When I was seven, I saw the most terrifying movie of my life in a church. Childhood slumber became nights of dread. What should have been quiet afternoons in the yard were suddenly spiked with moments of wild distress. My little shoulders carried the horrifying knowledge that at any moment my safe world would crumble. Everyone I loved would vanish. I would be left defenseless and without hope in an empty neighborhood … and then the evil minions of Satan would hunt me down using unmarked choppers and dudes with walkie-talkies.
Many, many years later I met the producer of that movie at a Christian Media conference. The man who created "A Thief in the Night" was a tall, grandfatherly man with a white beard. When I shook his gentle hand I looked into his kind eyes and thought "Is this the dude that made me claw my way out of a locked Airstream trailer one night at a church camp!?" Oh yes, it was the dude. We shared a cup of coffee.
He described how he produced "The Blob" in his younger days, and felt convicted to use the proceeds to create a Christian movie that wouldspur the younger folks on to a life devoted to Christ. So, he crafted "A Thief in the Night" with all the skills and passion that he gleaned from creating horror movies for the drive-in. Incredibly intense moments, disturbing cut-aways, Hitchcock-worthy camera angles all set to a Doom-laden soundtrack, he brought it all. While I did not reveal the depth of emotional trauma I suffered because of his devotion, I did begin to understand something
We Christians are unmatched in our portrayals of horror. We may bicker over Harry Potter and fuss at vampires and werewolves. Admittedly, shambling zombies are not always edifying. But consider, from the days Dante's "Inferno" written nearly 500 years ago, and including the recent wails of eternal torment in "Heaven's Gates Hell's Flames", when we put our minds to it, We Christians can maniacally bludgeon our audiences into hysterics. (A few years ago I even covered an entire sanctuary in aluminum foil to properly reflect the 500 watt red lights of eternal torment for one traveling production.)
However, if we succeed in scaring someone half to death, we don't have the luxury of telling them "Don't worry about it ... monsters aren't real ... that's just the movies ... now go to bed!"
And here is my caveat. When portraying the very real world of spiritual conflict in all of its depth and horror, don't forget to temper the creative powers you are given with grace. Sure, you can keep the shot of the rabid demon-possessed, man, gibbering curses in a strangled fit as he lurches from tombstone to tombstone. But don't forget to offer a genuine hope before the credits roll. Preach some mercy. Preach unconditional love. Let some of them teenagers get away.