"We are legion": primal dreams and screams in the Satanic screen.
Attempts to explain the lure of the tale of terror have been around for almost as long as the genre of fiction has existed. In the 18th century, Edmond Burke called the pleasures of vicarious fear "sublime": "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling." (1) He offers a variety of examples of the sublime: mountains, storms at sea, ruins, and even various colors and smells, all conducive to creating unease. His theory on the pleasures of fear inspired generations of gothic novelists, beginning with Charlotte Smith and Anne Radcliffe in the 1790s.
Modern behavioral studies offer the potential for critical theories that are both similar to and different from Burke's. Freud's writings on the tripartite psyche and the role of the unconscious mind have long inspired analysis of literature and film, beginning with Ernest Jones' 1910 essay "Hamlet and Oedipus." Carl Jung described what he called archetypes, primordial images imbedded in the human mind that influence our lives and create a response to art, literature and, of course, film. Maude Bodkins adapted Jung's work to literary criticism in her 1934 book Archetypal Patterns in Poetry. (2) Freud's and Jung's writings have inspired schools of critical analysis, beginning with the premise of both Freudians and Jungians that the unconscious, be it the individual as in Freud's writings or the collective in Jung's, drives some human behavior and can therefore create a response to literature or film. Burke's description of the sublime bears similarities in his assertion that powerful emotions override reason, presumably triggering response in the unconscious through association. More recently, criticism has focused on culture as an influence in our response to literature and film. Cowan, for instance, describes films as "sociophobic artifacts, the artistic traces of a wide variety of fears that continue to haunt us." "Put differently," he writes, "our culture teaches us in a variety of ways what to fear [in the horror film], and through a variety of cultural products reflects and reinforces the fears we have been taught." (3)
The adaptation of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology as an approach to literary criticism has been slow to develop. Gottschall and Wilson discuss the general theory in The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, but applications in specific critical studies are hard to find. (4) Yet the principle seems clear. Edward O. Wilson, for instance, writes: "The arts are not solely shaped by errant genius out of historical circumstances and idiosyncratic personal experience. The roots of their inspiration date back in deep history to the genetic origins of the human brain, and are permanent." (5) Burnham and Phelan sum up the central point of why understanding our evolution leads us to insights about literature and film: "Our brains have been designed to genetic evolution ... To understand ourselves and our world, we need to look not to Sigmund Freud but rather to Charles Darwin." (6)
Alcock defines sociobiology through a question and the answer sociobiology gives to it: "What role did natural selection have in shaping this society or that social behavior?.. The human brain consists of a large collection of functionally specialized computational devices that evolved to solve the adaptive strategies regularly encountered by our hunter-gatherer ancestors." (7) Peters and Hewlett define the field of evolutionary psychology as follows: "Evolutionary psychology is based on the recognition that the human brain consists of a large collection of functionally specialized computational devices that evolved to solve the adaptive strategies regularly encountered by our hunter-gatherer ancestors." (8) Research in sociobiology studies animal and insect behavioral evolution and finds parallels to that of humans, while evolutionary psychology focuses on brain development and chemistry. But the two fields share a common conclusion: the adaptive behavior of our primal ancestors influences humans today. So in discussing the narratives of the Satanic film, I refer to the central findings of the two disciplines-that evolution has created a whisper within that influences our behavior--with the blanket term evolutionary biology. The field offers fresh insights into our response to literature and film, especially the horror genre and the Satanic film.
Evolutionary biology conflicts with long-held views about the nature of the mind. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), John Locke established the view that in various forms prevailed for centuries. He described the mind as "a white paper, void of all Character without any Ideas; How comes it to be furnished? ... To this I answer, in one word, From Experience." (9) This tabula rasa or blank tablet of the mind, according to Locke, may come into the world programmed with elemental desires such as need for food and sex as well as the ability to manipulate data once it is taken in; but the mind, he insists, is formed by experience and association. One or another version of Locke's dictum has long dominated the social sciences' view of human nature. In his utopian novel Walden Two, for instance, behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner has his character Frazier, the spokesman for Skinnerian behaviorism, assert that "men are made good or bad and wise or foolish by the environment in which they grow." (10)
But what if the tabula is not so rasa after all? Evolutionary biologists expand Darwin's theory to examine that issue. Evolution, according to Darwin, crafted the physical forms of all species that have survived through the millennia. Denise Commins puts the matter succinctly: "Natural selection is a straightforward process: the genes of those who live long enough to reproduce remain in the gene pool. The genes of those who don't, don't." (11) Evolutionary biologists take Darwin's theory a step further. What if adaptation and survival of the fittest created more than physical forms? What if those behaviors that were most adaptive remain embedded in today's humans' very DNA and whisper to our unconscious? For our Pleistocene and Neolithic ancestors, for instance, those who practiced tribal organization were more likely to survive than those who did not. Fierce loyalty to the group or tribe, protection of territory and hatred of the Other who endangers our group, corrupts our genetic heritage and steals our treasure and land are behaviors that would favor continued existence for those who practiced them. So what if these behaviors and others that contributed to survival for millennia are part of our genetic heritage and bubble up in our consciousness as whispers within?
