Othering Offering

I get to feeling a bit anxious when nobody else publishes me for a while.  It’s a strange kind of validation, I suppose.  No matter my motivation, I knew as soon as I saw The Offering that I would have to write something about it for Horror Homeroom.  The article is now available here.  Horror, as one of the more intelligent genres, often has much to say about things such as religion and esoteric beliefs.  In the article I compare it to other recent Jewish horror such as The Possession, The Golem, and The Vigil.  All of them are worth watching.  Religion often addresses those things that scare us, whether secular or sacred.  Movies like these often make me ponder the sense of belonging that religious communities offer.  At least in the best of times.

These three movies each have their own posts on this blog, but the point of the Horror Homeroom article is to try to look at them together.  Judaism can be a particularly delicate topic.  Not only the Holocaust, but also subsequent political developments have led to dangerous situations for Jews in the real world.  Theirs is an old and rich culture, persecuted largely by Christians who ironically blame Jews for their own salvation.  And hate them for it.  Nevertheless Jewish culture and belief persist.  It’s telling that even when they invent a protector, such as the golem, they come to realize that it too will turn on them in the end.  Most horror movies, if they participate in religious worldviews, do so from a Christian point of view.

Some colleagues recently asked me to name some Protestant horror movies.  That’s a tricky question to answer because the American context is still largely Protestant as a whole.  And when you want to take on monsters and demons you generally call a priest.  Even movies like The Last Exorcism have Protestant clergy using Catholic crucifixes.  As I’ve stated elsewhere, Asian horror movies have also come into their own, often reflecting Buddhist or Hindu outlooks.  So we find religion and horror intermingling worldwide.  Movies are more than just entertainment.  They can be, and are, teaching tools.  We should pay attention to what goes on in their classrooms.  Not only can we learn about ourselves, we can also learn about those that we, or society, tend to “other.”  Like high school, there are a variety of classes you might take.  The day always starts, however, with homeroom.


Religious Monsters

It began with monsters.  A religious monster-boomer, I couldn’t get enough of these scary creatures as a child.  For some reason they made me feel happy, secure.  With the real monster of parental alcoholism lurking outside the door this is perhaps understandable.  Growing up I soon learned that these were childish things—religion was adult.  And very serious.  Always trying to be a good boy, I followed the trajectory to seminary and then further study.  Monsters had faded.  I still liked them, but seldom encountered them and acted disinterested if I did.  Fortunately I came out of it.  Probably it was being ousted from academia that awakened what had once been my reality.  That, and I’d learned that some academics—mostly in religion departments—were now studying monsters.  Monster may I?

Maybe a decade ago, I’d read, I thought, just about every academic book on monsters.  Then the slight shift of focus from monsters to horror films started.  You see, movies are often where we learn of monsters.  There weren’t too many academic books on the topic, and the internet sites I found often lacked depth.  (Although a shout-out is due to Horror Lex here, if you’re not visiting, you should be. And of course, Horror Homeroom.)  Editors, you have to understand, are for some reason discouraged from writing books.  I’d been noodling away on the ideas behind Holy Horror for years.  Suddenly it occurred to me—I could write a book on monsters from an angle unused before.  (Later I discovered an academic had written an article on the topic, but seems to have dropped it after that.)  Writing about horror is really my sublimated love of monsters arising.  And they do rise.

Of course, those who know the religious Steve, still trying to be the good boy, are confused.  Our culture has poisoned the well for horror, I fear.  Not everyone likes slashers.  I personally don’t care for them.  A quiet haunting is more my style.  Still, what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime often dictates what I see.  If you’re going to write about horror movies you have to read about them.  Lately that’s driven me more toward film department studies.  That’s the thing about curiosity—it never rests.  There are always doors to open and rocks to turn over.  And books to read.  There’s no end to it, kind of like a good scary movie.  Like a monster you have to cross boundaries to learn anything.  Religion has its monsters, and denying that will only lead to complications.


