In light of today, I thought I’d write up a festive post on a Halloween type of topic: ghosts, goblins, witches, and wizards. Our cultural fascination with death and near death is nothing new. Just last night I was flying home from Halifax when I decided to settle on an in-flight movie option. Now usually I am not one to choose anything close to a horror film. I have to admit, I do get scared pretty easily. However, because it was Halloween and because the description of the film said “comedy” I decided to watch the 1988 movie “BeetleJuice.” Now I wouldn’t necessarily classify BeetleJuice as a horror show. In fact, I think it’s fairly suitable to all audiences. It does evoke a lot of themes surrounding the underworld (ghosts, heaven and hell, and death), but it doesn’t have all those gory concepts that we so often find in movies like Texas ChainSaw Massacre or The Human Centipede. Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about what a Christian should really be putting into their minds and allowing their eyes to view. Due to my pacifistic beliefs, I do not like to watch super violent movies, I even gave up watching V for Vendetta and James Bond, but does that now allow me to watch psychological thrillers like Pan’s Labyrinth? Is fascination with the evil forces of darkness suddenly acceptable when watching a seemingly innocent children’s film like the Nightmare Before Christmas, the Corpse’s Bride, or the Book of Life, but not okay when watching Bloody Mary or the Evil Dead?
My answer might not be exactly what you’d think I’d say. You see, I actually believe that there is a time and place for Christians (including good, solid, Bible-believing, evangelical ones) to watch horror shows. In fact, there might even be something profoundly spiritual in these episodes.
Last year, I spent my summer break at Tyndale Seminary. I was working at a local Pentecostal church finishing up my internship hours in children’s ministry and because my school was walkable distance from the church, it just made the most sense to stay there for 4 months. Generally people at Tyndale can be fairly conservative. When I was a student there we weren’t allowed to watch anything higher than a PG-14 rating. Eventually someone mentioned that the Passion of the Christ is 16A and because of that, they began to make a few exceptions. Nevertheless, as good-little church girls and Godly young men, we were always fairly astute to not corrupt our minds with the evils of this world. That’s why, when one of my friends mentioned she had free movie tickets and would I like to go see the Poltergeist with her, I immediately was shocked. I said yes because I’m a people-pleaser and didn’t want to disappoint her and also because I’m not one to turn down a free offer. But the thought did run through my mind whether this is the type of movie Jesus would approve of or not. She invited others as well, but they all said no. One young woman in particular had just finished a one week intensive course on spiritual warfare and she felt that horror movies might be a gateway into the demonic. She actually prayed with us before we left and urged us to pray in the parking lot of the cinema after the movie was over so that we didn’t bring into our dorm hall any spirit of evil, deception, fear, or death. That was probably the first time I really started thinking about how serious this could be.
Well, I went to the movies. Poltergiest ended up not being such a scary movie after all, but a psychological thriller – the kind of movie that completely messes with your mind and you leave confused about what’s reality and what isn’t. I actually feel these types of thrillers are more detrimental to our soul and mind than the ones that end with a person dying on the floor in the bloody mess. Nevertheless, I did not experience anything so crazy, but I did have an urge to discuss and digest what I saw, because I believe that Poltergeist (just like many other horror films) is an incredible way to develop a deeper understanding of spiritual warfare.
Christians are told to turn from evil, to flee the Devil’s pursuits, and to not engage in the fear that grips our world, so why on earth would I recommend a Christian watch such seeming nonsense. My reasons my shock and surprise you.
- Firstly, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph, horror movies are a great way to begin thinking about spiritual matters if you haven’t started doing so already. When I took the spiritual warfare class at Tyndale, our professor told us that Horror movies are a way for people who otherwise are oblivious to demonic forces and presence to start understanding that they are (or at least could be) real. A few weeks ago, I was visiting St. Francis Xavier University in downtown Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A group of undergrads were gathered around with 2 university chaplains and the topic suddenly turned to exorcisms. Kids these days are completely fascinated with the stuff and these kids wanted to know what a Christian response to such things would be. (Note to self: pastors and chaplains should always have a back-up response to the most outrageous of questions!) Furthermore, they wanted to have a movie marathon and watch “Dead-Man Walking” and “The Walking Dead” in order to help process the information even more. These kids were curious: do exorcisms really happen? Are they effective? Is demon-possession always scary? Can a Christian be demon-possessed? While there is much speculation on these issues and a myriad of theological opinions and interpretations, one answer the chaplain gave has stuck in my mind. Exorcisms are actually a great form of evangelism, in fact, perhaps one of the best. She mentioned that when someone is truly suffering from demon-possession and then by the power of the Holy Spirit set free from its torments and torture, not only does the person themselves often come to Christ, but entire families and in some places even entire villages. So, we know this stuff is real, that it’s powerful, and that by God’s grace it has the ability to transform broken lives and families. Now, we still have to draw a fine-line here because many horror movies make a mockery out of Satan and the forces of evil. We also need to be careful not to pollute our minds for the sake of entertainment and then justify it as a spiritual learning exercise, nevertheless, it is a good reminder that such evil presences do exist. There aren’t many opportunities to talk about things like spiritual warfare in most settings and in some churches you would be looked at quite strangely for voicing your questions, but a movie night to dissect and discuss might actually be one of the least intimidating and most meaningful ways to go about this discussion.
Take Poltergeist for example. From my own personal study and from hearing about the experiences of others, I know children are more susceptible to demonic attacks than adults. The reason is because they are pure and innocent and they lack a tool-kit for warding off evil. So, it is no surprise that in this movie the main character who is constantly attacked is a young girl. Furthermore, this movie portrays that getting rid of one demon does not mean they are all gone. Unless the root cause and source is completely abolished, when we clean house, many more might arrive unless we put up walls which permit them re-entry. See, these are the kinds of things I learned in school, but seeing them on the big screen just made them even more pronounced.
2. In some strange way, horror movies remind us of the reality we are all trying to avoid: that death indeed is a real thing and that it’s final. Our culture is quite strange in that we recognize this fact, but we also fail to completely understand it. Although nothing new, in recent years zombies, the zombie apocalypse, and the concept of the un-dead has really taken off. Yet, some would argue that although technically death surrounds us daily in the media and in movies and that in someway we even honour it or “parade it around,” this is all just a defence mechanism on our part to believe it will never happen to us or those closest to us. Our fascination with half-dead people fuels our fear that once dead there is no going back, there is no un-doing anything. At least a zombie is still half-present, a real death is zero-present.
Although in a way, cinema-culture blatantly disrespects and disregards death by dressing it up as terrifying and something to be avoided at all costs, at least it doesn’t out-right dismiss it completely like the majority of us tend to do. Death is nothing to fear and in-fact is a beautiful representation of how Christ redeemed our sinful nature in order to give us something even better, but still it is something we need to talk about. Recognizing the presence of death and the fact that it is inevitable that all of us will face it at some point really can encourage us to think more about our eternal security. It gives us a moment to pause and think about where we are going after this life and how we know for sure. It also fills us with the assurance that we do not have to avoid it, but can gently accept it as a faithful companion. And in the moment, we can think about how to spend the precious years we have here on this earth to love and serve all those we come into contact with on a daily basis.
Although the decision to watch horror movies or not is a personal choice and although I still recommend and encourage it to be done cautiously, I hope this blog post will give you a fresh new insight into why horror culture isn’t really all that bad. I hope that this Halloween, you might even consider watching something a little bit “scary” but that you’ll still remind yourself of the God who has conquered death once and for all through the mercy and love of His only Son, Jesus Christ.