A few days ago a received a package containing the Blu-Ray box set of the Universal Classic Monsters films of the 1930s through 1950s, specifically the eight films considered essential to film audiences. The entire series excited me, being digitally remastered and rendered in high-definition for the first time, however what excited me most was that Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein have had brand-new, painstaking restorations to their picture and sound. As soon as I got the package, I opened the set and placed the Dracula disc into the Blu-Ray player. The next thing that happened was a bit overwhelming. Continue reading
Hammer Films produced many of the very best gothic horror films in the 1950s and 1960s. After its resurrection just a few years ago, Hammer now seems set to continue its tradition onward if The Woman in Black is any indicator. Hammer returns to its glory days of supernatural storytelling, invoking the Victorian-type ghost story in superb style. Easily one of the most stylish, most chilling horror films of the last couple of decades, this one also has a heart (as the best always do).The story plays on both the cards of the heartbroken young widower in grief over his wife’s death as well as the both sad and frightening vengeful ghost whose mystery plays out and creating a truly terrifying build-up. Continue reading
I’ve almost considered writing a book about my experiences and thoughts while writing my book on Christianity and horror. I know that’s very Don Miller-esque of me, but I can’t help thinking of the stories that have happened in my life in the roughly seven months since I first penned my rough-rough-rough draft of the book’s introduction. In that time, I have had many conversations with many diverse people dealing with art, literature, and a surprising amount of spiritual warfare. Continue reading
(I recently have had a series of discussions about Christianity, Halloween, and horror including publishing several posts and featured quotes here on the topic of horror in light of Christianity and giving a podcast interview on the topic of Halloween. As the frequency of conversations has picked up, I thought I might consolidate some of my thoughts on this issue.)
The month or so approaching Halloween has always been my favorite time of year. I love walking the Halloween aisles of the stores, looking at the masks, costumes, and decorations, and particularly indulging in watching my favorite horror movie classics from the 1920s through ’60s in my spare time with way too much sugar sitting in a giant bowl beside me. I love walking down the street beside mine, famous for its Halloween decor, and seeing the elaborate display of ghosts and ghouls of every shape and size littering the lawns of my otherwise typical neighborhood. The questions often have come up, though: isn’t it wrong for a Christian to celebrate Halloween? Doesn’t this most macabre of holidays make much of evil and not God? With its Pagan origins, can I and my family celebrate Halloween in good conscience? I grew up with Halloween, but as I neared adulthood and returned to the church after several years of disconnect, I was actually shocked to encounter the hostility many Christians and churches had to the holiday. Accusations that the holiday glorified evil and represented everything Christianity should be against actually seemed like they might have some reasonable grounding. After pondering these issues for years, however, I have come to the conclusion that Halloween is not only a permissible but helpful and instructive holiday that Christians can and should be a part of. Continue reading
The following short story was perhaps my last straightforward ghost story, written during my junior year of college (circa 2005). The attempt to undermine the traditional ghost lore is already present, though masked in very traditional mountain legend language and local color. I never really gave the story an adequate end and, looking back, wish that I had developed the theology of the piece a bit more in light of my understanding of “ghost” phenomenon. However, six years after writing, I believe it is best to leave the story as I wrote it at the time.
There is a point in the evening when the sun has finally gone to rest beyond the horizon, and yet its light still lingers on, reminding everything else of its continued presence, even after it has departed. The vanished sun’s phantom glow allows the things of the day to remain visible for a few more waking moments before the shadows of the evening come to suffocate them and drain them of their life in the daylight. These shadows come quickly, and my father always told me a person should not be found alone along a solitary dirt road, much worse near a graveyard or an old, dilapidated house or barn, when the time of shadows comes. That is, lest there be someone or something waiting in those shadows for you. Continue reading
We are about to embark on two new series here at Image of Truth. The first, “The Devil in Film,” will explore the portrayal of Satan throughout notable films in which he or his demonic minions are central to the plot. Essentially, with a few exceptions, these will be analyses of the most notable possession/exorcism films of the film era, as this is the most common and potent way Satan is portrayed on screen. We will also later launch into “Jesus in Film,” hopefully in time for Easter, in which we will look at the foremost films on the life of Christ. We will start our series “The Devil in Film” with the latest incarnation, 2011′s most notable supernatural drama so far, The Rite.
The Rite starts off with the preparation of a dead body in a funeral parlor and instantly gives the audience member a warning of what the film could be: a gore-fest of things we really don’t want to see, with perhaps an exorcism simply as the vehicle for which these gruesome items occur. Thankfully, this macabre beginning turns out to be misleading, and the film becomes one of the smartest and most theologically thought-provoking horror films (if one can call it a horror film) in several years. The film follows the story of a mortician’s son named Michael (Colin O’Donoghue). Somewhat distant from his father (Rutger Hauer), Michael enters Catholic seminary. Although a skeptic who questions the Catholic faith, he hopes to, at the very least, achieve a free degree from the process, then drop out before full ordination as a priest.
