In defense of horror
Horror as a genre of film is arguably as old as the art of filmmaking itself. The first horror film, released in 1896 was "Le Manoir Du Diable," or "The Devil’s Castle." It was the fantastical conjuring of the prevalent turn-of-the-century director, Georges Méliès. At that point in history, horror seemed a natural and easy genre for film to attempt, considering how novel and spooky the simple act of watching a picture move would have been to the people of the 1890s. As horror has progressed, however, directors have been pushed to find what will frighten their new generation of audience members. It seems the white sheets and face-paint employed by Méliès are not quite edgy enough to catch the breath of 2015 theater-goers.
While horror as a genre has displayed evolution and progression in order to keep up the fear factor, there has always, conversely, been the constant resistance to horror by the more general Christian community. The problem with this resistance, however, is that it creates an automatic dismissal of an entire art form, some of which may enable Christians to better understand the world around them in a fruitful way. As members of a community on Earth, it is important to create and be critical consumers of the art within that community. One of the genres of art that our community has been producing since the 1890s is horror films. Does that mean that all Christians have a duty to watch horror films? Of course not. But it does mean that, if we do watch them, we must watch them critically and with the goal of better understanding art, film, our culture and ourselves.
Horror is a genre often forgotten by film connoisseurs altogether because it is so often associated with B-list films or those bored, summer nights in junior high we’d all rather put behind us. This is a shame, for, although there are plenty of bad horror films in existence (and I mean bad in every sense—bad writing, bad acting, bad effects, and just all around cheesy), there are quite a few good horror films available as well. Here are just a few (those which are available on Netflix I have marked with an asterisk):
"Silence of the Lambs"*, "Seven"*, "Chinatown"* and "Zodiac."
This is my favorite type of horror film, mostly because it is often designed as a mystery that the viewer is able to solve simultaneously with the protagonist. The film opens with a murder (or string of murders) and does not end (usually) until the culprit is found out. This type of film will appeal to one’s inner detective, and is also appealing because it often does not overtly touch on the super-natural.
"Rosemary’s Baby"*, "Carrie"* and "The Shining."
These three films pair well together because they are frightening in the same way—each one touches on a deep human fear, the kind that men and women intuitively understand. Though each uses a different methodology—witches, telekinesis or ghosts—they all play to a similar theme. With "Rosemary’s Baby," it is the fear of “the enemy within,” or the idea that something inside of you, something you created even, is fighting to destroy you. With the 1976 "Carrie," it is, put simply, a magnification of the horror of puberty—the idea that you are turning into a monster, with new abilities you don’t understand and can’t control. With "The Shining," it is the fear that a father might eat its own cubs; that your family might be what seeks to destroy you.
M. Night Shyamalan:
"The Village"*, "Signs," and "The Sixth Sense."
I’m sorry to favor one director by giving him his own category, but I firmly believe in the value of "The Village" (which is on Netflix, so go watch it). Shyamalan manages repeatedly to be very creepy and very deep in all of his films (some more than others). "The Village" in particular does an excellent job of showing the brokenness of humankind, discussing from where it is that evil comes—within or without?
"Hitchcock Presents"* and "American Horror Story"*
If you don’t have the time for an entire movie, I recommend both of these shows as alternatives. Hitchcock, the master of suspense, has a brilliant television show in which he manages to create chilling, weird or perhaps just surprising plot developments, all in easy to watch, twenty minute episodes.
"American Horror Story," on the other hand, is frightening, unnerving and gross. I do not recommend it to people new to the horror genre, because even I have trouble stomaching it. What I will say in favor of it, however, is that it has phenomenal acting and has basically managed to combine every aspect of the horror genre into single (rather grueling) forty minute episodes—which is pretty impressive. Viewer discretion is advised.