Holy Horror

Back in October, in the spirit of the season, I attended a local lecture by a ghost hunter at a nearby public library. This sincere young man struck me as perfectly normal, but haunted by his ghostly encounters. During the question session someone asked about TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society, of “Ghost Hunters” fame). The lecturer indicated that TAPS is not above fabricating evidence for ratings, a disappointing but not unexpected factor when it comes to television. He even gave some evidence to back his assertions. Nevertheless, my wife’s whimsical six-month subscription to the TAPS Paramagazine has continued on well past its expiration date, and when the November/December issue arrived, I was interested to see a piece entitled “Sacramental Horror: What scary stories can tell us about what is real.” Well, this was too good to pass up.

The article, written by Presbyterian minister Jonathan Weyer, discusses the value of horror films. The juxtaposition of a clergyman and horror films is a little unexpected, but believable. After all, many horror films feature religious ideals clothed in monstrous form. Dividing horror films into Uncanny/Unsettling horror, gross-out horror, and torture porn, Weyer goes on to explain how uncanny or unsettling horror underscores the moral order of the universe and is therefore appropriate for Christian contemplation. He even draws the Nicene Creed into it. Gross-out horror serves the function of making the viewer contemplate death and perhaps even helps to make fun of it. This is a less noble, but still acceptable Christian enterprise. Torture porn, on the other hand, simply has no redeeming value. Sacramental horror really didn’t enter the discussion. Douglas Cowan’s Sacred Terror takes this issue on more directly.

I really don’t expect much insight from a fanzine that treats the reality of fairies and the prognostications of tarot cards next to the genuinely mysterious, such as ghosts. Finding morality in horror films is often a matter of eisegesis. The fear in such films often emerges from the sacred, either in pure or distorted form. Even if “the pure of heart or, often the virgin” survives while “Wrongdoers get put to the axe,” as Weyer states, seldom is that the intended point of the movie. John Carpenter denies that there was a moralizing message in his Halloween, often cited as the movie that established the “good girl survives” motif. The fact is that horror relates to the sacred in the element of fear. If people were not afraid, there would be little for religion or horror movies to accomplish.

7 thoughts on “Holy Horror

  1. Thank you for making us aware of this interesting article from a source that might not be readily available. I have long argued for the connection between the sacred and horror, even from a Christian perspective. You can read several posts on this on my blog TheoFantastique at http://www.theofantastique.com, and can also find my interviews with Douglas Cowan on his books Sacred Terror and Sacred Space.

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  2. Monstertalk features a lot of local legends. These podcasts are very interesting for the non US citizen to familiarise themselves with Fox Mulder’s pet peeves amongst other horrors.

    I love the way you guys still cling so dearly to bigfoot.

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  3. Dr. Wiggins,
    Thanks very much for talking about me on your blog. I really appreciate your comments.

    A few things:

    As you pointed out, TAPS is a fanzine and it is difficult to have a full, long drawn out discussion on the nature of horror along with the religious connections. I had 1400 words and I had to condense a lot of my thoughts on the subject into that space. Your point about fear is a good one and should be addressed. However, that wasn’t really the intent of my article. Rather, I meant it to be a short argument on why religious people can not only watch horror, but really learn to appreciate it.

    As a minister who just published a ghost story, I have gotten (as you might imagine) a ton of questions on the subject. I tried to address them as much as I could in a short amount of time. It is certainly a subject that deserves way more attention. That is why John’s blog is so fantastic.

    Thanks again for the mention, I really do appreciate it.

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    • Hi Jonathan.

      Thanks for stopping by! I appreciated your article, and I am well aware of word-limits and what they can do to a thought (or many thoughts). I am interested in your point-of-view. I taught for many years in a seminary that was rife with ghost stories, and I could never make up my mind about them. I am also an inveterate fan of horror films, going back to my own seminary days. I was interested to see that the TAPS crowd had found you — I know when the series started out they had quite a few episodes with a more religious bent. Now that the SyFy series has gone mainstream they’ve lost a lot of that. Have you written any other pieces on the subject? I’d be interested to see them!

      Cheers,
      Steve

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  4. Steve,
    That’s actually an interesting story. Scotty, the editor in chief, and I met on Twitter. We have become really good friends and based on my novel, asked me to write for TAPS. I’ll be a regular contributor to the magazine. My next article will be on critical thought and the need for it the paranormal community.

    Sadly, I haven’t written any more on the subject. I’m giving a talk in February on Sacramental horror and I’m hoping to expand my thoughts.

    As for TAPS, I wonder if some of the move away from the religious aspects has to do with certain unnamed paranormal shows that shove it in your face in the most absurd ways. Don’t know, but I’m taking a guess….

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