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A screenshot from the 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. (Credit: BloodyCinemaUSA/YouTube)

My love of horror movies is not at odds with my love of God

'Like many Christians in the late ‘80s, I went through a period of purging myself of secular pop culture.'

By Dave Canfield

I love horror movies. I’m not sure where this started. My grandmother, a fearsome Catholic matriarch, had a Halloween birthday, so perhaps watching her scare the hell out of neighbourhood kids who came to her door planted some seeds. I have so many positive stories to share about my lifelong horror fandom, I could probably write an entirely separate column on it. But since my love for the spooky has often spilled over into my day to day, and certainly my spiritual journey, I’ll be offering up the occasional anecdotes here. They could fit comfortably under the title of “Confessions of a Creature Feature Preacher.”

For those who don’t carry the “spooky gene,” I’ll simply use a quote often attributed to George Romero, the director of the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead” (but its origin is unclear) and let them decide to continue reading. As the story goes, when asked to justify how anyone could be entertained by zombie movies, he said, “If you can’t see the humour in dead people eating the living, I can’t explain it to you.” This line always makes me think of communion and the notion of us dead sinners eating the “living bread" of Christ, so I don’t feel this is at all unfair.

Still, like many Christians in the late ‘80s, I went through a period of purging myself of secular pop culture. Encouraged by popular Christian thinking of the day, I did so in the most thoughtful way I could. I threw away almost everything I owned. That’s right. If an album, book or object didn’t focus completely on Christianity, I tore it up and tossed it. This created a lot of shelf space in my room, but surprisingly little more in my heart for spiritual matters.

Somehow, I hung on to my love for the spooky by filling the void with a steady stream of books and videos that detailed the horrors of backward messages hidden in music, the evils of Christian rock and books salaciously detailing the lurid testimonies of various Christian teachers turned from Satanism and the occult. If I had heard God speaking to me through this irony, I’m pretty sure it would have sounded like this: “Hey dummy. It’s OK to have a taste for monsters and the macabre. You don’t need to cover it up like a vampire on a day pass.”

I continued my cultural asceticism during my journey into a Pentecostal religious culture often referred to as the faith movement. It was nice to be in religious services that didn’t require me to sit down. In fact, I used to bring my aerobic cassettes with me to worship and no one even noticed. But Jesus was the only thing we were really allowed to be excited about.

"Christians told me that God unconditionally loved me and wanted me to be healthy and wealthy, but that I had better keep my Stephen King reading stealthy."

At these churches, Christians told me that God unconditionally loved me and wanted me to be healthy and wealthy, but that I had better keep my Stephen King reading stealthy. I’ll never forget the pastor’s son-in-law confronting me at the local mall about how immature I looked carrying that big King book around instead of my Bible. The fact that he looked like one of the perfect pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and had a girl on each arm didn’t register at the time. I was too busy feeling ashamed.

And they reminded me the Lord did not like Halloween. Seems Granny, besides being (shudder) a Catholic, had been born on Satan’s favourite day of the year. I have always imagined a cage match between my thick-set grandmother and the squat preacher of that church duking it out for holiday supremacy, but I digress.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was only a few short years from discovering that I didn’t have to choose between God and Godzilla. While the church was selling me its own brands of supernatural entertainment and culture dressed up as theology, I was clinging tight to my need for mystery and a God that could handle the ambiguity of a dark world.

This is the fourth in a blog series called "Out-There Faith" by Dave Canfield.

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