Paul Catalanotto: The necessity of horror

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In Squid Games, currently all the rage with young people, persons in devastating financial situations participate in “Games” where they either die or win unimaginable riches if they are the last person alive. Photo: Netflix
In Squid Games, currently all the rage with young people, persons in devastating financial situations participate in “Games” where they either die or win unimaginable riches if they are the last person alive. Photo: Netflix

Halloween has gone but this doesn’t mean that the genre of horror is on holiday. By horror, people generally mean slasher and splatter films and the supernatural movies about ghosts, demons and possession. This occasionally raises the question: should Christians watch horror films and more recently, “horror” tv series such as the dystopian Squid Games?

The 100th anniversary of cinema occurred in 1995 at which time the Vatican released a list of 45 movies that it thought contributed to and continued to inspire the film industry.

The famous 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu was included on this list. Why?

“It is as if the writers lost their way in a dark forest and assume the purpose of horror is shock and gore and not the defeat of evil …”

The pattern for classic horror movies is simple yet satisfying: the natural order breaks, usually by people who do not take it seriously.

A monster, which acts as an agent of disorder, emerges. The monster often turns against its creator before setting about to bring chaos to the remaining ordered world. A person or team, who remain faithful to the order of nature, usually hunt the monster, defeat it and the world returns to its previous state.

This pattern is simple in that there are few plot points and satisfying because the main characters re-establish order. In some films, the monster even acts, initially at least, as an agent of justice who dispenses the punishment for breaking the natural order of nature.

Younghee, a four-metre-tall doll dressed in orange and yellow is a central character in the current fad Squid Games. Photo: Netflix
Younghee, a four-metre-tall doll dressed in orange and yellow is a central character in the current fad Squid Games. Photo: Netflix

Sadly, much of the contemporary horror genre lacks the satisfaction of the reestablishment of order; a nihilistic trend in modern entertainment.

It is as if the writers lost their way in a dark forest and assume the purpose of horror is shock and gore and not the defeat of evil. Movies that exist for the purpose of gratuitous violence only (Saw) sadly fall into this category.

Arguably, “good” horror content achieves two goals. First, to remind us what happens when someone disrupts the natural order; evil emerges and wreaks havoc. Second to remind the viewer that order can be re-established.

“‘Horror’ tells us much about monsters but also about the presence of evil in our times and how men can turn into monsters.”

To paraphrase Chesterton, horror movies are not really about monsters: we all know that “monsters” exist and some are even real historical people. Horror movies tell us that monsters can be defeated.

In Squid Games, currently all the rage with young people, persons in devastating financial situations participate in “Games” where they either die or win unimaginable riches if they are the last person alive. The person who orchestrates the Games is a billionaire who wants to see some “fun.” The violence in this series is gratuitous and unnecessary, yet the narrative has captivated hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.

In this context, the selfish, and fallen nature of man, caused the monster (as in the Squid Game) to emerge and subsequently, the “monster” within the players to emerge. “Horror” tells us much about monsters but also about the presence of evil in our times and how men can turn into monsters. To answer the question: Should Christians watch horror films? It depends on if the film leaves us hopeful for redemption and goodness or simply celebrates violence, gore, and shock. Every viewer will need to discern before watching.