Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari" (1920)

One of the all-time greats of silent film horror, (if the relatively small amount of such films that survive to this day really makes that an achievement) “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is ground breaking in several ways. It is a premier example of German Expressionism. It set a visual standard that would dominate horror and noir for years to come. It introduced the “twist ending.” Even if that last bit was not something the filmmakers intended.

Today the film is too outdated to be enjoyed by most audiences, but it really is a great film. The story is simple. A psychologist uses a hypnotized victim—a patient in his sanitarium—to kill people. When the “somnambulist” is too overcome by the beauty of a victim to carry out the job, she gets away and he dies. When the doctor is caught in his scheme, he is committed to his own hospital. With that story deemed a little too intense for the days audiences, the whole thing is capped off with an additional ending revealing the whole story to be the invention of a madman.

Many critics have tried to demonstrate how this story revealed things about the German society of the time that predicted the horrors to come, but that is a bit of a stretch. That being said, all of the art of the Weimar Republic is fascinating to look at in light of where the country had been, the state of things after WWI, and where the world was headed. If you can handle silent films, this one is available online at no cost.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TV’s Takes on Dracula

In light of the new television series “Dracula,” it might be worthwhile to consider past adaptations of the book to TV. Namely, the two Masterpiece Theater-Type approaches aired in 1977 and 2006. Both appear to be available to view in their entirety on Youtube. The question is, should you?

The 1977 miniseries is widely considered to be the most faithful adaptation. That is an accurate consideration. Apart from some minor changes (like the combination of two secondary characters into one) it sticks for the most part to the story as presented in the novel. That is usually the point of Masterpiece Theater. (In this case it was actually a part of “Great Performances.”) The big stumble of this interpretation lies in some poor choices in editing and effects. They try to convey the supernatural with stuff that might have looked cool and innovative in the seventies, but I doubt it was good even then. If you want a good idea of what the book is like but are too lazy to read, then this is the adaptation for you.

The 2006 film is more of an interpretation—as most film versions of the story tend to be. That being said, it makes some really interesting choices. The novel is rich in that it is open to a wide variety of interpretations. This film version is unique in that its changes and deviations from the book highlight the religious/faith based reading. Here, Dracula isn’t just an evil force, he is a satanic one. In the book, Dracula’s motivations are vague and the reasons for his move to London are not revealed. Here he is summoned by a satanic cult using the desperation of a sick man seeking a cure. The film does not shy away from the Christian faith of the protagonists. It even makes a point in one scene to emphasis that this is a battle engaged through faith, not science.

Characters are changed around, the plot is streamlined, and—as always in film versions of Dracula—the sexual enticement of evil is highlighted. In this case, none of those things hurt the story. For this viewer at least, this version focuses on themes that are the real strength of the story. (And thankfully, there is no romantic subplot about Dracula trying to regain a long-lost love, something that every adaptation since the Jack Palance version of the early seventies has had to incorporate. The new TV series seems to be banking heavily on that tired invention.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Parable of the Hidden Lamp (Mark 4:21-25)

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

In this second of the Kingdom parables, Mark highlights a different use of the hidden lamp imagery that Jesus apparently employed often. (See Mathew 5:15) Here, Jesus is using the ironic image of a hidden lamp to clarify the hidden nature of the Kingdom of God. Whereas in Matthew, Jesus is telling His hearers to be a light and to shine the message of truth into the world, here He is assuring them that the Kingdom will be revealed. At the time Jesus spoke this parable—and even today—the Kingdom of God is come but not universally visible. People at large simply do not see the truth.

This hidden aspect of the Kingdom is seen in the way Jesus taught about it. He spoke in parables so that most people would “see but not perceive, hear but not understand.” In the parable of the soils we see repeatedly that most of those who “hear” the message don’t get it. It is snatched away before they can respond or persecution and worldly concerns keep people from fully accepting it. Only those who hear and believe are changed.

That is a key aspect of the Kingdom of God. It is accepted through faith. And faith is all about trusting a truth that cannot be seen.