Three years later, we see Michael being ordained as a deacon and putting in his resignation to his advisor, Father Matthew (Toby Jones). After an accident, where Father Matthew witnesses Michael gives the last rites to a pleading, dying woman, Matthew is convinced that Michael should be a priest and convinces him to take an exorcism course in Rome. During the course, the teacher, Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds), notes Michael’s skepticism and sends him to observe a well-seasoned exorcist, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Meanwhile, Michael comes into contact with another listener in the class, Angeline (Alice Braga), a reporter investigating the resurgence of exorcisms in the Catholic Church. As Michael’s doubt and faith are equally tested by his experiences in Rome, his ultimate fate may lie in the balance.
I cannot tell how surprisingly impressed I was with this film. The central themes of this piece are faith and doubt. In fact, the film could be considered to be faith-based to a fault, if the viewer is not affiliated with some sort of faith background. It has been noted elsewhere that Catholic reviewers liked the film much better than film reviewers as a whole. The film rawly confronts growing up with a religious attachment, yet facing the struggle to root one’s self in the actual core of that faith. The Rite deals passionately with the reality of doubt and even living with faith and doubt constantly coinciding. The film rightly exposes the devil’s tactic of playing on the disbelief of humans, rather than exposing himself in broad daylight, and his use of our unbelief in his attempt to bring us down. The Protestant viewer is likely to disagree with the film’s depiction of Christian believers becoming possessed (however, some of those same might also regard the the portrayed Catholics as unbelievers, so we’ll just leave this one be for the moment). This is expected from the point of view of the film, and enlivens a bit of the post-viewing discussion as a whole.
The scenes of exorcism are much subtler on a whole (with perhaps a couple of exceptions at the climax), and therefore actually more believable. Combined with exceptional visuals of Rome and some great supporting performances by the likes of the always reliable Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and Rutger Hauer (three vastly underrated actors), the lead performances are well played. Even Anthony Hopkins, who is always enjoyable but also always tends to chew the scenery in eccentric portrays, is wonderfully understated as the old hermit exorcist. The moods of the film really capture the moodiness of a European horror and the ancient-world refinery one would expect of a film on Catholicism set in Rome.
In the end, the whole of the film travels new ground in the the subgenre of exorcism film and provides provoking thoughts and questions into the struggle between faith, doubt, and the realities of the spirit world.
The Rite (2010), 113 min.
Production: New Line Cinema, Contrafilm, Fletcher & Company
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer
Director: Mikael Håfström
Screenwriters: Mike Baglio and Michael Petroni
Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson
Executive producers: Richard Brener, Merideth Finn, Robert Bernacchi
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Andrew Laws
Editor: David Rosenbloom
Costume designer: Carlo Poggioli
Music: Alex Heffes
(Illustration: still from The Rite)
A few days ago, I asked what your favorite horror novels, short stories, collections, etc. were. I quickly realized I could not limit this list to five, so I’m not even going to try. My winners are…
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. See my four-part series on this amazing novel.
Bram Stoker, Dracula. Perhaps the novel that defines the genre of gothic horror genre of the 19th Century, the epistolary tale still tops all its various adaptations.
Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera. More of a mystery, but equally gothic, this underrated pulp novel of the early 20th century is often obscured by its film and stage adaptations.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ignatius Critical Editions). A great, atmospheric novel about the inward scars of sin.
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. A perfect Halloween novel about faith and good will overcoming the devouring forces of evil.
Novellas and Short stories
Henry James, The Turn of the Screw. I can hardly think of a ghost story more intriguing and haunting.
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The classic struggle of good and evil in a man’s soul.
Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Possibly the great American ghost story.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” This short story I read first in an English class stayed with me for years.
Richard Middleton, “On the Brighton Road.” Another story I read as a child and has stayed in my mind for almost twenty years.
Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Placing this here is the only way I didn’t take up the above space with a dozen Poe stories.
Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories Treasury (Three Volumes). Marketed to children, these collections of folklore, beautifully illustrated by Stephen Gammell in haunting charcoal sketches, have consistently been a favorite and are probably continually an influence on how I write stories today.
Russell Kirk, Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales. Kirk, a social and political commentator and devout Catholic, wrote what one might call the best collection of theologically astute ghost stories ever assembled. Atmospheric and moody, these are not second-rate chillers by any stretch of the imagination.
(Illustration: a classic painting of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)
Here’s our next “audience participation number”:
What are your top five favorite horror novels or scary/supernatural stories (or collections thereof), and (optionally) why?
This can be a bit broad.
