With Halloween coming up at the end of the month, TV networks and streaming channels are releasing a host of horror movies to add some spookiness to the season. While many people love the thrill of scary stories, are horror movies something that Catholics should be watching?
One of the main criticisms of horror movies is the idea of finding entertainment in evil. JP explained that while that is a legitimate concern, the main problem comes from ourselves and our attitudes, not necessarily the horror movie itself.
“Depending on our attitude toward the movie, horror movies could open us up to evil,” he said. “If we go into it with the wrong kind of attitude, if we go into it seeking evil for its own sake. But if we go into it looking for a movie to show evil for precisely what it really is, precisely as evil – not something good, not something to be sought, but something to be fought against, something to be conquered, and ultimately something that we hope God will conquer for us – if we go into it with that attitude then I think horror movies are OK for us to watch.”
“Pope John Paul II, in his letter to artists, said that when artists show the deepest and darkest depths of evil, even that shows the universal desire for redemption,” JP continued. “And I think, as Catholics, if we go into horror movies with that kind of attitude then they are OK to watch. And they are not opening us up to evil, but they can lead us further away from it.”
While many horror movies end with evil being defeated, not all of them do. Does a story in which evil wins send a message that is opposed to the Gospel?
“I don’t think the main point is necessarily for good to win in the specific movie we’re watching,” JP said. “There definitely are a lot of horror movies where good wins in the end, even today. But I think that movies where good doesn’t win in the end can still have value for us as Catholics.”
“I think when we watch those kinds of movies as Catholics we can see them kind of as negative parables,” he suggested. “Catholics can watch horror movies where evil wins in the end, but we can see them as examples of how not to act. So if we see a movie where evil wins in the end because the good guys try to fight it with their own strength and without relying on God. That is an example for us of how not to approach evil. We don’t fight it with our own strength, we should go to God.”
Another criticism of horror movies is the amount of blood, gore, and violence that is often depicted in them. Once again, JP acknowledged that this is a legitimate concern, but that it doesn’t mean we need to condemn all horror movies because they contain violence.
“We definitely need to be careful about the violence we consume in our entertainment,” he said. “And we should stay away from movies that are excessively violent and gory, just for its own sake. The rule of thumb that I like to use when I watch a movie is: Does the movie want me to enjoy watching human suffering just for its own sake? And if that’s the case, then it’s probably not a good thing for me to watch.”
“There are movies that have violence and gore that do have a legitimate purpose,” he explained. “For example, it’s not a horror movie, but The Passion of the Christ is a very violent movie. It’s very bloody, but there is a purpose to it. And I think there can be horror movies like that too. They have gore, blood, and violence for a legitimate narrative purpose. It’s when that violence and gore become gratuitous, and when there is really no reason for it other than enjoying human suffering for its own sake. That’s when it becomes problematic for us.”
Listen to the full conversation below: