Se7en revolutionized the game of detective thrillers. But did you know that it also inspired a brief period of Christian horror films?
Se7en, a thriller directed by David Fincher, is widely considered one of the most memorable films of recent memory. The film’s tight script, cinematography and tragic themes have made it a classic and inspired many filmmakers to create similar “meditations of evil”. Two hardened detectives, Brad Pitt & Morgan Freeman, soon become involved in a case involving a John Doe murderer ( Kevin Spacey ) who is “preaching” through The Seven Deadly Sins.
These sins don’t appear in the biblical narrative, but their connection with the Catholic Church and Christian Theology makes SE7en an unusual example of a religious thriller. It challenges our heroes’ perceptions about right and wrong, good and evil and even the question of God.
“Se7en” inspired a new wave of movies.
Se7en’s compelling plot and characters have influenced many other detective thrillers, horror movies and TV shows in the years that followed. Fallen, Denzel Washington’s supernatural thriller in 1998, was about a cop following an apocalyptic serial murderer who used symbols and cryptic messages relating to demonology, to mess with our hero. Bill Paxton directed a psychological thriller in 2000 called Frailty.
It challenged our notions of God’s ” commanded ” people to do horrible things. These films and many others, including End of Days, Resurrection and Millennium, were likely inspired by Fincher’s classic. They were, at the most, green-lit due to their success. All the while, they created distinct characters and worlds. Se7en impacted Hollywood regardless of whether it was intended or not. But it wasn’t over.
Se7en produced many copycat thrillers, which inspired a revival in supernatural and apocalyptic mystery mysteries. This was ironic, considering Se7en does not contain supernatural elements. It also prompted Christian moviegoers to look for content tailored to their religious beliefs. Although religiously-motivated mystery thrillers are not new to many Christians, they were pretty standard. In the late ’90s, many Christian thriller novels, such as the series, took the Evangelical world by surprise. Movies such as Se7en that could touch on these profound spiritual ideas were the last straw to open the floodgates for faith-based Horror. Hollywood wouldn’t be far behind.
Faith-Based Movie Studios
20th Century Fox was the first Hollywood studio to enter the faith-based horror market. Fox saw the Evangelical market and the vast popularity of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as opportunities to make money. The studio wanted to capitalize on that potential. Fox established FoxFaith in 2006 to help match faith-based films and religious audiences. They weren’t the only ones doing this. MGM, Sony and Lionsgate soon had their faith-based wings and partnerships. But Namesake Entertainment was the only faith-based company that worked hard to make “Christian Horror Movie” a reality.
Namesake Entertainment was established in 1996, one year after SE7en premiered. It produced a cable thriller and a Disney Channel Original Movie. The first feature film adaptation of the Left Behind series (yes, the Kirk Cameron one) before it was able to move into horror territory. Their relationship with Ralph Winter, a veteran Hollywood producer, was a critical factor in their partnership with 20th Century Fox.
Winter is best known for his work with the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Star Trek films. Namesake and Fox sought out the most prominent Christian authors to help them build a stronger brand. Se7en could reach large audiences. The question was: Why couldn’t they produce high-quality, life-affirming entertainment for the values-seeking general audience? This is where Frank Peretti, and Ted Dekker come in.
The Novels of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti: Adaptation
Frank Peretti was once called a sanctified Stephen King.” Peretti had been well-known within Evangelical Christian circles ever since the publication of his novel This Present Darkness in the mid-1980s. This book combined the supernatural worlds of demons and angels with a college-town conspiracy that threatened Ashton’s soul. This book quickly became his most famous work.
It spawned a sequel, Piercing the Darkness and other supernatural mystery thrillers like The Oath and Prophet. Fox was also able to see the results of Ted Dekker, a prolific Christian thriller author. Dekker was the author of many famous novels, such as Flash, Obsessed and The Circle Series. He would continue to write many more. They were a popular choice for faith-based horrors due to their similarity in style and subject matter with films like SE7en.
Peretti’s Hangman’s Curse, which is geared towards younger audiences, was made a feature film in 2003. It was a major Hollywood studio’s first Adaptation of Peretti’s works. The film failed to make it at the box office. However, DVD sales, TV rights, and international distribution helped save production. Fox decided to continue this venture. In 2006, Peretti’s subsequent Adaptation, the Visitation, was made available straight to DVD.
