I recently had a conversation with a man about horror films. As a father, he doesn’t let his children watch scary movies because he thinks they open up the viewer to evil; this is a fair judgment on the part of my friend.
After this conversation, I asked myself the question: “Is it wrong that I like horror movies so much?” I spent some time reflecting and praying on, and this is the conclusion I came up with.
For every human action, there are three parts: object, intention, and circumstance. The object is what the act is, in this case watching a horror film. The intention is the reason for committing the act, and the circumstances are the things surround the act. One’s intention in performing an action can be the difference between mortal sin (grave sin that “destroys charity in the heart of man” [Catechsim of the Catholic Church 1855, henceforth CCC]) and venial sin (sin that “allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it” [CCC 1855]). In fact, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are three requirements for a sin to be mortal: “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent'” (CCC 1857). When talking about sin or whether or not an act is sinful, one must always look at the motive behind it. If someone watches horror movies because he/she enjoys seeing people die, this could be considered a grave sin. However, if someone watches horror movies because the mystery, uncertainty, and sudden jumps give the viewer a rush, this is not a sin.
Let’s dive even deeper into the issue. I would divide the horror film genre into two categories: the slasher and the supernatural. The slasher, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street, presents a different type of evil than the supernatural. Slasher films are about the supposed evil of humanity and how if a person does not live a good life, evil can consume him and he can choose to do horrible things, like murder scores of people in one night. As I stated before, watching these types of movies only to see people die may be a problem. However, the “chase” of the movie, the good vs. evil, the heroic traits of the protagonist, the frightening features of the antagonist, etc. can truly set up an entertaining, edge-of-your-seat movie. While I don’t think a good slasher movie has been made this century, there are some, mostly remakes of classics, that may be entertaining for others. Once again, always reflect on your intention when watching these movies.
The supernatural horror films are the ones that normally receive the most criticism. Movies like The Conjuring, The Rite, Sinister, Insidious, etc. are normally the ones that people are attacking as the devil’s work and ways for evil to enter into our lives. Yet, even these movies are not sinful to watch or enjoy, but there are a few very important things to remember before seeing supernatural horror films.
First of all, the devil and evil are very real things. Spiritual warfare, the constant fight between Satan and his legions and God and his angels over human souls, is a very real thing. Demonic possession, while rare, is a very real thing. Houses can actually become “haunted”. Another important point in conjunction with this one, however, is that Hollywood does a very good job of dramatizing these situations, and while these things are frightening in real life, they aren’t as dramatic as portrayed in the films.
Second, people must desire and allow evil to enter their lives in order for evil to truly enter into their life. This is where temptation comes into play. Humans were graciously given the gift of free will, but without the temptation of the serpent in the garden, the first sin would not have been committed. In some ways, this is true for every sin committed. We must choose to allow the evil of sin to occur. This is true on a larger level also. Someone that is possessed must allow the devil into their life in a very real way.
Third, and I would say most important, is do not become obsessed with evil. Movies are movies. They start, they happen, and then they end. The evil portrayed in them also ends. However, being paranoid about evil constantly, especially if brought upon by a movie, can lead to an obsession with evil, which can lead to constant fear. After all, as St. Teresa of Avila says (and as I loosely paraphrase), those who have Christ in their life have nothing to fear, especially not a movie.
Quick recap: sin has a lot to do with intention. Before watching a horror movie, especially of the supernatural nature, examine yourself. What is my intention in watching this movie; entertainment or some deeper pleasure? Do I acknowledge that what is portrayed in this movie (evil), although dramatized, is a reality for some people on this level? Am I obsessed with or do I desire that evil? Bottom line: if you are watching just for pure entertainment (I bet this is the case almost all the time), there’s no sin involved.