I am a bit surprise, if not amuse, that Mainstream Horror fans and the genre’s professional creative community are excited about the emergence of a sub-genre called “Christian Horror, or faith-based horror…in films, books, online ’zines, chat forums, and merchandise…” as pointed out sometime ago by an article in Rue Morgue, a magazine devouted to “horror culture and entertainment.” (Divinity in Darkness: The Rise of Christian Horror, March 2009 issue).
Christian Horror, as it is labelled and defined, is “safer” and more acceptable than Mainstream Horror because it has no profanities, violence, and sex, explicit or otherwise, and is based or contains the infinite philosophical and psychological tug of war between good and evil. And if the creator of the horror vehicle, whether on film, book, music, art, etc., is a Christian who shares the values and norms of the Faith, thus, more knowledgeable with its limitations and constraints, the created material, therefore, is deemed suitable and harmless for Christians.
Mainstream Horror, on the other hand, as an extreme form of escapist entertainment, has no restrictions but to shock, surprise, and submerge the viewer or reader into a world or situation of pure terror—the feeling, akin to a first roller-coaster ride for someone afraid of heights. In its truest sense and form, the material is not considered a “horror” if it cannot illicit the emotions of fear, disgust, terror, and shock, in whatever way or means it chose to deliver the idea, natural or supernatural alike. The ending of Se7en and Panic Room, both films by David Fincher, gave the films strong credentials as horror/thriller in the genre.
Yet, to dig deeper into the common, accepted view of what is Mainstream Horror (i.e., extreme violence, sex, and gore, real or supernatural in nature, for a regulated audience due to its morbid, brutal, and explicit content, e.g., The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or A Nightmare on Elm Street), and what is Christian Horror (horror in safe mode, i.e., regulated violence, sex, and gore, real or supernatural, with redeeming values that followed guidelines defined by the Catholic Church so as not to scandalize, seduce, or expose a Christian into occasions of sins (!) i.e., impurity, lust, blasphemy, anger, envy, sacrilege, etc. For example: The Ten Commandments or Jesus of Nazareth…Don’t laugh. I am serious. These two films, though categorized as “religious films”, are filled with terrifying scenes of brutality, gruesome deaths, and morbid torture, stories ordinarily found in the Catholic Bible.)—it is without doubt worth looking into in detail—especially, with its “multi-billion dollar retail market” for Christians all over the world.
It is no secret that Christianity’s belief (the Catholic Faith) is hinged on fear—or was rewritten and edited by the earliest propagators and prime movers of the Faith to emphasize fear—so as to keep the flock devout and in-line; an old practice that made the faithful staunch believers of the Faith, and had been put to use by the Church—unfortunately—ever since they started to spread the word of God. (Just consider the number of martyred Saints—St. John, the Baptist, beheaded; St. Peter, the Apostle, crucified upside down; St, Joan of Arc, burned alive at the stake, to name a few—and you’ll get the idea how grim, horror is, in the Catholic Faith.)
Thus, to say that the Catholic (or Christian) interest in the horror genre is gaining acceptance now through Christian Horror—to some extent, creating a certain kind of excitement and phenomenal awareness—is not quite true since from the very beginning of its history (as correctly pointed out also by the article in Rue Morgue) the foundation of the Catholic Faith was immersed in fear…A horrifying sense of pain, suffering, loss, punishment, and eternal damnation unless one repents, and which were vividly established and personified in graphic, bloody depiction by the crucified Jesus from the moment of His realization that He will be sacrificed to suffer humiliation, torture, and death on the cross…Or to package and brand it with its divine label of significance created by the Church, The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
Consider the following Horrors of Christianity for the faithful to meditate on, while in prayer (!) and in every commemoration of the Lenten season:
· First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden
In which Jesus, asked for deliverance from God the Father, when He was told He would be a human sacrifice and shown what pains He will have to suffer and bear soon on the cross. Jesus sweated blood.
(For an ordinary human, I believe that Jesus even had nosebleed and severe headache caused by a rise in blood pressure; was nauseous and feverish, and may have vomited, eyes in tears in fear, terrified and alarmed at the realization of the torture, pains, and sufferings that awaited Him.)
· Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
In which Jesus, after being betrayed and captured and brought to Pontius Pilate to renounce Himself as a God, was punished, humiliated, and lashed in front of the people.
