When Star Wars Episode VII came out, I was not only excited but I often let others know about my excitement. I'd post about the film on facebook and show pictures of myself in the movie theatre before watching it. In fact, I tend to do this with most movies that I'm excited about.
Unless it's a horror movie. For some reason, there's a hesitancy to publicly promote the delight I have in watching scary movies like Insidious, The Conjuring, and most recently The Witch. After all, I'm a self-professing Christian and those movies seem, well, very un-Christian. To make matters worse, I'm a pastor. So promoting such films may raise a few eyebrows - especially a film that's also promoted by Satan worshipers.
And that makes me ask the question: Is there something wrong with Christians enjoying horror films?
The Debate Over Horror Films
There are some horror film advocates who think this is a stupid debate to begin with. I mean, where in the Bible is there a prohibition against scary movies? They also think, "It's a freaking movie - why can't you just relax?" However to dismiss certain Christians this way seems to carry the same insensitive spirit that the 1 Corinthians 8 Christians had. Even if you think people are overly sensitive, you can't just scoff at them.
Of course, no Christian will ever say watching a scary movie is a "sin." But they will ask, "Is it edifying?" - which, in conservative Christian circles, is the equivalent of asking if it's sinful. And this is often the Christian case made against horror films. Though there's nothing "wrong" per se in watching such movies, can there really be anything edifying about demons and serial killers? Can there be anything beneficial with such darkness & violence on screen?
In other words while horror films may not be wrong, how horror movies influence us may be wrong. After all, we wouldn't show such films to kids because of the psychological damage they may cause. So why would we risk this with ourselves?
Why I Can't Help But Enjoy Them Though
So I hear all this and I get it. But I still like horror films - and I have a clear conscience about it. Perhaps this has to do with my social upbringing. I remember watching my first scary movie as a four-year old kid, so I grew accustomed to this film genre at a very early age. It probably wasn't a good idea to watch them at that age, but you know, immigrant parents. They didn't know any better.
Perhaps this also has to do with my view of art. I tend to agree with the sentiment that it's "just a movie." Plato once argued about the danger of art because of its potential to negatively influence society. So if you say saw a violent painting, he feared it could influence someone to commit violence. But Aristotle countered saying, "Nonsense - I know the difference between a painting and reality." I guess I'm more in Aristotle's camp.
More so though, I'm fascinated by the rabid following horror movies have. After all, why is this such a popular genre? I think it's because horror films touch a deep-seated human emotion: fear. Horror films confront us with the reality that deep down we're fearful creatures, and I don't know of any other movie genre that confronts this human emotion more effectively than the horror genre.
Everything I've said so far though only helps explain why I find horror films enjoyable. But the question remains: are they edifying?
The Potential For Edification
Personally I believe yes, horror movies can be edifying. In fact, it's their potential for edification that makes me most enjoy them. I mean it's true that scary movies explore evil in a way that many Christians find distasteful - but isn't there evil in the world? And isn't evil supposed to be distasteful? Though we don't like to think about serial murderers and demonic force - don't such murderers and demonic forces exist?
I feel that people - especially Christians - often prefer to hide themselves in a cushy sitcom-oriented view of life and only watch films that reinforce this marshmallow reality (e.g. romantic comedies, Disney, etc.). But horror films burst this delusion and remind us that there are actually darker realities out in the world.
Therefore I believe horror movies have the potential to be edifying because they force us to explore evil and darkness in ways we wouldn't otherwise. And the reason for exploring such dark realities isn't to be masochists. Rather, as Christians, I believe understanding evil and darkness provides a better context for the Christian hope because, as one writer puts it, "Darkness makes the light shine all the brighter."
In no way am I trying to justify all horror films and say they're all edifying. I'm sure there are some messed up films out there that have absolutely no redemptive value and do nothing but darken the soul. But that should be a case-by-case judgment rather than a sweeping condemnation of the horror genre.
Also in no way am I saying that all Christians should face the reality of evil and watch scary movies. I completely understand that some people just can't take it. But on the flip side, I'm proposing that Christians who can handle them should feel free to enjoy horror films (with discernment) and even search for the deeper edifying values that they can bring.