As someone who loves films, I’ve always had a soft spot for the horror genre.
I especially respected the auteurs who could subtly unsettle you without having to resort to jump-scares. Despite being a huge scaredy cat, I somehow still loved the thrill of being frightened to death. I even did my honours thesis on Yeon Sang-ho‘s zombie films!
However, there came a point when this feeling of being unsettled refused to go away. That began to make me think: Is this really just a bit of innocent fun? Or am I giving time to something truly insidious?
What really goes on when we watch a horror movie?
One of my first experiences with horror movies was when my former cell leader took us guys to his place to watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose. In retrospect, the movie wasn’t put together well, but I still found it terrifying as a 15-year-old teenager.
While this incident occurred many years back, I still vividly recall watching a scene where the family calls a priest to bless their home, having discovered that it’s haunted. Invariably, it all goes awry when the priest arrives at night and is himself set upon by demonic manifestations.
At the precise moment of these onscreen manifestations, something else was happening in the room where we were watching the movie.
None of my guy friends there felt it then, but I did. I remember feeling a cold and concentrated gust of wind bursting through the half-open window at the side of the room. The gale seemed to sweep through the house, until the door at the end of the corridor slammed shut. No one else was around but us.
I was shaken. Everyone wrote it off as “wind”, but I knew that something was terribly amiss about that experience.
But I’m not the only one who’s ever opened a door to the dark. My friend, Charis — who like me was also a huge horror fan — had an even more oppressive encounter:
“The worst experience I had was when I watched The Conjuring. I watched it three times with different people in my house. The attack came after the third time when I was sleeping. Nightmares were “normal” to me, but this nightmare was different. In it, I somehow knew I was awake.
So, realising this wasn’t just a dream, I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t. It was as if this terrible force was shutting my eyelids so tightly I couldn’t even open them. I knew something was wrong, and I tried to shout “Jesus!” But my throat was “stuck” — my lips were sealed.
Suddenly, a very strong force began to press straight down on my throat. I was used to blocked airways while sleeping, but again, this was different – something was attacking me. I couldn’t call for help; I was being strangled. In my mind, I prayed and rebuked the evil spirit in Jesus’ name for what felt like 10 minutes. Then my lips opened and I started praying aloud. Thereafter I was able to open my eyes, and I was back.
In the pitch-black, staring at the ceiling, I prayed and asked God to reveal to me any doors I had opened to evil. Then, The Conjuring came to mind. I prayed for Jesus to cleanse me of all defilement by His blood, to protect me from evil, and I stopped watching horror shows for good.”
Through her experience, it dawned on me why these manifestations could happen. I was suddenly convicted that I had been doing the very opposite of what Ephesians 4:27 exhorts us to do: “Give no opportunity to the devil”.
With each horror film I watched, I was ceding ground to Satan. I was essentially saying to the spiritual realm: “I want to be terrified. That last one wasn’t scary enough. I’m inviting Fear in again for the next two hours – now do your worst”.
In some sick way, I began to crave a thrill like the one I had in my cell leader’s house. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think there’s something incredibly seductive about coming close to death. Some might get their rush through extreme sports like skydiving, but I got my high from horror.
Soon, I needed more. A year later – after my O levels – I went on an intense horror movie binge. I watched them from all over: Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Hollywood. I probably saw dozens in just a few months.
I only realised later that by watching so many gore movies, I had partaken of an “orgy” (Galatians 5:21-22) of gratuitous violence. And through the many horror films I had seen, I soon lost all power and self-control – and instead gained fear (2 Timothy 1:7).
It was all taking its toll on me. I wasn’t sleeping properly. When I woke in the middle of the night, even mere shadows seemed malicious to me. Yet these were merely caused by the cars downstairs, the headlights of which would shine through my window’s grilles to play along the walls.
Through the many horror films I had seen, I soon lost all power and self-control – and instead gained fear.
Working in Army and Air Force camps, I became highly sensitised for a time to the demonic realm. I will never forget pretending to sleep, as the padlocks’ spinning dials whirled and knocked against the lockers, though no one was standing at their lockers or awake in the middle of the night.
I also won’t forget sneaking into a secluded part of camp – an old condemned room in the gym – to take a nap. I had an out-of-the-body experience then, and I could see a ghastly white woman coming closer to where I was napping in the tiny room.
Calling on the Name of Jesus was the only thing that kept evil from ever touching me. But I foolishly came unnecessarily close.
At times, the fear grew so oppressive I couldn’t even take a bath properly. I’d be shampooing my hair and some suds would go into my eye, and I’d be certain I was about to be brutally murdered in the shower à la Psycho.
I’m half-serious on that last one, but personal experience has shown me that there’s a lot more at stake than I thought. So, unlike the final girl who unquestioningly, invariably enters the haunted house, we need to know exactly what we’re walking into.
- Going to Video Ezy to choose and spend money on a horror film
- Bringing the horror film home
- Putting the disc into the player, and pressing “Play”
- Spending 2 hours being frightened and shocked
- Carrying that fear with you thereafter
- Repeating this cycle
Actions like these were my conscious decisions to open a door to fear and demonic influence in my life. Increasingly defiled by the gore and horror of what I was regularly seeing, I was ceding more and more ground to the demonic realm.
Something had to change, so I made a decision to give horror up. I told God that the only fear I wanted was a reverential one. I wanted a holy fear (Psalm 2:11) that would sanctify – not horrify.
All the manifestations stopped when I repented and told God I wanted to be cleansed of the defilement. Every oppression ceased.
When I stopped chasing death and started choosing life instead, the all-pervasive fear left and was replaced by Peace.
I told God that the only fear I wanted was a reverential one; I wanted a holy fear.
The heart behind this article isn’t punitive, prohibitive or prescriptive. To the brother or sister who still actively enjoys horror films, the last thing I want to do is to leave you feeling condemned. I write this humbly as a person who learnt that horror doesn’t profit – it costs peace and protection.
So when it comes to watching horror films – or indeed doing anything – it really isn’t a question of whether I can. The question to ask is whether it helps us to run the race better.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Are horror movies true-noble-right-pure-lovely-admirable-excellent-praise worthy? Are they beneficial (1 Cor 6:12)? I’m hard-pressed to answer how two hours of fear would be any help on my heavenward journey.
Now think about yours – what kind of fear do you have in your life?