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Why "The Horror"?

I was raised on movies and faith. (You can read more about my story HERE.) My dad was a Baptist minister and also loved movies - horror movies in particular. I know that may sound strange because… well, it was. I saw “Night of the Living Dead” when I was six years old! Now before you write my dad off as some sort of madman, please take a moment to hear my heart when it comes to my relationship with faith… and gulp… horror.

The term “horror” has a negative connotation in Christian circles for many valid reasons. Some of the most popular titles are movies that take the genre to the extreme and have no moral compass - only existing to terrorize those who can endure watching. But those aren’t the horror movies I’m talking about. The horror movies I’m talking about create suspense, expose truths, and provide much needed catharsis through creative storytelling.

Acclaimed Director Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street) famously said, “horror films don’t create fear, they release it.” Now I’m not saying that these movies aren’t meant to scare… but I am saying that many people (maybe even some of you) find relief in the notion that fears can be faced in the safety of a movie theater seat - with popcorn in hand.

But can watching scary movies… actually be good for you?

According to Kurt Oaklee, MA, MFT, founder of Oaklee Psychotherapy in San Francisco, California, the audience’s surrogate experience with horror films is akin to the practice of exposure therapy, wherein a patient is presented with stressors in a controlled environment to reduce their impact over time.

“[Horror] can actually teach us how to handle real-world stress better,” Oaklee said. “During a stressful film, we are intentionally exposing ourselves to anxiety producing stimuli. We usually don’t engage in the same unhealthy coping mechanisms that we utilize in real life. We learn how to manage stress in the moment. This practice can translate to helping us manage everyday stressors and fears.”

Similarly intrigued by a horror movie’s potential to help cope with fear, filmmaker Jonathan Barkan set out to explore the genre’s engagement with mental health in a documentary on the subject, aptly titled Mental Health and Horror.

Barkan says he recognized the genre’s cathartic malleability early on while dealing with the real-life tragedy of his sister’s battle with cancer.

“I just knew that there was some faceless, invisible monster that was attacking her,” Barkan said of the experience. “Horror became a way to face that monster and, more importantly, to see that monster, that evil, vanquished.”

Not to mention, horror films are the one of the highest grossing genres in relation to budget. That means we can tell these stories relatively inexpensively and shine the light of Jesus through the darkness to expose the truth revealed in His word. (If you look at the list of "Most Profitable Movies, Based on ROI" you'll notice that there are also a number of Christian titles, as well. I guess it seemed like a good time to have the two genres join forces.)

Remember when I told you my dad, the Baptist preacher, showed me Night of the Living Dead when I was 6? Well, let me set the stage so you don’t think he just turned it on and left me alone to endure one of the scariest movies ever made. It was a Saturday night and my dad had reeled up a 16mm film print and sat us all down with our popcorn. Before starting the movie, he stood in front of the screen and began telling us of the incredibly hard process of making the movie we were about to watch. After watching the movie, not only did we talk about the movie, but also how it related to our life and the bigger “meaning.”

That meaning would come bright and early the next morning as we piled into our two tone brown dodge van. We took this new experience, this new story, into church with us and it intertwined with our larger world view through the lens of His word. Jesus revealed himself through those flickering images in the basement of our home in Denver, Colorado.

Now of course I’m not saying that scary movies are for everyone - quite the opposite - they are for a specific type of person. Those who enjoy feeling that tingle go up their spine and get a release from knowing that there is nothing to fear - because it’s just a movie. More importantly, I know there is nothing to fear because I am His and there is nothing anyone can do to take that away from me. I thank my father every day of my life for sharing that peace that passes all understanding. And… I also thank him for showing me scary movies and taking the time to express the artistry that goes into every frame. The love of Jesus and movies IS who God made me to be and I’m eternally grateful to my father for showing me the way; His way.

All of this to say - we made a series of short films that are based on true horror stories from ministry. We had over 40 submissions from Lutheran Pastors, lay, and ministry leaders. We chose the four stories that we could make into the best “horror” movies. Are they scary? There is certainly an element of tension in each of the stories but they all end with a surprisingly funny twist. If we were to rate them - I doubt they’d get a PG-13 rating. That isn’t to say they aren’t scary at times though - so Parental Guidance is suggested. Watch first and then determine if it would be appropriate for your young ones. Just don’t ask my Dad… he might not be the best judge when it comes to what’s appropriate for children to watch. ;)

Reaching new people for Jesus, through the abilities that He alone developed in me, is my passion. Whether it be comedy, horror, drama, or even science fiction - I’ll spend the rest of my days pursuing new ways to reach people who do not yet know of His peace that my father taught me all those years ago. Jesus has led to this moment and placed these stories on my heart through his faithful servants across the country.

I am thankful for my community of baptized believers in Arizona and could not be more excited about what Jesus has in store for us as we dream up new ways to attract, get, retain, grow, and disciple more believers to expand His kingdom. Not to mention the amazing team that he’s assembled to create this new content at Red Braille and the countless leaders at Christ Greenfield who strive every day to reach more in the name of Jesus.

The teaser trailer premieres on October 1st on Facebook and YouTube. You can subscribe to the Luther House of Study YouTube page HERE. New episodes premiere on Saturdays in October.

If you want to find out more about how to become a part of ministry, or how to implement best practices to empower your ministry to spread the Gospel in dynamic ways - visit us on the websites below.

Ministry can be scary. Don't be afraid. Join us in the mission to proclaim Jesus!

Todd Freeman

Senior Director of Development - Red Braille Studios

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