Five Horror Films Christians Should See

Andy Rau

Neil Fix
October 26, 2012

Hi. First, I would like to say that I don't regard most of these as horror films, though I do appreciate and agree with your assessment of them.
So, my first pick is one that isn't strictly a horror film either, 'Panic Room' by David Fincher. It's a psychological thriller and very good. The reason I would put it in there is that over the course of the film we get to see the 'bad guys' as more than just 'bad', that they have a reasom for doing what they're doing, and problems of their own.
My next one is 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose', for the simple reason that I have read an interview with an official church exorcist, who says that in his view, it is the most accurate to how possession actually is.
And third, I would suggest 'Candyman 2'. Again, one where we get to see the 'bad guy' as more than just 'bad'-there are strong themes of justice and redemption. It follows on well from the first, like a two part story, but you don't need to have seen the first to understand what's going on.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
October 26, 2012

I had a feeling you'd put The Exorcist on here, Andy, and I must confess it's a film for which I have little love. I like your observation about the pettiness of evil that it depicts, but I still see this as the granddaddy of religious exploitation flicks. Even its most interesting aspect to me - the faith-vs-science subplot - feels like window dressing for what it's primarily interested in: thin shock tactics. I have an affinity for horror in general, but this one rubs me the wrong way.

Andy R
October 26, 2012

Neil, your point about them maybe not being horror films is a fair one. I'll confess my bias towards science fiction definitely colors the list. However, I'd still maintain that for these movies, it is the horror of the story that drives them and is their most defining element, regardless of sci-fi or other trappings.

Great suggestions, by the way.

Josh, I agree with you regarding the Exorcist, actually. As a film, I don't hold it in the highest esteem. However, as you note, its influence makes it pretty much unavoidable when you want to talk about religious horror...

October 26, 2012

"Five horror films Christians should see" is an interesting choice of title for this article. In the case of the Exorcist specifically, would you suggest Christians be sure to see the unrated version, so they can see the scene where Regan masturbates with a crucifix and uses the Lord's name in the most vile and repulsive ways?

Andy R
October 26, 2012

Hi Godrestored, thanks for the challenging question!

In general I recommend steering clear of "unrated" versions of films, because it's easily used as an excuse for the moviemakers to fit in unjustifiably gratuitous content. (But not always.)

But I think (and correct me if I'm misreading you) that what you are really asking is, "Is it morally appropriate to watch graphic depictions of sinful behavior in a movie?" I don't claim to be a moral authority on the subject, but the way I usually approach this is that I don't have a problem watching a depiction of sin as long as:

1) it is important to the story, or important in establishing a character element,
2) it does not tempt me, personally, to sin (for example, pornographic content), and
3) it does not depict the sin in a way that inappropriately glorifies it.

So in the case of The Exorcist or any other horror movie, these answers would depend greatly on the individual viewer. One person might argue that the crucifix defilement is important in establishing the depraved, demonic nature of the film's antagonist. Another person might find that it is simply gratuitous and thus fails to meet the above guidelines.

The trick is, it's almost impossible to tell a story that does not feature sin in some way--a film like The Exorcist provides us with some very over-the-top examples, but you could similarly ask if it's OK to watch characters exhibit greed, or steal something, or be rude to another character in a film. Those sins are no less offensive to God than defacing a religious symbol is. As is often pointed out, the Bible contains many stories with graphic and disturbing accounts of sin, which suggests that it's the context in which sin is depicted, not the depiction itself, which is key.

What do you think? I'm guessing from your question that you find The Exorcist inappropriate viewing, and I'd be interested in hearing more specifically why--and how you decide what is and isn't appropriate.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
October 27, 2012

Hi Godrestored,

I think Andy's approach as outlined in his comment is very helpful. It's a more nuanced method of engaging cultural objects than simply making a list of "offensive" content.

In terms of The Exorcist, then, I think it's valid if one viewer sees the scene you mention as important in establishing the depraved, demonic nature of the film's antagonist (as Andy put it). Personally, I think the film is only interested in that scene for its shock value, which is why I consider it to be religious exploitation.

My guess is Andy included the movie on this list because, no matter how you personally feel about the film, it is good for fostering these sorts of important conversations.

Jr. Forasteros
October 27, 2012

I'd put The Descent on that list. And Event Horizon.

Both are pretty good looks at what lurks in the human heart!

Andy R
October 27, 2012

Good choices both. I do quite like The Descent, and its lingering questions about how much of the horror really happened vs. how much is taking place inside the protagonist's grief-and-anger-filled mind are really haunting. That said, it tips slightly over my own personal gruesomeness tolerance limit, so I left it off this list. (And yeah, given that I endorsed The Exorcist, that probably makes me a hypocrite of some sort.)

Event Horizon is an interesting one as well, although I think I liked it better in concept than in execution.

Neil Fix
October 27, 2012

Hi people. I would just like to add that I have much less of a problem with horror than with films in the action genre. In horror (with the exception of the horrible sub-genre of 'torture-porn'), it is quite often a fairly clear battle of good versus evil; and, as well as that, there is often the question of what an ostensibly 'normal, good' person would do under those circumstances.
In the action genre, often it is the case that the 'good guy' behaves in an incredibly violent way that is not much different from the 'bad guy' in the film-and the audience is supposed to not only sympathise, but cheer him on, as it were. The underlying message is basically saying that your behaviour is fine as long as you're doing it for the 'right' reasons, whatever they may be. A bit of a generalisation, I know, but what do you think?

October 28, 2012

If I were to add to Andy's list, I'd second Neil on "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and add "Fallen." These movies have sparked lots of discussions about the nature of evil and the suceptibility of Christians to it. While I disagree with the idea that Christians can be possessed, I think it's worth reflecting on ways evil can influence and spread.
JR, I'm a fan of "Event Horizon" as well. I also really liked "Mothman Prophecies." It's an interesting take on the angel of Death and fate.

To be honest, I like a little humor with my horror so I'm more likely to rewatch "Shaun of the Dead", "Zombieland",
Scary Movie", and "Arachniphobia" this Halloween.

Idle Chatter
October 29, 2012

ExistenZ is a great recommendation, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it on your list.

I have an affinity for "The Night of the Hunter" (1955) where a strange minister arrives in town and begins courting a young widow with two children.

Gaslight (1944) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) are studies in interpersonal cruelty.

"Servants of Twilight" (1991), based on Dean Koontz's novel of the same title, explores the thin line between faith and fanaticism. In the film, a young child is identified by the leader of a bizarre sect as the Antichrist. The child's mother struggles to keep her child from their grasp.

"The Vanishing" (1988- Dutch, NOT the American remake) observes a young man searching for his disappeared girlfriend.

"Man Bites Dog" (1992- French) is a fictional documentary where a team of documentary filmmakers try to record the actions of a serial killer. It leaves most viewers discussing how media's relationship with crime can evolve from information to voyeurism to symbiosis. It also discusses celebrity and social boundaries for celebrities.

"Deathwatch" (2002- British) A WWI British unit finds themselves diving into an unfamiliar trench (presumably a German hideout). They keep feeling that they are being stalked by German troops they just can't locate, but, with time, find that what is hunting them is otherworldly.

The time-travel film "Primer" (2004) may not be considered a horror film by purists, but its progressive social breakdown and ultimate ethical/moral implications certainly qualify it for me.

"28 Days Later," like most movies of zombie ilk, deals with larger ideas of social identity and breakdown.

Another movie I'll slip in that might be excluded by horror purists is the Grey (which TC profiled earlier: http://thinkchristian.net/liam-neeson-wolves-and-the-curious-preachiness-of-the-grey Read all the comments to see arguments about it ultimately being a moral tale).

"Brotherhood of the Wolf" (2001 French) is hard to discuss without spoiling, it explores how sometimes the truth is more horrible than the legend.

"Cabin in the Woods" (2012) offers a lot of fuel for discussion of contemporary horror themes and films.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
October 30, 2012

Gaslight! Just saw that for the first time not too long ago. Very disturbing, especially as a consideration of abusive relationships. And I'm a big fan of the "28" zombie series; in fact, I think 28 Weeks Later is even better than the first film.

FYI, we also wrote about Cabin in the Woods earlier on TC: http://thinkchristian.net/the-cabin-in-the-woods-and-knowing-your-audience/

Idle Chatter
October 30, 2012

I couldn't make it far into "28 Weeks" as it violated my "don't kill the mother" rule (...and especially not Gallagher-melon-bsuting-style in front of the kids).

I probably skipped the Cabin in the Woods review in April (for fear of spoilers). SERIOUS, UNFORGIVABLE SPOILER AHEAD: I was truly surprised at the end that there wasn't one more reversal of horror tropes: We fully expected Dana to shoot Marty revealing him to be the virgin and her to be the fool.

I think Cabin in the Woods and Man Bites Dog would make a great film discussion series.

Timothy Fletcher Baer
October 31, 2012

You could add both of Del Toro's recent films as well.

"The Orphanage" is a movie that really makes you feel like reality is far worse than make believe. And "Pan's Labyrinth" ultimately is an exploration of childlike faith.

Ryan Richardson
November 14, 2012

Very interesting thread.

I agree with many - IMHO, The Exorcist is one of the most over-rated films of all time.

My list, in no particular order:

Saw - excellent morality tale
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? perhaps the only time that Joan Crawford appeared as the 'normal' one
Paranormal Activity - High Concept, Low Tech
The Thing With 2 Heads - what's scarier than Rosey Grier trying to act?
A Simple Plan - a true horror film in every sense
The Birds - couldn't sleep for a week
Birdemic: Shock & Terror - proof that anyone with a cellphone can make a movie

October 25, 2013

While The Exorcist is about demon possession, I think the importance of Alien is the literal physical possession going on. The Alien possesses the body and then explodes out of it. Now there's a religious metaphor for you.


Sharideth Smith
October 28, 2013

Thanks, Godrestored. I would never have known about the details of the unrated version if you hadn't outlined them here. So there's that.

November 4, 2013

A little known film that should be included in on this discussion is The Addiction (1995), w/ Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken. Vampirism/blood lust seen as an addiction like that to heroin. In the film, various addicts deal w/ their addiction in different ways from animalistic hunger to alpha-predator to existentialist opportunist.

Also, I have never heard so much Scripture or so many Christian philosophers quoted in a vampire movie, as intelligently as in this film. Disturbing, but highly recommended.


PS: NOT to be confused w/ The Hunger (1983).

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
November 4, 2013

Great pick, Don. Your comments remind me of a horror remake from this year, Evil Dead (http://www.larsenonfilm.com/evil-dead), which blatantly equates drug addiction with demonic possession. Also worth checking out.

October 28, 2014

I completely agree about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and would add Night of the Living Dead.

SPOILER ALERT for Night of the Living Dead - People huddling together to ward off evil (like the people in the farmhouse) is how some people view Christians. The hero of the movie sees a bigger picture unfolding and carries the savior motif well, right up to and through the ending where he is killed by those in charge.

October 28, 2014

My instant reaction to this list is to mention Frailty, the 2001 film starring Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton, directed by Paxton. It's a fascinating examination of evil and abusive parenting. The film features what might be called a twist, but is really an essential trip around the old hermeneutic circle that asks the question of how a person can be perceived as evil or wrong while being an instrument of what could be considered justice. It's a lot of hedging, but the moral questions are complex and the twists and turns well worth exploring.

Tristram S.
October 29, 2014

Without getting too cute, and given the inclusion of some "are they/aren't they horror" sci-fi films in the post, I would like to endorse No Country for Old Men as a must watch existential horror film. From one of the greatest villians/creatures in film history, Anton Chigurh, and the themes of violence let loose upon the world with no hope of earthly justice, I think this more than checks off a couple boxes for the horror genre.

In terms of straight up horror films I have to also put in a plug for the greatest opening scene of all time and encourage people to check out The Innocents with Deborah Kerr and Diabolique (1955) which has one of the best climaxes of any horror film. I think both films also have something more to say on faith and life, but both will provide plenty of feet-off-the-floor moments. Great list and conversation though.

November 7, 2015

I would add 6 Souls (2011) to that list. It deals very heavily with the theme of faith, the consequences of what you chose to put your faith in, and the strength/weakness of that faith.

Jack Boisen
February 18, 2016

It Follows is an excellent portrayal of the deadly and haunting ramifications of sin. In a time where sex is abundant around us, a film willing to shed a light on how sex is very impactful on a person and, if in the wrong context, can deeply hurt and damage someone. The Babadook is another great horror movie saturated with Christian ideology and the ramification of sin. Particularly the danger of our inner evil and greedy temptations, the dark thoughts we all face and how we must relinquish those to operate in a Godly light.

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