What place if any does the horror genre have in Christian fiction?

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  • i saw this article on Facebook and thought to post it here. i haven’t seen It (and won’t), and don’t fully agree with either person in this conversation, but wondered what you might think?


    @mrs-hittle Very interesting article. And like you, I don’t really fully agree with either of them. Actually, I mostly disagree.

    Reinke: Any clown with literary sense would know that since at least the time of Shakespeare, clowns have been called on stage, not to relieve tension but more often to jar the audience and to amplify the horrors of the storyline. The bard’s clowns didn’t draw blood, but their appearance often anticipated a tragic turn (Nason).

    I mean… sort of. The first example in the linked journal article is Peter from Romeo and Juliet, a truly minor character somewhat ancillary to the plot, but the author of the journal article refers to him as “Peter the Clown” which seems to me to be more of an interpretation of character rather than essence of character. Peter is a servant in the Capulet household with none of the seemingly common characteristics of a clown or even of Shakespeare’s many Fools. Also, the scene he’s referring to where Peter “clowns” around with the musicians is cut from productions of R&J 99.99999% of the time because it’s horrible writing and totally deflates Juliet’s death scene. Now if Reinke wanted to refer to Shakespeare’s Fools, then I’d agree. Just take a look at King Lear’s Fool, Feste, Touchstone, Falstaff, Dogberry – some resolute clowns in the face of tragedy, others a tragically unheeded voice of wisdom in a world gone crazy. And with that, I conclude my Shakespearean geek-out.

    Reinke: Violent games and films and shows feed in me a sinister curiosity for bloodshed and death. I’ve felt the lure.

    Yes, that has been a central concern of mine and kind of why I started this thread. We’re formed by that with which we surround ourselves. I don’t own a video game system, and I won’t get one for my kids for that reason. Participatory simulated violence is on a whole other level that I don’t fully understand yet. Lame dad alert!

    Reinke: Answer: He “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil” (Isaiah 33:15). The beauty of God is for those who do not feed their sensory curiosities with violence and wickedness. On this basis I believe entertainment-by-gore is forbidden in Scripture, even at the level of what gets communicated to my senses as entirely fictional media.

    Look, I’m no theologian but that verse is about ignoring injustice visited upon one’s neighbors, turning a blind eye or a deaf ear, not avoiding unsavory entertainment. Ancient Israel didn’t have movie theaters or even theater at the time of Isaiah. Heck, the Greeks were just getting started in 700 B.C. Horror was not a genre yet. I’m not even certain genre was even a concept.

    Godawa: The kids are classic sympathetic heroes with strong moral growth, and we are hungry for such things since we are awash in an entertainment culture of anti-heroes and morally relative stories that ultimately do not satisfy someone who desires moral clarity.

    I mean… maybe. I like antiheroes. But, this comment makes me think of something my dad said about “Star Wars.” He was so happy when “A New Hope” released way back when, because he was so sick of the 7o’s film era and what he saw as a nihilist worldview. He was thrilled to have clear cut lines between heroism and villainy again — someone to truly root for again. Even with my love for antiheroes, this rings true.

    Godawa: So, using common images of safety to caution the innocent against naive trust is an excellent moral lesson.

    I’m not sure about the “moral lesson” here but the effect cannot be denied. This is why so many horror movies set scenes in bathrooms — a place where you’re supposed to feel refreshed and clean. Yipes!

    Godawa: John Wayne Gacy was a professional clown for a reason.

    John Wayne Gacy was an actual serial killer. He didn’t lure his victims via his birthday clown job so I’m not sure what Godawa is getting at here.

    Godawa: God uses the horror genre to solicit righteous fear of evil, and encourage repentance and righteous living. Beyond your examples, the books of Daniel and Revelation are epic horror fantasies of blood and gore using symbolic horror monsters as an analogy for real life. That’s what all horror does. It works as metaphor for something else, like social commentary (Underworld), spiritual truth (Jekyl and Hyde), or man’s hubris (Frankenstein).

    I don’t think God “uses” the horror genre at all. That may be the weirdest statement of the entire conversation. Daniel is an epic horror fantasy? I know he has prophetic visions rife with metaphor, but Daniel is also a historical account of Babylonian exile. Revelation? Uh… no comment. Also, all horror does not work as a metaphor. Some horror is on its face.