Jesus doesn’t stop there. It is not enough to hear. We need to discern. Jesus warns His hearers to be careful about what they listen to. We need to distinguish between God’s voice and the imitators, deceivers and enemies posing as friends. A constant struggle throughout the history of the church right from the times of the New Testament has been the struggle to sift the true teaching from the false.

A final aspect of this parable of the hidden Kingdom is mere speculation on my part. However, there is a clear relation between hearing and obedience. My dad used to tell me I was hearing him without listening. The kind of hearing Jesus was calling for was closer to that old English word harken. We are not merely to hear God’s voice like background music—merely a fringe part of our world. We are to harken to His voice, to listen and follow what He is asking of us. Accepting involves obeying.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Splice" (2010)

“Splice” is a modernization of the Frankenstein story—the age-old temptation of mankind to tread onto God’s territory of life and death. In Shelly’s story man sought to reverse death, here he tries to create new life. It is as relevant a story as ever, and seems truly more and more plausible today than it probably ever did before. It has gone from gothic atmospheric metaphor to scary scientific plausibility.

The fact that it is told so well by an (at the time) new filmmaker, independently and with such capable effects-work and story-telling skill makes it all the more noteworthy. This is not your run-of-the-mill cheap-o-horror. What it is is disturbing, thought provoking horror. Perhaps too disturbing.

What makes this film all the more noteworthy is a new slant that is added into the mix. Here we do not have a mad-scientist run amok; we have a couple. A man and his woman, or more precisely: an Eve and her Adam.

Every step of the way the boundaries of ethics are being pushed by the woman in this story while the man weakly, meekly, follows along. That being said, we are never led to think that he is faultless. On the contrary he seems to be even more to blame because he goes along with her abominable experiments even though he knows what they are doing is wrong.

As man becomes more and more callous to what his conscience is telling him, he falls further and further into inexplicable depravity. That is certainly the case here. What starts as a rebellion against authority, medical ethics, and good sense becomes a total inability to see what is right. The man scientist is sexually tempted by the monster he has helped create, and the woman becomes so invested in her monstrosity that she goes from being bioengineer to mother, literally.

It is a morality play on the grandest of scales, and one that probably needs to be heard in today’s culture. That being said, audiences today likely miss the implications.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"Peeping Tom" (1960)

The film that single-handedly killed Michael Powell’s career seemed shocking at the time. Today it plays pretty tame. Of course, some would argue that it was films like this that got the ball rolling to where we are today. That is not something to tackle in a little blog post like this one.

What is interesting and relevant about this story for audiences today is what—at the time in 1960—was an unthinkable aspect of the horror behind the murderous character Mark Lewis. His father had filmed nearly every aspect of his childhood. The horror! That thing that drove little Mark to mental illness and murder is something that is increasingly commonplace in today’s world. But rather than say, “Oh, we know something like that is harmless,” we ought to consider Powell was onto something.

Is the way that we document and publish our children’s daily lives in photos and videos to a (likely, largely imagined) world-wide audience warping the next generation? Some today fear the breach of privacy, but it is unlikely there is a large danger for most in a “public” life on the web. There just aren’t enough people interested in our little lives. However, the worldview we are giving our children is something we need to consider.

Do we want our kids to think that they are the center of their own universe; that they are the stars of their own little reality show? Are we robbing them of a normalcy—a healthy understanding of their own place in the world—customary human interaction? Does such a thing even exist anymore?

In 1960 it was considered bizarre that a man would interact with the world exclusively through a camera lens. In the 2010s we have arrived in a bizarre-world where those of us not filtering the world through an electronic screen are the odd-balls.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Suspiria" (1977)

Dario Argento’s films don’t quite work for me. They tend to be stories that struggle with cohesiveness, or at times seem downright unintelligent. One gets the impression—as is the case with many visually driven filmmakers—that he had a few good set pieces in mind and then strung them together without much thought to a plot. More problematic is Argento’s emphasis of violence, particularly toward women. His mystery stories are Giallos; where the concern is not with solving a puzzle or achieving justice, but rather depicting as much disturbing violence as possible.

