As the sixth installment in the cult Scream series hits big screens, writer Lizzie Hutchison weighs in on whether followers of Jesus should be watching scary movies.
I’ve never seen a real horror film. But if you think that complete ignorance on a subject is going to stop me writing about it, then - gentle reader - you have quite misunderstood how I got my English degree. Armed with nothing but a healthy disdain for the subject matter and an alacrity for Google, let’s go.
As with much of this new, non-binary world, the horror genre has a lot of flex within it. According to certain online encyclopedias, it’s divided into: “body horror”,"comedy horror” “slasher films”, “pyschological horror” and “supernatural horror”. Or as I like to call it “ouchies, lolzies, knivesies, loonies and ghosties”. As someone who thinks that Notting Hill is the apex of cinematic tension, all of them sound pretty appalling. But it’s not about me. It’s about what people watch. And a lot of people get a lot of kicks from a lot of these sub-genres.
As someone who thinks that Notting Hill is the apex of cinematic tension, all horror films sound pretty appalling.
Why? Science. Horror films trigger ye olde fight-or-flight response, which boosts your adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine. The brain then processes your surroundings and concludes that you’re not in any danger, which brings a sense of relief. And keeps people coming back for more. However, research shows that children who watch violent movies, may be more likely to develop anxiety, sleep disorders, and aggressive behaviors. Which does raise a question mark over their effect on adults.
Scream VI is coming out on March 10 which, though likely to continue parodying other more intense horror films, still falls into “slasher” territory. Should Christians watch it? It’s a thinker. Part of me falls into the “you do you, hun” category. And the other part wants to scream (wahey) IN WHAT WORLD WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO WATCH PEOPLE IN GRIM REAPER MASKS KNIFING OTHER PEOPLE? I don’t get it. But I was terrified watching The Haunting, which I recently discovered was rated 12. So deemed suitable for you know, children.
It’s hard to imagine Jesus delighting in the genre, as someone who spent a lot of time releasing people from the demonic, and healing the maimed.
Should we watch horror at all though? Personally I think there’s enough that’s frightening in real life, (have you been on the night bus?) so I don’t go out looking for scary things in the cinema. But the more important question is what would Jesus think? It’s hard to imagine him delighting in the genre, as someone who spent a lot of time releasing people from the demonic, and healing the maimed. The verse that springs to mind is the one my headmistress used to read out at the start and end of every term: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phillippians 4.8. NIV.
I’m not convinced that horror falls into the "pure and lovely" category. Anything that glorifies gore, pyscological trauma or the demonic, is difficult to justify watching as a Christian. There will always be films that use lighthearted references to these (I’m not calling out anyone for watching Casper the Friendly Ghost) but those that find themselves staring at seriously dark stuff. And loving it. There’s always Notting Hill guys, just saying.