(To be whipped repeatedly with the Roman scourge, any human may have screamed in pain, delirious with agony as the flesh was ripped and torn and opened again and again; His tears, saliva, and sweat mingling with His blood, urine, and perhaps, some faeces—as any human would, defecating involuntarily and emptying His bladder due to the severity of the pain.)
· Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning With Thorns
In which Jesus, bleeding, humiliated, and a broken man, was crowned with a twisted loop of vine full of thorns, and yanked on His head to complete His claim and image of being a King.
(The Roman torture included humiliation in the face of the people who called Jesus a God, as He claimed of His Kingdom not of this world, and to complete the scenario, already bleeding, dirty, and disfigured, a loop of thorny vines twisted to serve as His crown was wrenched hard and deep on His head, tearing sensitive flesh. There is probability that one of His eyes—or both—had been pierced with thorns.)
· Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross
In which Jesus, was forced to walk all the way to Mount Calvary where He will be crucified—while carrying the heavy beam of His own cross: There were several instances that He fell on the ground and was whipped like a beast of burden to continue the march to His death.
(Here, a human with any remaining strength left would have collapsed and passed out, and the possibility of the “fall” is not remote, if not brutal and more often, than were counted and told. Keep in mind that He was dragging on His injured shoulders and bleeding shredded back a beam of heavy, rough wood on which He will be nailed soon. I think just the thought of it alone would have made any human crumble to his feet and collapsed, or would have crawled and begged as He was lashed, pushed, and shoved to move on—or poked and prodded with a spear to wake Him up when He passed out to continue walking towards His death.)
· Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion and Death on the Cross
In which Jesus was nailed to the cross with His hands and feet; was raised crucified to heighten the agony as He dangled in midair several feet above ground. And to hasten death, was stabbed by a lance through the heart.
(The Roman version of crucifixion was nailing a person with the same cross beam that he carried to the place where he will die. Both hands and feet were nailed rigid and deep on the wood to prevent him from falling, as the cross was raised to stand on vertical position. Imagine the agony and pain if there were any senses left, if the consciousness is still functioning and awareness is nonetheless keen and sensitive—that after the hands were nailed, the feet followed—any human being would already be dying in severe agony, out of breath, out of his mind, and perhaps, only remained alive by the sheer will to survive.
Now, as the cross becomes upright, the weight of the body pulls the hands downwards and puts all the pressures on the overlapping feet, held only by a nail. The body sags and leans forward near the hips, were the drag and pull on both hands become unbearable and excruciating, especially, when the point of balance is placed on the feet where there is no foothold.
Stephen King, narrating an instance in his book “On Writing” when he was hired to do a job for a certain trailer home while he was writing Carrie, found “…dominating the living room was a nearly life-sized crucified Jesus…” describing the statue, “…The pain had driven him out of his mind.” For someone who grew up in a Methodist environment, it was an honest, uncoloured observation.)
What better way then, for the Catholic Faith to convince the flock that they are all sinners and must repent, than to show them the horror of how their beloved God was tortured, suffered, and died for their own salvation?
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ said it all in vivid, eloquent terms, so much so, that the reactions of Catholics (and Christians) all over the planet was of disgust, revulsion, and denouncement of the film. That it was too morbid, gruesome, horrifying, abominable, scandalous, etc., etc., and not—sorry to say—because they realized the fact that the same horror in the film they loathed and were indignant about is always celebrated and immortalized each time they attend Holy Mass, pray the Rosary, and observe the Lenten Season every year.
Isn’t horror built on fear? And isn’t fear sown by religion, most specifically, the Catholic Faith? Is it not, that most prayers encourage the faithful to believe that he or she is a sinner, and therefore must suffer in Hell unless he or she follows the right way, the right path, and subscribe to the only true religion? “…I dread the lost of Heaven and the pains of Hell…” “…Forgive us our sins…” “…Save us from the fires of Hell…” “…Pray for us sinners…”
Think of the following and guess who originated and popularized them in the consciousness of man to become not as urban legends, myths, or cultural fantasies but sad, psychological, and emotional parts of a person’s individual everyday realities:
· The Devil, Lucifer or Satan, the Morning Star
· Hell and Purgatory
· The Original Sin, Mortal Sin, and Venial Sin
· Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
· Death, the Grim Reaper
· The End of the World
· The Deluge
· The Ten Plagues
· The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
· The Last Judgement
Just a few of the more devastating and gruesome instances, creations, and situations found in the Bible of the Catholic Faith and taught early on to a child as soon as he or she can read or do the math. Isn’t that cute? Ask any five-year old if he or she believes in the devil and the child will nod.