    Godawa: Yes, that’s right, but not in this case. It not only denies that common lie, but preserves the sexual innocence of youth by showing how children should not be considered sexual at so young an age (a couple adult characters are shown to be evil for sexualizing children). Rather, its message is that maturity, growing up, is about facing your mortality, not about having sex, but learning that we die and that life is not one big fun summer of play.

    This is true of the film “It,” but it’s not true of the book. The “losers” have a pretty pivotal sexual experience, which I had completely forgotten about since I read the book 12 years ago. My wife reminded me, and I quickly confirmed that it was NOT in the film version, though I haven’t seen it yet.

    Godawa: We have become a relativistic society of cowardice, so fighting evil with a willingness to protect the innocent is a truly profound Christian value.

    Fighting doesn’t really seem to be something Christ taught. I’m pretty pro-defense in my politics but it butts up against my faith quite often. Taking up one’s cross seems quite a bit more difficult. I guess if he’s still working in metaphors, then I have no problem with this except for the “relativistic society of cowardice” bit.

    Reinke:  You say that, beyond the gore, It has other issues viewers need to weigh, including issues of profanity and in portraying all the adults in a negative light.

    I have no problem with profanity if utilized specifically to tell the story, develop a character. Too much of one thing is lazy writing unless it’s a character trait. And absent parents is a theme of the story. Since you shouldn’t take a child to see this, I wouldn’t worry about it. Ha!

    Reinke: It seems to me there’s a fundamental difference between reading about bloodshed in a book, at a distance, especially as an expression of God’s confrontation with sin, as opposed to seeing it presented on a screen, in the full sensorial plunge of a theater.

    I completely agree. The mind’s eye has less pixel resolution than today’s IMAX screens 😉




    I haven’t read this entire thread (though I read enough of the article Laure linked to know I’d only be angered by it), but I wanted to drop in and say that there are two great horror films in theaters right now that are fine examples of what good the genre has to offer. Speaking of It and mother!, of course. They aren’t for everyone (and I have quibbles with It), but I loved them both.

    ---Hutchmaster Prime, wielder of great and terrible cheeses

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    @pete I’m kind of dying to see It, and I may get to this coming Friday though everything I’ve read about mother! makes me think I’ll end up throwing stuff at the screen, so I may avoid that one.


    i can’t even watch the trailer for It. Instant fight-or-flight. But we are on our way into mother! right now. i know next to nothing about it but knew i had to see it as soon as i read the quote you posted, @pete.

    @mrs-hittle Knowing what I know about mother! and in light of your confessed inability to entertain even a trailer for It, I await your next post with bated breath.


    @mattgarner, ah, but It and mother! have nothing to do with one another.

    Answer: i loved it. i am not entirely certain there isn’t something wrong with me, because at the end i was just elated—grinning through the credits and all the way home. i felt not dissimilarly at the end of The Witch. It was just stellar, unbelievable storytelling. The Witch made me want to go create, to write All The Things. mother! didn’t have exactly the same effect, but i just enjoyed the experience of the movie. Then i noticed that my husband was somewhat quiet and i asked what he thought, so we ended up in a great conversation about the themes he was picking up, how we might read this movie in light of Noah (our only other Aronofsky film), and what implications we were seeing for theology as well as art-making (and then we read reviews and had new topics to think about).

    It, though. It is about clowns. WHY would a person watch that?! Slow-burn, well-crafted, psychological stuff, though—YES please. Haha. Although you never know, i am probably slightly broken. i’m not sure if these movies are supposed to make me giddy. XD

    By the way, thanks for your very thorough reading of that article i posted. One thing that had riled me up was the bald assertion that Noah was “demonic” (SIT DOWN SON. Lemme teach you a thing), but you pulled out some really good points. In particular i’m with you on the Isaiah interpretation. Of course, what we consume as entertainment and how we see one another, especially victims, go hand-in-hand. But nearly everything affects the way we see one another. And art is not merely entertainment. (That was called out in Jeffrey Overstreet’s mother! review, actually.)

    As to whether genre was a thing: Absolutely it was. Horror was not one of them; the word they want is Apocalyptic or Oracle of Disaster/Judgment. But it is worth mentioning that shocking or horrific imagery was used for effect. Insofar as horror can operate as a cautionary tale there is some overlap. But calling the prophets “epic horror fantasies” is… something.

