Horror Films and Teens
by Phil Boatwright

Well, Halloween is upon us and if you’ve noticed nearly every cable station has paid tribute to the holiday. Halloween is one of the oldest holidays still celebrated today, and the second most popular after Christmas. Originally it was a pagan holiday intended to honor the dead. The Celts believed spirits roamed the streets at night and since they weren’t all friendly, citizens left out gifts in order to appease the spirits. Christians then called the day All Saints Day in an effort to convert pagans. Different cultures now celebrate the holiday differently. Catholics in many nations still honor saints on this day. Here in America parents give candy to neighborhood kids and moviemakers use the season to scare the Jujubes out of moviegoers. So, are horror movies acceptable for Christians?

It’s interesting that during times of unrest and financial unease, horror films seem to thrive. In 1931, during the height of the Depression, Bela Lugosi’s definitive Count Dracula became a major hit. Moviegoers had never seen a sound version of a supernatural story set to themes meant to unnerve. The CEO of Universal Studios wasn’t sure he wanted to make a horror film, but with the success of Dracula, Frankenstein was soon being constructed. Universal Studios then filled up the genre with The Old Dark House, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and many others. The fright flick has since remained with us, giving viewers an adrenaline rush or taking our minds off clear and present dangers. What’s more, tales of conflicted wolfmen, alien space monsters, zombie flesh-eaters, and other vile things that go bump in the night have a profound effect on those of us who like scary movies.

Between the ‘30s and the ‘50s, horror films were either good vs. evil parables about right defeating wrong or simply entertainment with groundbreaking, if now cheesy-looking effects. Later, however, certain themes proved more sinister than the films’ grotesque antagonists. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 remake of Dracula is humanism in its most monstrous form. Where Lugosi’s Count recoils in defeat at the sight of the cross, Coppola’s version has the vampire burning up the crucifix with his icy stare. This image is a statement, denying the supremacy of God and perhaps His existence all together.

You have read my appreciative critique of M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller, Signs, about alien beings coming to take over Earth. In it suspenseful Hitchcockian elements serve to unnerve the audience. Added to the unsettling atmosphere, the story’s subtext concerns a man losing then regaining his faith. The film also has an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives. Do things happen by chance or do they serve to develop our nature? Shyamalan’s film is about finding our way – or finding our way back. I guess you could say it’s a thinking man’s (or woman’s) horror movie.

Thought-provoking horror movies are few and far between. I’m not sure any of us realize the true purpose or effect of horror movies on our psyches. Though the garbage-in/garbage-out theory may seem strident to teens, it does deserve consideration. Adolescents are bombarded by a great deal of media influence, much of which doesn’t feed the soul. Some will defend the escapism value of the horror film, while others steadfastly maintain that it is a genre with a demonic impact. Here’s something we should consider: like all living things, the spirit of man needs to be nourished.

I couldn’t possibly say it any better than the following quote. And it came from a movie. You might keep it in mind when attending any new release. “Your head is like a gas tank. You have to be really careful about what you put in it, because it might just affect the whole system” (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Miramax Films).