Here's a question: Is it alright for Buddhists to watch horror movies?

Do you think watching horror movies could function similarly to corpse meditation, or is watching horror movies always rejoicing in gratification of the sense powers and sense domains?

Obviously, the question could be answered with specific movies that some might know of to make the answer to my question be “not always.” I can think of one, but that movie is subject to censorship because it’s too disturbing. What do you think?

I mean, if you wanted to communicate the insights of such meditation to a North American audience, do you think it could be possible through horror?

IMO, the efficacy of corpse meditation revolves around the realization ‘As this corpse is, so will my body be - it is not any different.’

Meditating on the foulness of the body is designed to reduce one’s delight in the body and to foster equanimity. Its not about creating aversion to the body at all. Feeling ill will towards the body, being horrified and disgusted by it was the fundamental error of the bhikkhus who committed suicide as documented in SN54.9 .

As far as an actor intentionally creating horror and fear in the mind of a viewer is concerned - the Buddha said that such an act was unskillful. (SN42.2)


Great thanks. SN 54 looks like something that could be developed into a horror movie. I’ll keep it in mind.

SN 42 could be the story germ for Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s Hell Screen, Jigokuhen, although his character is an artist, not a dancer, and doesn’t burst into tears in the face of hell, but does pass away shortly after producing it in a very live way in his art. It was already made into a movie. Never seen the movie, but Akutagawa often uses horror elements in his work. Prossibly Bataille, in the West, could be drawn in to the same circle of creative interest.

At any rate, thanks.

When we pass time consuming violence, especially when it’s packaged as entertainment, it touches our minds unbeneficially; and, there are many other — more skilful ways — to practice the various forms of corpse/death/charnel grounds meditations that are more in accordance with the Dhammavinaya.

Violence as a form of entertainment, especially mortal violence as a form of entertainment or pastime, should be avoided as unskilful.


Great. Thanks.

I presented a conference paper on a film that addresses exactly what you are speaking about, but does so in a violent manner designed to draw the viewer’s attention to her own, and fair to say subconscious, slavering over the gratuitous presentation of violence, specifically in Tarantino’s works.

People who knew of the presentation sent an undergrad to me who wanted to read my paper, and, while I would not normally withhold that kind of help, I decided to make some careful personal judgments in relation to the specific student and the request first, because I was concerned about level of emotional maturity, what was the true nature of the student’s interest and whether the complexity of the paper exceeded a undergrad level. The film is an analogy for cutting, a deep, psychological exploration of cutting, actually. We are faced with these kinds of tragic psychological problems among contemporary youth - and the film lays it bare, expressed from the understanding of someone who was doing it in his life. Seems a pretty skilful, albeit disturbing film to me.

This, IMO is exactly the issue.

In my experience, the reaction of people to ‘asubha’ varies.

The large majority react with fear/ loathing/ disgust. This is a typical aversive reaction. “Lets not talk about this!”. There is often a perverse undercurrent of thrill/ relief which runs through the mind of the person to the tune of “I’m alive!” It then becomes an object of titillation. This is why horror movies as such are popular.

One risk is in getting jaded. If the stimulus is repeated many times, the psychological response is to ‘block’ - making the stimulus into something ‘other’ than human. This has the potential to result in emotional blunting. Another risk is that if unable to ‘block’, the person may get so deeply disturbed that they entertain suicidal thoughts.

A not insignificant minority will delight in the experience. Sometimes its because of the thrill they feel associated with fear, at other times its about Power. Some seriously disturbed individuals will compulsively seek out the experience again and again. This is the realm of deluded thinking - ideas of supernatural powers, eternal youth etc. Definitely not something worth encouraging.

A very small number will have the ability to reflect skillfully on the experience and on their Heart/Mind’s response to the stimulus and to investigate the same. Skillful reflection can lead to the development of significant amounts of Brahmavihara qualities, Wisdom and even Enlightenment. This is the reason why asubha meditation has a place in Buddhism (MN10) .