    @mrs-hittle It’s so interesting how diametrically opposed we are on the sub-genre level! Or maybe I just have an Aronofsky problem. My intro into his body of work was Requiem for a Dream which to date is the most disturbing yet profoundly impactful cautionary tale for drug use I’ve ever experienced — easily one of the most powerful films I will never watch again. Black Swan was ok, I guess. But then again I may just be an impervious lobotomite in his wacky universe, stumbling haplessly over my lack of exposure. I really enjoyed The Wrestler but that was a pretty straight forward drama. I did not care for Noah, but not because I thought it was demonic. Demonic? Who are these folks? Conflated flood myths give you ROCK MONSTERS and that alone is worth risking heresy. I just didn’t buy the family dynamic or Noah’s madness or Emma Watson’s acting. Gasp! I’m getting catty. I’ll stop.

    I’ve heard great things about The Witch and the trailer looks super intriguing so maybe this will be where our interests meet?

    What other psychological thrillers have you enjoyed or struck you or wouldn’t leave you alone?


    Well, hey. i never came back to this and now it’s February. i think i was stumped at the question of what other psychological thrillers i’ve enjoyed, because in order to answer that kind of question i sort of have to reverse-engineer my brain.

    10 Cloverfield Lane is another film i really liked. i saw it the same week as The Witch and it’s another slow-burn psychological horror story. For that matter, Lovecraft fits here. My favorite of his stories is “The Thing on the Doorstep.” And while we’re on written horror, i recall liking Crichton’s Sphere (the book; i think i saw some of the movie but don’t recall enough to speak on it). i wish i would get into the habit of using Letterboxd or somesuch; i’m always forgetting what i’ve watched recently.

    Did you ever end up seeing <i>The Witch,</i> @mattgarner?

    @mrs-hittle Oh muh garsh I loved 10 Cloverfield Lane! I actually liked Cloverfield too, though my wife thought it was super dumb. The Cloverfield Paradox however, which Netflix dropped like a Beyoncé album during the Super Bowl, was a flaming basket of salted garbage.

    I haven’t seen The Witch yet, though it’s on my list. And I really need to read some Lovecraft… sigh…

    I’ve been listening to a lot of the podcast Lore lately, which is pretty great.

    I did see a super interesting, definitely psychological (though I hesitate to label it a “thriller”) film called Ghost Story with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck — one of those films that sticks with you for a few days. At least with me it did.

    Oh! So I’m writing another play in workshop with the newly formed Tennessee Playwrights Studio (used to be called Nashville Repertory Theatre’s Writing Room). It’s kind of a ghost story. We read the first thirty pages of my first draft last Sunday and one of my readers piped up with “Is this a ghost story?” which of course thrilled me to no end.



    Late to this, but I’ve always found the horror genre fascinating. I used to be big into Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti as a teenager and I remember the redemption in their books being extra powerful because of how dark they got. As far as horror goes in general, I’ve always loved stuff with horror elements in it as opposed to flat-out horror. For instance, Stranger Things is right up my alley in almost every respect. It’s the perfect amount of drama and characterization with some truly scary moments (one scene in Season 2 actually scared me more than anything else I saw in 2017).

    I definitely get a kick out of stuff that scares me, but I don’t think it’s macabre or un-Christian. There’s just so much skill that goes into making something truly scary. It’s more the brilliance that goes into a scary sequence that fascinates me rather than me loving the feeling of being scared. That’s why I never have (and never will) watch slasher flicks that just revel in the darkness and gore. I don’t find them interesting or scary.

    As far as films go, the boost in quality in recent horror movies has put the genre on my radar. I loved Get Out and thought it was pretty flawless. One of the most original movies I’ve seen in awhile. There are so many scenes in that movie that have stuck with me and it’s brilliant as a social commentary. Really excited to see it get Oscar nods, especially Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor. His performance was incredible. I also really liked It despite not loving the language the kids used. My only issue with It from a film-making standpoint is that I found it scary when it really lingered on Pennywise, but more often it relied on fast CGI scares instead of slow, subtle dread. I didn’t watch It primarily to be scared, but if I’m watching a movie that’s trying to scare me I want it to work. And it didn’t always work in It. I liked the movie more for the performances and the themes of friendship.

