Movies don’t try to please everyone. Tailor-made for certain demographics, some filmmakers try to entertain or provoke discussion, knowing full well their movie will offend a particular group. The most inflammatory of these movies attempt to question taboos, rituals and customs of many of the world’s most popular religions.
Some films bolster the beliefs of certain religions either intentionally or unintentionally through offending its audience. For instance, the first “Exorcist” film which took advantage of the big “Satanism” movie genre of the 1970’s literally scared churchgoers back into the pews. Those aren’t the movies I’m talking about here.
The movies in this list fully expected and possibly depended upon offending certain religions in order to succeed. Sometimes the film in question preys upon longstanding fears and prejudices in order to make a point. Here are 10 movies designed to offend your (or someone else’s) religious beliefs (Note: The Small Town Critic does not endorse or defend any of the viewpoints these films present)…
10. TEARS OF KALI (2004)
• Whom does it offend? – Hindus, Eastern Indians, New Age practitioners
The German horror effort “Tears of Kali” relies on xenophobia to achieve its scares. The influx of Indian immigration into the country has apparently lead to concerns by indigenous Germans that the Indian cultural “new age” influence will lead to an increase in cultish activity, mysticism and worship of unsavory deities. While any country with a healthy Indian population would quickly dispel this as a nonsensical fear, the wily German creators of this film seem intent on capitalizing on this knee-jerk reaction to cultural exchange.
9. HELLRAISER (1987)
• Whom does it offend? – All faiths who believe in heaven and hell
While it might seem like a simple tale of good vs. evil, “Hellraiser” has a more subversive underlying message. It appears to suggest no clear heaven or hell exists and that pleasure and pain are indivisible. While you might suffer at first at the hands of the frightening “Cenobites,” over time the torture – which is your only source of stimulation – will eventually become your pleasure and therefore your heaven. While most devotees would probably concern themselves more with the gore and blasphemous imagery, few would notice the more controversial concept of this tale.
8. STIGMATA (1999)
• Whom does it offend? – Catholicism
At the time of its release, “Stigmata” did not draw near as much controversy as its box-office competitor “Dogma.” While many criticized the comedic satire of Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” (a strangely pro-Catholic movie), few even questioned the potentially destructive message of “Stigmata.” The film concerns a woman (Patricia Arquette) who, afflicted by the gift/curse of stigmata, uncovers a lost chapter of the Bible in which Jesus discourages his followers from buying into organized religion and churches, stating that they are not needed to achieve a place in heaven, only belief is necessary. This of course enrages the (fictional) Vatican who attempts to destroy this damaging epistle; however, the real Vatican felt ignoring this movie was its best strategy.
7. FRAILTY (2001)
• Whom does it offend? – Fundamental Protestants
When a loving single father (Bill Paxton) in rural Texas suddenly informs his two pre-teen sons of a divine vision in which an angel instructs him to “slay demons,” the older son must find a way to stop his father from killing seemingly harmless members of the community. This film addresses the idea of “blind faith” as a frightening and dangerous concept. While the creepy, Twilight Zone-like ending of the film sends mixed messages about its intentions, the film does encourage viewers to question religious cannon rather than obeying without argument… An idea that’s sure to offend the most fundamental of Christian religions.
6. THE BELIEVERS (1987)
• Whom does it offend? – Practitioners of primal-indiginous Caribbean/African religions (including Voodoo and Santeria)
While many might be quick to condemn these religions as pagan and possibly even Satanic, few realize their deep cultural roots and relationship to Christianity which the practitioners often worship simultaneously. The story involves a widowed father (Martin Sheen) who falls into a dangerous cult of white collar businessmen who gain power and wealth from pagan African gods by sacrificing their firstborn children. Another film that relies on xenophobia and racial (black) fears, the film suggests that religious immigrant influence will corrupt the social and religious fabric of America. It punctuates this point in the chilling final scene where the heroine (Helen Shaver) casually sacrifices an entire barnyard full of animals to ensure the future well being of her family.
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