The very first horror movie I saw was “The Conjuring.” It was a stormy night in October and my dad suggested watching something other than the typical “The Incredibles” or “Gladiator.” Lucky for us, my mom was out of town. Unlucky for us, she later found out what we watched.
Based on her reaction, one would have thought my soul had succumbed to anything and everything diabolic. Many, like my wonderful mother, believe that horror movies are morally problematic because they glorify evil; others believe they are just entertainment. Both of these positions are incomplete.
Horror movies, like other forms of media, have the power to shape moral imagination. Because the genre often deals explicitly with the soul, it can infiltrate even deeper into the imagination. The imagination should not be shaped to glorify evil — but what if horror movies can shape the imagination to detest sin and “cling to what is good?” (Romans 12:9).
In his “Letter to Artists,” Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote: “Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.” Evil can be explored in a way that does not glorify its depravity, but in a way that reveals its gravity and encourages the soul to desire redemption.
Some horror movies highlight the need for God in order to combat evil. Movies such as “The Conjuring,” “The Exorcist,” and “Annabelle” explicitly call for the grace of God to defeat evil. The movies are flooded with holy water, prayers in Latin, and Catholic priests. In these movies, evil is made manifest and the remedy of God’s grace saves the day.
In other horror movies, evil has the final say — but the lack of divine victory does not mean the movies have no moral value. Jesus himself offers his followers parables, such as the parable of the rich fool, where evil is chosen and goodness is rejected. Horror movies convey similar lessons.
“Hereditary” is one of the most difficult horror movies to watch because its characters never turn to God. The characters are directionless without him and resort to psychics and demonic literature and paraphernalia. The movie is wrought with evil and devoid of grace. Yet, there is never a moment in the film where you do not hate evil and desire nothing else but to avoid it and cling to God.
Not all horror movies are worth watching. Some are morally depraved and some are just poorly made. Many horror movies glorify evil and encourage immoral activity. Movies that encourage immoral activity should be avoided entirely. Trust yourself to know what level of horror your soul can handle — it is possible to be too interested in the diabolic and watching some horror movies might increase your unhealthy curiosity. However, many horror movies expose sin for what it truly is and encourage deeper conversion and virtue. No other genre has encouraged me to pray the rosary more devoutly and, for that, I might just spend my Halloween watching a horror film.