BERGER: See no evil

Horror movies that evoke psychological and spiritual fear are a welcome alternative to their visually grotesque counterparts

“The Conjuring” has made roughly $132 million at the box office in the U.S. since its July 19 release. This popular horror movie is unlike many of others of its genre. It is based on a true story, and it lacks the amount of gore and blood that many horror flicks draw on for easy scares and cheap screams.

To summarize the movie: Ed and Lorraine Warren, who dedicate their lives to helping people deal with supernatural phenomena, assist the Perron family, who are experiencing increasingly disturbing events in their farmhouse in Rhode Island in 1971. After watching the movie, I was one of many who were afraid to sleep that night. But this movie was different from other horror movies because I was not afraid of a masked murderer hiding in my closet with a knife, or of the many gory ways I could be killed. The kind of fear “The Conjuring” struck in me was different. It prompted me to strengthen my faith and believe in something greater than myself.

I am not promoting one religion over another. I wish to show how the sort of fear “The Conjuring” instills has a solution, whereas the baseless, manufactured evil of movies such as “Scream,” “The Dark Knight” or the television show “Dexter” prompts a fear that cannot be resolved by faith or inner courage. Lurid images from such movies and television shows become ingrained in our minds and continue to scare us long after we have stopped watching.

TIME magazine recently published an article called “The Evil Brain: What Lurks inside a Killer’s Mind.” This article starts with a quote from the mass murderer Charles Whitman.
Whitman wrote: “I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts…”

The article goes on to discuss psychological studies that have shown how a change in the brain—such as the development of a tumor—can be the root of some violent behavior. I accept this science, which says that many murderers and killers have nuances in their brains which cause them to act a certain way—ways they are not often able to control. What I found most intriguing was Whitman’s admission—“I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.” These thoughts led him, in 1966, to kill 17 people and wound 32 in a mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. And I wonder: to what extent does the extreme violence and gore found in television, video games and movies exacerbate the “irrational thoughts” that plague the minds of potential murderers? Could violence infiltrate a susceptible mind, such as a brain structurally predisposed to violence, and lead someone to act on his thoughts?

Colorado shooter James Holmes shot up a movie theater at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” and later told the police “I am the Joker” when being arrested. Seventeen-year-old Andrew Conley strangled his 10-year-old brother Conner with his bare hands back in 2009 and told police, “I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s called ‘Dexter,’ and it’s on Showtime. And I feel like him because he’s a serial killer of bad people … but I just feel like him.” Twenty four-year-old Belgian truck driver Thierry Jaradin dressed up in a black robe and mask like the villain in “Scream” and, in 2001, stabbed his 15-year-old neighbor Alisson Cambier 30 times after she had rejected his advances.

Nathaniel White is a serial killer who killed some of his victims in ways derived from the movie “RoboCop 2.” White murdered Juliana Frank, who was pregnant at the time, and said the following about his actions: “The first girl I killed was from a ‘RoboCop’ movie… I seen him cut somebody’s throat then take the knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and left the body in a certain position. With the first person I killed I did exactly what I saw in the movie.”

The obscene gore in movies, we have seen, can give evil people ideas and lead to murders and violence. The Surgeon General’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior has discovered through studies that by seeing violence in television and movies, children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, more fearful of the world around them and more likely to engage in aggressive or harmful behavior. That is not true only for children though. Excessive violence surely cannot be good for any mind, which is why I endorse “The Conjuring” and movies like it to replace gore-filled horror movies.

“The Conjuring” is the future of horror movies. It is unlike “Paranormal Activity” or most other haunting-themed movies because it has a strong theme that promotes belief in a higher power. It has an uplifting ending that shows good conquering evil even in a seemingly hopeless situation, and it is based on a true story. It does not need bloodshed to make it suspenseful or scary. And it does not make you distrust the world or fear for your life or want to go out and kill—instead, it gives you a reason to have more faith.

Meredith Berger’s columns usually appear Mondays in The Cavalier Daily.

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