“Suspiria” is the one standout. Not that it has a more compelling plot, nor is it tied together any more cohesively. Aesthetically speaking it is something to behold. The colors are some of the most vibrant ever filmed, and every scene is strangely beautiful. And the score—as strange and experimental as it is—has a place among the best scores of all time.

The story almost manages to work because the crazy, inexplicable attacks on the women in the film are attributed to evil itself. They can be bizarre and surreal because they are not bound by logic or even physics but are the work of supernatural forces. In the end the story is nothing more than a fairy-tale set in modern times, where the heroine has to courageously face and destroy the evil witch.

Argento went on to film two more stories in his witch trilogy, with diminishing returns each time. The second film, “Inferno” has one good set piece in a submerged basement, but not much else. The third entry, “The Mother of Tears” is pretty dreadful.

With Argento one does not get a commentary or reflection on the nature of evil, and barely a sense of good VERSUS evil. He wants to create a reaction in his audience and merely employs evil to achieve it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Are You Casting or Growing? (Mark 4:1-20)

This may be the most read—and most misread—parable in the Bible.

Parables are simple stories that illustrate a teaching. They should never be read like some sort of code, where each and every element reveals some hidden truth. We should not try to allegorize them in any way. That is an example of bad interpretation. Of course, we are tempted to do so largely by the Bible itself—specifically this parable—because the Bible does on occasion use allegory. However, when it does it clearly interprets the allegory; as it does here.

Even here we are tempted to read in more than what is there. Or sometimes we get so caught up in all the imagery that we miss the important stuff. For example: if you are a believer, where do you see yourself in this parable. It is likely that you see yourself as the sower. If so, you are mostly wrong.

The sower distributes the Word. For the past several generations believers have been taught that that is their job. Preach the Word, evangelize, and make converts. That is not an entirely bad thing, but it is an error of over-simplification. Jesus did tell His disciples to share the news of the Kingdom, but He never said that we should make converts. He commanded His disciples to make more disciples—to reproduce. That is an organic concept. In this story, we are actually the soils. Our measure of obedience lies not in how much seed we cast, but rather in how much fruit we produce. That is a more challenging task.

Evangelism pushers will speak of this parable and remind people that it is not our job to determine how good the soil is; we just cast seed everywhere. True. Everyone needs to hear. However, soil quality determination is extremely vital. We need to examine ourselves and determine what sort of soil we are. Are we the kind of disciples who prioritize our relationship with God above everything else in life, or those who have accepted the Gospel as just another aspect among many others in life? How’s your fruit?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Werewolf Stories

The classic horror stories and archetypes carry rather specific messages. Vampire stories tend to be about the danger of seductive evil. Frankenstein’s monster and reanimation stories are a metaphor for the capacity for evil that lies within mankind; specifically in our struggle to usurp God’s place in creation. Mummies are all about the curse of history and the attempt to hold onto the mistakes we have made in our cultural pasts. Zombies—the relatively new kid on the block—are all about the fragility and flaws of society.

The other classic subgenre, the werewolf stories are about our own brutal, violent tendency towards evil that we continually give into, despite all efforts on our part to resist. It is a curse. Try as we might we are little better—no, in these stories natural man is reduced to exactly no more than vicious animals. The curse in the werewolf story mirrors the curse of sin. Unfortunately, these stories also tend to be the most boring horror. Why that is remains a mystery to me. The topic has huge potential for drama. However, for some reason—cinematically speaking—these stories tend to be more about make-up and effects than actual story.

Whatever the reason, they just don’t work. As a result there are scant numbers of films about werewolves, especially in comparison to the other classic monster stories. A few of the stories worth mentioning are:

“An American Werewolf in London” (1981)

Not a fan. This movie is heralded for its humor and effects, both of which are oversold.

“Dog Soldiers” (2002)

This is supposed to be some sort of Scottish masterpiece. Impressively made, but merely derivative.

“Teen Wolf” (1985)

Not a horror film, but uses the theme effectively to address the issue of adolescence.

“The Curse of the Werewolf” (1960)

Hammer’s spin on the story. As always a solid piece of work.