These are questions addressed in a remarkable number of studies beginning in the 1960s that were at first quite controversial. Edward O. Wilson (12) brought this research to the national stage in his 1976 book Sociobiology, a work that seems to have provided the name for this school of thought. In Sociobiology and his more accessible book On Human Nature (1979), he proposed that survival of the fittest not only evolved physical forms but adaptive behavior. Evolutionary biologists believe that we share similar patterns of instinctual behavior, or at least promptings to it, with the rest of the animal kingdom. Wilson writes, "Before the curtain is drawn and the play unfolds, the stage has already been partly set and much of the script written." (13)
Most evolutionary biologists are academics, and as such sometimes engage in what Samuel Johnson called "the acrimony of the scholiast." They might be roughly divided into two camps, adaptationists and pluralists. They disagree on the extent of adaptation's effect, not only on the evolution of physical forms but in creating human nature. The extreme views of adaptationists are rather deterministic. Richard Dawson speaks for them in this oft-quoted passage: "Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness" in creating behavior that ensures their survival and propagation. (14) Stephen Jay Gould's writings articulate the extreme of pluralists. Evolution, he asserts, involves a number of factors, and he doubts that adaptation has molded human nature. (15) Daniel Dennett takes a convincing middle ground between the two. He notes that environmental constraints of humanity as builders of culture would seem greater than for most species, but nonetheless adaptation must have some influence on us. (16) But both adaptationists and most pluralists agree on the fundamental hypothesis explored in this article: that to one extent or another, the adaptive strategies of our ancestors exist in the unconscious mind and whisper to us. Janet Richards writes: "The disagreement between them [evolutionary biologists] and the standard social science theorists is not about whether environment influences what we are, but only about the extent to which an understanding of our evolutionary origins can help to show how and to what extent, this happens." (17)
It follows, then, that evolutionary biology not only offers powerful insights to our basic nature and the actions it prompts but also opens new vistas for the analysis of literature and film, an approach that I'll call primal traits criticism. If our brain is predisposed to whispers from the adaptive behaviors of our primal ancestors, then stories that dramatize them, when effectively written, must have powerful appeal. Matt Ridley writes, "A Shakespeare play is about motives and predicaments and feelings and personalities that are instantly familiar" because our evolutionary heritage responds to them. (18)
The horror film seems particularly appropriate for a primal traits critical approach, since its appeal lies in the realm of unreason, the unconscious. I hold that five primal narratives in literature have evolved from the experiences of our forebears that continue to whisper to us: (1) territoriality (2) tribal behavior and fear of assimilation of the gene pool; (3) sexual desire and procreation; (4) acquisition of wealth and power; and most importantly, (5) fear and hatred of the Other who might invade our territory, corrupt our genetic heritage and take our possessions. Evolutionary biologists hold that these whispers are factors in our lives, and it would follow that they can bring vicarious and pleasurable fear in enjoying literature and film.
"Through All Eternity and the Unfathomable Gulfs of Hades ... All, All Will I Dispute"
Satan often gets credit for overthrowing Eden, as in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. But Genesis identifies only a serpent as tempter. Later in the Old Testament, we meet Satan in The Book of Job. In her introduction to The Book of Job in The Interpreter's Bible, Carol Newsome estimates that the work was written somewhere between 500 and 700 B. C. (19). Here Satan is introduced as one of the "sons of God," presumably angels. There is no sense that Satan is evil in the theocratic sense. Rather, he is a sly instigator who, when God praises Job for his righteousness, asks, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" (20) (1:9), bringing about Job's trials. According to Schwartz, Jewish myth made a distinction between Satan as "tempter and heavenly prosecutor," who often cooperates with God, and "Lucifer, the outcast who rebelled." (21) Russell links the evolution of Satan's role as the personification of evil to the Jews' captivity in Babylonia where they were exposed to the intensely dualistic Zoroastrian religion, which portrays equal forces of light and darkness in constant struggle. (22) Zoroastrianism exemplifies the ultimate tribalism on a cosmic scale: the eternal battle of good against powerful evil, Us against Them. By the time of Jesus, Satan and Lucifer had been melded into the enemy of man and God.
Some historians speculate that many pagans of pre-Christian Europe worshipped a Goddess and a horned, tailed hunting god, Cernunnos, both of whom are portrayed on cave wall paintings throughout Europe. The church, they believe, created the physical image of Satan from that of Cernunnos in cave art to eliminate competition and burned the priestesses of the Goddess as witches and the Devil's servants. A reaction to the tyranny of the church, they suggest, created a cult of Satan worship rooted in the worship of the ancient horned god in the countryside during the Dark Ages. Satanic worship died among the peasantry by the 18th century, but the black mass continued to be celebrated among the elite in circles like the Hellfire Club and the Medmenham Abbey group in England and similar Satanic enthusiasts on the continent. Then during the romantic movement, Satan became the embodiment of freedom and rebellion against authority in the works of romantic poets, who took Milton's Satan's stirring lines such as "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven" out of context. (23) In "Cain," Lord Byron ennobles Satan when he has him exclaim, ""Through All Eternity and the Unfathomable Gulfs of Hades ... All, All Will I Dispute." (24) William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley in England and later Charles Pierre Baudelaire in France similarly sided with Satan as a symbol of energy and personal freedom. (25) The evolution of Satan's image from emblem of the Other to a more sympathetic portrayal offers a fine example of the changes culture can exert in the primal narratives.
The groundwork for the Satanic plot had been firmly established by the time film became an art form, rooted in the folklore of Satanism from the Middle Ages and the modern urban legends that spring from it. The media gives us lurid stories of Satanic cults that kidnap and sacrifice blond, blue-eyed children. In support of his belief in Satan's presence in the world, conservative Christian author William Viser writes of "a highly organized, very secret network.... The odds are this is happening in your town." (26)
Stories of Satanic rituals and symbols often involve reversals of Christianity: desecration of the Christian mass with a Eucharist of blood and urine; the upside-down cross; the pentagram with the two horns up; the goat's head symbol; the number 666 which is briefly mentioned in Revelation (13: 18); the ritual orgy; and other imagery and allusion as they can be traced to folklore and adapted in the novels of Dennis Wheatley and in the writings of Viser, Constance Cumby and their ilk. (27) This imagery whispers the primal fear of the Other and his hidden presence with his followers, an opposing tribe embedded and invisible in society.
