Peter Fraser’s A Christian Response to Horror Cinema: Ten Films in Theological Perspective (McFarland, 2015) takes a look at a few horror films and religion, but may not be for everyone.
This book was not what I expected when I was searching for books to review. My first impression was that the author was a fan of horror films, and was going to look at the films comparing them with a Biblical approach. There are many horror film watchers who are in the Christian faith (Alice Cooper comes to mind), along with the fact that one can look at horror films within the Christian faith and find that not all movies are anti- faith when it comes to the genre. For instance, in 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Vincent Price uses the plagues of the Old Testament to avenge the death of his wife. This film, after watching it, made me go back and study what the plagues were in reference to the film.
Fraser’s book looks at several films such as 1932’s The Mummy, 1951’s The Thing, 1973’s The Wicker Man and The Exorcist, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The author’s look at these films, as his right as the writer of the book, is not kind towards most of the films, and the horror genre at a whole.
Fraser states the classic Karloff film The Mummy is a trick used in carnival shows where the viewer is “on the voyeuristic pleasure of viewing the obscene (Fraser, 61).” He also states that with this movie (along with others in the genre) when the creature shows a tease and then a full reveal in the film is similar to that of pornography, that the “allure of the horrific image shares pornography ‘s addictive potential” ( Fraser, 61). He also states that the film “drags overall” (Fraser, 62).
Throughout the book, Fraser states that horror films praises subjects like paganism (The Wicker Man), and that even if a creature or villain escapes in the film, it promotes that evil always wins, and writes in one section that horror films “encourages vicarious participation in acts of violence and perversion” (Fraser, 135). Fraser also critiques the film The Exorcist by stating the use of symbolism, via the shots of the staircases in the film , comparing these scenes with fences and staircases as a representation of heaven and hell.
Fraser covers the slasher film genre as well, stating that films like Halloween gives no respectability to the horror genre, and that they tease the viewers “into enjoying portrayals of cruelty and debasement and encourage in the role-playing exercise to take part of the sadist’s accomplice” (Fraser, 158). He also writes that research suggests that exposure to the slasher films equals violence towards women.
A Christian Response to Horror Cinema is just the type of book that will offend die hard horror films. Not only is the writing wordy (several times I had to re-read parts to understand what was being said, and at the end of each chapter, I could not tell you what it was about), along with many references in the book to other films that are not horror films (for instance, the author will be writing about The Exorcist and then go into a reference to C.S. Lewis without connecting the dots, or throw in western films in the essay). The book has the stereotypical outlook that if someone watches horror films, they are violent , abusive, and deal in the demonic areas of life. The author seems to hide the fact that there are bad things that happen in society (especially in our time now), and watching horror films does not mean everyone will encourage the actions in the films. It’s like stating that reading Shakespeare will cause a person to murder family members. The Bible has just as much violence in it than these horror films.
Fraser’s view on horror seems to be the same that would fall into the 1980s Christian faith that all things are bad if it’s not under a Christian label (remember the backlash of Christian musicians that were being played on the pop charts?). Fraser has every right to write his book, and I respect the fact that he is published. However, the book overall stereotypes horror fans as those that encourage violence and have no idea of Biblical values. He also stretches the films too much, as of the symbolism of the fences and staircases in films- it could be that there’s a fence around the house because that’s what was in front of the house when the director was shooting his work.
If you are a horror fan, this book may not be for you, and you may be offended by the common myths and stereotypes of the horror watcher. However, it is an interesting read with a different opinion on the film industry, and the writer may make you look at those films a little differently.
This title was given for review courtesy of McFarland.
A Christian Response to Horror Cinema: Ten Films in Theological Perspective by Peter Fraser (McFarland, 2015 ISBN: 978-0-7864-9824-6 eISBN: 978-1-4766-1972-9) can be ordered at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Geared For: 18 and Up (textbook essay form)
For Fans Of: Film critiques, religion.