“Silver Bullet” (1985)

A mess of a movie, but gets automatic bonus points for when it was made. There is something about films from 1984-1989. (Nostalgia factor, I suppose.)

“Werewolf of London” (1935)

The first werewolf film Universal doesn’t really set the classic tropes that they would establish for the genre later in…

“The Wolfman” (1941)

The classic. It is not as good, nor as bad, as you might have guessed. I have yet to check out the Joe Johnston remake. (2010)

“Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit” (2005)

Best werewolf, err rabit, film ever.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When the Frost Is in the City

(Flattery through imitation)

When the frost is on the windshields and the glass fronts of the shops
And you see the breath of scurriers and smoke from smokestack tops
And sparks jump from the streetcar wires and sweat drips in their windows
Sparrows start to fly away south and red squirrels build their burrows
The air is crisp, the light is golden, and hearts let out a sigh
Summer lethargy is finally over, colors come to life
The city tries to ignore the cold and life begins to hop
When the frost is on the windshields and the glass fronts of the shops

Spring and summer displayed such life, the year now seems turned towards death
It’s more a maturity, says the best is to come yet
Thoughts turn to celebrations and gatherings of light and warmth
Food and love and family, candle lights and hot teas on hearths
Rhythms slow, the sun hides away, the city feels somehow tired
Everyone rushes from A to B benches are not desired
And cyclists store their bikes away as temps, they start to drop
When the frost is on the windshields and the glass fronts of the shops

Coats, gloves, scarves and long underwear are taken out of storage
As trees trade in their shades of green for yellows, reds, and orange
The days begin and end in a patchwork of electric light
And every afternoon, showers pop umbrellas into sight
For a moment the carpet of leaves mirrors still clothed branches
Till the walkways become a mixture of dead leaves and dampness
The warmest fans of fireplace mantels collect their firewood crop
When the frost is on the windshields and the glass fronts of the shops

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 5c)

Season 5b  Season 6a

Season 5 plods along—albeit with quality—towards an end that is the best thing Trek had done in a long time. It harkens back to the end of the Next Generation season 3.

Episode 19 “Ties of Blood and Water”

This episode is in many ways “DS9” in a nut shell. It is a story with a lot of meaning and heart and it communicates important ideas, but it is pretty dry and boring. Kira’s father figure is dying and she has an opportunity to be with him at the end; something she missed with her real father. Good stuff, but forced.

Episode 20 “Ferengi Love Songs” 

Another Quark story. This time, his mother is revealed to be the Ferengi leader’s lover—and the smarts behind the throne. Humorous, but also insightful. Ferengi’s are effectively used in Trek to—among other things—make commentary on relations between the sexes. Again, the message here is a bit too much.

Episode 21 “Soldiers of the Empire”

This Klingon story is either stupid, or too brilliant to grasp on a first viewing. It is a story about leadership, and about pushing people to be the best they can be. Somehow Worf has to betray one of his mentors in order to help him overcome cowardice, where he in turn can help an oft-defeated troop overcome their own motivation problems. I’m not a huge fan of Klingon stories in DS9; especially when they involve Dax trying to be Klingon.

Episode 22 “Children of Time”

Another time travel story, and these are always iffy propositions. Here, the Defiant goes through an anomaly that places them on a planet where a whole civilization has sprung up from the crew. It seems that they are in a future where they crashed trying to leave the planet, and the people there are their descendants. If they try to leave again their success will doom the civilization to never having existed. Yes, it makes one’s head hurt.

Episode 23 “Blaze of Glory”

Eddington and the Maquis employ a ruse to get Sisko to help Eddington save some Maquis on the run from Cardassians. Working together, Sisko and Eddington learn to see each other as more than mere enemies.

Episode 24 “Empok Nor” 

Retrieving parts from a never-before-heard-of sister station, the characters stumble upon a couple Cardassians that are even more xenophobic than normal, thanks to a drug. The drug affects Garak, causing him to attack and even kill members of his own crew. The interesting aspect of this episode is the dismissive way everyone is “OK” with his actions as he was technically not responsible. It is really a fault of the show format, today they would have strung out repercussions for episodes to come. Perhaps they still will?

