The value of exploring religion in movies

The first thing I noticed when I was being raised in my Evangelical upbringing was how Hollywood always portrayed Christians as superstitious Catholics. This was used by some in my circle to prove the error of Catholicism by pointing out the “World” represented by Hollywood, only viewed Catholics as Christian thus proving Catholicism was born of the world, so to speak.

Recently I began watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. As a faithful Christian I have always struggled with TV shows and movies that glorify the occult. I have a strong ability to separate those things that are entertainment and those that are offensive with the intent to offend. I don’t enjoy politically biased documentaries for this reason. I prefer politically neutral documentaries that present the facts and allow the viewer to make up their own mind. For this reason when I see something like Sabrina I am torn. I enjoyed the original show tremendously and watched it regularly despite warnings from my ecclesiastically focused friends it was allegedly satanic. I dismissed many of their claims and went about watching the show.

This presents a problem for me. The new show is a whole lot more obvious in their devotion to “The Dark Lord” and makes claims that the Christian God is the “False God.” Even though it is a TV show, this does not sit well with me. Yet, I find myself going back and watching the show. Why?

This is where it gets complicated. I am not going to present this from a doctrinal or theological perspective, I will reserve that for the individual to make up their mind. Rather I am going to present what my view is on the role of religion within movies. I have come to accept the Hollywood portrayal of Catholics is as far from reality as their portrayal of Evangelicals. Thus I can conclude there is probably some similar exaggerations taking place in a show which features a clearly pagan religious perspective. For example, there are Wizards in Lord of the Rings. They are not pagan in the classical sense, meaning they don’t believe their power is sourced  by the pantheon of the gods. Rather, they believe their power comes directly from the energies of the universe. From the perspective of entertainment, that is the precepts contained in something like D&D or even Final Fantasy, there are distinctions between science, arcane magic and religious magic. There is tremendous overlap but from the context of the fantasy game set they are clearly distinct from one another.

This is where I stand on movies. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe I accept that the Asgardians are mortal beings in the material plane with access to and knowledge of manipulating the powers of the universe using what humans on Earth refer to as magic and thus they are worshiped as gods. They, the gods of Asgard, do not forbid or forsake the worship as gods they in fact welcome it despite knowing full well the reality is to the contrary. Still, I accept that within the context of the MCU the Asgardians are not gods, merely super heroes no different than the X-Men or Spider-Man. This is easy to accept.

From certain eschatological perspectives this is going to become a problem. I am not going to discuss those at this time. Rather I am going to preface this by saying I can accept that in the context of the MCU Thor is NOT a god, while in real-world Christianity he is akin to a false god, or even a demon depending on the Christian perspective.

This anything that is not Christian is pagan and anything that is pagan is satanic is often used to condemn basically anything a person could choose to do so.

Then why do I not give the same benefit of the doubt to Sabrina? For starters within the context of the show the Christian God is the villain. He is represented as a monster, a liar, and a false prophet. The Dark Lord, as they refer to him mostly, is glorified and in the context of the show, is the true god. This doesn’t sit well with me. But I can dig further.

In the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise the Christian mythology is evoked equally with heathen religion. There are multiple instances of the Christian God being supreme while the heathen gods having power, an example would be the cursed gold from the first film. The movies remain ambiguous on which power is at play. There is a balance but since the films are set in a parallel film universe based on but not set in our physical universe I can accept that.  Basically it comes down to reverence for the Christian God.

There are scores of horror movies that have evil represented by the devil, or some spiritual force that could be a stand in for the Devil. This is acceptable to me because we, as Christians, accept the Devil as evil. The forces of Good are combating the forces of evil thus any allegory to that structure is permissible. I liken it to referencing the Slasher films as morality tales. I don’t have an issue with that.

Why, then, do I draw the line with Sabrina? Or rather, should I?

It comes down to personal preference alone. I use this example. I can enjoy the Omen, the Exorcist and even The Shining as works of literature. No problem. I go a step further and often proclaim my favorite film of all time as the horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is clearly something I cannot shy away from. But even in those instances there is no reference to the origin or source of the powers, be them evil or good. This ambiguity allows me to place the art or literature into it’s own category, in my view a movie universe parallel to our own with similar, but slightly modified laws of physics. This is how I can accept a film with an extra-terrestrial Superman flying around powered by the solar rays that give cancer to ordinary inhabitants of our planet.

