Faith in Horror: What Good Can Come Out of Being Scared?

The-Exorcist-William-Peter-BlattyIt’s an irony that some of the most positive portrayals of the Catholic Church — whose major mission is to spread Christ’s Gospel of peace, love and sacrifice — is in the horror genre, especially when the Church is going up against ultimate evil.

I always joke, when Satan and his minions are threatening to sweep over the face of the Earth, Hollywood always goes for a priest.

All of this could be just a case of visual shorthand, since we have the Latin, the outfits, the rituals, etc., that make for good visual storytelling. But it’s also a kind of compliment, even if it’s a backhanded one, in that Hollywood takes our connection to God seriously enough to portray us as the last bastion against supernatural evil. In an entertainment world where true faith is often treated as a superstition or a joke, the power of the Cross against demons still has great appeal for the audience.

Los Angeles’ own Bishop Barron discusses it here …

Of course, not all horror movies have Catholic priests as protagonists, and Catholics enjoy scary movies as much as anyone. So, how should we think about them? How far is too far?

content_tonyFamily Theater Productions’ own Senior Producer, Tony Sands recently took part in a panel discussion sponsored by Bel-Air Presbyterian, a Protestant megachurch in the L.A. area. The wide-ranging discussions cover many aspects of the horror genre and how it relates to faith.

Click here to watch the talk in segments.

But back on the topic of exorcism, here’s an excerpt of what Bishop Barron has to say about the 1973 film version of “The Exorcist” in his video, which is as much about the Catholic priesthood as anything:

The film is meditating on two great truths. First, it shows how the young priest moved, slowly and painfully, from a cramped rationalism to a keen sense of a dimension that transcends our ordinary experience. It demonstrates how he came to appreciate the properly supernatural and to understand how his priesthood relates him precisely to that realm. I believe, by the way, that the persistent popularity of the genre of the exorcism film is largely a function of this clear communication of the reality of the transcendent realm, especially during our time when an ideological secularism holds sway. In our guts, we know that there is something “more,” and stories about demonic possession give that intuition vivid confirmation. Secondly, “The Exorcist” shows that the mission of a priest finds its fullest expression in the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the good of the other. Both priests died in battle, defending a little girl whom they barely knew but who had been entrusted to their care. The very last scene of the film is arresting. As Regan and her mother are pulling away in a car, happily leaving the place where they had endured so much suffering, the girl spots a priest in a Roman collar. She asks the driver to stop, and she runs out, throws her arms around the priest and kisses him. It was her tribute to the men who had saved her.

Like any other movie genre, nobody likes everything. Personally, I don’t enjoy slasher films or overly gory films, preferring to stay with psychological thrillers and, of course, the “Catholic horror” genre, if you will, including “The Omen” movies, “Stigmata,” “The Exorcist” and the like. Everyone should know what he or she can tolerate, and if there’s doubt about the spiritual impact of a movie, either leave it alone or discuss it with a priest or spiritual director.

The argument can be made, as is discussed in the videos, that the glamour of Satan and of evil in general can be overdone in horror films. That is certainly true and must be guarded against. But when you see a priest, pushed to the limits of his mental, physical, psychological and spiritual abilities, standing with nothing but the Cross and his faith against the demonic — well, there’s hardly a better advertisement for the Truth of the Faith than that.

Image: “The Exorcist,” courtesy Warner Bros.

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