Episode 25 “In the Cards”

An endearing, funny story in the calm before the war. Everyone is tense and depressed as they face the inevitability of the war with the Dominion. Jake wants to lift his father’s spirit by giving him an old Baseball card. In order to obtain it, he and Nog have to elicit favors from everyone on the station, and get them to do things they enjoy in exchange for what they need. All of that effort is to secure items to trade with the owner of the card, who seems to be certifiably crazy. In the end, everyone’s spirits are lifted.

Episode 26 “Call to Arms”

The tension that has been mounting for a couple years now finally bursts in a very satisfying, emotional provocation of war from Sisko. We can’t wait for season six.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Family, God’s people hear Him (Mark 3:20-35)

Here we see one of my favorite features in Mark’s Gospel, one that he will use seven times, where he will “sandwich” one story in another story. In that way he uses one story to comment on and illustrate the teaching of the other. Here we have Jesus’ family—embarrassed by what they see as Jesus’ strange and “crazy” behavior—coming to take Him home. Sandwiched in that account we have another reaction to Jesus’ ministry, that of the religious academics of the day, the theologians. They find Jesus’ behavior demonic.

What we need to remember here is the nature of Jesus ministry; the thing that everyone was judging to be demonic or crazy. Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of God—the world and humanity as God intends it to be—was come, and the correct response to God’s Kingdom coming is to repent of our own rebellious attempts to build our kingdoms and trust God’s good news of forgiveness. This message was being manifest with healings and exorcisms.

Jesus response to the demonic accusation was two-fold. First, it makes no sense. Why would the enemy attack itself? Secondly, it shows a dangerous inability to recognize the movement of God. What is being offered humanity is reconciliation; forgiveness; redemption. To reject God’s redemption is the worst sort of mistake. It is the “unforgivable sin” because by definition a person rejects forgiveness in rejecting the Gospel.

On the other hand, those who do recognize God’s message for what it is are the true family of God. God’s people hear His voice and respond in acceptance and obedience.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Biblical Reading of "Warm Bodies" (2013)

This film is likely dismissed by a lot of people due to the way it engenders false expectations. Horror fans see a zombie film but are disappointed when it is not “scary.” Romance fans see a film with a young couple at its center (named R and Julie, no less) but discover it is hard to have a really strong love story when one character is dead. Both camps are really missing the point. This is a morality tale about that human condition—the one where humanity has lost its humanity. It is not so much a horror film or a romance film (or a horror-romance film) as it is a parable using the zombie device in an effective, novel way.

Begin with the typical situation. The world has experienced an apocalypse. Most of the world’s population have become the walking dead. Surviving humanity has walled itself into a city and survives thanks to a highly structured, carefully controlled, vigilant new way of life. Most zombies roam aimlessly around, occasionally looking for something alive to eat. Over time, they decompose to the point that they are basically walking skeletons.

Where things differ from a more conventional zombie tale, we get to see this whole story from a zombie’s perspective. The voice over narration affords us the opportunity to learn that zombies are not completely the corpses that humanity thinks they have become. They have a vague consciousness. They are conflicted about the monstrous creatures they have become. They grasp at a sense of the life they had before.

When our main zombie, R, meets Julie, his drive to recover his old life is strengthened. Interaction with a living person awakens something within him. When other zombies witness human interaction, they too begin to change. The real message of Romeo and Juliet begins to emerge when R and Julie try to bring humanity and zombies together, as what they have discovered is a cure for the zombie problem.

There is a lot of good in “Warm Hearts.” The basic message—that humanity needs to recover its true essence through love and forgiveness—rings true. It can even be read through a Biblical lens, namely the first few chapters of Romans.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"The Stepford Wives" (1975)

A true classic of intelligent, thought provoking horror films, “The Stepford Wives” is worth a viewing. Sure it is “on the nose” and completely lacking in subtlety, but the more one thinks about the condition of the women in this film and the way it did reflect a sense of their condition at one point, it is interesting. When one thinks about the many ways women around the world are still seen as objects by societies, it is still relevant.

