By Melanie Sisinni

         On October 4, registered participants filled the seats in the Yehl Alumni Ballroom at Gannon University. All were gathered to hear Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P., give a lecture titled “Are Horror Films Catholic?” This lecture was part of the Loftus Lecture series hosted at Gannon.

         The excitement and intrigue were palpable as the room filled with guests, including Bishop Lawrence Persico, Tom Loftus and many Gannon students. 

         Paige Hepp, a Gannon student and horror movie fan, wanted to hear what Sister Pacatte had to say. 

         “There’s a lot of stigmas between religion and horror films, so I’m just curious to see what someone who is a nun has to say about it,” said Hepp. “I’m very excited about that. I believe God gave us autonomy to enjoy things like this.”

Prior to her lecture, Sister Rose Pacatte sits with Dominic Prianti,
program director of the philosophy and theology departments at
Gannon University.

Photo/Melanie Sisinni

         The lights in the room were dimmed as Sister Pacatte began her lecture, changing the room’s aura and making things a little spooky as she played her first clip of the evening from the movie Get Out.

         “Just by raising your hand, how many of you appreciate horror films?” asked Sister Pacatte. “Notice I didn’t use the word ‘like’ because I don’t especially like them. I appreciate them and fell into specializing in a way. I’m not a complete academic or specialist in the area, but because there are so many that are Catholic, at least that I found, I thought it deserved commentary.”

         Sister Pacatte gave some rationale for appreciation of the horror genre, referencing her friend and co-author, Father Peter Malone, who said, “Anyone who refuses to acknowledge the dark side becomes it, and there is a good danger of rigid individuals and groups who have a Pollyanna approach to life…A sunny denial of evil in the world and a potential to be scandalized and shocked at finding it in themselves.”

         Sister Pacatte addressed the crowd, asking why people go to movies in the first place. Many in the audience answered her question with variations of “to be entertained.” She argued that not all movies were meant for entertainment purposes.

         “The Passion of the Christ can only be understood well when you consider it a horror film. It has all the components and elements of horror,” said Sister Pacatte. 

         “People who bought popcorn when they went to see The Passion of the Christ…many of them didn’t eat it because it wasn’t a ‘popcorn movie.’ Horror can be a ‘popcorn movie’ because you want to do anything to deal with what you’re seeing, right?” She added, “You go to be entertained, you go to be informed sometimes, but with horror, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. A lot of people go because they’re already scared.”

         Continuing to discuss The Passion of the Christ, Sister Pacatte described how the film has many familiar tropes of typical horror films.

         “Around him, the world is in chaos. There’s great suffering that he is getting ready for, and he knows it’s coming. The cosmos is in disarray. The film shows it very well, especially with the two thieves on the cross. You get the sky and everything, the loss of control. Jesus lost all control, but he regains it in the end, of course in the resurrection, which we don’t see here except a hint of it at the end of the movie,” said Sister Pacatte. “But the physical, psychological, and spiritual isolation is tangible in this film. Fear. I think Jesus was justly afraid of what he was going to face, vulnerability. He certainly struggled with supernatural forces, but he also knew that his role was self-awareness and self-knowledge that he was the redeemer. He was sacrificing himself, and he was going to restore order that would transcend horror, pass through it, restore life to some kind of normalcy, and be better being improved.”

Promotional material for Sister Pacatte's lecture is seen
outside of the Yehl Alumni Ballroom at Gannon University.
Photo/Melanie Sisinni

           Sister Pacatte told many stories of her trips to movie premieres and encounters with famous actors. She described meeting Jason Miller, who played the role of the priest in The Exorcist.

           “I was coming out of a bookstore during the Nicholas Spoleto Festival, and I was closing the door, and he said, ‘Sister, I’m Jason Miller. I played the priest in The Exorcist,” said Sister Pacatte. “I looked at him and said, yeah, right, and I’m Mother Teresa.”

           Sister Pacatte said she appreciates horror, but not when directors are unprepared and don’t do their research before releasing their films. She described a conversation with a director during an international press event for a movie in The Conjuring universe of films. 

         “I asked if he had done some research or just watched all the other exorcism movies. Guess what he said. He just watched all the other exorcism movies,” said Sister Pacatte. “So I walked up to him. I gave him a bottle of holy water and a rosary and said, ‘You really shouldn’t mess with the devil unprepared.’”

         Throughout her discussion, Sister Pacatte reiterated that one doesn’t need to like horror movies, but everyone should at least appreciate them.

         “That’s part of my mission of evangelization in Hollywood to help people get through their fears,” she said.