Asubha meditation is not for everyone, because very few people have the ability to skillfully engage with it.

To some extent, the chances of a successful outcome can be increased by ‘priming’ the Mind - which is what ethical Meditation teachers do. They also monitor the student so as to be able to limit harm. Suitable ‘aftercare’ may often be needed.

When it comes to film, one has no control over the audience, nor any ability to adjust the delivery in real time (as can be done in live performances). A good director will attempt to ‘prime’ the viewer during the preceeding storyline, so as to elicit the desired response of compassion when the asubha scene is presented. However, IMO since most variables (such as audience maturity, level of engagement, ability to reflect etc) are out of the director’s hands, chances are that the desired result will not be achieved.

Its the high risk of a poor outcome versus the perceived benefit which leads me to dissuade the use of such media, except in tightly monitored circumstances. Primum non nocere!


I think, generally speaking, after one ‘successful’ artwork that manages to intervene and cut the nonsense, all that follows suite will just be cliche. There are some other issues here that you’ve brought up, but I don’t need to get into film or media with you, except to say be careful in thinking that someone - a director - though less and less, it’s becoming more and more the suits at the top - necessarily is thinking about “the audience” when working on expression, i.e., they’re not stupid, you know.

But thanks. Thanks for your thoughts. I really do appreciate it.

Horror films might be considered a derivative of harsh speech (aka communication).

Hi Radius,

If you like. Some of them are definitely used to be critical of things, like Get Out, and they can be quite pointed about it. They also tend to be misogynist and blame and punish people for moral things, such as disloyalty or sexual transgression, and include things like revenge fantasies and such. Many of them are simply gratuitous. They’re not exactly a high brow genre.

Counterpoint: horror is the defining genre of our times and its stories are essential means of assimilating and coping with impossible truths.

The responses so far deal only with the surface level of the stories—gore, violence, harshness—none of which are intrinsic to horror per se. Horror is about survival, about living in the face of death. A horror story takes you by the hand, leads you down to the darkest places, and brings you back. It shows you that you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Let me share my background. Years ago I researched mythology in Buddhism. Joseph Campbell showed that the life of the Buddha was told using the standard tropes of the Hero journey. At its simplest:

  • the Hero leaves home on a quest
  • they overcome difficulties in the wilderness
  • they return home to share the bounty they gained

Campbell argues that the “bounty” is, in a Jungian sense, self-knowledge, at least metaphorically; in the Buddha’s case this metaphor is on the surface.

It occurred to me that this is all rather blokey. Leaving family, fighting monsters, all that. What is the equivalent women’s story?

That question led me ultimately to Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde, which centered a genre of women’s story that I came to realize is the essential counterpart to the Hero journey. The clearest examples is Beauty and the Beast.

In these stories, a female protagonist encounters a monster, not by leaving home, but by staying home: the hairy beast in the bedroom. The stories reflect women’s desires, fears, and dangers, and how they negotiate to be able to live in an environment where they are physically vulnerable even at home. Unlike the hero’s story, these women do not win a prize: they simply live. They survive. The heroine is the final girl, the one who gets out alive.

In modern genres, this spectrum of stories has evolved, on the one hand, to the “princess” fairy tales of Disney; and also to the romance and romcom genres; but the darker tales we call “horror”, of which the ur-text is Bluebeard (shudder).

One of the fascinating details that this led me to discover was that in certain Jataka stories these two cycles are combined, where the woman’s story is expressed in a dream that creates an unstoppable desire (dohala), which in turn sets in motion the whole journey of the Hero. This story cycle influenced my Dreams of Bhadda, especially in her last dream, that of the Golden Eagle.

Turning to the present day, it seems to me that the Hero myth has fallen into decadence, for the simple reason that there is no more wilderness. There is no unknown “out there” in which to venture. It’s all on Google Maps. It’s all polluted with plastic. The only true “out there” is space, the “final frontier”; but space is dead and cold and black, and those who dream of dominion over it are madmen.