An interesting factoid about this film was the response it received at the time it was released. Feminists groups hated it and called it “anti-women.” Talk about missing the point!

(That is a frustration that can be voiced against just about any cause once it is taken over by political groups. As a believer that tries earnestly to live according to the teachings of the Bible, I would consider myself pro-women and pro-environment, but the way those causes have been hijacked by people with agendas that are less about their causes and more about empowering their special interests I could not call myself feminist or environmentalist.)

The thing that boggles the mind about the men in “The Stepford Wives” is why they feel the need to replace their wives with exact copies programed to serve. In today’s society we would think the men would dehumanize their wives by merely trading them in for “newer models.” Why deny them a life of their own? However, part of the point here was that women were not allowed by society to “be their own person.”

Coming back to our society today, nearly 40 years later, women really haven’t come as far as we would like to think. It isn’t exclusively the men forcing women into lies of unattainable perfection anymore. The women are doing it to themselves. It is part of the lie of “being their own person” women have built for themselves. Instead of being an ideal wife and fulfilling their husband’s wishes, women today aim for being ideal women and serving societies unattainable expectations.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Mama" (2013)

The goal of great horror is to make the audience think. If it is really great it will disturb audiences by causing them to think about the world in ways they haven’t before, by pointing out things in society or in the sinful human condition that we ignored or never noticed. If it is scary, it is because of all the implications for our daily lives.

But then there is also the simply, scary story. Even if they are not great, they cn be well-done and in their own way they can be fun. However, it seems as though filmmakers are losing the ability to do this sort of atmospheric film anymore. That ability seems to have subsided as computer generated effects have fooled people into thinking something they could show is any better than audiences’ imaginations.

A case in point is this year’s laughably silly “Mama.” Based on an effectively chilling short from a few years ago (posted bellow, but be warned it could be scary) “Mama” attempts to treat the idea of a ghostly mother-figure haunting a couple children in a feature-length format. It ends up being a silly series of creepy scenarios built around a silly plot that no one cares about. It is an attempt to string together a series of computer generated scares with no point beyond jumps.

What’s worse is it chooses to end on the trendy downer, nihilistic type of ending that is so popular these days with no idea what sort of message it wants to deliver.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"The Changeling" (1980)

Over and over again I have seen film critics place “The Changeling” at or near the top of their “scariest films of all time” lists. With all the full-length films appearing on Youtube these days, I finally got the chance to check this classic of eighties horror out. So, is it as scary as people claim?

In a word: no. Most of that may have something to do with Scott’s performance. He does a great job—as always—but his character is never afraid. It is hard for a viewer to feel fear when the protagonist in our story doesn’t. What this film is, however, is atmospherically creepy. The huge house, the music, the situations all add up to an uneasiness that is palpable. What this movie achieves where so many these days fail is accomplished through sound not visuals. Things imagined and unseen are SO much scarier than things created by computer animation.

This movie comes close to being simply a rollercoaster of a horror film. It exists for the scares and the emotions it evokes. What saves it is the mystery behind the scares. Ultimately we care enough about the questions to follow the characters through the chilling situations they go through. That is until we come to the climax and everything falls apart.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Discipleship Call (Mark 3:13-19)

“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”

Called / Came: The call of God is something that we see again and again in the Bible. God calls people back to Himself, starting as soon as mankind chose sin over God’s plan in the Garden. He calls people back into the relationship with Him for which they were created. He also calls people into His mission to redeem creation. This is what we see here as Jesus calls those whom He chose to be His disciples. The call is to discipleship. What is particularly interesting here at the start of this little story is their response. In English it says “they came to Him.” However, the verb here is more than “to come.” It really means “to come away,” “to depart.” The implication here is that the disciples left something to follow Christ. They left their former way of life to become disciples. Discipleship is never something we simply take on in addition to everything else; it is a new way of life. Some have said that Christ “became their new, single goal in life.” That is how discipleship should still be.

