Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Eve of All Hallows, and How We Never Seem to Go Too Far From Jesus

Happy All Saints' Day!

I love Halloween, but I think it was only very recently that I realised it had anything to do with the Christian feast that immediately follows it (or, indeed, that I even knew anything about the Christian feast that immediately follows it). But that doesn't seem surprising to me now. It seems a regular pattern that the secular world, once it has been touched by Christianity, can never get too far away from it.

Last night I watched a documentary on horror films, presented by the League of Gentlemen writer and actor Mark Gatiss, who is a big horror fan. It was lovingly put together and presented with great affection (and, thankfully, not too much levity, even though Gatiss is a comedian).

What struck me is how horror circles around the Christian tradition, never flying too far away from it, always seeming to return to it compulsively. Many of the films featured in Gatiss's selection (and he stressed it was an unashameldy personal one) had explicity Christian themes; Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen. Others merely used Christian elements; for instance, Gatiss refers to an "almost blasphemous" image of Frankenstein's monster tied to a post and surrounded by a lynch mob. In a scene from a Hammer Dracula film, Peter Cushing fashions a makeshift crucifix in order to confront Dracula. In The Wicker Man, we see Edward Woodward (playing a fervently Christian police sergeant) being martyred by Scottish pagans (what a combination!).

When discussing The Exorcist, Gatiss presents from a Catholic church, and in the section on The Omen there is some discussion of the Book of Revelation.

Earlier in the day, as part of my Halloween activities (I am keen on secular holidays, too) I watched the John Carpenter film Carrie and the Hammer horror Plague of the Zombies. Religious imagery abounds in Carrie, since Carrie's mother is a religious nut who thinks sex is evil and calls breasts "dirty pillows". Even in Plague of the Zombies, which features the usual unflappable Victorian scientist, the local vicar is part of the zombie-busting team.

It seems quite ironic to me that horror, at which many pious people may have looked askance over the generations, preserves an undercurrent of Christianity that is rapidly being repressed in more mainstream entertainments. Supernatural dread, it seems to me, is the flipside of religious awe-- and both return in our culture's dreams, and nightmares, when we try to push them beyond the pale.

"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God", says St. Paul. I think our modern world is-- to use the old-fashioned expression-- rather more God-fearing than we sometimes allow it to be.

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