay, you are to respect and obey their decision (Ephesians 6:1-3).
As we grow in our faith, we should become increasingly more sensitive to sin and evil. We are supposed to be different, standing out as beacons of light in a dark, sin-filled world (1 Thessalonians 2:12). We should keep our minds on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute" (Philippians 4:8).
That said, there are some who can still find the things listed in Philippians 4:8 in horror/scary films. There are movies that fall under the category of "horror" that show more truth and ask deeper questions than one might expect. Some horror films even come from Christian filmmakers, either using their unique view on the world to reach a different audience that may not otherwise be exposed to God's Truth or to show the reality of struggles that a lot of other Christian media won't touch. We all know that life is not always a happy and uplifting romantic comedy; sometimes darker stories are needed to portray a certain message.
For some people, they need to avoid superfluous scares because they struggle with fear enough as is; they don't need any additional stimulant in that area. If horror and scary movies will affect you in a way that makes you go against your morals and conscience or makes it more difficult to rest in God's secure embrace or even leads you to search for a way to justify watching them, then STEP AWAY.
If you decide to give these types of films a shot, check your motives, check your heart, and if possible, do your research. Be aware that very few review websites will ever be completely accurate, and all are biased, even if slightly, one way or the other. Know your own limitations. Know your weaknesses. Ask God for guidance. Perhaps you are one of those who will find horror movies to your personal edification.
"Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?" —2 Corinthians 13:5
Horror tries to shock people in a variety of ways: gratuitous gore, psychological terrors, supernatural elements, or even just fear-inducing jump scenes. Still, storytelling can be a powerful teaching tool and often helps reflect truth about the hearts of men (Romans 1:18-21). That said, still exercise discernment when watching, reading, playing any given piece of media. Listen to what the Holy Spirit tells you through your conscience. If He says, "No, don't watch that", then don't! Not sure if the Holy Spirit is saying no? Then it's safer to avoid that movie to be on the safe side—at least until you have a clearer answer (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30).
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.