Editor’s note: FANGORIA’s new film PORNO hits VOD today! Click here for viewing options.

The great writer W. G. Sebald was once asked where his unclassifiable works should be shelved in bookstores. Were they fiction, memoir or travel? The author refused to pick, insisting the books belonged in all three sections. Our film, Porno, bears no relation to Sebald’s work (aside from belonging to the general category of Things That Were Once Written Down) but as our VOD release approaches I am reminded of Sebald’s predicament. I believe that our film could also fit into three distinct genres — horror (obviously), comedy (you be the judge) and faith-based film. That last one may seem odd for a film with such a high mutilated penis count, but hear me out.

We are living in the Golden Age of faith-based cinema. It started in 2004 when The Passion of the Christ became the highest-grossing independent film of all time. Since then religious films have routinely been top earners at the indie box office. Your Kirk Camerons and Kevin Sorbos (still stalwarts of the genre) have been joined in their ranks by A-List actors. There are Christian content kings with names like Harold Cronk and Todd Burpo who consistently crank out profitable yet edifying entertainment. More Christian streaming platforms, production companies and even film schools pop up every year. Meanwhile, the major studios are tripping over themselves to ink deals with these folks and open their own faith-based divisions.

Devotional cinema – to borrow (and grossly misrepresent) a phrase from Nathaniel Dorsky – is by no means a new phenomenon. Directors from DeMille to Pasolini to Paul Schrader have tackled the subject, but their artsy flirtations with religious material are distinct from the faith-based-film-industrial complex. The big hits are like FUBU for Christians – for us, by us. The movies are made by believers to inspire, uplift and comfort other believers. Existing as they do, apart from mainstream filmmaking pipelines, they can sometimes feel like outsider art — unconventional and awkward – but the advantage they have is a unique distribution and promotion network, with preachers and churches offering free advertising from the pulpit.

This was true of Mel Gibson’s aforementioned blockbuster, which church groups flocked to en masse. Gibson’s film was largely embraced by the faithful but critics likened it unfavorably to the “torture porn” horror genre that was popular at the time. I wholeheartedly endorse this interpretation. Not only is the film’s violence as visceral as any Saw film, the director explicitly employs unambiguous horror movie tropes. So my question is: if a movie like Gibson’s could be labelled by some as a horror film, could a film like The Conjuring — written by two Christian brothers, featuring a demon-slaying Catholic couple — be called a faith-based film?

The Conjuring is hardly the only example of this crossover. How is The Exorcist even remotely scary if you do not – at least for the duration of the film – believe in God and the Devil? Films about faith are almost invariably infused with the same ontological questions as horror films. What am I? Do I contain some ethereal essence? Or am I simply a meat sack? Should I trust only my senses and rely on given assumptions? Or should I acknowledge the feeling that an unseen and unfathomable force is acting upon the world?

I tried all these arguments with the customer service folks over at iTunes and yet they still did not agree to categorize Porno as a faith-based film. At the end of the day it may be a question of motive. Is your film made with evangelical intentions? Well, Martin Scorsese made just such a movie. The Last Temptation of Christ, which I would argue is the closest thing to a horror movie in his filmography, was intended in the director’s own words to be “a prayer, an act of worship” and yet Catholic groups tried to bury the film before anyone had ever seen it.

The reason for this is clear. Most faith-based films are as much about culture war posturing as they are about faith. They are reinforcement mechanisms designed to ratify the belief among their largely conservative audience that they are somehow a persecuted minority in America and will ultimately triumph over the haughty heathen elites who run it. This is not to say that none of them take seriously the faith they espouse. It’s just to say that faith isn’t the only issue here.

We were very cognizant of Porno’s depiction of faith and how it might be interpreted. A sex demon preying on Christian teens could easily have been seen as a smug, smart-assed jab at faith and the faithful. This seemed asinine and childish to us, so we tried to avoid it. We thought the bigger challenge was to take seriously the faith with which our characters were sincerely wrestling. For me at least, that involved a lot of introspection about what I believe — a process that didn’t result in any simple answers one way or the other. I hope that audience members might find something they can relate to in that struggle. And while our grotesque little thumbnail may never be found among faith-based titles like God’s Not Dead 2 on streaming services, I do like to imagine a day when a rebellious youth group finds the movie and screens it for their brethren – maybe in a church basement somewhere – blushing at the vulgar absurdity, but also feeling seen in a way that perhaps they never have before.


Matt Black co-wrote FANGORIA's new release Porno, which you can watch right now!