Solomon’s Rats

Some ideas keep coming back.  Since you can’t copyright an idea, retelling a story is always an option.  In fact, some writers suggest they’ve written nothing new—the classic ideas are out there and are ripe for rewriting.  I’m on the fence about Solomon’s declaration that there’s nothing new under the sun.  Some startlingly original stuff is out there, it seems.  In any case, a few months ago I watched Willard for the first time.  Although it’s quite dated in many respects, it was quite a big splash when it came out.  I remember being curious about it as a kid but although we were allowed to watch monster movies on TV, going to a theater to watch horror was out of the question.  That would have to wait for college.

Discussing Willard with a friend after seeing it, the idea came up that it had quite a bit in common with Disney/Pixar’s hit Ratatouille.  I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Pixar or Disney—it seems they try too hard much of the time, although they hit it out of the park with Wall-e.  Still, this connection seemed worth pursuing.  I’m not going to discuss the commonalities here since I just had an article published in Horror Homeroom about it.  The connections are pretty striking.  I would classify Willard as swarm horror.  Rats naturally follow people around because we give them many food options.  To gather from older movies, rat bites used to be a big concern.  These days we tend to think of them as a big city problem, but rats are not far from where people live.  The problem is the swarm.  Being overwhelmed, even by a fairly small animal, is terrifying.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

With the warming weather, getting out and doing repair work around the house has made finding weekend time to watch horror rare.  I’ve got a long list of movies and an even longer list of repairs.  Recently another friend has struck up a conversation (via email) about horror films.  The thing is, at my article suggests, they aren’t that far removed from mainstream fare.  Many children’s films come close.  Most movies based on anything by Roald Dahl have dark undercurrents.  More recent efforts—and here I’m thinking mostly of Pixar—seem to jump from crisis to crisis without having that underlying story old Solomon seemed to appreciate (or to have been weary of).  That’s why I find such connections worth pondering.  Even classic revenge tale can be made gentle for younger viewers.


Day of the Lord

The kindly folks at Horror Homeroom recently asked me if I’d review the new movie, The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.  Since I’ve been occasionally writing on religion and horror for them for a couple of years now, they knew I’d be interested.  The review just dropped and you can read it here.  Since this blog is a less formal place I’ll say a bit more about the film here, while encouraging you also to read the review.  They won’t be the same.  The movie, which is independent of any of the big studios, is hands-down the most theological horror I’ve ever seen.  That’s because it’s fully based on a religious idea.  It consists almost entirely of dialogue, so some will doubt it’s horror at all.  What is being said, however, can be quite scary.

Using only two characters, the movie would work well as a stage play.  The story revolves around a couple on a romantic weekend getaway.  Far from any other people, they’re enjoying a fancy cabin in the woods when suddenly he (Michael) reveals to Gabby (her), that he’s God.  Not all the time.  In fact, he’s come to her at this moment without Michael even knowing it because she’s going to die that weekend.  He wants to ensure she can get to Heaven.  Throughout the weekend Michael switches back and forth between being himself and being God.  Gabby fears she’s trapped with a psychopath, but as God Michael knows things about her that she’s never told him.  They discuss the problems with God’s existence and the issue of theodicy as Gabby slowly comes to accept she will die there.

My Horror Homeroom piece has spoilers, but I won’t put them here.  Horror fans might claim this isn’t horror at all.  There’s no bloodshed, very little violence, and no monsters play a role (unless you count the Devil).  Still, it is psychologically tense and it raises some scary questions.  I was raised as a Fundamentalist.  The fear implanted early that you might die not right with God has stayed with me all through my years of working in religious studies.  From my perspective this was a pretty scary film.  The script is very well written.  So much so that I wonder if Jared Jay Mason, the writer, hasn’t taken a course or two in theology.  My formal review gives quite a bit more detail, but you might want to watch the movie also.  I found it surprisingly effective.