Most Satanic films follow one or more of four plot lines: defense of a portal through which Satan might invade; the threat of the Antichrist and a Satanic cult aiding him; possession; and the Faust story. These story lines often overlap, but for the most part one provides the bones of the film's plot, with the deep structure rooted in them. The four plot lines dramatize the primal narratives: the portal plot, the invasion of territory and defense against the Other; the Antichrist story also invasion of territory and sexual corruption of the gene pool; the possession story assimilation; and the Faust plot the danger of acquisition of money and power leading to one of "us' becoming one of "them." A common element of most Satanic films is a hidden cult of Others supporting Satan's invasion.
"Thy Lot Is Given Charge and Strict Watch": Defenders of the Portal
The establishment and defense of territory is common throughout the animal kingdom. Evolutionary biology asks why humanity, having evolved through the iron laws of survival of the fittest and natural selection in the same manner as other species, should be different. The establishment of territory to be defended through tribal allegiances against Others would have been a significant evolutionary advantage. Desmond Morris, an early popularizer of evolutionary biology, notes that our primal ancestors in hunter/gatherer groups endured dangerous and long forays to hunt. Thus, the change for early Homo sapiens from a nomadic life to establishment of a settled territory where they could practice agriculture to supplement and soon replace hunting would have been an adaptive development. "A home base was necessary, a place to come back to with the spoils, where the females and young would be waiting and could share the food.... So the hunting ape became a territorial ape." (28)
It then became essential to defend this territory from marauding Others. Wrangdon and Peterson note that chimps are our close relatives in the animal kingdom and describe "male chimpanzees as defenders of a group territory, a gang committed to the ethnic purity of their own set" who often raid the territory of others of their species. (29) Similar behavior is evident throughout human history. Humanity's adaptive drive to defend land or to take that of the Other has long inspired stories dramatizing both the successful defense of territory and the conquering of that of Others, from the Greeks' attack on Troy in the Homeric epic to western films with the cowboy and Indian plot. In the horror film, this Other who would invade our territory and corrupt the gene pool is usually of supernatural origin, from vampires or werewolves to zombies. But Satan is one of the most ancient of the Others in folklore and the horror literature that it has inspired and remains a pervasive presence today in film.
In Christian tradition, as told by Milton in Paradise Lost, Satan led one-third of the angels of heaven in a rebellion. All were cast down into Hell, prepared for them in advance. In Milton's cosmos, God may not necessarily predestine but he surely foreknows. Milton follows tradition in establishing Hell as another place with the potential of its inhabitants to enter and conquer our territory, as in the Christian belief that Satan escaped and invaded Eden. In Satanic folklore and the films that have sprung from it, this invasion usually involves some kind of portal separating the two territories: The Sentinel (1977) and Prince of Darkness (1987) offer models for this plot line.
In The Sentinel, Satan's minions, a cult, plan their master's invasion through a portal. In the Satanic film, Satan and his servants are often opposed by a secret society dedicated to preventing the invasion, an example of the tribal defense of territory against Others. Robert Ardrey emphasizes the powerful human response to territorial threat: "Territory--the drive to gain, maintain, and defend the exclusive right to a piece of property--is an animal instinct approximately as ancient and powerful as sex." (30) Humanity, he believes, shares this instinct.
Thus, we have the primal equivalent of two tribes, one seeking to bring about an invasion of territory and the other defending it: a truly universal conflict. The opening shots in The Sentinel show priests praying, "let no evil thing enter in." The scene shifts to Alison Parker, a successful model who rents a lovely apartment in a luxurious building for a suspiciously low rent. Strange things happen. Allison goes into trances, in one of them writing a passage in Latin although she has no knowledge of the language. Boyfriend Michael takes the Latin sentence to a church for translation. He finds that it is lines from Paradise Lost (a little misquoted) in which Gabriel gets his charge as guardian of the gate of Hell to keep Satan from Eden: "Thy lot is given charge and strict watch that to this happy place no evil thing approach or enter." (31)
Alison discovers Father Halliran, an elderly blind priest who lives in the top floor of the building. We learn that he is The Sentinel, the most important member of the secret society charged with protecting the gate between Heaven and Hell. Halliran is the latest in a line to take on the work of Gabriel. The portal is located in Alison's apartment building. She gradually learns that her destiny is to replace Halliran as The Sentinel, but the Satanic cult living in the apartment house is dedicated to bringing about their master's return. Alison had attempted suicide in her youth after falling into depression because she witnessed her father as a member of a black mass engaged in the ritual orgy that folklore attributes to Satanists. She finally learns that she is intended as the new Sentinel, and the cult attempts to seduce her to commit suicide. Should she succumb, the portal would open and Hell would pour forth. When she remains steadfast, she lives on as the new guardian of the portal.
Kendall Phillips observes that John Carpenter's films are often invasion stories, citing Assault on Precinct 13, the remake of The Thing, The Fog and others as examples. (32) Prince of Darkness adapts this plot line in another portal defense of territory approach, with a twist from H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos; tales of the Old Ones striving to reenter from another dimension, another territorial invader. But here, Carpenter combines Lovecraft with a vaguely Christian spin on Satan and a bit of science fiction. A priest, Father Loomis, discovers that the Brotherhood of Sleep order (another tribe of defenders) has for 2,000 years guarded a vessel that contains the essence of Satan's son, now located in a Los Angeles church.
Loomis recruits Professor Birack, a physicist, and his students to analyze the vat, which turns out to have the power to turn some of the students into zombies who seek to free the son and permit Satan to enter the material world. The film uses the hoary "discovered manuscript" plot, the diary of the last priest who guarded the container. It ends with the exclamation "the Sleeper Awakens!", a warning of an invasion from Hell. One of the students, a linguist, translates it from the ancient language in which it is written. Satan, it reveals, had somehow been banished to the dark side but left his son in the container. Now this portal must be defended, with Satan attempting to enter our territory through a mirror and one of the students sacrificing herself by entering his. The resolution is a muddle of pseudo quantum physics and theology.
