I know there is a lot of division among Christians as to whether or not it's appropriate for us to watch horror movies. There are many who, with good reason, find it completely unacceptable. There are many who, with equally good reasoning, believe there's room for some in the Christian walk to appreciate this type of art, and even find Christian allegory in them. Guess which side of the totem I fall on?
One thing that is undeniable: Likable, moral, Christian characters are more common in horror movies than in any other genre of film. The Conjuring Movies, The Haunting In Connecticut, The Exorcist... the list goes on and on. Why is this? Because there is evil in this world, and mainline secularism tends to reject that reality. The theology of evil is prominent in Christian doctrine, and is one of the few influential forces in western society to confront this problem head on; this and horror movies. Horror movies are the one of the only safe genres on film to unapologetically stare evil in the face and call it for what it is. Now, I know there is real evil in movies like Star Wars, The Lord of The Rings and most Superhero movies. But what makes scary movies so appealing, and so terrifying, is they on play on the thought "this could actually happen." Deeply, instinctively, we know there is evil in this world. And horror movies expose that evil; whether it's the evil in others (Scream) or the evil in the devil (The Exorcist) or the evil in ourselves (Psycho.) . Horror movies help us confront evil, and often times show us the hope that comes in confronting that evil and the chaos that ensues when we ignore it. In fact, a lot of the horror movies in the 60's and 70's were made as direct allegories to the evils of prejudice and injustice there weren't being confronted by American society at the time.
Now there is a good case for many Christians to not watch horror movies. If it gives your nightmares, makes you fearful to be alone or gets an over active imagination running, you should not be watching scary movies. There's much more to say about this; but for now: Here are my top ten favorite horror movies. At the end of my blog I'll share what content does not feel comfortable for me to watch.
Please forgive the millennial slant here; and keep in mind this is a favorites list, not necessarily a best list.
10. Silence of The Lambs
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine
The first and only horror movie to win the Oscar for best picture, Silence of The Lambs is everything you want in a psychological thriller. Jodie Foster turns in an Oscar winning performance as detective Clarice Starling hunting down the psychotic serial killer Buffalo Bill, with the aid of imprisoned psychiatrist, Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins.) Anthony Hopkins took home the Academy Award for best lead actor with under a half hour of screen time; but his performance is so effectively creepy it feels like he's in the whole thing.
9. Paranormal Activity
Starring: Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat.
One of the most successful independent movies of all time; made with a mere $15,000 budget and bring in over $100 million in the box office, this haunted house movie makes the most common horror movie tropes (doors opening and closing by themselves, lights turning on and off) terrifying again. This is easily one of the most iconic horror movies it's decade.
8. The Blair Witch Project
Staring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams
Without this movie there would have been no Paranormal Activity or Cloverfield or End of Watch or any found footage movie. It wasn't the first found footage film but it was the most successful up to that point. This movie does a brilliant job setting up the thrills by interviewing the lower class townsfolk about the legend of the Blair Witch, and then it lets those stories flash through your mind the rest of the film. You don't actually see anything disturbing in this film, but that doesn't keep this from being one of the scariest movies I've ever seen.
7. 28 Days Later
Starring: Cilian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston
Zombies have never really scared me... Until I saw this masterpiece from director Danny Boyle. The jarring cinematography, the quick editing, the contemporary music, and the terrifying, fast zombies all added up to one of the greatest movie watching experiences of my life.
Starring: Neve Cambell, David Arquett, Courtney Cox and Drew Berrymore
Scream is equal parts chills and laughs. Wes Craven set out to make a meta slasher flick that mocked the cliche horror movies had become by 1996. What we are served is thrilling and playful look at the genre that became one of the best it had to offer.
5. The Ring
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Hernandez and Brian Cox.
One of those movies that proves you don't need gratuitous violence to make a film scary, and this is by far one of the more terrifying movies on this list. Add an impeccable performance by Naomi Watts and a tight script and you've got a modern horror movie masterpiece.
4. The Others
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Fiona Flannegan and Christopher Eccleston
This will put the biggest spin on the haunted house story you could imagine. Nicole Kidman was snubbed an Oscar for this complicated and beautiful meditation on the classic ghost story.
3. The Sixth Sense
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collett
This was the first horror movie I had ever seen; and as a child it left a tremendous impact. As a kid it was the scariest thing imaginable, as an adult it is beautiful story telling with a compassionate script and brilliant direction. The movie has laughs, tears, fears and one of the most iconic twist endings of all time. Bruce Willis turns in the best performance of his career here, and Toni Collett received a well deserved Oscar nomination; but it is the chilling performance by Haley Joel Osment, who also received an Oscar nomination for his role, that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
2. The Conjuring
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lilly Tayler and Ron Lovingston
This misses out on my number one spot by a hair. Still, this is my favorite haunted house movie ever. Not just because director James Wann breathes life back into a long dead type of horror movie, not just because it contains what will go down in history as one of the most iconic scary movie moments of all time (hide and clap) not just because the four leads are remarkable; but because it is a more faith affirming movie than any "Christian" movie I've ever seen.
Before revealing my top pick, here are some honorable mentions of some movies I love that just miss the top ten spots.
Starring: Janet Lee, Anthony Perkins
Is anybody surprised by this? There is good reason Alfred Hitchcock is called the master of suspense, and this is his magnum opus. Pushing the censorship envelope in nearly every way imaginable (this is the first movie to ever show a toilet in it) and it is the first "slasher film." Anthony Perkins turns in one of the most chilling onscreen performances ever. What puts it on the top spot for me though, is that it's what you don't know you're seeing that makes you so uneasy. Just one example is the picture below. The menacing birds behind Norman Bates that look like they are ready strike; not unlike our infamous antagonist. In the medevil paintings behind Norman, are woman being assaulted by demons. You don't know you're seeing such disturbing images, but your brain does and that's what makes Psycho so great! This movie is full of moments like that, and is the greatest apologetic as to my Alfred Hitchcock is the greatest suspense director of all time.
Here's what makes me avoid horror movies:
1. Will it make you fearful? It seems like a contradiction to watch horror movies with out wanting it to produce fear; but this is important. Horror movies do not make me fearful; I don't lose sleep over them, I don't feel the need to light up every dark room in the house or swing open the shower curtain to make sure no one is back there. I love well done movies, movies that add something new to the conversation or that speak a deep truth; and a well done horror movie does this well. But if it makes you fearful, don't watch it! That ins't Gods dreams for you; He doesn't want His people to live in fear.
2. Does it show little to no value to human life? Most slasher movies fall under this category. The Saw movies, Hostel, The Human Centipede; what is inflicted upon people in these movies show little to no value or concern for the sanctity of human life.
3. Does it's content serve a purpose? I like honest story telling. I like that the violence in the Scream franchise serves the purpose of lampooning the genre it's in. I like that the demonic activity in The Conjuring serves the larger purpose of showing God's goodness. I hate violence for violence sake.
4. Lastly, and most importantly, does it make me feel distant from Holy Spirit? I don't want to participate in anything that makes me feel distant from His presence. This is where I believe personal conviction comes in, and always being sensitive to His calling. There are plenty of times when I feel convicted not to watch it, and even if I don't understand why, it's on me to be obedient.
So there you have it! My ten favorite scary movies! What are your favorite horror movies? And what are your thoughts on Christians watching scary movies?