I’ve never been scared by an Easter themed, or Easter set, horror movie. Honestly, I’ve not seen a good one, or one which was even remotely interesting, other than Critters 2: The Main Course (it’s amusing). Most have been played for laughs and are bottom-of-the-barrel, no budget affairs. The one movie that did scare the bejesus out of me when I was a kid was…Jesus of Nazareth.
I shall explain.
Back in the eighties, during my childhood, my family didn’t have cable or satellite. We had network television and, on a clear day, two syndicated stations. In those days, the networks were wild about miniseries, these big, multi-night productions. Usually, they ran for two nights, but could run three or more. These event telefilms boasted adaptations of Shōgun, The Thornbirds, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, and V. The first adaptation of The Bourne Identity was a two-nighter and starred Richard Chamberlain (the undisputed king of the miniseries).
The small screen has certainly come a long way since then. The miniseries nearly went extinct in the nineties and beyond, but the streaming services seemed to have performed a resurrection on them.
Speaking of resurrection, back to Jesus of Nazareth…
I was raised in a Christian home, a Baptist one to be precise. My mother, being the good Christian woman she was (and still is), and armed with the knowledge my brother and I needed Jesus as much as possible, encouraged us to watch all of the televised Biblical epics. It was a family thing. Easter was when the religious programming ramped up on the Big Three (ABC, NBC, and CBS in case any of you have forgotten). We watched their offerings yearly and, dare I say, religiously.
The Ten Commandments? We watched it– we were even allowed to stay up past our bedtime if it ran late. The Greatest Story Ever Told? The Bible: In the Beginning? The King of Kings? We watched them all. Lest you think my mother was a zealot akin to Carrie White’s mom, banish the thought: these films were optional. The Billy Graham specials were even more optional.
All of this brings me to the most superior achievement in (small screen) Biblical celluloid: Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, the Anthony Burgess penned, Franco Zeffirelli directed, Robert Powell starring juggernaut biopic of the life of Jesus Christ. It’s the definition of what a miniseries should be: a story too large to constrain and truncate for the silver screen.
But it shouldn’t be scary, right? It shouldn’t terrify a six- or seven-year-old boy.
Well, it darn near scared the hell out of me.
The angels posing as workers in the field outside the empty tomb…kinda creepy. At least it was to child me after they vanished. It was spooky stuff.
Then came the end credits of the final episode. From what I remember, the end credits rolled over a picture of the empty tomb, of the death shroud draped on the slab. For whatever reason, this unnerved me. That empty tomb aesthetic frightened me.
What was especially scary to me was the picture of Jesus which hung at the end of our hallway. After watching the movie, our hall seemed like the longest, darkest, corridor imaginable. The portrait wasn’t what some would call an Italian Jesus in the suffering and pain of crucifixion, this was a beautiful painting of a benevolent Savior.
It still scared me after seeing that empty tomb still-life.
For the next few days, whenever I walked the hallway, I had to look over my shoulder to make sure the picture was on the wall and that Jesus was still in the picture. Whenever I went into the bathroom, if the shower curtain was pulled, I had to peek behind it before I closed the door in case Jesus was hiding there and I had to run.
When I mentioned all this to my mother, she understood the creepiness of the empty tomb. She did her best to separate, for me, the eerie picture and my association of it with the Lord. I also remember her, unsuccessfully, suppressing a giggle.
I grew out of that fear. I don’t know if it was due to age or because I never saw those end credits, again. The picture still hangs in my mother’s hallway. Sometimes, when I visit, I cast a suspicious look at it. It reminds me of Jesus of Nazareth and I recall a verse from Hebrews I was taught once in Sunday school: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”