Christian Retailing

Audience fears for R-rated 'horror' Print Email
Written by Andy Butcher   
Thursday, 11 December 2008 02:14 PM America/New_York

'House' release reignites industry debate over content limits

 Fears that an R rating for “Christian horror” movie House could scare away some of its intended audience seemed to have been realized with a modest opening in theaters last month.

But though the film based on the book by leading Christian authors Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker finished in only the 24th spot in its opening weekend, it did reignite debate within the Christian products industry about what are appropriate boundaries for content.


The movie was given the adults-only stamp by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for “terror and violence,” making it the only Christian-themed movie other than Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ to receive such a rating.

Producer Ralph Winter said in a statement that the makers were “at a loss” when they learned of the decision, which was based on the general tone of the film rather than specific parts. They wanted to make cuts to win a PG-13 rating, but were told by the MPAA “the whole story was just too intense.”

Winter said the team realized a large portion of the teenage fan base that made the 2006 book a success would not get to see the film, “and that many faith-based organizations that would generally support the film would feel handcuffed due to the baggage associated with most rated R films.”

The release sparked discussion among fans of the authors and industry professionals. The trailer available at prompted scores of online postings, with some criticizing the film—the poster for which was a pentagram—for being too dark and others arguing that it strongly presented a biblical message.

Christian retailers like Darren Kehrer, manager of The Carpenter’s Son, a Parable store in Lafayette, Ind., suspected that the R rating could have a dampening effect on its reception. “My guess is that it will (have an impact),” he told Christian Retailing. “People will see the R rating and I think that will prevent some people (from seeing it).”

Lisa Phillips, manager of Dalton’s Christian Bookstore in Franklin, N.C., noted that Dekker was “especially (popular) with the younger crowd.” His books were “not really ‘Christiany,’ but they promote the correct worldview. Evil is evil, good is good. It has morals and values, that sort of thing. The kids are looking for that excitement.”

Dekker said he had mixed feelings about the MPAA decision, which left everyone “scratching their heads.” However, keeping younger audiences from seeing the film in theaters should produce strong sales when it is released on DVD , he said. No date has yet been set for that.

House was “wholly redemptive,” Dekker said. The poster featured a pentagram seen in the film and was “a clear indictment of the evil in the house,” he told Christian Retailing. “There’s no power in the symbol alone, but I’m sure some will find it offensive so this concerns me somewhat.”

Dekker said in an online poll of 5,000 readers, 83% thought that Christian retail stores should carry the book with the same cover as the film, “but I doubt gatekeepers will see it the way consumers do,” he said. “Personally, I feel torn.”

The movie release has been supported by trade-paper and mass-market movie tie-in editions of the Thomas Nelson novel, which won the Mystery/Suspense Fiction category in Christian Retailing’s 2007 Retailers Choice Awards.

The new editions include movie stills and the pentagram image, though Nelson has “proactively” kept the original trade paper edition—whose cover depicts the outline of a darkened house—“for any stores who prefer this,” said Nelson publicist Katie Schroder.

Released Nov. 7, House took $355,000 in receipts at 363 theaters according to, while the church-made, pro-marriage movie Fireproof ended its seventh week of release in 14th position, taking in $1.6 million to bring its total earnings to date to almost $30 million.