The Sentinel and Prince of Darkness are but two of the films that adapt the primal narrative of invasion by evil spirits through a portal, the type of which varies. (33) Evolutionary biologists point out the centrality of tribal defense of territory in our nature. Taking an adaptationist approach, Robert Ardrey writes: "We act as we do for reasons of our evolutionary past, not our cultural present .... If we defend the title to our land or the sovereignty of our country, we do it for reasons no different, no less innate, no less ineradicable, than do lower animals. The dog barking at you from behind his master's fence acts for a motive indistinguishable from that of his master when the fence was built." (34) The Satanic portal plot triggers the pleasures of vicarious fear of the Other as territorial invader.
"He Came up from Hell and Begat a Son"
The Antichrist story is a variation on the portal plot: a defense of territory on a cosmic level. For a body of myth so extensive as that of the Antichrist, the figure gets relatively little attention in the Bible where the word is mentioned only five times. He appears first rather obliquely in The book of Daniel (the Fourth Beast, 7:21-27) ; then in 1 John ("You have heard that the Antichrist is coming" (2:18) and 2 John ("such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist" (7) ; in 2 Thessalonians where he is described as the "man of lawlessness " (2:3-11); and finally in The Revelation of John as "the beast rising out of the sea" (13:1) given power by "the Dragon."
From an evolutionary biology perspective, the Antichrist is the model for the territorial invader and the Other, a figure who triggers the narrative of a sexual threat to our genetic heritage, as he often enters through the portal of a woman's womb. He stimulates our most primal and paranoid fears of hidden servants facilitating his coming. Conservative Christians see evidence of Satan 's work and the coming of the Antichrist everywhere, from the New World Order to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Evangelical author Constance Cumby writes exposes of what she calls the insidious NewAge,"a movement that includes many thousands of organizations networking through every corner of our globe with the intent of bringing about the New World Order--an order that writes God out of the picture and deifies Lucifer." The Antichrist offers rich seed ground for the horror film and feeds paranoia at the threat of the hidden Other and his minions in our midst. The Omen and Rosemary's Baby are classics of the horror genre that trigger a primal response to the invader in film--an invader not just of the material world but from beyond--and the contamination of the gene pool. The Left Behind films present another level of paranoia aimed at a target audience of conservative Christians.
James B. Twitchell believes that the core attraction of the horror film lies in sex: "While the characters who populate horror myths may be from Fairyland, their interests are startlingly new: they are concerned with sex and reproduction. I don't believe there is a horror myth in the West that is not entangled with the theme of procreation." (36) Evolutionary biologists would agree that concerns about procreation and protection of the gene pool are central to primal instincts that are buried in our DNA, stoking the fear of males that their genetic heritage might be corrupted. Helen Fisher writes, "It probably evolved for two essential reasons: to protect ancestral men from being cuckolded and raising another's child and to protect ancestral women from losing to a rival a potential husband and father to her children. This craving for sexual exclusivity enabled our forebears to protect their precious DNA." The Antichrist plot often adapts the sexual narrative in the Antichrist's entrance through the womb of a woman.
Whether our response of vicarious empathy for our group defending against the Other comes completely from genetic programming or that programming mixed with cultural influences, the power of the Antichrist story lies in the narratives of territorial invasion, fear of the Other and the threat to our tribe and genetic heritage. He is an invader and Other, coming from Hell to rule the earth, almost always supported by a cult, an opposing tribe.
So it goes in Rosemary's Baby (1968), a film based closely on Ira Levin's novel. When Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into The Bramford, an upscale apartment building in New York, they come under the control of a cult of Satan worshipers, who play on Guy's weakness and disappointment with his career as an actor and persuade him to allow Rosemary to be raped by Satan. The narrative line of the film has Rosemary gradually discovering the true nature of people in her building, a cult called The Congregation, and her situation. After she gives birth, the child is withheld from her. Then when she finally finds him, she cries, "What have you done to his eyes?", to which Roman, the cult leader, responds, "He has his father's eyes ... Satan is his father, not Guy. He came up from Hell and begat a son!" Yet in the closing shots, she accepts her demonic child with a look of love. Evolutionary biology holds that adaptation has led to the special bond between mother and child that is central to the continuation of the species. The film gradually reveals the invasion plot, with imagery of darkness and satanic symbols. But the central horror is the successful corruption of the gene pool through the portal of Rosemary's womb. This and other Satanic films exemplify Carol Clover's assertion that "the portals of occult horror are almost invariably women." (38)
The Omen (1976) offers another example of a well-made Antichrist portal film. Here the portal for Damien, the Antichrist, is not from the womb of a woman but from a jackal. When his own son supposedly dies at birth (actually murdered by a Satanic cult), Robert Thorn, U. S. Ambassador to Italy, is persuaded by a doctor to secretly accept a foundling as a replacement, assuring him that "On this night .... God has given you something." The baby is Satan's child, to be the Antichrist. The cult then supports and protects Damien and arranges for the death of anyone who threatens him.
The film reeks of paranoia, the presence of Others embedded in society to abet invasion of our territory and opposed by defenders, eventually including Robert Thorn when he finally understands. The central action of the film is Thorn's gradual realization of his child's true nature. Director Richard Donner's screen ambience supports the sense of otherness with sign and symbol from the Satanic tradition. Black birds spy on the Thorns. Black Rottweiler dogs guard him, animals associated with Hell in Dante's The Inferno, where Cerberus rends sinners on level three (6:13-33), and in Paradise Lost with Sin, Satan's wife and daughter, giving birth to Hounds of Hell at Hell's gate (2:654-658). The "Ave Satani" ("Praise Satan") music reflects the Satanic reversal of Christian worship, and it triggers the presence of evil and imminent violence. Thorn 's discovery of "666," the de rigueur Satanic symbol (see The Revelation of John 13:18)), on his son's scalp triggers the final confrontation with evil.