Come In

It feels good.  To be invited, that is.  Like many people I know how rare it can be.  When teaching at Nashotah House, invitations were scarce.  It’s a small seminary, not widely known.  Besides, the internet was in its infancy then and a great many people (including the seminary dean) were suspicious of it.  Few invitations came.  None for peer review opportunities, none for interviews.  I was invited to the Ugaritic Tablets Digital Edition project (for which I wrote a successful grant application) but that was because I met one of the lead editors while my wife was studying at the University of Illinois.  It’s strange, but nice, to be invited to things now.  It still happens rarely, but when it does it has two things in common: the invitations come closely spaced in time, and they have to do with horror.

Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

This past week two invitations came.  One was to review an independent horror movie for Horror Homeroom and the other was to have an interview on the New Books Network.  Since this is the internet and since the internet’s endlessly self-referential, I’ll be writing about them both in more detail, directing you to the end results when they arrive.  It just feels good to be included.  I didn’t have many academic mentors at Nashotah House.  I’m a first-generation college-student; I didn’t know what academia would try to do to a person.  I had no idea what a “post-doc” was.  I did publish an article a year and write a second book which, I understood, was the key to getting hired by a “real school.”  I had a few interviews, but I’m demographically challenged, I guess.

Weathering the Psalms was written at Nashotah House but it has only led to one weekend church program.  My books on horror, written post-academe, have managed to get some small measure of attention.  It always struck me as ironic that, although raised among the theology crowd I never really found acceptance among them.  Those who know there’s something to horror, however, are a welcoming crowd.  The other day I was listening to Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare and realized, whether intentional or not, the invitation was sincere.  It remains one of the formative albums of my life.  As a child the only invitations I had were altar calls.  I responded to many.  As an adult I’m still inclined to say “yes” when someone invites me in.  Rarity only adds value.


Conjuring an Exorcist

In both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible I discuss The Conjuring.  In the latter I actually go through the universe that the films spin around the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Like most series where the writers and directors shift, the story line isn’t always consistent.  I suppose that one of the features of the series that appeals to those of us who love monsters is the fact that many of the movies have more than one.  The main threat, however, always seems to be demonic.  I enjoyed exploring this in both my book and in my recent piece on Horror Homeroom—check it out here.  

This series, in financial terms, has been highly successful.  There is little that attracts attention in any media more than money.  The Conjuring universe also shows that people are very interested in the topic.  A materialistic worldview doesn’t work for everyone.  We sense that there’s more going on that what the laboratory reveals.  I’ve often wondered why we can’t consider the world “both and” rather than “either or.”  We seem to think knowledge is some kind of zero-sum game.  I suppose that’s because the spiritual interferes with the material.  If there are outside forces working against the “laws” of physics then all that hard work is open to question.  It’s far easier to suggest that human beings (and other animals) who experience something “supernatural” are deluded.  Or superstitious.  Demons are a good case in point.  If they exist it would complicate the world of science.  And yet people pay good money to see movies based on them.

The Conjuring franchise pays off most of the time.  Some of the stories—those of the main series especially—are based on cases that the Warrens actually investigated.  There’s sometimes an element of the sideshow (the amazing Warrens!) to some of their work, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience of real people.  Experience is an important way to navigate this strange world in which we find ourselves.  I’m not the only one who finds horror films to be a reasonable guide through this territory.  The Warrens’ case files leave lots of opportunities to explore this strange world of demons, and there are further movies in the franchise currently under development.  The most recent film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, changed basic concepts from its early days.  It was delayed by the pandemic.  And yet, it made money.  There must be a lesson to be learned here.


worth a mention

It is always gratifying to see a review of a book you’ve written.  This is one area where I’ve struggled since I tend to write between categories.  Outside the discipline itself religion is a pretty suspect topic, treated with some embarrassment among academics.  Combine that with another subject (meteorology, horror movies) and journals that specialize in either discipline tend to ignore it.  Horror Homeroom, however, has proven a collegial place to explore the connections between horror and religion.  A review of Nightmares with the Bible, by John Morehead, has appeared there, and I’m honored by the attention.  When you write books between discipline boundaries you wonder what people think of them.  When they’re priced stratospherically you will wonder a long time.