Appointed / Made: Discipleship is not a pattern we follow. It is not some method that we learn or into which we grow. Christ made the twelve disciples. The Bible always uses this sort of language to describe salvation. People who repent and trust God are “new creations.” They are “made new.” Most translations render the verb for what Jesus does here as “appoint.” However, its more usual reading is “to make.” Jesus made them, He endowed them with a new quality, He qualified them for the task. Discipleship is less about what we do and what we know or learn and is really more about who we are. Religious people try to follow a list of rules and live out a pattern; disciples do what comes naturally and genuinely want what pleases God.

To be with / To be sent: The life that Jesus called the disciples to was two-fold. He called them to be with Him and to send them out with a mission. This remains the two-fold life of the disciple to this day. We live life with Jesus. We live life on mission in the world. We learn more and more what the heart of God is for us and for the world, and we do our part to bring His heart’s desire to pass.

To Preach / To have Authority: As to the specifics of the task—what the disciples’ part in God’s mission is—this passage lists two things.

(A) They are to preach. Some think this is a special task for a select few disciples. However, the Bible teaches that all of Jesus’ followers are to share the story of the Gospel. This is what all preaching is, or what it should be. Sermons that do not contain the Gospel at their heart are merely theological speeches.

(B) Finally, Jesus gives them authority to cast out demons. What this fully means is beyond me, but this much I know: Authority is a form of power that is wielded on behalf of another. Some translations of this passage include the fact that Jesus called the twelve “Apostles.” This is the sent-out aspect of discipleship. They are like ambassadors for the Kingdom of God in the kingdoms of the world. In this sense, the disciple does wield Jesus’ power. Whether we are to concentrate on demonic power or go around seeing demonic influence everywhere and directly address it is debatable, but one thing is certain: we do not need to fear it.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Jug Face" (2013)

The use of religious imagery in horror: 3. Sociological Observation

“Jug Face” is a “matter of fact,” dispassionate, presentation of an animistic cult somewhere in the backwoods of the South. It opens with an animated credit sequence that gives us the background of the cult. It appears as though, during an outbreak of some epidemic of “pox,” the prayers of a catholic priest had no effect on the sickness. Someone in the community received a vision at a pit in the woods and created a ceramic pot with the priest’s face on it. When they sacrificed the priest to the pit, everyone got better. Since that time, the community has worshiped the pit, prayed to it for healing, and sacrificed people to it whenever the potter created a pot with their face on it.

As our story opens, we see Ada and Jessaby engaging in secret, illicit sex in the woods. We don’t know this yet, but their act is even more taboo in that they are siblings. Later, Ada visits the potter’s house while he is gone and discovers that the newest pot has her face on it. She hides it in the woods rather than face being sacrificed. Since the sacrifice demanded is not performed, other people in the community begin to get sick or even are slaughtered by an unseen force. After a while, Ada is forced to admit her wrong-doings and allow herself to be sacrificed to the pit to set things right. The End.

This film is most disturbing by its lack of commentary. The religion is wrong on so many levels, but it works. Thereby the people in the woods are slaves to a terrible power. Escape seems so close and attainable, but they are held captive due to their loved ones and the community that depends on the pit and the religious ritual surrounding it.

It is a good illustration of the condition of so many people trapped in religious lies and held captive by very real institutional and spiritual powers. One thinks of animistic beliefs, the caste systems in India, sharia law, or simple superstitious fears. The message Jesus brought—the one communicated in the Bible—speaks out against such religious systems. Jesus brought forgiveness and love. If we can just see the traps of sin and slavery we live in and trust Him for the freedom He offers we can escape. We can find a life of meaning where we can be the people we were created to be.

Perhaps the most pervasive system today is the one that thinks it is so liberated and wise. Western culture has seen the folly of animistic, superstitious beliefs but has embraced a new variety that is very similar to the one presented in this story. Instead of a silly pit, we embrace and serve our own limited understanding. We live in slavery to our own declarations about how the world works. We live empty lives and face meaningless deaths all because we have told ourselves that there is nothing beyond the material world. We see these sorts of religious systems as mere phenomenon to be observed and not terrible evils to be overcome.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Season of the Witch" (2011)

The use of religious imagery in horror: 2. The Cautionary Tale

This film is an attempt at an atmospheric, horror-action film set in the Middle Ages that fails pretty badly. That being said, there is a pretty interesting take on Religion and spirituality being presented.