Oh, and these questions do, in fact, have a theological end. Follow the Quotes of the Week that I’m posting this month to articles related to this. Mwahahahaha…
(Illustration: Caspar David Friedrich, The Abbey in the Oakwood)
A few days ago, in our premiere Question of the Week, I asked “What are your favorite horror films (and, optionally, why)? After some thoughtful and diverse responses, now it is time for my own answer. In all honesty, I could probably make a list of twenty of my top horror films (how have I left out more Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Hammer pictures?), but here we go for starters.
In very non-static order (because I have named all of these my “favorite” horror film at some point or another):
- The Innocents. 1961. Director: Jack Clayton. Starring Deborah Kerr. Screenplay by Truman Capote and William Archibald, based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw. This movie is a perfect adaptation of a classic ghost story with a psychological bent. From the chilling settings to James’ macabre story (moodily adapted by Capote), the haunting score, to the spot-on performances, this may be the quintessentially perfect ghost story film. Beautifully shot in black and white with amazing effects, and with an ending that leaves the audience guessing, this may be the epitome of a gothic chiller.
- Vampyr. 1931. Director: Carl Th. Dreyer. Starring Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Sybille Schmitz. Screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer, based on the story In A Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu. A dreamlike, spectral piece of European filmmaking, Vampyr is notable for its iconic chilling imagery, whether you can follow its strange tale or not amidst the intentionally disorienting style. Easily the most creepily macabre imagery in the first half-century of filmmaking. Also notable is the film’s extended special effects sequence using disembodied shadows.
- The Exorcism of Emily Rose. 2005. Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Jennifer Carpenter. Screenplay by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman. This is the most interesting film about demonic possession I have seen. This one is particularly significant because of the questions it raises. Equally effective as a courtroom drama and a horror film, the story has a large focus on both faith and on possible explanations for possession symptoms. The thought provoking film leaves the audience contemplating that either these things exist or they don’t… and both conclusions have repercussions.
- Nosferatu. 1921. Director: F.W. Murnau. Starring: Max Schrek, Greta Schroeder. Screenplay by Henrik Galeen, based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. One really can’t address the horror genre without naming Dracula, and no adaptation has ever been as completely macabre as Nosferatu. Count Orlock (this film’s verion of Dracula) is a ratlike, grotesque vampire without the charm of Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. He spreads the plague throughout the German community he invades. Ghastly, iconic imagery and a sinister ambiance pervade the whole film. Brilliance.
- Something Wicked This Way Comes. 1983. Director: Jack Clayton. Starring Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce. Screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his novel. This was the very first movie that ever scared me and now, almost twenty years after I first viewed it, I still find it creepily enjoyable. Produced by Disney (suprisingly), Bradbury’s classic tale of two boys coming of age in a small town as an evil carnival feasts on people’s regrets and unhappiness still packs a chill thanks to stellar performances and the subtle but perfect direction by The Innocents‘ Jack Clayton. This film is a perfect introduction to the horror genre for kids, a great film to watch around Halloween, as well as a great talking piece in regard to sin, desire, and evil.
And just because I’m the proprietor of this here establishment, here are my honorable mentions:
- The Phantom of the Opera. 1925. Director: Rupert Julian, Edward Sedgwick (uncredited). Starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry. Based upon the novel by Gaston Leroux. A flawed but compelling telling of Gaston Leroux’s famous mystery/horror novel. Easily the most faithful to the book, this film’s strengths rest in Ben Carre’s opera house sets, the stunning early Technicolor masked ball sequence, and the compelling performance of Lon Chaney as the Phantom (featuring his incredible death’s head makeup and shocking unmasking scene).
- The Exorcist. 1973. Directed by William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow. Screenplay by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel. The pioneer exorcism film. Filled with shocking moments and great atmosphere, it is no longer as scary as it once was, but it still leaves quite the impression.
- Night of the Living Dead. 1969. Director: George Romero. Starring Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea. Screenplay by George Romero and John Russo. I actually think this is one of the scariest movies of all time. I own it, yet I almost never watch it. Its rural, earthy realism actually bothers me like few other movies, and so I hardly ever watch it… but only because it fully succeeds in what it intended to do.
- The Wolf Man. 1941. Director: George Waggner. Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak. Full of foggy moors, this sympathetic werewolf story may no longer be frightening, but it has the perfect atmosphere for a gothic tale and created much of the werewolf legend that we take as granted today.
- The Orphanage. 2007. Director: Juan A. Bayona. Starring Belén Rueda, Geraldine Chaplin. Screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez. Almost making it into my top five, this Spanish film is both creepy and moving at once. Great performances and just the right atmosphere lend to the almost fairy-tale story, highlighted by parallels to Peter Pan.
(Illustration: a still from Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr)
I am treading new ground with this. I am actually asking for your participation with this new feature of the site, in hopes of sparking some stimulating conversation. So here goes,
What are your top five “horror” films and, optionally, why?
I will post my own answer toward the end of the week.
(Note: this is not a discussion to share why you don’t like horror films… the topic of horror as a legitimate genre will be addressed in an upcoming article.)