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Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selve Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selves: of evil; of the flesh; of sacred places; of a change in the sacred order; of the supernatural gone out of control; of death, dying badly, or not remaining dead; of fanaticism; and of the power--and the powerlessness--of religion.


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Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selve Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selves: of evil; of the flesh; of sacred places; of a change in the sacred order; of the supernatural gone out of control; of death, dying badly, or not remaining dead; of fanaticism; and of the power--and the powerlessness--of religion.

30 review for Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    I was drawn to this because of the cover art! I think it's interesting to explore how horror movies reflect the fears of a given culture and, also, that culture's feelings toward religion; the author's conclusion is that there's ambivalence regarding the power of religion to mitigate our fears. Downside is the academic prose that can be a bit much at times. I was drawn to this because of the cover art! I think it's interesting to explore how horror movies reflect the fears of a given culture and, also, that culture's feelings toward religion; the author's conclusion is that there's ambivalence regarding the power of religion to mitigate our fears. Downside is the academic prose that can be a bit much at times.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jaybird Rex

    While a horror connoisseur can appreciate the theories in a book like this, watching the movies themselves is infinitely more enjoyable. Unfortunately, I found little here that I hadn't already considered on my own. Also sad, the name-dropping of titles (as examples for every point made) didn’t expose me to any new horrors -- I've seen every bloody title the book mentioned! Maybe I've just been watching this filthy genre for too long, but I would really have appreciated more foreign titles and s While a horror connoisseur can appreciate the theories in a book like this, watching the movies themselves is infinitely more enjoyable. Unfortunately, I found little here that I hadn't already considered on my own. Also sad, the name-dropping of titles (as examples for every point made) didn’t expose me to any new horrors -- I've seen every bloody title the book mentioned! Maybe I've just been watching this filthy genre for too long, but I would really have appreciated more foreign titles and some deeper digging. As far as religion in horror, this is fine for an introduction, but you need to get into the video store dust and bones for a lot of other takes on the subject. Guess that's up to you, lucky explorer. All of the above said, Cowan's book is more readable than some of the other horror "explanation" books out there. I'd recommend it particularly to Christians seeking a fresh angle on their faith.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike Duran

    My only real gripe is the author's deconstruction of the "sacred" throughout this work. Fear is portrayed as more of a social phenomenon (sociaphobia) and religious fear is less the response to Someone truly holy or something Absolutely Moral or Evil, and more a byproduct of cultural mores and folkish whimsy. Other than that, there's lots of interesting insights into horror cinema and its colorful, often freaky, intersections with religion. Four out of five stars. My only real gripe is the author's deconstruction of the "sacred" throughout this work. Fear is portrayed as more of a social phenomenon (sociaphobia) and religious fear is less the response to Someone truly holy or something Absolutely Moral or Evil, and more a byproduct of cultural mores and folkish whimsy. Other than that, there's lots of interesting insights into horror cinema and its colorful, often freaky, intersections with religion. Four out of five stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Bishop

    Cowan's book is an analysis of the cultural power exerted by horror films as they're received in a society markedly ambivalent about the religious elements that these films seek to exploit. In other words, how does our fear of the Other and the unknown exploited by religion in turn become exploited by horror cinema? Cowan examines most of the high points of horror cinema to find the thematic correspondences that unite fear of God and fear of the darkness. He argues his thesis very well and with Cowan's book is an analysis of the cultural power exerted by horror films as they're received in a society markedly ambivalent about the religious elements that these films seek to exploit. In other words, how does our fear of the Other and the unknown exploited by religion in turn become exploited by horror cinema? Cowan examines most of the high points of horror cinema to find the thematic correspondences that unite fear of God and fear of the darkness. He argues his thesis very well and with any number of relevant examples from horror film history. The majority of his examples are very well-known and there's a delight in recognizing the deeper themes of films that are seen as nothing more than supernatural thrillers. Cowan takes each film and related theme seriously enough to show the religious fear of the unknown that each film exploits. He restricts his approach to the realm of psychology and leaves the deeper historical and religious analyses to the many excellent books cited in his well-researched bibliography. While this is more like an intermediate text for the initiated, Cowan is very accessible and I would offer few hesitations for offering the book as an introduction. If anything, Cowan asks enough questions and provides deep enough analysis to set one on the way to further thinking and viewing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kate Davis

    Full critical review in the Anglican Theological Review. But a summary review (from someone who is not a fan of horror but is a huge fan of theology & culture): Cowan recognizes that horror films draw on our deepest fears, and pairs this fact with the observation that religious imagery is often used, leading to his question: Why do horror and religion intersect? He argues that horror films reveal USAmericans deep ambivalence around religion: on the one hand, we are compelled by the mysteries; on t Full critical review in the Anglican Theological Review. But a summary review (from someone who is not a fan of horror but is a huge fan of theology & culture): Cowan recognizes that horror films draw on our deepest fears, and pairs this fact with the observation that religious imagery is often used, leading to his question: Why do horror and religion intersect? He argues that horror films reveal USAmericans deep ambivalence around religion: on the one hand, we are compelled by the mysteries; on the other, we are fearful that there may be more going on than we understand. This is equally true for Christianity (graveyards, vampires fought with crosses, and Catholic exorcisms) as Voodou (zombies) and Egyptian religion (mummies). Cowan offers six primal fears, then selects exemplary films to discuss each one. I'd recommend to academic audiences, especially to those interested in theology and culture, broader culture studies, movements of secularization and rationalization, film studies, and social psychology. The question I was left with that Cowan doesn't address: How does horror resolve our anxieties or transform our fears? Perhaps they don't. Films often re-provoke anxieties in the final scenes to establish room for a sequel, and to continue the play on our collective fears. Resolving those anxieties, I suspect, is the work of engaging true religion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    This is a book that I actually read the year that it came out, but before I'd started a Goodreads account. I liked it so much the first time around I thought that I would read it again. In the intervening years I've read quite a few books on horror movies, so Cowan's treatment seemed less fresh this time around, but it was still well worth a second reading. Covering a variety of fears (sociophobias) Cowan, as a sociologist, looks at the needs such movies meet on a social level. He relates these f This is a book that I actually read the year that it came out, but before I'd started a Goodreads account. I liked it so much the first time around I thought that I would read it again. In the intervening years I've read quite a few books on horror movies, so Cowan's treatment seemed less fresh this time around, but it was still well worth a second reading. Covering a variety of fears (sociophobias) Cowan, as a sociologist, looks at the needs such movies meet on a social level. He relates these fears to religious developments and theological positions. There is some room for disagreement here, but overall he manages to handle interesting movies in a thoughtful way. As I've noted before, anyone who watches horror movies will have her or his own list of favorites. Both times I read this book I came away with a list of films that I wanted to see. That's a sign of a pretty successful monograph, I think. This book is highly recommended by me. I wrote a couple of blog posts about it. Most recently: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Waldman

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cathye

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bex Todd

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andy

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hank

  15. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  16. 4 out of 5

    OTIS

  17. 5 out of 5

    Zack Long

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adam Metz

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bea Fones

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maria Jernigan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Heather Sarah

  22. 5 out of 5

    Micah Spiece

  23. 4 out of 5

    John Blaker

  24. 4 out of 5

    Clint Bland

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joann

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jess Peacock

  27. 4 out of 5

    J. Kingrea

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris Crane

  29. 4 out of 5

    sofia

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Baker

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