Robin Wood condemns The Omen on ideological grounds. "In obvious ways, The Omen is old-fashioned, traditional, reactionary: the goodness of the family unit isn't questioned: horror is disowned by having the devil-child, a product of the Old World, unwittingly adopted into the American family: the devil-child and his independent female guardian (loosely interpretable in mythic terms as representing child liberation and women's liberation) as purely evil." But the qualities Wood condemns in the film are those that trigger tribal loyalty and vicarious fear of invasion and the Other. The plot may be a bit trite, but director Richard Donner brings the primal narratives to life with the power of the medium to inspire entertaining horror and succeed at the box office.
Financially successful films generate sequels. The Omen II (1978) and III: The Final Conflict (1981) continue Damien's career as he gradually realizes his nature as Antichrist and becomes the leader of a New World Order until he is killed with the second coming of Christ. In all of the films, a Satanic cult supports the Antichrist's invasion while a few devoted opponents try to kill him, a typical Us against Them tribal and territorial conflict. A nearly shot-for-shot remake was released in 2004; and The Omen IV (1992), an odd sort of sequel made for TV, has a cult attempting to bring Damien's daughter to power. The additions to the franchise lack the cinematic impact of the original and target the Christian conservative audience more intensely. Other Antichrist films abound, but one of the most interesting franchises from a cultural perspective is the Left Behind movies, aimed specifically to conservative Christians. Paranoia is a central component of the territorial invasion of the Other in the Satanic film, with its portrayal of hidden cults supporting it. The films Left Behind: the Movie and sequel Left Behind: Tribulation Force were released in 2000 and 2002, and Left Behind: the World at War came out on DVD in 2005. All are based on the best-selling series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and they amplify conservative Christian paranoia with a twist that illuminates the cultural divide in the U. S.: an article in Newsweek reports that 71% of sales were from the South and Midwest. (40) Nicolae Carpathia is the Antichrist, but novels and film adaptations establish him as the emblem of the New World Order so ardently feared by conservative Christians and indeed, by many secular conservatives.
The Left Behind novels and films begin with the rapture predicted in the Bible, when the elect will be taken to heaven and others are left behind (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, for instance), and a "tribulation" will follow. After the event, a small Tribulation Force acts as a sort of underground seeking to depose Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist and leader of the New World Order, who comes to power after the rapture. The Tribulation Force, like other tribal defenders in the Satanic film, exemplifies the defense that is central in the primal narratives. Barash writes, "Efficient hunting often requires group coordination, obedience to authority and a high degree of conformity, especially if the prey is large and dangerous. During this stage of our evolution, those who fitted in and were good 'team players' almost certainly left more descendants than those who stubbornly insisted on individual action." (41) The Tribulation Force is such a band of warriors who oppose Carpathia--through 16 novels. (42)
Mick Broderick sums up the power of the Antichrist plot as seen in films like The Omega Code, Lost Souls, and End of Day from a cultural perspective: "In periods of uncertainty and anxiety, film narratives of apocalypse that represent a literal and identifiable Antichrist provide a historical mythic template for action and drama that simplify complex relations of alliances of either good or bad, or right and wrong, which unfolds according to a predestined cosmic plan dramatizing us/them." (43) The power of culture in influencing our taste in film is undeniable. But evolutionary biology would point out the added influence of the whisper within that tells us to fear the invader and corrupter of the gene pool.
"In My Name Will They Cast out Demons"
Possession of humans by demons is a variation on the demonic invasion plot. Exorcism of evil spirits appears early in Christian tradition, with Christ and his apostles casting out devils. The first four gospels and the book of Acts are replete with such examples. Today, the Roman Catholic Church retains the Roman Ritual for exorcism, though it has fallen into disfavor and is rarely used. Exorcism is much more common in fundamentalist Christian groups, especially Pentecostals. The success of the Other in possessing one of ours and the eventual triumph in driving the invader back to Hell is an engaging primal traits theme in the Satanic film.
William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), based on William Peter Blatty's novel, is surely the most powerful of the possession sub genre. It generated two sequels: (Exorcist II, 1977 and Exorcist III, 1990); an imitation (Possessed, 2000); and a prequel (Dominion, 2005). The film establishes a powerful ambience in the opening sequence in Iraq. Father Merrin is on an archeological dig there. A tracking sequence leads Merrin to the site through streets that reek of alien otherness. He finds an amulet showing Joseph holding the Christ Child and also a small carving of a demonic looking head from the excavation. The two discoveries symbolize Merrin's role as defender of innocence against the invasion of evil. He arrives at the site of the dig, where we see the giant statue of a winged, reptilian demon against a setting sun, the same image of the carved head he has found. The amulet and image of the demon Pazuzu in this opening sequence establish the primal narratives of invasion and defense of territory by an Other enacted in the film.
Pazuzu is the territorial invader. The demon's prey is Regan MacNeil, a pubescent girl. A Ouija board provides a portal for the invasion and possession, leading to bizarre and violent behavior from the girl. In desperation, Chris, Regan's mother, asks the Church for an exorcism. The extended scenes in Regan's Georgetown bedroom, with Father Merrin aided by Father Karras doing battle with Pazuzu, show their defense against the Other in what looks like a netherworld between earth and Hell. The visual ambience of darkness and the gyrations of the possessed Regan could not make the struggle between Us and Them clearer. The primal narrative of invasion of the Other and staunch defenders against it has the twist that the portal is a girl on the threshold of womanhood. That it takes place in her bedroom underscores the sexual implications of the invasion. The visceral horror of the story is rooted both in the defense of territory and the threat of pollution of the gene pool. In the Satanic film, the possessed is often a child; and the threat to a child, from Dickens' Little Dorrit to Danny in The Shining--the carriers for the group's and species' genetic future--is a perennially powerful theme.
