“I WANT TO WRITE A BLOG POST ABOUT SOMETHING TO DO WITH STORIES.” I was sitting with my feet propped up on the windowsill, staring at a blank page. Arielle, always eerily at the ready with an answer (seriously, it’s basically a superpower) said, “WRITE ABOUT WHETHER YOU THINK CHRISTIANS SHOULD WRITE HORROR.” Well, I thought. Yes. Good.
I have limited knowledge of the horror genre. It’s never particularly appealed to me – or I should say, it’s never appealed to me in and of itself. 90% of my horror-movie knowledge is from sitting in theaters, watching the previews. I could skip watching these, but they help me write suspense – watching camera angles, cinematography, suspenseful lines, etc.
But when it comes to actual horror movies, there is one genre I really like: creature movies. I adore creature movies. From old black-and-whites like Them or The Creature from the Black Lagoon to The Blob (the Steve McQueen version, obviously) to The Thing (both versions) to The Cave and every Predator movie – they’re my jam. Also, ever since the time my brother watched Jaws with me for the first time and we got hungry for bagels halfway through, I’ve been hungry during every creature movie, ever. (Note: the only time this has gone wrong was when I decided to eat cold, leftover sausage during John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. For some reason that particular alien + cold sausage = not the most agreeable thing to my appetite. I did it, though.)
As for paranormal horror movies, 99% of the time I’d have to say I have no interest. Granted, I’m not usually even tempted (aside from Crimson Peak. Because it looks gorgeous, and it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, and…)
However, I’ve read some ‘horror’ books (Dekker, Peretti, Zindel) so I feel I can answer the question ‘Should Christians write horror?’ with a definite IT DEPENDS.
I feel like Christians have their opinions on horror split down the middle. One half says “ALL HORROR IS EVIL AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED” and the other half says “EVERYTHING IS ACCEPTABLE AND FINE, CHILL.”
Well, everything is NOT acceptable, but every genre can be redeemed (except probably erotica. Which is self-explanatory) if it’s done right. I’m a firm believer that broken things can be fixed, and most horror is ‘broken’ because God is nowhere to be found.
Most paranormal horror stories involved several things: ghosts/demons/lots of stupidity/lots of murder/lots of sex/lots of brain-searing, gruesome violence/lots of graphic imagery.
I remember one time a friend was writing a horror story and he asked me to read it, because he needed a second opinion. I agreed, because he was a Christian, and a good writer on top of that. The main character in the story was a Christian, and the story involved demonic activity. When I finished it, I told him that it was well-written, but there was no point to it. When he asked what I meant, I told him the main character was a Christian, but to what end? So he had a ‘Christian’ main character – if it didn’t affect the story, there was no reason for him to be a Christian in the first place.
In paranormal horror, the horrors (be they ghosts, demons, or serial killers) run rampant, cutting a bloody swath through the cast. The purpose of these movies is to shock and frighten – and if you’ll forgive me for saying so, shock and fear just aren’t enough for me. If I want to be shocked and frightened, I’ll read an article about the upcoming election. Shock value isn’t a redeeming feature, and most horror movies have no interest in redemption – which is why I don’t like them.
I stated earlier that I adore creature-horror but don’t go for paranormal-horror, and let me explain why. Creature-horror frequently has a heavy focus on humanity. It focuses on a cast of characters as they band together against a common enemy. From what I’ve seen of the paranormal-horror genre, the movies tend to delve into some very cultic themes, with absolutely no spiritually redemptive qualities. Creature movies a) don’t have the cultic/spiritual element – rather, it’s usually aliens or mutants or some such and b) have a larger focus on the people in the movie rather than the shock value/horror aspect.
Paranormal horror tends to dwell heavily on evil. Creature horror tends to dwell on…well, creatures.
Are these huge differences? Well, to me they are. They make the story good – although not all of them are this way. (I didn’t finish the Alien sequel because I couldn’t stand anybody in it. Plus there were no Predators, which is the whole point of an Alien movie. Wait, what?)
I think the problem with most paranormal horror is the lack of anything redemptive. It delves too far into the occult and asks you to splash around in graphic violence, torment, and death. It asks you to dwell on darkness with little to no light. Some people like this, but I don’t see any redemptive qualities to it. Some paranormal horror movies might have a fantastic human element, but when battling spiritual darkness (demonic/ghostly forces, etc.) I believe you need spiritual redemption.
Good paranormal horror can be done, but it’s extremely rare. Personally, I’d love to see more Christians tackle the horror genre. I think it has incredible potential – rife with spiritual symbolism and themes that could leave extremely powerful imprints on readers and viewers. I think Peretti and Dekker do this very well – although horror is a very fine edge, and it’s hard not to tip over into ‘too far.’ As for ‘how far is too far,’ I think that frequently depends on the writer and the reader. As long as you’re very open to God’s word and what he’s telling you, you’re safe. When tackling paranormal horror, I would definitely advise remaining constantly in prayer and spending even more time than usual in the Bible. Technically, the Bible has paranormal horror! Possessed madman running amok, demons wreaking havoc – but as I’ve stated in previous posts, the whole point of the Bible is God. The whole point of the Bible is spiritual redemption.
I’ve been asked whether I’ll ever write horror, and the answer is – probably not. I may write novels with horror elements, but I doubt I’ll ever write a full-on horror novel. I’m just not that interested.
Nietzsche once remarked about the Abyss, and claimed that if you gazed it for too long, it would gaze back. I don’t agree with Nietzsche on many points, but I agree with him on this. What we dwell on, what we spend our time on, will become part of us. Some of us can handle more than others – some of us can write the book for the sake of the reader. Some of us can’t. Those who can’t shouldn’t, and those who can should be careful.
In the end, I think it all comes down to one question:
what should you be willing to make part of you?
Note: After discussing this with Arielle, we came to the same conclusion: redeemed horror cannot, in the strict sense of the word, remain true horror. It may start out as such, but it would be something else by the end. And that, I think, is a good thing.