    I haven’t seen mother! and probably won’t. I’m sure I’d be in the camp that likes it a lot because I love movies that subvert traditional stories and structure, and JLaw’s performance looks awesome, but it just looks so bleak. I’m not sure I need that in my life right now. Ha.

    I’ve been dying to see Ghost Story (no pun intended). For some reason, everything I see about it gives me contemplative Tree of Life vibes except with darker subject matter. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I’m excited to see it nonetheless. Also, Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is unbelievably good so even if I can’t see his face I’m interested in seeing him in this.

    Last thing. This article from Christ and Pop Culture is a good one on this topic if no one’s read it:

    Drawn to the Things That Frighten Us

    I’m glad to see there are others out there who feel that horror can have a place in Christian fiction & the redeemed imagination. Most of my horror has been limited to watching Let’s Plays of horror games (I was always too frightened to play them myself), though I’ve been moving away from that. But on the whole, there’s a side of me fascinated by the genre.

    I find it interesting that occult horror creators will often go to great lengths to incorporate the smallest details about the supernatural, the Devil, Hell, & demonology & imbue those entities with great–if not insurmountable–power. But you’re lucky to find a creator who even incorporates the existence of God & Christ in their work, let alone giving them any power at all. It’s not particularly surprising, I suppose. But it’s interesting that creators will be so fascinated with evil as Biblically described (or some variation on it), & utterly reject or altogether ignore its antithesis.

    I hope that’s not too much of a “Well, duh,” observation. Just something I was turning over in my head.

    Matt Garner

    But you’re lucky to find a creator who even incorporates the existence of God & Christ in their work, let alone giving them any power at all. It’s not particularly surprising, I suppose. But it’s interesting that creators will be so fascinated with evil as Biblically described (or some variation on it), & utterly reject or altogether ignore its antithesis.

    @krose yeah I think in some cases the realm of the demonic is co-opted by secular filmmakers because Biblical spiritual baddies that go bump in the night are pretty hard to top in one’s pursuit of the heebie jeebies, especially in our largely Judeo-Christian western civilization. Though, I don’t think it’s hard to find Christian protagonists in say the demonic possession horror subgenre, but more often than not those protagonists will be Catholic priests or especially adept laity, being the exorcism pros they claim to be. Examples: The Exorcist, The Conjuring, The Rite. Not that those protagonists always win. See  The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

    The particular issue I’m dealing with now in my own writing is the introduction of a ghost or ghost-like character, who while acceptable allegorically is rife with possible Gnostic heresy if set in the here and now, which my play is. I get away with it somewhat because my ghost might actually be another character’s growing delusion/dementia/madness.


    I’m late to the party too but love this thread. I think the genre certainly has a place because horror and “scary things” do exist in our world. I am drawn to it because I want to know how to respond to evil things. I want to be able to imagine encountering something that frightens me and confronting it in such a way that I survive. The really good horror surprises you with something you had not considered before or thought possible.

    I agree the genre is infested these days with cheap gore porn that confuses terror with shock but I think it unfairly taints it. When you get your head into it, the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon was pure horror.. pretty gory too. There is value in considering frightening things. Bad actions have dire consequences and often horror stories echo the theme that the wages of sin is death.

    Matt Garner

    I’ve been on a reading project to read every Pulitzer-winning fiction novel (to try to break out of my usual go-to genres and maybe broaden my palate with some acclaimed works), but I’m taking a break because my wife assigned me The Haunting of Hill House. This is Shirley Jackson circa 1959 so I’m expecting slow burn horror.


    <span style=”color: #45413e; font-family: ‘Whitney A’, ‘Whitney B’, sans-serif; background-color: #fffefc;”>I don’t think it’s hard to find Christian protagonists in say the demonic possession horror subgenre, but more often than not those protagonists will be Catholic priests or especially adept laity, being the exorcism pros they claim to be.</span>

    That is a good point, @mattgarner. I had overlooked those movies. That said, I would humbly submit that it seems the norm in that genre is that the Christian protagonist turns out to be powerless, or not powerful enough. (I know which movie you listed where that’s not the case, but I’d venture it’s an exception–at least in my limited experience.)

    I really should read more horror, I think. It’s tough when one can only realistically work through 1 or 2 books at a time!

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