Horror and Faith

Horror and Faith September 8, 2019

From an interview in USA Today with Guillermo del Toro:

His religious grandmother instilled a passion for both the supernatural and separating right from wrong. “It was a lot of Catholic scare about sin and hell. ‘You’re going to be in purgatory if you’re not careful, and blah, blah, blah … Maybe even if you are careful!’ ” he says with a laugh.

“I’m eager to explore themes that lend themselves easily to metaphor,” he says. “The fantastic is the only tool we have nowadays to explain spirituality to a generation that refuses to believe in dogma or religion. Superhero movies create a kind of mythology. Creature movies, horror movies, create at least a belief in something beyond.”

There’s more about religion in other parts of the interview not quoted here. Of related interest, Steve Wiggins wrote,

Those of us who study religion professionally have been taught to call the blending of religions “syncretism.”  I’ve stopped using that word for it because it assumes that there are pure forms of religion.  Religion always takes on an individual element.  We make it our own when it gets translated into our personal gray matter.  The idea that there is a pure form of any religion requires an arbiter of greater rank than any here on earth.  You can always say “but I think it means…”  Horror, I suspect, latched onto this truth long ago.  Without some hint of doubt about your own individualized belief system, it’s difficult to be afraid.  Horror need not be about blood and gore.  Often it isn’t.  Often it’s a matter of asking yourself what you believe.  And once you answer it, opening yourself to asking questions.

I’ve never been a big fan of the horror genre. Even those works that are both horror and sci-fi grab my interest less than other science fiction works. But I can appreciate nevertheless the ways that horror is interesting and important for those who study the intersection of theology and popular culture. Some early modern works in the horror genre, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, are woven through with elements that are theologically interesting, and the entire worldview that horror presupposes has theological implications.

Of possible related interest, take a look at the Encyclopedia Mythica online!


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  • John MacDonald

    I think “Horror,” as a genre is becoming less and less effective because people are so desensitized to gore, fear, etc., that movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street simply don’t elicit terror any more. The two Kill Bill movies are good examples of gore filled movies that don’t elicit terror. I saw “IT 2” with my 73 year old mother the other day, and we understood the movie was trying to gross us out and scare us, but we just didn’t feel that – still a good movie, though.

    • John MacDonald

      I think a similar thing is happening with the fact that we are so saturated with things like sarcasm and irony that, at least for me, a good belly laugh is rare. A related cultural phenomenon is how wisdom has sometimes been re-interpreted as sarcasm, with the result that people turn to sources such as The Daily Show, Full Frontal, Bill Maher, etc for their topical analysis because the comedians are so sarcastic = interpreted as “smart” and “down to earth.”

  • I think horror is interesting as an indicator of what a culture finds frightening.

    H.P. Lovecraft stories, today, are not really that frightening. But a story like “The Colour Out of Space” was frightening for its time because here was a family slowly being killed off by a completely amoral and incomprehensible being. It had no malice or regard for this family at all and still killed them. Against a modernistic backdrop, the idea that something was not acting according to some kind of moral decision making that was comprehensible to us was frightening at a very deep level.

  • Steve Wiggins

    Thanks for the shout-out, and in such good company! I’ve been puzzling over how the two are related and it seems to me that they fill similar needs. When dealing with the unknown we want certainty. I started rewatching the X-Files last night and the pilot episode underscored this for me.

    • I have been wanting to re-watch the X-Files for a while now…