The film's biblical allusions enhance the battle of good and evil, Other and defender. When Father Karras, who takes up the battle after Father Merrin's death, demands the demon's name it responds, "My name is legion," an allusion to the line in Mark 5:9, when Christ exorcises demons, who respond, "We are Legion, for we are Many." In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus casts the demons into swine (unclean animals for Jews), who then rush off a cliff. Karras, who has experienced an unresolved spiritual crisis, demands that the demon take him. He is possessed, and like the biblical swine, rushes out to meet his end when he leaps off the back stairs of the apartment to his death. And so the invasion is ended with the Other vanquished.
In addition to the sequels and the prequel of The Exorcist, the exorcism theme has inspired many other films: The House of Exorcism (1975); The Possession of Gail Powers (2006); the two-part The Last Exorcism (2010-2013); and a flood of B movies, with entertainingly silly titles such as High School Exorcist (1991) and Shark Exorcism (2015). While all exorcism films follow the same pattern--the battle between an exorcist figure, our territorial and tribal warrior, and the demon possessing a subject--none of them approach the power, complexity, and visual otherness of The Exorcist.
"I'll Burn My Books!"
The Faust legend began in the 16th century, the story of a historical figure who made a deal with the Devil. Gordon Melton calls him "a wandering magician or necromancer whose picturesque character won him notoriety." (44) He was supposedly carried away to Hell in a noisy confrontation with Satan. The legend inspired a chapbook in Germany in 1587, followed by its entry into the canon of great literature in Christopher Marlowe's 1604 play The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus and Johann Von Goethe's drama Faust, ein Tragdie (1804). Both classics have been adapted for film, and the Faust story has inspired many more.
The Faust legend, according to Singer, "is consistently renewed by the presence of four elemental motifs: the Faust/Mephistopheles relationship; the pact ritual; magic; and the relationship between Faust and Helen of Troy/Marguerite." (45) These plots fit well into a primal traits critique. From an evolutionary biology perspective and the acquisition narrative, the power of the legend lies in one of Us voluntarily becoming one of Them for the sake of gain--money, power and sex, all of which are included in Singer's appraisal. In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, whose final offer is power: "All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me." The passage inspired a central element of the Faust legend and the narrative of the danger that acquisition leads the character away from his own group: the offer of wealth, sex and power, with the proviso that the recipient will ultimately pay the price.
Richard Burton's 1967 Dr. Faustus is a direct filming of Marlowe's drama. In play and film, Faust considers the various arts but rejects them in his desire to make himself a demigod through magic. But to achieve his goal, he must strike a deal. Both The Good Angel and Mephistopheles warn Faust of his error, but his pride and desire for power and wealth and his lust for the demonic version of Helen of Troy lead him to reject his own people and be placed in the territory of the Other. Marlowe's Faust's piteous plea for forgiveness when that moment comes epitomizes the horror of becoming Other voluntarily: "I'll burn my books," he cries when Lucifer comes to claim him. "Let faustus liue in hel a thousand yeers, a hundred thousand .... and at last be sau'd. No end is limited to damned souls!" (46) Humanity's territorial and tribal imperatives lead us to feel for one who has voluntarily deserted his own.
The Faust theme had appeared very early in film in a 1917 version, adapted from Marie Corelli's 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan, but it has been lost. D. W. Griffith's version of The Sorrows of Satan (1926) is a second adaptation. Goeffrey Tempest, a failed writer, meets and seduces Mavis Claire, another struggling writer. When he has no money for a wedding ring, he cries out that he would sell his soul for it. Satan appears as Prince Lucio de Rimanez, who seals the deal. The new-found wealth changes Goeffrey, and he forgets Mavis when the slinky Russian princess Olga Godovsky turns his head. Mavis, meanwhile, rejects Prince Lucio's advances and eventually saves poor Goeffrey. His sin was that of all Faust characters: pride that leads him to reject his own kind in favor of the Other's offer of power and sex. Lucio becomes the most interesting character in the film with a touch of the melancholy and romantic Satan. He admires Mavis for rejecting him and longs through souls like hers to achieve redemption. He is an Other who aspires to become one of Us while Goeffrey is one of Us who agrees to become Other.
Most Faust films adapt the character similarly. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), based on Stephen Vincent Benet's story, retains the familiar elements of pride, avarice and lust and combines it with a populist theme that speaks to depression era issues. Like Goeffrey Tempest, poverty and desperation lead simple farmer Jabez Stone to exclaim that he'd sell his soul for money, bringing Scratch with his offer. Like Faust and Goeffrey, he is seduced by a beautiful woman and does not use his wealth to help others, forgetting his ties to his community to become a miserly money lender like the one who had persecuted him. The great orator Daniel Webster agrees to give up his own soul should he lose in a trial to save Jabez, with damned souls as a jury and Scratch as prosecutor; and he saves his client with a patriotic and populist speech. Edward O. Wilson writes, "We are ruled by a compelling urge--better, a compelling necessity--that began in our early primate ancestry. Every person is a compulsive group-seeker, hence an intensely tribal animal." (47) Be it rooted solely in genetic programming and tribal behavior or the power of culture, the expulsion from the tribe is a whisper that triggers horror. The Faust character exemplifies this vicarious fear.