Long ago I started to notice how often religion came up in horror contexts.  I’ve also been aware for a considerable time that although horror has lots more fans than religion does, the discipline hasn’t been considered a “respectable” one.  (Yes, scholars are open to prejudices as well.)   I’ve tried to keep up as well as I can with books written about horror and I’ve done my homework on the religion side, I think (although I continue to study).  The two crowds (horror and religion fans) tend to be about as opposite as you can find.  I’m learning the wisdom of publishers firsthand—if you do interdisciplinary work instead of broadening your reach you’ll find that neither discipline will touch it.  Especially if one of those disciplines happens to be religion.

Nevertheless, this is a celebratory post.  Rarely do my books get written up.  Holy Horror has been out for over two years now and not one academic review has appeared, not even in Reading Religion, where readers can request review copies.  McFarland, my publisher for that particular volume, doesn’t do much with religion and apparently doesn’t send review copies.  So I’m thrilled that Horror Homeroom has published a review.  I am genuinely curious as to what others think about my ideas.  Not only has the internet thrown a kind of lifeline to those of us without academic libraries, it has also given a voice to those the academy would rather not recognize.  Does religion have anything to do with horror?  It most certainly does.  Does horror fear anything?  Yes, it fears religion!  And so the two have much to learn from each other.  My thanks to Horror Homeroom for putting the review out there and I hope some may comment upon it.


Religions and Horrors

My latest piece on The Golem has just appeared on Horror Homeroom.  It’s free—check it out.  In it I briefly discuss Jewish horror.  I mainly write about Christian horror because that’s my immediate context.  That’s not to say other religions don’t participate in the genre too.  While I worked for Routledge I acquired the book Buddhism Goes to the Movies, by Ronald Green.  Like the title suggests, it’s about movies focused on, or made by, Buddhists.  What sold me on the project was the chapter on horror films.  Much of what’s being called “J-Horror,” or Japanese Horror these days, occurs in a Buddhist or Shinto contexts.  I’m not expert enough in these traditions, however, to spot them with the detail that I do in my own native religion. 

All religious traditions have certain commonalities.  As I’ve frequently discussed on this blog, sex and death are two of them.  Given the powerful ideas that religion trades in, it seems natural that it would appear frequently in the horror genre.  It’s just that modern viewers tend to be somewhat divorced from religion and can’t see it.  Religion is that way—it fills the cracks.  How often do we pay attention to the caulking or grout?  We tend to focus on the tile or woodwork instead.  Religion holds thought systems together, including those of the horror genre.  I just discussed no-go subjects yesterday, but even science shows religion in some of the cracks.  Learning to see it involves learning to shift your focus.

I blogged about The Golem just after I watched it, back in December.  The golem is an original Jewish monster, and Judaism is both a culture and a religion.  It’s difficult to tease them apart sometimes.  The same can be said of many traditions outside Christianity.  In fact, many cultures had no word for religion—the idea of a separate realm of life where you try to please the gods because what you do otherwise is inherently sinful.  (There’s probably a reason that capitalism grew in a Christian context.)  That means that horror particularly welcomes Christianity.  Many of the bases of fear are premised on a religion that, as culturally bound as it is, has always claimed that joining it is a choice.  If you can choose you can choose wrongly.  This is fertile ground for horror, especially when the consequences are eternal.   My Horror Homeroom piece takes a different approach than this, but religion and horror nevertheless find themselves together, often in the same room.


