Monday, November 7, 2011


Okay, it's a bit late for scary stories, but we're not quite to Thanksgiving yet. We're still only days past Halloween, the time for cobwebs, costumes and creepy stories.

I'll spill a secret: I love creepy stories. I was the kid who watched every B-level vampire film that came around - back when all vampire films were B-level, full of delightful cliches like hungry glances toward bared throats, women running through foggy moors, and spot-lit tooth reveals.

What was better than B-level was Rasputin the Mad Monk, with Christopher Lee. That one really scared me, and I haven't gotten over it yet.

But I do draw lines. I don't like on-screen violence. I don't like blood-spattered camera lenses. And especially, I don't like exorcist movies. I like to be scared by mythologies, by suggestion and atmosphere. I'm not fond of genuine, unfiltered evil.

So it came as a surprise one recent (Sunday!) afternoon, when I opened my latest envelope from Netflix, and found an exorcist film titled The Rite. I'd forgotten it was in my queue, and I couldn't remember why I'd put it there.

A quick read of the description provided the explanation: Anthony Hopkins had a starring role. Enough said.

So I slipped it in the player, and told my husband we could turn it off if things got too bad.

To my surprise, they didn't. In fact, when the film was over, I walked with a lighter step, and praised my Lord with a truer voice.

I don't go around watching these things, so I can't explain when or how I became so jaded to all the cliches: There's the sweet young thing talking in a male voice while twisting herself in two. Ah, of course, she's coughing up nails. No surprises here.

What saved it, of course (apart from much in the story that was not cliched), was Anthony Hopkins. I'm amazed the same man can play someone deeply good one moment and deeply evil the next, but in so doing he manages to expose the dirty devices of the devil for the weak things they are, and reveals that their chief strength lies in deceiving us to think that everything depends on us.

We are weak, you see, but Jesus is strong.

I recently discovered a short talk titled The Arc of Storytelling by Bobette Buster, and in that film she brings up a book, The Uses of Enchantment by Holocaust survivor and leading child therapist, Bruno Bettelheim.

Ms. Buster paraphrases the seeds for Bettelheim's thought as follows: 

"Children who had been in the death camps, who had been read the true Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, these children had been taught that someday you may be thrown into an oven; someday a wolf may come to the door. But guess what? There is an inexorable force in the universe there to support you. If you will keep going, you will discover the faith, the courage to move on."

Put differently, there's no use hiding from your fears. Much that you fear will come your way. But there is more, much more. There is an inexorable force in the universe. We are weak, but he is strong.

How about you? Have scary stories ever been a source for truth for you in the way Ms. Buster put it?

Please do chime in. We love to read what you have to say.


Susie Finkbeiner said...

Chesterton said, “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I'm not much for scary movies. But I do enjoy a thrilling book. I read "Black House" while on my internship in the Dominican Republic. Believe me, in the middle of an intense scene, when the power goes out...ACK! We're talking a heart attack!

I've seen a few horror movies in which the evil isn't defeated, it is merely subdued. That leaves me with a hopeless and exposed feeling. Like the good couldn't quite conquer the evil. I'm not one that insists upon a happy ending. But I do desire to good to overcome evil. I like to see that the dragon has been slayed.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Man, that Sir Anthony can really nail a character, can't he?

From Shadowlands to Silence of the Lambs (freaky).

I used to love the goofy scary films (BC). When I grew more in my faith they lost all appeal. Or maybe it was becoming a mom. Being a mom can be scary enough. :D
~ Wendy

Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, that's one of my favorite quotes. And I understand about endings. I want the dragon slayed, as well. The Rite has a great ending, one that surprised and delighted me.

Stephen King is a bit much for me. I once read The Stand on the trusted advice of my brother-in-law, and barely survived.

Wendy, yes, it is freaky, isn't it? Silence was too much for me, but not because of Hopkins' character - it was that other psychopath I couldn't handle. Now, Hearts in Atlantis, that was a good one!

Wait - that was a Stephen King, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...


Yes, some have an affinity for the macabre that I don't understand...but there is something, I believe, to putting some kind of a face or voice or even heavy phone breathing to the reality of evil, sorta like naming the monster who lives under your bed, a weird form of befriending the dark even though it still scares us.

Having said that, I'll never recover from Nicholson's performance in The Shining (yep, another from Mr. King)...

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Wendy, if you notice in Shadowlands, there is a scene where "C.S. Lewis" is up in the attic with his stepson. You catch just a glimpse of a Hannibal Lector face. Freaky!

Kathleen Popa said...

I've never seen The Shining. I'm too scared, and I don't like Jack Nicholson. This however, looks like a film I could love:

If that one's too light for you, try this:

Susie, Susie. You're treading on holy ground. I found this collection of Shadowlands clips. Is the scene you indicated in here? Is it when he stands backlit in shadows?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Yes...that's the scene!