Let’s be honest about something: we all have questionable tastes. Whether it’s music, movies, food, or fashion, something that we enjoy would make most people turn up their noses. I’ll use myself as an example. I absolutely love Michael Bay movies. I also have a soft spot for rapcore and nu metal. My fashion sense, if it could be called that, is stuck squarely in the 1990s. And I’m old enough now that I don’t care at all.
Let me be honest about something else: as a creative person, I am connected with many other creative types on social media. Yet hardly a day goes by when I don’t come across something that makes me think, “Ugh! How can you like that?” This thought often enters my mind when I see something related to the extreme side of the horror genre, such as torture porn, splatterpunk, cannibal horror, etc.
I’m not dissing the horror genre as a whole. I’ve enjoyed plenty of creepy and ghoulish tales, and I know that everyone has different tolerances and sensitivities. But when I see some of the descriptions and covers of these insanely brutal stories and films, they can look positively nauseous. I haven’t read any books that would be considered “splatter” but I would say that American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis contains several passages that dive headlong into the gruesome pool (and make the movie look tame by comparison).
Now you might be saying, “Well Mark, look at the books you’ve written.” Yes, my books often contain quite a bit of graphic content. My first trilogy, set in a world where Satanism has replaced Christianity, contains numerous scenes of theatrical and eye-popping violence. I will contend that my medieval plague epic, Nikolai the Penitent, is one of the most graphic Christian fiction books in recent decades. My imagination has always been excited by fictionalized violence, which is also why I am drawn to action movies and heavy metal music. So even though I am shocked by how some people can be entertained by the horrors of torture porn and splatter stories, I can empathize at least on some level.
But something’s been changing within me recently. I’ve become more diligent in my walk with the Lord, spending more time in His word and prayer and trying to be more intentional about witnessing. And as I am trying to align my heart and my mind with God’s, I find myself less drawn to these forms of entertainment. I still enjoy a cheesy action movie and I still headbang to a solid metal riff, but I feel disturbed if the violence is sadistic or the lyrics are aggressive. I’ve never been an angry person so horror movies and metal music were never a means of escape or mental catharsis for me, but the power and aggression were captivating.
Not so much these days. This is also reflected in my own writing. Many of you know that I’m taking some time off from writing as “Mark Carver” in order to write contemporary Christian Western books under a pen name. It was only meant to be just a short break to let my imagination recharge, but when I look back at some of my old books, I don’t know if I can write like that again. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve written. Yes, I have some shocking material, but it is all firmly under the banner of Christian fiction, even if some people don’t see how that’s possible. However, I won’t deny that a part of me took perverse delight in writing those horrific scenes, just like many people get a kick out of a particularly “cool” kill in a movie, or how others enjoy watching helpless victims get fictitiously but realistically tortured on screen or in a book.
So does this mean I’m getting soft? Legalistic? Boring? No. As I said, I’m proud of my books, even if they are a little messed up. I’ve just noticed a direct correlation between my walk with God and my entertainment and creative inclinations, and this is why I can look at people who revel in stomach-churning horror and see that what they need is prayer. This is also why books that are both Christian and horrifying are still necessary because they can be a way to reach out to unbelievers who otherwise wouldn’t pick up a Christian book. But if you are a believer, I would encourage you to pray about what entertainment you enjoy. Listen to your conscience, because that is the voice of the Holy Spirit within you.
Personally, I’ve started enjoying bluegrass and Southern gospel along with my heavy metal. Want to fight about it?