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ANALYSIS: Should Christians attend new slew of horror flicks?

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–After previewing Columbia Pictures’ newest take on the invisible man story, “Hollow Man,” a question arose in my mind: Should we support horror films? And if so, why?

With “Hollow Man,” alongside “Sixth Sense,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “The Mummy,” “What Lies Beneath” and the upcoming “Cherry Falls,” the spooky thriller has been brought back from the dead and is thriving at the local cineplex. But the horror genre is one that has undergone more transformations than Madonna’s musical career.

In the ’30s and ’40s, horror films such as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “Cat People” were actually morality plays, where good was triumphant over evil. For example, in the 1942 original “Cat People,” an eerie atmospheric tale about a woman who turns into a ferocious feline, one scene has the male lead holding up a cross and telling a menacing unseen foe to “leave us alone in the name of God.” Slowly, the dim likeness of a leopard retreats. Not only was this a psychological thriller that depended on shadows and darkness rather than gruesome bludgeoning to inspire fright, but it was also a film that acknowledged God’s ultimate authority. God was in control. All we had to do was call upon him.

In the ’50s, most horror films were, well, goofy. Every respectable monster was 10 stories high. Prehistoric lizards breathed fire and trampled over Tokyo and, due to some super ray or untried serum, a man or woman could grow 50 feet tall and trample over Mid-America.

In the ’60s, classic fright flicks were rehashed by Hammer Studios (“Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed,” “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”), using vivid color to captivate, especially with the use of a thick red liquid that looked more like candy apple syrup than the gushing blood it was supposed to represent. Other studios began inserting more sexuality into the genre (“The Ghost In the Invisible Bikini”). Certainly, there were exceptions (“Night of the Living Dead,” “Village of the Damned”), but generally it was a kindler, gentler time, when most horror films were low-budget schlock, designed to sell popcorn and aid guys who lacked the courage to wrap an arm around a cute date.

In the ’70s and ’80s, horror films became little more than gruesome showcases for studio special effects departments. Good versus evil themes were replaced with personifications of evil. Malevolent and apparently indestructible ghouls such as “Nightmare on Elm Street”‘s Freddie Kruger, “Halloween”‘s Michael Myers and “Friday the 13th”‘s Jason returned in sequel after sequel to kill as many teenagers as possible in 96 minutes.

The ’90s once again gave us the classic monsters, but this time redone with a twist. In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” his monster was an omnipresent creature who contemptuously burned a crucifix with a stare, rather than turning away from the significance of the cross — something the vampire had done ever since Bela Lugosi first put on a set of fangs. This new spin changed the entire theme of the Dracula legend. No longer was God the conqueror of the devil; now man alone was in control of his fate.

Before you remind me that the Count was only a work of fiction, I want to point out that it’s not the movies that disturb me so much as the messages contained in those movies.

Between the ’30s and the ’50s, horror films were either parables about right defeating wrong or simply entertainment with groundbreaking, if cheesy-looking effects. Later, however, certain themes proved more sinister than the films’ grotesque antagonists. Coppola’s “Dracula” is humanism in its most monstrous form. It denies the supremacy of God and perhaps his existence all-together.

When adding up all the movies that purport the nonexistence of God, whether they’re sci-fi or slapstick comedy, it begins to register a blasphemous statement. If a generation not based in biblical teaching grows up hearing the same anti-spiritual message over and over, is there any question as to the outcome?

The ’90s also gave us one of the most frightening movies ever made — the Oscar-winning Best Picture “Silence of The Lambs,” with its true-life central figure, Hannibal Lecter, a real human who liked to eat people with a fine Chianti. Surmising that there may be kookoos walking among us with the same culinary customs is more unsettling than any 10-story reptile.

Although undeniably well-written, directed and acted, my problem with “Silence of the Lambs” was its demonic aura. “Silence” is one of the few films I, as a reviewer, have walked out on. I missed the final 20 minutes and to this day have not seen that film’s conclusion. Why? I truly believe the Holy Spirit was nudging me, as if saying, “That’s enough, get out.” I’m sure it’s scary and well done, and maybe OK for others, but I’m not going to argue with the Holy Ghost.

With one of last year’s box office champs, “Sixth Sense,” director M. Night Shyamalan returned to suspenseful Hitchcockian elements to unnerve the audience with psychological tension rather than pelting them with sadistic brutality. The strength of this chiller lies in what is suggested rather than seen. People have asked me, “Did you figure out the ending?” Quite frankly, I didn’t. I was thrown off because few filmmakers are attempting such clever premises with ghost stories these days. I just didn’t expect a thriller to be so inventive. Although I was unable to recommend it for family viewing due to the subject matter and the film’s one misuse of God’s name, I enjoyed the picture because of its creativity and the sincere performances. I still think Haley Joel Osment was robbed of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Although only 10, he gave one of the most sensitive and textured performances of the year as the 8-year-old boy haunted by dead people.

But psychological suspense didn’t reign at the box office for long. Paul Verhoeven’s “Hollow Man” has returned us to the gory and brutal antics reminiscent of ’70s fright flicks. In this bloody thriller nearly every character is sadistically and graphically executed before our eyes. And much like Freddie Kruger, his villain just keeps coming back to dish out more abuse.

While the subject of violence in the media has been debated to death, film savagery keeps getting more explicit. While deadly crimes are being committed by younger and younger offenders — the target audience for most violent films — many members of the entertainment community take no responsibility for their product. Rather, they suggest ineffectual concepts such as gun control as the deterrent to deviant adolescent behavior. Gun control has the same solutional merit to delinquent crime as placing Band-Aids on a shotgun wound. If a person isn’t taught morality, making weapons difficult to obtain won’t cause him to be a more responsible person, or a less demented one.

Enough of my opinion, let’s see what God’s Word has to say about repellent psychopathic exploitation: “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalms 101). “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

Like all living things, the spirit of man needs to be nourished. I couldn’t possibly say it any better than the following quote. And it came from the movies. You might keep it in mind when attending any new release. “Your head is like a gas tank. You have to be really careful about what you put in it, because it might just affect the whole system” (“I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing,” Miramax Films).
Boatwright, a Baptist layman from Thousand Oaks, Calif., reviews films and TV movies on iBelieve.com, an Internet news and information site in behalf of The Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to encourage the production of wholesome family entertainment.

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  • Phil Boatwright