Trick or Treat?: Musings on Monsters, Judgement Houses, and the Survival of the Virgins

Some thoughts and links to get us all in the Halloween spirit:

Halloween is full of monsters. As I've written about before, monsters are often hybrids. A fun and colorful illustration of this is this mythical creatures Venn diagram. Check it out.

George forwarded me this very good article about monsters and our moral imagination. Here are the concluding paragraphs from Stephen Asma's article:

My own view is that the concept of monster cannot be erased from our language and thinking. It cannot be replaced by other more polite terms and concepts, because it still refers to something that has no satisfactory semantic substitute or refinement. The term's imprecision, within parameters, is part of its usefulness. Terms like "monster" and "evil" have a lot of metaphysical residue on them, left over from the Western traditions. But even if we neuter the term from obscure theological questions about Cain, or metaphysical questions about demons, the language still successfully expresses a radical frustration over the inhumanity of some enemy. The meaning of "monster" is found in its context, in its use.

So this Halloween season, let us, by all means, enjoy our fright fest, but let's not forget to take monsters seriously, too. I'll be checking under my bed, as usual. But remember, things don't strike fear in our hearts unless our hearts are already seriously committed to something (e.g., life, limb, children, ideologies, whatever). Ironically then, inhuman threats are great reminders of our own humanity. And for that we can all thank our zombies.
Remember when churches used to host haunted houses? I remember having them in my church as a kid and teen. Then the 80s happened and the Christian community collectively freaked out about Satanism, backmasking, and Halloween. No more haunted houses, but plenty of "fall festivals" (a Christian euphemism for "Halloween party"). But have you see the Judgment Houses? These are Christianized versions of haunted houses. The basic script has you witness the death of a wayward teen and then follow him/her through a room-by-room tour of hell. At the end of the tour, properly sobered and scared, you get a chance to accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior. It's a delightful evangelism tool. Numerous clips of judgment houses can be found on YouTube.

Last night I watched a bit of John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween on TV. Halloween is generally regarded as the movie that launched the slasher film genre (early examples include Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th with the Saw series as a recent incarnation). As I watched the show I surfed the web about the movie (I often do this) and discovered that one of the influences of Halloween upon subsequent slasher movies is the trope of "the survival of the virgins." From the Wikipedia entry: In these films "characters who practice illicit sex and substance abuse generally meet a gruesome end at the hands of the killer. On the other hand, female characters portrayed as chaste and temperate tend to confront and defeat the killer in the end."

Now what is that all about? Is the survival of the virgins some odd longing for a morally comprehensible universe? A way to scare teens into chastity and sobriety? A form of patriarchy intended to scare young girls into keeping their virginity?

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5 thoughts on “Trick or Treat?: Musings on Monsters, Judgement Houses, and the Survival of the Virgins”

  1. most horror movies filmed in the late 80/90s all had similar tenets: no drugs, no sex, no sin. if you did any of the above - you died. of note - these movies started coming out at the same time that churchs started having harvest festivals and slamming halloween.

    halloween has a long tradition - see samhain.

    samhain is a time to take stock (literally and figuratively) and to speak of those who have passed in the year. hence you get the "night of the dead".

    sorry but christians tend to see bogey men/monsters under every pagan holiday even when there are none.

    though if you are into a little luck - keep your yule tree this year (just chop off the base) and use it next year at your halloween (samhain) bonfire. keep the bonfire small so you can jump it for luck.

  2. "On the other hand, female characters portrayed as chaste and temperate tend to confront and defeat the killer in the end."

    I don't know if this horror genre intends to scare morals into young women, but I think people enjoy seeing the vilest of evil being defeated by the purest in mind and body. (I would guess babies are the most pure and innocent members of society, but virgins look better kicking evil's butt).

  3. There was a judgment house in my town when I was a teenager - called "Hallowed House." Several of my friends were involved and it was very moving, but I always wondered about the rightness of scaring people into Christianity - even on Halloween. I didn't realize it was a larger phenomenon.

    (I love the monster Venn diagram. Way cool!)

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