Ghost Stories

Those of us who confess to watching horror are fond of noting that the Christmas season has long been associated with ghost stories.  Charles Dickens wasn’t the first to make use of the trope and certainly won’t be the last.  After reading about elevated horror movies, I decided to watch A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017).  Many wouldn’t classify the film as horror at all.  It is quiet, slow paced, and has no gore.  It is nevertheless a haunting film.  I suspect its poignancy comes from a situation we can all imagine and which many people face in life—being left alone after the death of a loved one.  The idea that the dead never really leave us can be both comforting and unnerving at the same time.  The film plays to those strengths.

The premise of the film is simple: the ghost of one of a couple finds his way home and tries to reconnect with his widow.  He ends up staying there until, many owners later, the house is demolished and a high-rise is built in its place.  It’s essentially a story from the point-of-view of the ghost.  There isn’t too much dialogue included, but one significant monologue comes when a party is being held.  One of the party goers, or perhaps the current owner of the house, explains that because of what we know of physics everything on our planet will eventually be destroyed.  His beer-fueled lament is that whatever we do is therefore in vain.  He brings God into the discussion.  The ghost listens intently, but seems to disagree with his conclusions.  For someone like me the introduction of religion into the story is a Venus fly-trap, since religion and horror can’t seem to keep away from each other.

Death is a dilemma, a point that I made in a recent Horror Homeroom article on Pet Sematary.  Horror, like religion demands that we confront it.  Science can only offer cold comfort regarding the cessation of life.  Religion (and horror) open the dialog into the unknown, the realm into which mere human instruments cannot reach.  Sad and reflective, A Ghost Story hits on an essential question in the nexus of religion and science.  If a spiritual world exists, there may be some survival even of the earth’s eventual heat death.  As time passes, the titular ghost continues to learn.  Life is a learning experience, and although many modern forms of religion join in the cultural denial of death, horror is always ready to remind us that confronting it may be the wisest course of action.  Ask the ghost.  He knows.


Back to Tarrytown

The very name “Hollow” takes me there.  It’s a resonant geonym.  Near Franklin, Pennsylvania, my early hometown, runs a route called Deep Hollow Road.  For me, with its lush, thick trees and shadowed valley, it always exemplified what the term “Hollow” intended.  And of course, there was Sleepy Hollow.  Now that my article on various movies based on the Irving story has appeared in Horror Homeroom (it’s free), I’m again thinking about my dance with that particular story.  In fact, after I submitted the article I watched yet another version of the tale, Pierre Gang’s 1999 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  This film on Sci Fi (before it became SyFy) purports to follow the original closely.  It nevertheless has to pad out the story and does so with religion.

Religion—specifically the Bible—and the tale as represented in Fox’s four-season series Sleepy Hollow is what started me on the current leg of my journey.  I sent an article to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture on the topic and when it was accepted I expanded the idea into the book Holy Horror.  So it is that I’ve tried to watch as many versions of the story as I can.  There have been many made-for-television renditions.  Some are available for free on the various services that draw from my pocket monthly.  Others cause me to debate whether I want to pay for seeing a sub-par effort for the sake of completeness.  The scholar’s heart still beats within me, I guess.  The Gang version expands the story with a church scene, not in the original tale.  To inculcate the Bible, however, Tim Burton’s film of the same year was necessary.

For me no story better encapsulates October.  Perhaps it’s the crucial role of the pumpkin.  Perhaps it’s the ambiguity of the headless horseman himself—is he a hoax or something more?  These kinds of questions are answered by various filmmakers but since the viewer ultimately decides the question is left up to us.  If I were still an academic my next book project would be clear.  Instead I’m trying to bask in the wonder that is October—the season of transition from bright blue skies and colorful leaves to long, chill nights and bare trees.  Our time outdoors becomes more focused so that we might get back to the warmth inside.  And if we’re looking for a tale to read that’s not really that scary, but which captures the ghosts of the American imagination, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” beckons.


