“I would go to Catholic Church and the saints made no sense. But Frankenstein made sense, The Wolfman made sense, The Creature from the Black Lagoon made sense. So I chose that as my religion.” Famed writer/director Guillermo del Toro said these words. They’re not exactly gospel but they do demonstrate the connection between religion and horror that is only now beginning to be explored. Del Toro and I are of the same generation, and some of us in that time frame found meaning in the monsters we saw as kids. They were coping techniques for living in an uncertain and difficult world. A world with hellfire on Sundays and often hell for the rest of the week. Fears of bullies and alcoholic fathers and lack of money. Fears of an unknown infraction sending you to eternal torment, even if you didn’t know or mean it.
I didn’t choose horror as my religion. I didn’t grow up Catholic like del Toro either. I haven’t seen all of his movies, but he does evince a kind of religious devotion to his monsters. Pan’s Labyrinth was distinctly disturbing. Pacific Rim was intense. Crimson Peak is one it’s about time I watched again. The Shape of Water offered a lovable monster. Many of these films don’t follow standard horror tropes. They’re thoughtful, emotive, and often wrenching. These are, of course, traits shared in common with religion. I suspect my own attempts to articulate this would benefit from conversation with someone like del Toro. There’s no doubt that monsters give me the sense of Rudolf Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans.
Religion and horror share a common ancestor. Fear is an emotion that we apparently share with all sentient beings. How we deal with it differs. While a bunny will run away a rattlesnake will strike. Horror is a way of dealing with fear. So is religion. We can’t avoid fear because, honestly, there’s much to be afraid of. Many choose to believe their clergy, taught by people like me, and assume religion has all the answers. Others, like del Toro, seek wisdom elsewhere. When the credits roll at the end, you know it was all just a show. When you walk out of the church, synagogue, or mosque, you know daily life awaits with its peaks and valleys. Some may substitute one for the other, while others require the support of both. And both, as odd as it may seem, can be addressed with conviction. If you don’t believe me, just ask Guillermo del Toro.