What should Christians do on ‘Friday the 13th’?

Do slasher flicks have anything to offer Christian moviegoers?

I believe that movies, even secular ones, are often holy experiences – God-directed expressions of the human experience, much like prayer. But where do bloody, exploitative horror films fit within this philosophy?

I ask because this weekend marks a new era in the “Friday the 13th horror franchise. On Friday – yes, the 13th – Warner Bros. Pictures delivers a remake of the original 1980 fright fest (which has already spawned 10 sequels).

The irony is that these movies have a puritanical sense of morality. In the “Friday the 13th” pictures - and also in “Halloween,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and other movies of the era - the victims are almost always promiscuous, pot-smoking teens who are punished for their partying ways by a deranged madman. Put together, the films comprise a demented scare campaign that demonizes drugs and promotes abstinence.

That tradition continues with the new “Friday the 13th,” which purports to be a remake of the original film but is really just another exercise in sex and death. The picture opens with a bunch of campers who are hiking near Crystal Lake, ground zero for the horror series. After stumbling across a field of marijuana plants and celebrating with some extramarital hanky panky, good old Jason Voorhees arrives on the scene with a machete to punish them for their debauchery.

Even if you buy into such movies as moral parables – and considering all the nudity going on I’d say they’re more hypocritical than moral – I don’t think you could honestly argue that this makes them, in any sense of the word, holy.

When I was a full-time movie critic – meaning I had to see every new release, no matter how soulless – I often struggled with how to handle slasher flicks, especially the new generation of torture-themed pictures such as “Saw” and “Hostel.” As a Christian, how should I respond to them?

I suppose some might say that these pictures depict the darkest side of humanity – what a soul is capable of when he or she has completely rejected God. But what is the virtue of recognizing such a thing? That this sort of awareness can send us running into His arms in fear?

More valuable, I’d argue, is the way some horror movies work as effective allegories. They depict an extreme, exaggerated situation to make us recognize the horrors we’ve come to accept in real life. For some reason, zombie flicks often work this way, from the segregation subtext of 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” to the Iraq war parallels of 2007’s “28 Weeks Later.”

But do these allegories justify the cruelty and violence that is the genre’s bread and butter? Is viewing the movies this way a case of trying to make the end justify the means?

These are questions I still haven’t answered, even though I continue to dabble in horror films here and there. (“Let the Right One in,” a Swedish vampire flick, nearly made my 2008 top ten list.)

For anyone else who watches these movies – and I know you’re out there – can you help me out with a reasonable defense?

Comments (13)

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If you knew me, you would know that I'm not a judgmental prude or anything, just living by grace. So, let's get that out on the table before commencing :) The friends I have who imbibe in horror flicks do so because they like the adrenaline rush of being afraid. (and perhaps subconciously the sexual overtones, and other elements which appeal to the "flesh") Having known some real terror due to childhood abuse, I'm more in the camp of "Perfect Love casts out fear." I'm not knocking adrenaline rushes; I have my own addictions in that area. Only for me, I can't really give a good defense to horror movies seeing as though whenever there is any kind of supernatural encounter in the Bible, the dialogue usually begins with "Fear not!" or "Do not be afraid!" Psalm 91:5 encourages:
"You will not be afraid of the terror by night...." Isaiah 54:14 states:
"In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you. For me, terror and horror runs contradictory to the fruit of the Spirit I'm trying to allow to mature in me; namely joy, peace, and gentleness, so these kinds of slasher/sexual/terrorizing horror flicks are out for me. Blessings on all your readers!
"But do these allegories justify the cruelty and violence that is the genre’s bread and butter? Is viewing the movies this way a case of trying to make the end justify the means?"

In the cases of "Hostel" and "Saw," I see no redeeming value. That value is stretched to the limit in Romero's zombie films, or any other for that matter. As allegory, the horror genre gets bogged down in the gore to be sure. Science Fiction has always cornered the market on morality tales, political and social commentary, and theological discover. What Horror does, and has done over time, is escalate itself because it thinks it's going to lose the audience. Looking at films like "Saw," you had a pretty self contained sequence of events in the first film and now you find a world in which nothing is safe and anyone can build a machine to "teach" someone a lesson. The world portrayed in these movies is Hell itself, a nightmare from which there is no escape. I find no redemption in horror films due to the plain fact that even the survivors don't get away anymore. The virginal female character, the "hero" in the old-school horror films, always seems to escape until the once dead killer jumps out at the last second. I used to love these movies, but the older I get and the further my walk with God takes me, I feel like if I can't find even a glimmer of a higher layer of thought I'm walking away.
Fascinating post.
There does seem to be a morbid fascination with horror films. Kind of like a car wreck, where you know you're not doing any favours (NZ spelling) to look, but you do anyway.
I watch the odd horror, but I don't really consider myself a fan so much.
Maybe it's just the suspense that is so addictive, the adrenalin rush being like a drug?
I must admit that I am allergic to adrenalin rushes. I fear not being calm and rational, although I do lose it occasionally. I don't seek movies with that kind of thrill. On the whole, I find the whole genre sick. This is very close to the discussions that come up every year about Halloween. I love Halloween. My birthday is on the 13th, and I enjoy finding it coming up on a Friday every few years. But I despise Freddy Kreuger and most horror flicks. I have no interest in watching or promoting them. How dare Hollywood ruin my favorite holidays with this incredibly 20th century perversion? Perhaps we have rid the world of so many real fears (genuine carnivores in the woods we have to pass to get to school or market) that these warped fantasies have come to fill the void.
i would say it is impossible to abhor real violence and appreciate virtual violence at the same time. there is definitely a strong escapist element to it... an attempt to numb our senses to the grave realities of life—and death—that are part and parcel of our experience on this fallen planet.
I always tend to like a horror film when there's a moral/spiritual point to the subtext. Ghost stories are often intriguing when it's REALLY about the horrors done to another person in life... so we can learn how better to treat someone, or look for ways to help someone in need, so that they don't end up a tortured/lost soul even in this life. Zombie films are often a favorite, not because of the gore, but because of the allusion to society and all the things that cause us to become numb/dead to the greater things of the world and ourselves... and we figuratively become a horde of mindless consumers... devouring the world around us for little more than the energy we need to keep consuming.
Since my conversion to christianity I have lost my desire to expose myself to horror movies, or the many concepts they promote. While the cross and the crucifixion of a severly disfigured and bruised Christ dying on the cross is a horrible sight, there is hope in this sight. I see nothing redemptive in the endless array of horror flicks. It is my personal conviction to avoid these movies because they do not fulfill the mandate that :whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is honorable, noble, kind - think on these things.
I echo the scripture referred to in the previous comment. I think that turning our thoughts toward darkness brings us down and can leave us feeling unsettled and in need of light, love, and even healing.
scary movies scare me and I don't watch them. I do however miss the mortars going over head and wondering where they will hit. Then thanking God they didn't hit anyone except maybe a generator or two. An old soldier sometimes remembers that those things are not so scary, but bring back memories of the old days or of friends you will see again. Movies are movies and have nothing on real life. In God's Grace John
I don't believe there IS one.
Try Philippians 4:8
While watching a movie, and for quite a while after that, if it had any impact at all (and a 'good' horror movie certainly would), you are meditating on, and thinking on, things that are not at all holy, just, good and pure.

 

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