A Christian Perspective on Horror in Movies & Culture
- Friday, October 12, 2012
We can be thankful for one thing: the same thing can be said about goodness. And his name is Jesus Christ.
[Taken from chapter 5 of Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer, by Grant Horner (Crossway).]
Professor Grant Horner's academic specialty is the literature, theology and philosophy of the Renaissance and Reformation, with primary concentration in Milton, Shakespeare, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin and late sixteenth and seventeenth century intellectual and cultural history. His research and writing has focused on Christian Humanism in the Reformation, particularly the complex relationship between developing Reformed thought and Classical Graeco-Roman pagan mythology and philosophy. He has worked on the citation of classical Greek and Latin authorities by Renaissance writers, published on theology and the arts, and is actively researching and writing a full-length work on John Milton and John Calvin.
1. The film is now in the public domain and can be watched in its entirety on the Internet. But don't waste time. Go right to "A Drop of Water." You'll be calling the plumber.
2. This film is in the public domain and widely available for viewing on the Internet.
3. Twice I have been in the presence of palpable (and in one case, visible) demonic activity. People who have been missionaries in places like New Guinea have told me stories that go far beyond my small experience.
4. Hamlet, 1.5.
5. "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:19-21).
6. This is the mainstream Hollywood technique. The "naturalism" in nearly all narrative film has as its basic technique the erasure from the viewer's consciousness that it is a movie that is being watched. There are some avante-garde "artsy" movies that do not work this way; they push their "movieness" to the foreground as part of their style. These films can be really interesting and enjoyable, but they are a long way from supplanting the primary product that Hollywood makes for the consumer, which functions as a temporary replacement for reality.
7. I am obviously drawing a parallel with the previous chapter on comedy, where I argued that we are designed to laugh in joy.
8. In 2007 I was standing in line at a gas station near my home just north of Los Angeles, behind a man wearing a film crew T-shirt. You see a lot of these when you live twenty minutes from Hollywood. But this one caught my eye—the movie was about Ed Gein. I was too horrified to ask the man about it. The movie was released later that year and is a typical gore/slasher movie; it was widely panned by critics. It is not anywhere to be found on my list of movies to see someday.
9. Schindler's List is widely recognized as uncompromising in its portrayal of human evil.
10. I've used this film in class a number of times. Surprisingly, over half the viewers don't notice this "slide underneath the suddenly transparent floor" shot until it is pointed out to them afterward. It is extraordinarily subtle in execution and therefore very effective.
11. It has been well-documented by film historians that the film makes use of numerous subliminal and partially-subliminal effects, both visual and sonic. For example, there are numerous screen flashes, just a few frames and nearly invisible to most viewers, that intercut frightening images into the movie. Some of these occur during the exorcism scene (these are more visible), but some are found in other sequences. For example, during father Karras's dream there are several such cut-ins, and there are some moments when Chris MacNeil is walking through her house and demonic images flash for a few frames on kitchen appliances or on Regan's door. Karras's mother's face shows up in a billowing curtain at a crucial moment. The sonic subliminals are probably more disturbing in their effects; according to sound engineers working on the film (along with Friedkin's own admissions), dubbed into the soundtrack just inside hearing range are sounds of a vicious dogfight, the squealing of pigs in a slaughtering line, and angry bees buzzing furiously inside a jar. We have a natural physiological reaction of agitation and fear when we hear these kinds of sounds, even below our conscious levels of cognition. The film won the "Best Sound" Oscar in 1974. I have lectured on the use of subliminal visuals in The Exorcist a number of times, showing freeze-frame shots to incredulous viewers who could not believe what they had missed at full speed. Most of these "subs" can now be found in brief Internet video clips.
12. The film was produced for twelve million dollars and earned well over four hundred million (eight hundred million in inflation-adjusted dollars)—an extraordinarily large cost-to-profit ratio.
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