At first I was able to compartmentalize Sabrina and place it in the same box. In this universe thus is so. However something didn’t sit well with me. In this universe MY God was not being given the respect and devotion he deserves but rather being proclaimed a false god. I have seen horror movies that take this same approach but they present it as such, the divide between Protestantism and Catholicism, in other words they usually have a form of religion, a symbol of a church, but because it is the “false church” their proponents don’t have the power of God thus they are often portrayed as false. For example Dracula and other Vampire movies. They borrow heavily from European myths mingled with superstition and Christianity. There are often Christian symbols, holy water and the Cross or crucifix depending on the portrayal, being used to defeat the vampires, or forces of evil.

As I examine this I pull it back and let this be the deciding factor for me, not based on an intellectual argument or even a theological argument. I base it on what I am comfortable with personally.

As I watch Sabrina I hear them exhaling Satan and demonizing My Lord, I feel a twinge of disgust. It doesn’t sit well with me. I am not going to make the claim it *IS* Satanic and thus forbid or implore anyone to not watch it. Rather I am going to state why *I* have decided it is too much for me and invite others to either defend it, with in reason and not using personal attacks or logical fallacy, or I would ask that in this case my views be respected and I not be expected to defend my point other than it makes me uncomfortable to watch so I am recusing myself from it, for the time being.

This is not to say I will apply this analysis to other works of literature or artistic expression. After all, you have to draw the line somewhere of what is acceptable and what is not. For me, I can accept a movie about a pedophile being condemned to hell and sentenced to invade the dreams of the relatives of those who judged him using illegitimate means. The basis is on the fact that neither Mans law (Justice) nor God (Church law) judged him accordingly, thus despite him being evil in life, his death was unjust opening the door for the spiritual forces in the context of that franchise to provide a middle ground. He remains in hell tormented for all eternity, but he is permitted to get revenge upon those who were also unjust in slaying him. It’s acceptable to my perspective because it fits the real of what is to be expected. God demands, in the real of Christianity, to adhere to mans laws as placed in jurisdiction over us. The exception is when those laws prevent a person from expressing their obedience to God’s commands. Thus, it is my perspective, based on purely my own understanding, that disobeying God’s law does not justify disobeying mans law. In other words, the parents who murder Fred Krueger are as guilty of the sin of murder as the man they killed. Rather, if the courts, appointed by man respected by God, permitted him to trial and he was sentenced to death, he would not be justified in returning to this world, either in physical or metaphysical form, he would be firmly condemned to Hell.

This is how I can accept A Nightmare on Elm Street without a twinge of strong guilt but, currently, cannot do the same for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Maybe upon further examination I will change my mind. At this point, and in the future, I will not ever condemn another for their choices. Watch the show if you find it acceptable, while I am going to currently refrain from such until further notice.

I didn’t want this to be entirely focused exclusively on Sabrina. After all there was a certain amount of nostalgia at play tugging me into the desire to see it. I also rather enjoyed the few episodes I did watch of it.

The Spiders Lair Ranks- Freddy vs. Jason franchise: part one the Freddy movies

This has been a long time coming. It’s no secret I like to make lists, who doesn’t lists are fun. I also thoroughly enjoy the slasher movie genre. My favorites are A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The two franchises clashed in 2003 with the blockbuster spectacular “Freddy vs. Jason.” This is a list ranking the entire franchise as if it were one franchise, from best to worst. This is purely based on the opinion of The Spiders Lair, so I hope you enjoy this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Freddy

A Nightmare on Elm Street

By pretty much all accounts the original Elm Street film is by far the best in the series. It really wasn’t my first exposure to the series, that honor belongs to The Dream Child, but it was easy to see why it’s been regarded as the best once I did get to see it.

For those that don’t know the movie is about a child murderer who is turned into a demon who can enter the dreams of teenagers and if he kills you in the dream you die for real. The premise sounds silly but it’s actually a very well done film.

Fun fact, this was Johnny Depp’s first film appearance.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3

This was the second of the Elm Street films I got to see and pretty much became my favorite for the longest time. There was a time when I might be inclined to say this was the best in the franchise with the original either a tie or a close second. As time has gone on I have learned to appreciate the original more and more. I still enjoy this movie too, but I do think the first one is slightly better mostly for being original.

