Incorporating religious themes within cinematic narratives has become so widely used, it can easily go unnoticed. Horror may be the category one would believe to be a juxtaposition to many religious topics, but when the elements are dissected by knowledgeable experts and the veil of indifference is lifted, a chilling reality stands that many scary stories and wide-spread religious anecdotes are one in the same. A collection of written editorials, Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion, and Worship In The Horror Film, produces a variety of analytical offerings that explore these specific themes and how filmmakers apply orthodox beliefs and motifs to their craft.
When we think of thematic elements that fluidly stride alongside the genre of horror, those that ironically stand out are related to the more secular variety. Scared Sacred is embellished with features that prove the two are not exclusive of one another; all is not so black and white. Whether it provides sanctions of peace, meaning, physical and mental comprehension, or terms of existence, religions of all factions prove to have their own damning horrors. Outright or through subtext, the scriptures many abide by through their daily living are pieced together through historic documentation and often that content can be, well, horrifying.
“[Scared Sacred] successfully invites readers to make a deeper connection with the cores of the films they love as well as the characters, filmmakers, artists, and other writers who acknowledge them.”
Bound together by House of Leaves Publishing, the series of commentaries from commendable sources across the film community is enough to satisfy any horror reader’s thirst. All of the excerpts bleed relevancy as each page drips in both application and appreciation. Scared Sacred proudly calls to horror academics of all film facets by printing strong visuals, content, and authors to decipher the religious dynamics that drive classics as well as modern hits. Those who crave literary forms of horror will find an impressive volume of familiar voices, interesting topics, and will even discover new territory with every turn of the page. This book successfully invites readers to make a deeper connection with the cores of the films they love as well as the characters, filmmakers, artists, and other writers who acknowledge them.
Congregation Of Content
Referring to authors like Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, to directors like James Wan (Insidious) and Lars Von Trier (The House That Jack Built), each composition fleshes out the general cinematic themes of good versus evil, questions versus answers, rituals versus traditions, and all the convictions in between. All notably curated by RF Todd, the Managing Director at House of Leaves, the sections examine various conventions and iconic figures in horror films as well as their tremendous range of influential religions across histories of diverse cultures. To put it simply, Scared Sacred glows with confident horror analysis.
Breaking the segments into four large categories: Christianity, Mysticism, Occultism, and Beyond Belief, Scared Sacred provides an exceptional study free of heavy conjecture and tedious density. Modern takes on genre favorites invite readers to keep an open mind as they navigate a steady selection of understanding, respect, and representation. The movement through each of the sections keeps the content original and dynamic. Offering unique perspective from both the writers and the films they assess, the texts expose various ways horror storytellers express the themes, motifs, and anxieties of various religions. Scared Sacred is an experience worthy of any horror connoisseur’s shelf.
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In addition to the lines of magnetic text, one of Scared Sacred’s most creative qualities lies in its art. The cover is adorned with original work by artist Jeremy Thompson, transforming the beloved construct of Pinhead’s Lament Configuration into a bold crucifix. Drawn with inspiration from designs by Simon Sayce, digital artwork by John Sowder, and a design layout by Euan Monaghan, it’s an extremely clever presentation given the book’s general thesis that horror and religion can act as “siblings.” It is an indicative symbol that is both visually appealing and brilliantly nuanced. A true testament to the thought presented by the pages it outfits.
Breaking up the editorials, readers will find full-page artwork marking the four major themes that make up Scared Sacred. Designed by John Sowder, the illustrations set the stage for each category of the book by merging together two films referenced in each section. As if carved into wood, the thick strokes and blunt style of the graphics add fluid, pagan-like imagery to the topics. Marrying two distinct film subjects in the book’s art is a modern, eclectic fusion of choice that deserves as much praise as the subject matter itself. The visual excerpts are novel barriers, making statements all their own.
Showcasing the work of writers from every kind of horror pedigree, Scared Sacred appropriately refers to the “Church of Horror” where “fans make up the congregation”. Grabbing the reader’s attention with an Editor’s Note, the text educates them about “exploring the cultural history of religion in horror cinema” from the start and progresses toward the acceptable notion that the genre still has so much more to teach us as an audience. A foreword from Doug Bradley (Hellraiser), the Hell Priest himself, is enough to spark immediate interest. Following up with a fantastic introduction that prepares the reader’s mindset for the ride they’re about to take, Professor Douglas E. Cowan ignites intrigue. He previews the anthology’s lay of the land with “Reading Religion In The Dead Of Night”.
The pieces bring writers, authors, and critics together by researching established ground and all that still remains to be explored. Individuality meets substance as these valuable authors share their earnest horror intellect. Among the many voices assembled, with this review focusing on those of the selected Scared Sacred works by Alexandra West, Valeska Griffiths, Samm Deighan, and John Cussans, the subject of religion in horror is re-energized through fresh contemplation. What kind of material is covered by these honorary writers? Take a peek:
“[…] Scared Sacred glows with confident horror analysis.”
Alexandra West, journalist, author, playwright, and co-host of the Faculty Of Horror podcast pushes to the forefront of Americana Christianity in her Scared Sacred piece, “Onward, Christian Soldiers: Eyes of Believers in The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016)“. Valeska Griffiths, writer, editor and marketer of House Of Leaves Publishing, and editor and creative director of Grim Magazine, dares to venture into the oppression of witchery with her Scared Sacred content in “From the Stake to the Sanitarium: Taming the Unruly Feminine in Häxan (1922) and Antichrist (2009)“.
Samm Deighan, associate editor and author of Diabolique Magazine associate editor and Daughters Of Darkness podcast co-host, delves into spiritual torment and transformation through his Scared Sacred contribution, “I Believe in Death: William Peter Blatty and the Horror of Faith in The Ninth Configuration (1980) and The Exorcist III (1990)“. Writer, author, artist, and arts educator, John Cussans, sinks his teeth into the complexities and redemption of African American Christianity with his Scared Sacred piece, “A Taste for Blood and Truth: Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess (1973)“.
While these are just four analyses mentioned, the book produces a powerful list of contributions that investigate religious symbols, tropes, and portrayals through film. The authors’ contemporary mindsets pump new blood through topical veins rooted in the deeply complicated histories of religion. These are writers that horror fans of all levels will recognize, trust, and enjoy, adding a special factor to Scared Sacred’s inevitable literary legacy.
Scared Sacred: Idolatry, Religion, and Worship In The Horror Film is currently available for pre-order through holpublishing.com in both softcover The first edition of the book is limited to 500 paperback copies with a silver foiled cover and 100 collectible hardback copies with an alternate gold foiled cover (get it while you can, the hardcover will not be reprinted!). The anthology will begin printing this February.