Not Sleepy Yet

Over a recent weekend I watched four versions of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  (I have two excuses.  One is that it’s October, and the second is that I have an article on Sleepy Hollow coming out on Horror Homeroom.  For the second, read on.)  The story is one that made an impact on me as a child, probably because of Disney’s Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  The cartoon version, which was one of the four I watched, is silly and scary both.  It leaves it to the imagination whether the headless horseman is real or not.  Before that I watched the silent 1922 Headless Horseman staring Will Rogers.  Clearly in that film the headless horseman is what we’d now call a liberal hoax.  It was Brom Bones scaring Ichabod Crane away from Katrina Van Tassel.

The canon of characters grows with Tim Burton’s 1999 film Sleepy Hollow.  Although Burton is hit or miss for me, this strikes me as one of the best October movies I’ve seen.  The headless horseman is quite real and the spiritual world intersects with the rational, crime and punishment world in the haunted western wood.  I didn’t have time for the 1980 television movie this time around, but I decided to watch the 2007 television movie Headless Horseman.  A rather puerile splatter film set in Missouri, it posits that this is the real headless horseman behind Washington Irving’s story.  It has a lot of religious imagery, which is often what I’m looking for in horror.  The writing is poor and the characters shallow, but it isn’t a total waste of time.

What all of these films demonstrate is that Washington Irving’s story, as simple as it is, really resonated with Americans.  How can you reason or plead mercy from a headless man?  Look closely, for there is a parable here.  The headless are merciless and they have the ability to frighten.  The story is generally set in the harvest season.  The 2007 movie makes the horseman’s appearance as a crucified scarecrow.  Although the original story had no such religious elements, they’ve become a standard part of its accrued cultural heritage.  The headless horseman has gone from secular to religious, for it is an American story.  Originally set in the period after the Revolutionary War, it was part of an unsettled nation’s frustrated attempt at normalcy.  This, I believe, remains.  When we can’t make sense of our surroundings, we look back to those stories that seem to have some insight into who we are.  Headless horsemen are quite useful in that regard.


Summer of Horror

Summer vacation—or at least what used to be known as summer vacation—is winding down.  Unlike most years when the season is marked by a carefree sense of time off and travel, many of us spent it locked down while the Republicans have used revisionist history on the pandemic, claiming against all facts that America handled it best.  Is it any wonder some of us turned to horror to cope?  My latest piece in Horror Homeroom has just appeared (you can read it here).  It’s on the movie Burnt Offerings.  The movie is set in summer with its denouement coming just as vacation time ends.  I’ve written about it here before, so what I’d like to mull over just now is transitions.  The end of summer is traditionally when minds turn to hauntings.

Doing the various household repairs that summer affords the time and weather for, I was recently masked up and in Lowe’s.  Although it was only mid-August at the time, Halloween decorations were prominent.  Since this pandemic—which the GOP claims isn’t really happening—has tanked the economy, many are hoping that Halloween spending (which has been growing for years) will help.  My own guess is that plague doctor costumes will be popular this year.  Unlike the Christmas decorations that we’ll see beginning to appear in October (for we go from spending holiday to spending holiday) I don’t mind seeing Halloween baubles early.  There is a melancholy feel about the coming harvest and the months of chill and darkness that come with it.  Burnt Offerings isn’t the greatest horror film, but it captures transitions well.  (That’s not the focus of the Horror Homeroom piece.)

Many of us are wondering how it will all unfold.  Some schools have already opened only to close a week or two later.  Those in Republican districts are sacrificing their children (this is the point of the Burnt Offerings piece) in order to pretend that 45’s fantasy land is the reality.  The wheels of the capitalist economy have always been greased with the blood of workers.  (Is it any wonder I watch horror?)  As I step outside for my morning jog I catch a whiff of September in the air, for each season has its own distinct scent.  I also know that until the situation improves it will likely be the last I’ll be outdoors for the day.  It has been a summer of being cooped up and, thankfully, we’ve had movies like Midsommar and Burnt Offerings to help us get through.


