I recently read the article “The Christian Worldview of Annabelle: Creation” by Neil Gravino on Horror Homeroom. I’m pleased to see that the complex world of religion and horror is being addressed by other scholars. (I know that many actually work in this area, but if you don’t have access to an academic library finding their articles can be impossible. Also, did I ever think I would miss Religion Index One and Two so much?) Since I have a piece that is scheduled to appear on Horror Homeroom concerning the 1976 movie Burnt Offerings, I’m glad for the company. As in my article, Gravino makes the case that the relationship between horror and religion (the Christianity of Annabelle: Creation and its need to be a horror film) is fraught. This is something I describe in some detail in Nightmares with the Bible.
Back when I was writing Holy Horror I realized that putting individual horror films into a series creates continuity issues. Annabelle: Creation is part of the wildly successful Conjuring franchise, the latest installment of which has been delayed by the pandemic. Depending on how you count it, there are already seven films in that particular universe and the shifting of the story is the focus of an entire chapter in Nightmares. The reason it requires such sustained attention is that, apart from being the most successful horror franchise after Godzilla, these movies are squarely based on Christianity. Lacking the unrelenting gravitas of The Exorcist, they feature (in the main branch of the diegesis) the Catholics Ed and Lorraine Warren. In an almost Dantesque view of Heaven and Hell, the characters struggle with monsters that hover between ghosts and demons. They’re closer to the latter.
Many horror films—but by no means all—are based on fears associated with religion. That religion isn’t always Christianity, as both The Wicker Man and Midsommar show, but the warnings against extremism apply equally to belief systems across the board. Another thing I miss, being outside the academy, is the funding to do some in-depth research on this. It’s good to know that others are seeing what I’m seeing as well, as is appropriate when you encounter something unexpected. Our religion haunts us. The reasons we believe are often tied to the self-same fear that the religions themselves generate. And like religions, horror movies hold the possibility of earning quite a lot of money. The parallels should not, I believe, be overlooked.