Director Alan Parker's Angel Heart (1987), adapted from William Hjortsberg's novel Fallen Angel, is one of the most effective and richly complex adaptations of the Faust theme. The story begins with Harry Angel, a shady private detective, taking an assignment from Louis Cyphere (a name sounding like "Lucifer") to find Johnny Favorite. Parker creates a dark, forbidding screen ambience in a true horror film, laden with Satanic symbolism that enhances the sense of otherness. Five-bladed ceiling fans throughout make images of a pentagram, often inverted to symbolize Satanic evil. Toots Sweet, the black musician Harry fights, has the inverted pentagram embedded in a front tooth. The opening segment showing steam rising from vents in the dark city streets is an image of Hell. And scenes with Harry descending winding staircases are scattered throughout, suggesting his descent to Hell, as does his elevator ride down in the final shot: a journey to the new territory to which his choices have led him.
The film dramatizes Harry Angel's Oedipal quest to self-discovery. We eventually learn that there are two souls in his body, his own and that of Johnny Favorite, the person Cyphere has hired Harry to find, knowing, no doubt, the outcome. Favorite was an accomplished occultist who had sold his soul in Faustian fashion and to escape Cyphere when payment is due, placed it in the body of Harry Angel. From the primal traits criticism perspective, we see the horror of one who not only becomes Other but brings another to his fate with him.
The film has racist overtones in its portrayal of Voodoo, which it incorrectly equates with Satanism, and Harry's brutal rape and murder of Epiphany Proudfoot. Keesey disagrees, arguing that Harry "is not consciously racist. But the film shows how his fear of Black Power in the form of voodoo compels him to commit heinous acts.... The evil does not reside in the black man or the mambo priestess. The heart of darkness is within Harry Angel himself." At a deeper level, however, Harry's implicit racism is a fear of the Other, exemplified by what Keesey calls "Black Power."
Procreation is central to the primal narratives, and lust is as important as the desire for wealth and power in the Faust story's various incarnations. Buss writes, "Men seek attractive women as mates not simply for their reproductive value, but also as signals of status to same sex competitors and to other potential mates." (49) But the whisper that demands procreation is complicated for humans by our cultures. Faust, Jabez Stone, Goeffrey Tempest, Harry Angel and others of their ilk are inspired not only by the promise of wealth and power but also of sex with the kind of woman Buss describes. They are accouterments of the power the characters desire. Humans differ from other species in the mystique we give to love and desire--to romance. Clearly, culture dictates the great variety of romantic rituals leading to sex. Evolutionary biologists such as Dawkins would believe that beneath these rituals is the whisper of our genes, telling us to make them immortal through procreation. Yet culture teaches us to beware of submitting to unwise alliances with the likes of the Faust stories' devastating beauties.
"Where there is human nature, there is drama"
So opined Agatha Christie's canny sleuth Hercule Poirot in "The King of Clubs." (50) But what is human nature? Evolutionary biology and a primal traits critical approach posit that the dramatic conflict essential to film and literature often reverberates from the narratives rooted in the adaptive behavior of our evolutionary ancestors that created our inherited nature. The horror film in general and the Satanic film in particular whisper to us of the survival behavior of those ancestors and give us Burke's experience of the vicarious thrill of the sublime; but these behaviors are no longer adaptive in a crowded world with technology that could destroy the civilizations.
Although some extreme adaptationists in the evolutionary biology field believe that our primal imperatives control us, it is clear that nurture and culture can suppress or redirect them. Dennett writes: "People ache to believe that we human beings are vastly different from all other species--and they are right! We are the only species that has an extra medium of design preservation and design rudiments of culture as well, and their capacity to transmit information 'behaviorally' in addition to genetically is itself an important biological phenomenon." (51) But too often, religious and political demagogues have manipulated the primal whispers to create a culture that is destructive to its people. Berreby writes, "In the interaction of culture and primal narratives we too often see the tribal rage and willingness to murder those perceived as Other throughout history." In his Frontspiece, he quotes an 1855 letter from a settler charged with disposing of inconvenient Native Americans in Oregon: "We found several sick and famished Indians, who begged hard for mercy and food. It hurt my feelings; but the understanding was that all were to be killed, so we did the work." The "work" differs only in scale, not in principle, from the mass murders committed during the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide.
The findings of evolutionary biologists raise important questions. Are John Locke and his inheritors correct in insisting that experience and culture are the sole factors in molding our behavior? Or do the adaptive experiences of our primal ancestors speak to us? While the sciences can investigate this conundrum empirically, the arts have much to add. Edward. O. Wilson posits that the arts are an expression of our nature: "Artistic inspiration common to everyone in varying degree rises from the artesian wells of human nature ... It follows that even the greatest works of art might be understood fundamentally with knowledge of the biologically evolved epigenetic rules that guided them." (53) It would follow that knowledge of the basic principles of evolutionary biology lead us to understand the appeal of works of literature and film. But in addition to what a primal traits critique brings to analysis of film and literature and why they whisper pleasure to our minds when well written in fiction and produced in film, it also tells us much about ourselves.
Carrol L. Fry Dr
Northwest Missouri State University, email@example.com
I am an emeritus professor in the English Department at Northwest Missouri State University. I have published two books on Charlotte Smith, an eighteenth-century novelist and poet and also Cinema of the Occult, a study of the impact of occult religions in film. I have also published on Victorian literature and on science fiction and fantasy, as well as several articles on film.
(1) Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, ed. J. T. Boulton (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958), 57.
(2) See Maude Bodkin, Arthetypal Patterns in Poetry (London: Oxford, 1934), Carl Gustav Jung, Tike Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1968) and Ernest Jones, Hamlet and Oedipus (New York: Norton, 1976).
(3) Douglas E. Cowan, Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), 57, 59.