Nick Cage and Ron Pearlman play knights in the service of the Catholic Church in one of the Crusades. They believe that they are serving God by killing infidels, but suffer a crisis of faith when they realize that the Church wants them to kill women and children. They do not abandon their belief in God, they just cease to trust the Church as His voice on Earth. They quit their commissions, basically become apostates, and go on the run. In a village on their way home, they are discovered and forced by a Bishop to go on one last mission. They are to deliver a witch to a monastery to be judged.

The film suffers from the poor production choices that plague all B movies, but this play with the untrustworthiness of religious institutions and systems in a reality where spirituality and the supernatural clearly exist is interesting.

The mistrust of human religions—including the human religious systems developed within the Christian faith—are one of the main sources of atheism. People see the fraud and manipulation on display and reject the system. (This can be a good thing in many cases.) However, for some reason, these people also reject a belief in God and spirituality. They don’t just toss out the human interpretations, they toss out the real message of the Bible.

In “Season of the Witch” evil uses the untrustworthiness of religion for its own purposes. In a way the Catholic Church is evil’s best ally. I think that is often the case with Christianity today. The Church can be its own worst enemy when it ceases to be about God’s love and focuses more on religious systems.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

[Rec]3 Genesis (2012)

The use of religious imagery in horror: 1. The Prop

The makers of “[Rec]” are back with a prequel (and they have another sequel coming out next year). This time around, the zombie outbreak that was documented in the two previous films in a quarantined building, is seen in another setting. The dog from the first film had been to the vet earlier in the day, and now that vet (who was bitten) is attending a wedding reception in a lavish, gated, mansion. As the zombie infection spreads, the bride and groom are separated. Rather than simply escaping, they both fight to find each other. It is an inspiring love. (With all the clich├ęd trappings of the genre.)

This franchise separates itself from other zombie films by having the outbreak tied to spiritual factors, namely it is a form of demonic possession. This is at once silly, but also an intriguing use of the metaphor. Zombies are always stand-ins for evil in society, here they are truly evil. These zombies are incapacitated by prayer, or even the simple reading of Biblical passages. However, for some reason if their host is deaf they do not freeze up. Why, who knows?

Don’t get too caught up in some spiritual message, though. This is as nihilistic and depressing a story as one comes across these days. Horror directors today are less concerned with having something to say and simply out to scare, or—better yet—rip the rug out from under audiences by making them think a happy ending is coming only to have everyone die.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"World War Z" (2013)

I have heard about and wanted to check out the Max Brooks book for a few years now, but it has only recently been available in book stores here in Germany—thanks no doubt to the Brad Pitt blockbuster. That blockbuster, by all accounts has little to do with the book. It also has little to do with horror—both in scares and in morality-tale aspects. It is best described as a wannabe thriller. Wannabe because it is not very thrilling.

Brad Pitt plays an ex-UN-investigator who is recruited by his former bosses to follow the flimsiest of leads in trying to solve a viral outbreak that has wiped out ninety percent of the world’s population in a matter of hours. Actually, to be fair, he is recruited to babysit a real scientist who is to do the investigating, but that idiot manages to die very quickly so Pitt is left to follow an amazing power of intuition.

Most zombie stories worth their make-up use the epidemic as a way to comment on societal ills, usually evil in humanity. Here this is not so much the case. (It is just an explosion-laden thrill ride after all.) However, were it to be a commentary on the nature of evil, it would be a strange one indeed. Here, the only way to avoid the monsters is to be deathly ill. The virus seems to want to infect and kill humanity, and it ignores any humans already knocking on death’s door. A sort of “the devil only attacks those who oppose him” approach. Hardly a feasible approach to spiritual warfare.

But the true challenge with this story lies in staying awake until the end.

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