The movie takes place a few years after the previous two. It appears as though Freddy is spreading through Springwood like a plague with teenagers dropping like flies. The main story focuses on a group of kids, the “last of the Elm Street teenagers” that Freddy is trying to kill off. The kids are all institutionalized trying to survive their nightmares. This is one of the better movies in the franchise and easily the best of the sequels.

Fun fact: Laurence Fisburne of the Matrix fame makes an appearance in this movie.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4

I remember the first time I watched this movie. I had already seen Part 5 and part 3 but none of the other movies at this point. I was flipping through the channels and we had one of those free preview weekends of the premium movie channels. I had never seen it before but when it started up I was so excited to be watching another one of the Elm Street films. By the time I got to the end of this film I was beyond hooked, I was borderline obsessed.

The movie takes place after the events of Dream Warriors. Freddy comes back to life in one of the better scenes in the franchise. The movie, is not as good as the one that came before, but it’s still much better than many of those that came after.

Fun Fact: This movie features some awesome 80’s MTV references.

Freddy vs. Jason

I consider this the last of the true Elm Street movies. Although it’s not a true Freddy movie in the strictest sense, at least it’s still “in universe” and that means a lot more to me than how scary it was or wasn’t for that matter.

The movie pretty much ignores most of the sequels. The movie gets into the backstory of the character a little bit, which I enjoy, and of course pits Freddy against everyone’s favorite hockey masked slasher killer.

Fun Fact: This movie was supposed to feature Pinhead from Hellraiser but they couldn’t get the rights.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5

A part of me wants to always pick this one as the special place it holds as the very first Nightmare on Elm Street movie I ever watched. The first time I saw it I had no idea what the mythology was or backstory I just jumped right in and was hooked right away.

The movie follows the survivors of the previous films, as they often do, trying to get on with their lives. As is also often the case, the teens in this movie must all be new transfers who had no knowledge of their peers killed in the last movie, because they all take quite a bit of convincing Freddy is thing, let alone them not even knowing about the legend? When I as a kid I never pieced that together but today it’s a glaring flaw in the film series. At least with the Friday the 13th films the teens are all aware of Camp Blood. They just ignore it to get their freak on.

Fun Fact: This movie features a comic book “Super Freddy” sequence that I thought was cool as a kid.

Bonus Fun Fact: The VHS release of this movie featured a “rapping” Freddy music video.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 6

I am sure there are going to be those out here who call me every name in the book for ranking this movie higher than dead last. For me, personally, this is not the worst movie in the series. Sure, it’s over the top with the comedy, not that scary and the 3D is terrible. However it actually gets a few things right that make it a notch above the bottom to, for me at least. First, Alice Friggin Copper plays Freddy’s step-father. The trip into Freddy’s mind revealing scenes from his past is by far the best part of the movie. The Looney Tunes version of Freddy isn’t as appealing as the MTV version of Freddy but I still enjoy this movie.

This movie takes place in the distant future where Freddy is down to his last teenager. He needs to send the kid out into the world to bring him some “fresh meat” which he does of course. The movie has some flaws but it was a lot of fun the first time around and I still get emotional when the credits roll with all those scenes from the previous movies taking me back in time.

Fun Fact: This movie makes a GREAT post-Wizard reference to The Power Glove.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2

I was tempted to rank this dead last, as it is my least favorite of the original franchise. However, I cannot stand how the New Nightmare ignores the previous movies mythology. That alone kills it for me. I never cared how “scary” it was or how “original” it supposedly was, all I cared about was how it was just breaking the rules and dismissing all those movies I fell in love with. Well, instead of spending all my time

The movie itself isn’t terrible, just dull, slow paced and less scary than most. It does help set up part 3 which is more than enough for me. It does break a lot of the rules, but can you blame it, being the first sequel there rules weren’t quite well established yet.

Fun Fact: This movie is treated more like a haunted house film than a free roaming dream demon the of the later movies. It’s also the first time the house becomes a set piece, later becoming a staple of the franchise.

Wes Cravens New Nightmare

I dislike this movie. I won’t get too much into why I just felt it disrespected the movies I enjoyed. I know some people like this movie and make outrageous claims like it’s one of the best or even the best by some accounts. I just don’t get it.

Fun Fact: This movie reunites stars from the original.

Check back for part 2: The Jason films.