Horror as the Perfect Christian Genre?

Almost eight years ago on this very blog I asked the question Is Christian Horror Becoming a Trend? Of course, a lot has changed over those years. Many of the “trends” I mentioned in that post — Coach’s Midnight Diner, Fear & Trembling ezine, ‘Christian Chillers,’ — are now defunct. However, the essential question about the compatibility of the horror genre and a biblical worldview is still alive and well. Most recently, it was asked by novelist Thomas Smith over at The Horror Zine. 

Smith was kind enough to interview me for his piece, Christian Horror: It’s Not as Strange as It Sounds. Here’s a snippet:

As Mike Duran has observed, “I don’t like the term ‘Christian Horror.’ Yes, I use that term. But it’s only as a common descriptor of a genre label that religious writers would understand. The truth is, marketing anything as ‘Christian’ will immediately turn off most non-Christian audiences.  Sure, it may attract religious readers. But the general reading or movie-going public is not beholden to such labels. For example, The Conjuring was directed by two avowed Christians. Nevertheless, the film is rightly marketed as horror. There is a tremendous amount of religious iconography and jargon in the movie. However, the moment you label the film ‘Christian,’ you heighten the narrow expectations of a certain demographic while chasing others away. Which is why I go easy on the ‘Christian Horror’ label.” 

In the CBA the idea of Christian horror as an actual genre is relatively new although there have been many books over the past two-hundred plus years that could fall under that heading, including: The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis (1942); Seeker to the Dead, by A. M. Burrage (1942); The Room in the Tower and Other Stories, by E. F. Benson (1912); The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1796). All of the books sold well to Christian and non-Christian readers alike. It is only recently that the publishing industry has narrowed their collective foci and kept the horror story on the fringe. And in the ABA world works like The Stand (Stephen King) and The Darkest Evening of the Year (Dean Koontz), while not strictly Christian fiction, deal with intense theological questions of good, evil, and divine influence. 

“Christian publishing houses largely miss ANY opportunity to exploit the power of the horror genre,” Duran says. “Whereas Christian artists have historically employed horrific imagery in their art to shock and stir the imagination (like Dante, Bosch, Machen, and Charles Williams), contemporary Christian publishing is in a death grip to more conservative evangelical audiences. This is why the typical fare of mainstream Christian publishers is Amish fiction and romantic suspense.” 

If we look at horror for the Christian market in its simplest form, it is a vehicle for conveying ideas. It is the canvas on which the story is told. Nothing more, nothing less. Just as writers use science fiction, romance, adventure history, and humor to tell their stories, the horror writer does the same thing.

So while the “trend” I was hoping for did not materialize, the fact that the question continues to be asked is evidence, I believe, of its relevance and validity. Christian authors continue to approach horror as a valid literary and artistic genre. While it is true that the Christian fiction industry and its readers have never fully embraced the possibilities, Christian authors and readers continue to see the genre as a legitimate “vehicle for conveying [biblical] ideas.” So while “Christian Horror” might not be trending, Christians who write and read in the genre are very much alive and well. You can read Smith’s entire piece HERE.