Can Christians Watch "Halloween Kills"?

…is such an interesting question.

First, a bit about Horror.

Not everyone is a fan, but something is driving the constant delivery of new movies geared to frighten and, at the same time, entertain (pro tip: it’s not Satan). So what is the appeal?

Chalk it up to shared experience. We live in a time high with anxiety. Change my mind. If it’s not the climate, it’s the headlines. If it’s not the headlines, it’s political gravity pulling toward new lows. If not negative political gravity, it’s the horrifying reverberations of truth denial and misinformation. If it’s not that, it’s watching nations fall into chaos and take hostages along the way. Some day, my news feed is as shocking as the first time I saw Linda Blair’s head spin three hundred sixty degrees.

Despite everything that is so frightening in the world, why does horror, as a genre, have such a universal appeal? Should’t we responsible Christians avoid Horrortainment? Shouldn’t we hide from terror wherever we see it?

Or should we confront it? Fight for what is still beautiful because it's worth fighting for?

Horror demands confrontation! We shouldn’t leave its challenge unmet.

To be human is to know what it is to be afraid. Whether it’s things that literally go bump in the night (ever spend the night in a creaky house?) or just feeling the ill affects of isolation (know anyone quarantined within the last two years?). Most all people know what it is to feel the kind of vulnerable that gives you the chills.

And now more than ever, in our post-COVID communities, we have wrestled with the noises we hear as we lie awake at night. We have struggled with isolation and everything it makes us feel, think and believe.

A horror movie, or series, gives us a way to confront our anxieties through the life of the protagonist, feel the fear, watch as good mostly defeats evil and enjoy a moment of catharsis: my fears are not as bad as they were in that movie; the Final Girl made it, so will I; it could be worse…a lot worse.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert, author Steven King talked about the release from our fear when we experience horror in fiction, "And when you finish, you close the book and you've had a place to put your fears for a little while. You've been able to say, 'These problems are much worse than my problems.' And then you close the book, and you can go to bed and sleep like a baby. At least that's the theory."

There’s something to that.

In the Bible, there are those moments where "and then the snake," or "and then the Philistine giant," or "and then the Babylonians," are the once upon a time to a moment of real horror. That’s why God’s unrelenting pursuit of humanity on the other side of the garden is so healing. In the whole biblical story, we find that what has been torn apart can be put back together - and become something more beautiful than we have the imagination to dream.

In the David and Goliath story, we quake with terror as David looms beneath the shadow of a taller, stronger, better armed, lethal and humorless giant. But the finish sets us free to live. The normal guy kills the monster with a rock. A rock! Who doesn’t have a rock laying around? Our fears are soothed with the knowledge that we have what we need to defeat the giants in our lives, whether they be real or metaphor.

The Babylonians were a predecessor of Jason, Micheal Myers and Freddie Kruger. One king more ruthless than the next. Of course, when we read these histories, we aren’t connected to the fear, but back in the day! Babylonian kings carved scenes of torture and dismemberment into enormous walls and toured them around the world as if to say, this is going to be you!

When God steps in to put an end to the reigns of terror, we shout and celebrate…much the way an audience does at the end of a horror movie. We need to see the bad guy get what’s coming to them.

Watching the monster die in the end helps to heal the places that are broken in our minds, our hearts, our spirits. It lets the hope in. And we need hope. Hope is the Ripley to Anxiety's Alien.

In a recent Times article, author Stephen Graham Jones writes, "Horror fans have always known that the genre is more than a nightmare carnival. Horror is, and always has been, in dialogue with the anxieties and fears of its time."

And do we ever need dialogue with the horrors and fears of our time.

Let’s be honest. We don’t want to be afraid, but we are. Of something. Of someone. Storytellers create ways for us to see our fears on screen, on the page; and not only see our fears, but watch - even participate - as they are overcome.

It’s like watching faith…well, work.

And we prefer to watch it together. Remember movie theaters? Epic action films were fun, but Horror provided the whole theatrical experience at it's finest. Feeling the tension of the people next to you, jumping out of your seat together like it was choreographed, that was a shared moment that made us feel a little more human...together.

There’s an argument to be made that we kind of get some of that when we watch Netflix, or some other streaming service. There's some comfort in the knowledge that we are watching with so many others. Even if it's on the other end of screen, interconnectivity is still powerful. This is why Amazon Prime started the Watch Party feature. It was strange, but I appreciated the sentiment, Jeff!

So back to the question, "Can Christians Watch Halloween Kills?"

So many do that I’d have to say yes for the reasons above. Now, put down your stone for a second. I realize that the Apostle Paul instructed us "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8; NLT)."

Have you ever thought anxious thoughts? How about depressed ones? Fearful thoughts? Panic? Despair?

Of course, you have. And you know what…if we can be grown ups…unicorns and jelly beans just don’t help much. Is it more honorable to sink into the escapism that fantasy and fiction provide? How about supernatural romance novels? Are they lovely and admirable? Kinky lovin’ with a Ghostpire? There are so many supernatural romance novels written, it’s statistically impossible that Christians aren’t among their readers.

What I’m saying is that while horror can be an easy target, we all have escapes that Paul’s rubric above calls us to question.

BUT, the desire to confront fears. Admirable? Yes. Honorable? Yes. The overwhelming need for good to conquer evil. Pure? Lovely? I’d say uh, huh! The knowledge that no matter how afraid we are, how hopeless we are afraid we feel, we are not alone. True? Yes again. People want to feel courage because we are tired and shut down. Sometime, it takes more than a Veggietale, people.

Overcoming grown up issues means we have to do grown up things and for some reason our brains give horror movies access to catharsis and even our ability to practice empathy. Catharsis and Empathy can help us push through to action.

And it’s not just horror movies. There are horror themed restaurants popping up all over the country. Goth walls, metal music, screaming cocktails and vegan dishes. Vegan? Yes, says an owner. “There’s this sense that horror fans lack empathy, because how else could they enjoy horror?” Mr. Scrivner said. “But a lot of horror fans are so empathetic that they don’t want to eat animals.” (link)

Horror restaurant? Screaming cocktails? Terror tacos? I’ll say yes to that faster than I can remember the words to "Nightmare on my Street" by the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

To really enter into the Christian argument, we could discuss the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials, but those aren’t fiction. That terror was real. And most terrifying is the fact that the greatest good, the organization that people should have been able to look to for salvation…was the very organization with the body count high score.

When terror is real, we need each other. We need each other to help us stand against the evil that we fear, the horror that we see and the horror that we can’t.

As the credits roll, what we know is that we are in this together; that together we can make it to the end; that together, it’s all going to be okay. As the last song plays over the production credits, we are reminded that as we re-enter the world, there is a tribe that has gone through something together. Even though it was a trial of the mind, it was our trial. And we lived to talk about it.

It kind of reminds me of what it is to be "church".

Honestly, you can watch "Halloween Kills" if you want, but invite someone else into the experience if you do. It's just better that way.

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