With the loss of the wilderness, everywhere is now “in here”. We live in a domesticated world. That means that whenever you hear the phone ring, it’s coming from inside the house.

Horror stories teach us to survive in a world where death cannot be escaped even in one’s own home. And that means everywhere.

A study showed that fans of horror movies were able to cope better psychologically during the pandemic. People were all sitting inside going mad, but horror fans were going mad a little slower, and that’s not nothing.

I wrote The Harbingers as a Buddhist horror story to help cope with climate despair.


Eh voila.

There’s work (s) that identified a “final girl” trope in horror which began with Halloween. I don’t think it’s ever been said that it is a reworking of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but it is. At least in a sense. Laurie Strode, the archetypal final girl, underwent an early traumatic event and that experience endowed her with special knowledge (maybe underworldly, as is typical to the Hero’s Journey) that both distinguishes and alienates her from most of society. In the end it leads her to being this female figure of knower and doer of protective regeneration.

Trust Hollywood, there’s even a horror movie called Final Girl now, but there’s other good films that have come along to mould new takes and approaches that address power and vulnerability … in unrecognized groups (the minor, as we say) … the Swedish film, Let the Right One In, and even before that you have your Australian The Babadook, for instance.

Then we can go into other areas … Clair Denis … whoa (trigger warning) … ultra brilliant … monster … she’s pushed horror (and recently sci-fi - horror, with High Life) into a true domain of abstract expressionism, and uses it often to explore post-colonialism.

I though of her because of Trouble Everyday with Beatrice Dalle (Betty Blue days, never mind), another vampire movie (very pandemic apropos).
She’s heavily influenced by the contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben. High Life most definitely, I would say, is an extremely astute exploration of his concept of Bare Life and Homo Sacer. The Intruder, definitely post-colonialism, plus it’s also a working out of another of Agamben’s essays. He’s, of course, famous for his criticism of American exceptionalism. This is totally obvious in The Intruder.

It’s not for the faint of heart. I have seen stuff taken away from the public that needed special permission from the federal government to be screened in an extremely limited, highly selective viewing. Boundaries, what? Well it can go that far, and it does.

A lot of it is easily exploited, which makes it a very flexible … mode… with more tropes than we can imagine, because horror keeps cropping up in our lives, people seem to have infinitesimal ways to expand cruelty, even just brute stupidity.

On the other hand, it can be very seductively deceptive … making it, again, almost the perfect vehicle for neo-liberal capitalism. Which films like Let the Right One In explore. Any good movie draws attention to itself. And there’s another one, Revenge, a ‘soft core’ French ultra-violence film, obviously drawing on I Spit on Your Grave. Parts of it are so entertaining in the most ridiculous of ways … it’s not subtle, and a lot of it does play on how “minor” bodies have been and are being used by people with power who will, practice exceptionalism ( I make the call, I do whatever I want, that’s all that matters).

Horror is a place where revolt can happen, in the movie itself and I am not being facile. And it is being made to happen in a way that we can think very deeply on it and reflect in a safe space …and think … and come into new awareness and change ourselves.

But, it can be very deceptive. And that’s OK. We just need to learn through that kind of stuff too.

Thanks, eh. Canadians have a reputation for horror. I can just say “Cronenberg” and wipe the map. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Well, mostly.


Yeah, I’ll second @faujidoc1’s point about maturity. The Buddha didn’t teach "Thou shalt not"s… he taught a gradual path. Can some horror films be beneficial for some people at some point? Sure, why not?

But imho, if you already have compassion and empathy and some insight into dukkha (a tall ask, I know!), I don’t see what you’d get out of the experience other than a headache :sweat_smile: Isn’t being a human horror enough? :sweat_smile:


Yeah I’m not familiar with it beyond the very general idea. But Halloween would have been in the 80s, right? So that would be at the height of Campbellmania in Hollywood, everyone after Star Wars was checklisting their stories to make sure they ticked off the main points in the Hero’s Journey.