Creation of Horror

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.


Just the Beginning

It occurs to me that my post on Sunday may have been a touch cryptic.  (I can be naughty at times.)  Horror Homeroom was good enough to publish a piece I’d written about the movie Midsommar, a film that got its hooks into me earlier this year.  Here’s the link in case you’d like to read it (it’s free): http://www.horrorhomeroom.com/midsommar-and-cross-quarter-day-horror/.  It’s not an article using the Bible and horror as in yesterday’s post, but rather it is an exploration of the broader relationship between horror and religion.  The origin of religion has long been a fascination, and the more I look into the connection with what makes us afraid, the more I find in common.  But why midsummer when summer’s only just beginning?

Ancient peoples in temperate zones, according to the records they left behind, carefully observed the change of seasons.  Without a tilted, spinning globe as a model the science of the time (which was likely their religion) suggested that the heavenly bodies were migratory.  If you use raw observation that’s what seems to be the case.  Now that I sit in the same office every day with a south and a west window, it becomes very clear how the sun shifts over the course of the year.  In the winter it seems to be on a journey far to the south.  Religions of such science would want to know, of course, when it would start coming back.  The years were divided into segments—we still recognize four of them in our seasons although, in truth, they are merely gradual changes that take place in the weather as the earth’s tilt moves our hemisphere toward or away from the sun.

Midsummer was a northern European festival to celebrate the longest day.  Whether this is the start of summer or the middle of summer is merely a matter of interpretation.  The film Midsommar plays on the disorienting long span of daylight in northern Sweden.  Without the dark to guide us, sleep and the regular rhythms of daily life can become difficult.  When the people believe the old religion, well, let your imagination run wild.  Horror films often lurk in these transitional times of the year.  We tend to associate them with Halloween, but there’s enough to be afraid of right now.  Not all horror has religious components, of course.  Nevertheless it has been there from the beginning, from when van Helsing pulled out a crucifix to frighten off Dracula.  And it continues, in perhaps more sophisticated ways, even in the broad daylight.


Too Much Light?

The summer solstice comes whether we want it to or not.  Today is the longest day in the northern hemisphere although, as I write this the sun has not yet risen.  It was a sleepless night, making this day seem even longer than it already is.  Over on Horror Homeroom, where they understand sleepless nights, my piece on the movie Midsommar will appear.  I won’t say here what I say there, or you might not go and read it.  I will say that for a horror film Midsommar boldly sets itself in a sun-bathed atmosphere, making it all the more unsettling.  To see more you’ll need to visit the Homeroom.

There are implications for the longest day.  One of the most obvious is that from here on out days will be getting shorter.  That’s the thing about anticipation—we crave the light when it’s in such short supply in December and January.  This year of Covid, the spring blended into a long stretch of social distancing and isolation, even as the days were growing longer and the weather warmer.  It was like some spokes were missing from the wheel of the year.  Now that summer’s here many people are acting as if the need for caution is gone.  Midsommar may help with that, since it shows that the daylight sometimes shows us what we don’t really wish to see.

Ancient peoples kept an eye on the seasonal changes long before they learned to write.  Etched into the landscape markers like Stonehenge and Avebury and countless others were oriented toward celestial points on the solstices.  Equinoxes were also observed, as well as the half-way points between.  This altering of the earth to commemorate the progressing of the year took great effort, so we must assume it had great importance.  You don’t move boulders unless you feel strongly compelled to do so.  Such compulsion strikes us all as religious.

So it’s the longest day of the year.  What will we do with it?  When we look back at it, will we see what we wished we might have done with all that light on our side?  Will we treat it just like any other day?  The beauty of holidays (of which capitalism recognizes far too few) is that they teach us to stop and reflect for a few moments on the messages our planet sends us.  Our longest day is also a message.  What we do with that information is up to us.