This one comes to us from new contributor Blake Collier:
I am, currently, on the cusp of finishing thirty-one straight days of watching slasher films for my annual October horror film marathon. I decided to do a chronological cross-section of the slasher sub-genre from Psycho (1960), the film that most influenced the slasher film, to the more recent Icelandic slasher, Rejkjavik Whale Watching Massacre (2009). Needless to say, most of my family and friends look at me with raised eyebrows and shake their heads in confusion as to why I would put myself through such torture. This year, in response to their skepticism, I have attempted to navigate the dark shadows of my mind in order to understand what it is about the horror genre that resonates with me. Call it a personal exorcism of sorts.
Last week, I was reading In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy, Vol. 1 by Eugene Thacker and was struck by the theory he presents as to why horror culture is often profitable and appealing to so many people. Thacker maintains that horror, more specifically supernatural horror, addresses the great chasm between the limits of human understanding and the hiddenness of the world. He writes:
“…I would propose that horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World [the world-for-us], and not just the Earth [the world-in-itself], but also a Planet (the world-without-us). This also means that horror is not simply about fear, but instead about the enigmatic thought of the unknown.” (p. 8-9)
There is something present in the horror genre, in other words, that really is not present in other genres, at least not to the same extent. Despite there being a vague familiarity to some of the images we find in horror films, so many of the elements of horror remain unfamiliar, as if the films are displaying elements of the “Planet” that our measly five senses cannot grapple with.
Galatians 4:3 talks about how we were once enslaved to the “elementary principles,” or that which is often translated in terms of the classic elements: earth, air, fire and water. We can think about these things and comprehend them, but largely in abstractions. I mean, who really knows what it is to be enslaved to elementary principles? The closest we actually come to truly comprehending this is with the various natural disasters that take place, but even they are stripped of their mystery and majesty through scientific (natural) explanations.
Thacker seems to recognize that when we honestly address our human limits, we have to admit that there is a whole realm that we simply do not understand. This “hiddenness” of the world allows for there to be something beyond what we perceive, that there is something beyond us that cannot be controlled by us—God being the central “beyond-us.” Christians, of course, claim that whatever we know about him is first-and-foremost self-revealed through Christ and the mysterious movements of the Spirit, that apart from that revelation, God is largely incomprehensible and mysterious to us. And we are masters of suppressing this revelation. It is exactly when the truth of our situation comes bubbling up from deep inside the prison we have built for it that fear grabs hold and paralyzes us.
Grant Horner, a professor at The Master’s College, talks about the fear that arises in the midst of the unknown states in his article “A Christian Perspective on Horror in Movies and Culture”:
“If there is a God, one whom we naturally (and rightly) should fear; and if we have suppressed this truth, as Romans 1 says we have; and if, as I am arguing in this book, powerful truths such as these cannot and do not remain suppressed, then perhaps we now have a way of understanding the business and art of fear for pleasure. If God (and fear of him) has been removed from the forefront of our conscious minds, yet we are “built to fear” something infinitely greater than ourselves, something awesome, terrifying, mysterious, and incomprehensible, then we find ourselves predisposed to replace fear of him with fear of something.
The full-blown abject terror of an infinite God—unmediated by grace—would be overwhelming and impossible to bear. And try as we might, we cannot entirely vanquish our sense of God or our creeping fears regarding him. The fear is inescapable. It is also unbearable.”
The horror genre may, in fact, be the only genre that digs up those fears and truths that we are so willing to suppress in the everyday normality of life and, instead, make us confront them. This is anything but a comfortable or desirable proposition–which probably has something to with why it is so thrilling and cathartic. Instead of escaping the the demons that haunt us (and possess us, torment us, etc.), we confront them. You might say that horror allows us to experience the nagging fear in all of us that maybe everything isn’t alright as long as we stay positive and have high self-esteem–a fear which grows worse to the extent that we feel we need to suppress it.
As we stand in front of that chasm between our own limits and the hiddenness of the world, facing that black abyss of uncertainty and dark night of the soul, we are confronted with something that is beyond us; something that we cannot control. Not only that, but there are hidden things that are indifferent, or in opposition, to us. Horror films address this chasm, engage our imagination (and adrenaline glands), and force us to awaken to the possibility that our default beliefs may be detrimental to our hearts and souls. Plus, there are some really great special effects…!
Thankfully, there is one who fully understands the chasm between our limited understanding and the larger “Planet” in which we live. He, too, is beyond our control, but unlike the psychopaths and monsters we find in horror films and book, he is not malevolent or indifferent. In fat, the very opposite. He is fundamentally on our side.
In the following posts, I’ll explore a few different expressions of what H.P. Lovecraft coined as “cosmic horror,” the sense that all that is hidden is against us and closing in (or, at best, indifferent to us), in the hopes that by filling in the chasm between human limitation and the unknown, we might come to a deeper understanding of what faith in a savior who came to pull us out of the darkness into the light might look like. So I invite you to join me for some Mockingbird-style Halloween fun. And if horror is not your thing, well… the power of Christ compels you!
Up first, next week: Slasher Films!