To me the main defining point is that the Hero ventures out into the wilderness, whereas the horror story is set in the home. Of course there are infinite variations on these: a cabin in the woods is precisely a home in the wilderness.

Thinking about Alien, in a way that’s the inverse of the Jataka dohala stories. They take the Hero myth and wrap them up in a women’s story of dreaming, whereas Alien takes the Hero’s journey and uses it to set a horror story about a final girl.


Star Wars. I love Star Wars. There’s actually a whole new thing. I had to take a narrative course for a certificate in independent documentary and we had a really cool teacher who handed out resources on narrative structure for a female hero’s journey. I’ll root around for it, I probably have it stashed somewhere.

I think Halloween was late 70s. John Carpenter’s recognized as a fairly distinctive and original voice in American horror and sci-fi horror. His The Thing, which is a remake of a 50s sci-fi horror rocked the boat in a big way.

Hm. Alien. Interesting. Another landmark film. It’s definitely got a lot of dreaming in it. Their ship wakes them because of some mysterious beacon, the woman who gets the egg inserted is put into a coma by the alien, a guy gets tied up in a cocoon. That all seems very Indian influenced. The art direction and Ridley Scott’s use of Geiger’s art, which may have even inspired the film, and explains all the egg stuff in there. He’s got art deco, futurism, surrealism, dada - anti- art - definitely making a pop statement against the formalism of Space Odyssey. There must have been a huge interest in oriental themes then.

Sharp guys. They’ve seared images and themes into people’s brains that no one will ever forget.

And well, I think the reason why Revenge crossed over into American cinema from French cinema is because it takes the stuffing out of the American Western - the national mythology (speaking of Star Wars) - in the most sardonic way. It’s an impeccable “pop art” statement, and yes, it takes place in the wilderness.

I will look for that info on the female Hero’s Journey. I’m so slack when it comes to narrative though, I can’t promise anything. But let’s hope I actually did something right.


When I was in my 20’s, living in NYC, it seemed a surprising (to me, anyway) number of women I knew took an interest in studying the horror genre. At around the same time two women friends mentioned their “search the apartment for hiding men” ritual they performed when they got home. It made a connection for me between the horror genre and the threats women were aware of as they lived their lives.

When I first heard Bhante @sujato talk about Horror Stories in relation to the Hero’s Journey it resonated. And reading the book he mentions above - From The Beast to The Blonde - is deepening this sense of two deep modes: seeking adventure out there and surviving the threats in our homes.

It seems that horror stories are an important way to explore our lives and how to survive the everyday threats of home and community.


Or even just, simply, “being out there” means you have to survive violence and threats upon you, even in your home. As slasher makes clear, being subject to another’s “gaze” is ample justification. We have good reason to pay close attention to it.


Not technically horror movie. But has artistic elements used to promote understating of Asuba of body

Or this Thai CGI short film of daughter being born in hell due to doing an a abortion.

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There are some quite gory scenes at various Wats in Thailand. Wat Muang in Ang Thong has not only a 92 m Buddha statue:

But also some rather hellish scenes. See, for example (not for the faint-hearted):

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This is actually disgusting. I’m sorry, but no woman should be shamed because of an abortion. It’s not an easy decision.

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Thanks. Very interesting.

It seems “woman thy name is vanity” is a universal theme in religion.

I have been exposed to a fair amount of Japanese misogyny around the “tragedy” of 無常 (mujō) signified in women’s fading beauty as they age. In addition to scads of famous works of literature there is also art:

Of course, the theme was taken in new directions by Hijakata and Ono in developing Butoh out of their horrific experiences during WWII, and under US occupation in the aftermath.

In North America there are avant garde films like The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes by structural filmmaker Stan Brakhage. It documents a real autopsy, so warning and be careful if you choose to watch it.

And abstract films (minimalism was a reaction to abstract expressionism) that require more work to enter into, such as Zen For Film by the fluxus artist Nam June Paik,

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