The growing impression that Christians have already allowed themselves to accept, tolerate, enjoy, and participate in a way, in the mainstream consciousness of horror as entertainment by creating concepts less horrifying, and that which observed and followed certain Christian guidelines, principles, and parameters concerning faith, values, and redemption, and which becomes more acceptable if the director, writer, musician, author, producer, artist, etc., is a Christian—thus, making it a valid, full-pledged “safe” vehicle for entertainment—is actually preposterous.
The Catholic Church is aware and conscious of stories or situations, of news or happenings in the world that involve struggles of man for salvation and redemption; thus, cognizant too, of any form of entertainment (i.e., films, books, art, music, plays, TV serials or features, comics, or video games) in Horror genre or otherwise, that touches on the battle of good and evil, whether psychological, physical, emotional, or spiritual in nature.
Here are some examples of mainstream horror films with religion in the mix. Christian Horror, are they?
· Constantine (portrayed Hell, Satan himself, a powerless archangel, demons, Catholic rituals)
· The Exorcist (devil possession, the healing, redemptive power of Catholic rites, and the sanctity of priesthood and its priests)
· Dracula (the protective, redemptive power of Catholic crucifix, the sacred host, rites and rituals)
· Devil’s Advocate (the reality of Satan, his seduction, temptation, and the need for redemption)
· The End of Days (Satan, his reality, yet impotent against the Church)
· Rosemary’s Baby (Satanism, reality of the devil, danger of the birth of his progeny)
Isn’t every conflict, debate, discussion, uproar, protest, disagreement, or outcry between good and evil always a free advertisement? Did it not instill and strengthen the reality of what the Catholic Faith preaches about the existence of evil? For as long as there is fear, the necessity to survive the horror, and the prime need to call on a higher being for salvation—the Church remains alive, healthy, and rich.
And the best way to do that is for everyone to rely and believe in the Catholic Faith. For in the consciousness and norms of the Church, the only good is the Catholic Faith, and therefore, it is the only salvation we can all hope for. Because everything else outside of it—including the breakaway Christian Fundamentalist and Born Again Christians that relies heavily in strict Bible studies and interpretations—are sadly wrong, bad, and will not be saved. Amen.
In the movie Fright Night, the vampire, Chris Sarandon, was correct when he thwarted Roddy McDowell’s crucifix by crushing it in his hand without any life-dissolving threat to him. “You’ve got to have faith!” the vampire said. Unfortunately, McDowell’s character doesn’t have a “Catholic” faith.
This is not a special mention, an exclusive declaration and exemplary isolation of a one-sided choice—the Catholic Faith—simply because I am a Catholic. The Catholic Faith or Christianity is not the same as “Christians” in the truest sense of the word. “Christians”, as a term, is meant to include Protestants—offshoots that followed the footsteps of Christianity, with several other non-Catholic religions that were founded and based on some of the basic teachings of the Catholic Faith, yet without most of its rituals.
For example, they accept that Jesus is the Son of God, but do not subscribe in celebrating His mystery as the Redeemer in the Holy Communion, or believe and institute the Sacraments, or celebrate the Holy Mass. Thus, it does not make these other religions “valid” in the eyes of God, as based on the teachings of the Catholic religion, because there is only one Church founded by Jesus Christ, and that is, The Holy Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican. So much so, that Catholics prefer to be identified as “Catholics” instead of Christians—although it benefits the Catholic Faith, either way. (More like the Americans and the African-Americans: same nationality, same country, but different color—yet, when the harvest of gold medal comes, they are all true-blue Americans.)
It may seem a strong, powerful capitalist monopoly, but religion is a business: a very lucrative business founded on fear. And what better way to instill fear for its faithful followers than in the creation of horror materials or fear-mongering vehicles which include concepts, visuals, stories, philosophies, ideas, points of view, news, art, predictions, etc., etc., where the Catholic Church-Faith-Religion triumphs in the end.
Take a look at these films not even classified as Horror but touches on the Catholic Faith:
· The DaVinci Code (shone a bright light on Mary Magdalene to question the divinity of Jesus)
· Angels and Demons (highlighted the Catholic Church in all its glorifying wealth and treasures)
· The Green Mile (testifies on the healing power of faith as taught by the Catholic Church)
· The Godfather (trilogy) (the redeeming salvation offered by the Catholic Faith no matter who you are or what you did)
· The Miracle (man’s reliance on his Faith, through the Catholic Church)
· Raiders of the Lost Ark (touched the existence of the Ark of the Covenant as told in the O.T.)
· Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (The Last Supper’s chalice protected by a Knight Templar)
The calculated Church’s reaction to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is a good example of adding kindling to the fire that warms your house. Didn’t it inspired tourism to visit the Catholic churches in Rome, an art interest that renewed focus again on classical religious subjects and themes, and more profitable of all, didn’t it brought forth in the forefront of world news the divinity of Christ, the centerpiece of the Catholic Faith, if not the Catholic Church itself?
The Exorcist created an interesting popular horror vehicle that highlighted the power of the Catholic good. It intensified and magnified the importance of priesthood—that one has to be blessed, even as a priest, if one wants to be saved—and brought to the whole unbelieving world the idea that the Catholic Faith (religion) is the only one who can do battle with the devil. Didn’t Regan’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) admitted she is not a Catholic? Didn’t Father Karras professed his dwindling belief and loss of Faith?
For most of the Catholics who viewed the movie, what they thought they saw was an exemplary triumph of good over evil, of the Catholic belief overpowering the devil…Unfortunately, it’s the other way around. Max Von Sydow, as Father Merrin, the Exorcist, was not able to drive out the devil as his heart failed him (point for the devil), and Father Karras, weak of faith and possessed by the demon, thought of killing it by jumping out of the window with it already in him (point too, for the devil. That’s suicide, no matter how it is interpreted). By doing so, Father Karras committed an abominable sin, which the demon wanted (point three, on a roll now!) as it remained alive and well after Karras’s “heroic” death. (And the winner is—!!)
To elaborate and maintain the soft acceptance or passive indulgence of “Christians” in the horror genre through Christian Horror, is to actually disguise and shroud the Church’s extensive use of fear while forcing back the issue and focus on the unacceptability and shocking influences of Mainstream Horror—horror as extreme, and which the Church rejects—but which they indulged in, for the maintenance of the flocks’ continued support and lasting devotion.
And since the professional Christian creative and entertainment community have created and produced safe kind of horror as a subgenre, the Church can avoid the guilt and the blame of scandalous fear it had utilized from the very start of its domination regarding human spiritual salvation…Two bets with one silver coin, and still winning, isn’t it?
My disagreement with the label “Christian Horror” stems from the idea that the horror it purports is deemed acceptable, or supposed to be more tolerable, in a sense, if it followed the Church’s set of guidelines. I find it ironic that the Catholic Faith which based its dogma, rites, and rituals on extreme horror to regulate the faithful has created parameters to soften and masked the same unforgiving brutality and violence of horror they so vividly portrayed in the Bible, and more profoundly, in the crucifixion of Jesus.
And with the creative community adapting it with candour, creating a so-called turning point in the genre—when in truth, it is nothing but a calculated advertisement in which the Church rides the bandwagon of mainstream horror popularity so as to put the spotlights on their importance to everyone’s lives again—each one involved in the horrific party were led to believe, sadly, through the naïve innocence of their hearts and minds.
It is, I think, a hypocritical and deceptive title, inadvertently coined by the sensitive Christian community (and the faithful Catholics, with the Church’s blessings bestowed on it) that is meant only to lighten the Church’s position on what had already been fed to the faithful a long, long time ago: That pure horror—psychological, physical, emotional, or spiritual in context—points and delineates, without ever revealing the real intentions of regulating and suppressing it (Why, my child, what is forbidden becomes more sweet…), to the necessity and importance of the Catholic Church with all their teachings of salvation and rituals of purification as vital to the redemption of each person’s individual lives; that each of us are sinners, and cannot live without the guidance and protection of the Church, or else, suffer the damnation of everlasting torments in Hell.
And that makes every Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant, Fundamentalist, Mormons, Evangelist, Hindu, Lutheran, Orthodox, Freemason, Jew, Methodist, Born Again Christian or whatever religion a person’s faith rested on, a sure-fire candidate to everlasting damnation in Hell because they are not Catholics. (No one can enter the kingdom of Heaven unless baptized by the Holy Spirit…)
Yes, it seems unfortunate for all the rest of the other religions and denominations and cults and beliefs that also have their own brands of salvation like the Japanese, Chinese, Eskimo, Aborigine, Inuit, to name just a few. Does it mean each of these nationalities and others like them are condemned because they are not Catholics?
That, in reality, is Christianity’s Horror, indeed.