(4) See my articles "The New Naturalism: Primal Screams in Abraham Stoker's Dracula" (with Carla Edwards). Midwest Quarterly 47:1: 40-68 (reprinted in Critical Insights: Dracula) and "From Technology to Transcendence: Humanity's Evolutionary Journey in 2001: a Space Odyssey" Extrapolation 44 (2003): 331-344.
(5) Edward O. Wilson, Consilience (New York: Vintage, 1999), 218.
(6) Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan, Mean Genes: from Sex to Money to Food, Taming Our Primal Instincts (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2000), 4.
(7) Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett, Can You Believe in God And Evolution? (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), 33.
(9) John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarion Press, 1979), 104.
(10) B.F. Skinner, Walden Two (New York: Macmillan, 1976), 257.
(11) Denise Commins, "Dominance, Status, and social Hierarchies" in The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, ed. David M. Buss (Hoboken NJ: Wiley and Sons, 2005), 677.
(12) At Harvard, where Wilson is a professor, students with bullhorns picketed his office demanding his dismissal, and he was shouted down at professional conferences (even doused with ice water) for challenging the view that only society molds human nature and behavior.
(13) Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 130.
(14) Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 2.
(15) Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (New York: Ballantine, 1977).
(16) Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Ideas: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).
(17) Janet Radcliffe Richards, Human Nature after Darwin: a Philosophical Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), 66.
(18) Matt Ridley, The Red Queen (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 10.
(19) Carol Newsom, "Introduction," The Book of Job, vol. 4, The New Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abington Press, 1996), 319-339.
(20) Holy Bible, Job 1:9.
(21) Howard Schwartz, The Tree of Souls (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 108.
(22) Jeffrey Burton Russell, "The Satan Scare," The Satan Scare, ed. James T. Richardson, Joel Best and David Bromley (New York: Gruyter, 1991), 41.
(23) John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1:263.
(24) George Gordon, Lord Byron. The Poetical Works of Byron, ed. Paul Elmer Moore (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975) 2: 637-41.
(25) In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake wrote that Milton "wrote in fetters" and "was of the Devil's camp without knowing it" [The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Coral Gables, FL: The University of Miami Press, 1963), 6]. James Biere refers to Shelley's admiration for Satan's resistance to authority in his Preface to Defence of Poetry but notes that the poet rejected his "pernicious casuistry" [Percy Bysshe Shelley: a Biography (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005),126]. Charles Baudelaire described Satan as "grandest of angels and most wise" [Flowers of Evil, ed. Martel and Jackson Mathews (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1955), 70] in his poem "Litany to Satan."
(26) William Viser, The Darkness among Us: A Look at the Sinister Growth of the Occult and how Dangerously Close It Is to You (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 19.
(27) Dennis Wheatley wrote successful thrillers based on the occult, two of which, The Devil Rides Out and To the Devil a Daughter were adapted to film by Hammer Studios in England.
(28) Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), 230.
(29) Robert Wrangdon and Dale Peterson, Demoniac Males: Apes and the Origin of Human Violence (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 14.
(30) Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative: a Personal Inquiry into the animal Origins of Wealth and Nations (New York: Delta Books, 1966), 10.
(31) The correct quotation from Paradise Lost is, "Gabriel, to thee thy course by lot hath given/Charge and strict watch that to this happy place/No evil thing approach or enter in," 4:561-63.
(32) Kendal Phillips, Dark Directors: Romero, Craven, Carpenter and the Modern Horror Film (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), 137.
(33) Portal varieties include mirrors, as seen in Prince of Darkness and Dark Mirror (2007); Ouija boards in Witchboard (1986) and Ouija (2014); and even books as in The Ninth Gate (1999).
(34) Ardrey, 5
(35) Constance Cumby, The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism (Sheveport, LA: Huntington House, 1983), 17.
(36) James B Twitchell, Dreadful Pleasures: an Anatomy of Modern Horror (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 66.
(37) Helen Fisher, Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (Holt Rinehart: New York, 2004), 21.
(38) Carol Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 71.
(39) Robin Wood, Hollywood: from Vietnam to Regan--and Beyond, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 79.
(40) David Gates, David Jefferson and Anne Underwood, "Faith and Fiction," Newsweek (May 24, 2004), 45.
(41) David Barash, The Whisperings Within (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 186-87.
(42) The first film of an attempted reboot of the Left Behind series starring Nicholas Cage and directed by Vince Armstrong was released in 2014. It remains to be seen whether more adaptations of the novels will be filmed.
(43) Mick Broderick, "Better the Devil You Know: Film Antichrists at the Millennium," in ed. Ian Conrich, The Horror Zone: the Cultural Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema (New York: I. B. Taurus, 2010), 243.
(44) J. Gordon Melton, ed., Encyclopedia of the Occult and Parapsychology, Vol. 2 (Detroit: Gale Research, 1996), 249.
(45) Robert Singer, "One against All: The New England Past and Present in The Devil and Daniel Webster," Literature/Film Quarterly 22.4 (2007): 265.
(46) Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, in The Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. C. F. Tucker Brooks (Oxford: Clarion, 1925) 5:5, 90-91.
(47) Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth (New York and London: Liveright, 2012), 244-45
(48) Douglas Keesey, "Black Magic and White Guilt: Voodoo in Angel Heart," Psy Art 10 (2011): 11.
(49) David M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 59.
(50) Agatha Christie, "The King of Clubs," Hercule Poirot's Early Cases (New York: Dodd Mead, 1974), 71.
(51) Dennett, 338.
(52) David Berreby, Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind (New York: Little Brown, 2005), 16.
(53) Edward O. Wilson, Consilience, 338.
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--. Consilience. New York: Vintage, 1999.
--. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York and London: Liveright, 2012.
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Wrangdon, Robert and Dale Peterson, Demoniac Males: Apes and the Origin of Human Violence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
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|Author:||Fry, Carrol L.|
|Publication:||Journal of Religion and Film|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
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