This thriller was about a small-town doctor who claims to be The Second Coming. It starred Martin Donovan and Edward Furlong. Kelly Lynch and Randy Travis. They all played their roles well for such a simple script. The Visitation, a better novel, feels more like a bad episode on The X-Files, Supernatural, or Kelly Lynch than an exciting supernatural horror. But it does its best.
In 2006, FoxFaith launched a film adaptation of Dekker’s psychological thriller Thr3e. It starred Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the movie’s star. It stole its title and colour scheme. The film was only in theatres for over two weeks before being pulled. This cost the studio half of its budget.
Thr3e’s plot and psychological themes were criticized as a ripoff of Se7en and Saw. Nicolas Cage also wrote the screenplay in Adaptation. Although Dekker’s original novel was published in 2003, one year before saw and six months after Adaptation, some plot criticism is not particularly valid. The movie occasionally references Saw, Se7en, and other concerns without clearly defining the stakes. Although you might not be able to see the final twist, it is still worth mentioning.
Faith-Based Horror was on the Way Out
FoxFaith abandoned faith-based horrors after its final failure and moved towards positive content, including biblical epics and period romance. Other studios saw potential in the Christian terror scene, so Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate teamed up to adapt Peretti’s and Dekker’s collaborative novel, House. Robby Henson (who had directed Thr3e and The Visitation) also directed the film.
Lance Henriksen was the voice of the Tin Man, and it followed two couples living in rural Alabama who were forced to flee from a madman who claimed to have “killed God.” House had a budget of $2.5 million and made less than a million in theatrical release. It didn’t make it to the home video. This, along with poor reviews, ended any Christian horror productions based on Peretti and Dekker’s works.
Namesake Entertainment was soon disbanded. This sub-genre of B-movies failed to make it onto the big screen because no other companies wanted to produce more Christian thrillers. Sony would make a further foray into faith-based Horror with the 2014 Affirm Movies release. However, this found-footage apocalyptic thriller, which starred Alexa Vegas and Shaun Sipos, was a one-and-done production. There was also Nicolas Cage left behind in the reboot. But that movie is not worth the mention.
These Movies Did Not Have Success
So why did the Visitation, Third and House all fail? One, none of these movies featured current big-name actors. These films often featured actors whose careers were in decline at the time. This is evident because they agreed to participate in these productions. They aren’t bad actors and give their best, but these films don’t have much to work from. You might have something solid to work on from a few more passes with the screenplay. But alas, it wasn’t. The studios did not hire Peretti or Dekker for adaptations of their work.
The film’s production quality is another issue. Many of these movies look like poor mid-’90s/early2000s television episodes. This is not a compliment. This Christian horror film put the B in B-movie. It’s a shame, considering they had a lot of great material. Visitation has an exciting concept. It criticizes cult leaders and blind followers, as well as the Neo-Charismatic movement. While it is a story about broken faith, Peretti’s original novel has much potential, but the execution is poor.
All audiences can enjoy Christian Horror.
This is the main problem with this new wave of Se7en-inspired Christian terror films: they are incongruent. It’s not a bad idea to appeal to religious audiences, but it is not foolish to make faith-based horror movies. Adapting Peretti and Dekker’s works is an excellent idea since they can be easily marketed to a wider audience than just Evangelicals. The horror genre has been around for more than 100 years with Christian themes and religion.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula addresses faith and belief issues while appealing to religious and non-religious audiences. Many movie adaptations and interpretations of Dracula have often kept this in mind, with Abraham Van Helsing’s faith and his companions almost always intact. It doesn’t get any more Christian than the Count, who cannot go near a crucifix or into the light.
Similar to demonic-based horrors like The Exorcist and The conjuring series, these films are heavily influenced by Christianity in their theme and content. This is particularly true for The Cursing films, as the first two instalments were created by brothers Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, who were both Baptist. Their faith was a significant inspiration for the original movies. The Reaping and The Crucifixion were also religiously inspired horrors.
This is not to mention The nun, which is a Conjuring spinoff. The ending of this chapter sees the demon Valek defeat by the literal blood of Jesus Christ. These productions differ from Thr3e and House because they were well-made and well-marketed to general audiences, despite religious undertones.
Faith-based movies do not have to be preachy or wrong. The Book of Eli and Hacksaw Ridge are just a few examples. Night Shyamalan’s Signs and even M. The audience’s central values are compelling characters, a well-written plot and production value that makes them feel part of the story. This era of Christian B horror failed. However, there are still hopes that Ted Dekker’s works will be adequately adapted.