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Just stringing the words "faith-based horror film" together seems wrong.
Unusual to be sure. That's because it's never really been done.
Casey La Scala hopes to have changed that with his latest film, "The Remaining," a movie he wrote and directed about the Rapture, the belief that Jesus Christ will return and believers will be removed from Earth to protect them.
In the movie, the Rapture occurs on a couple's wedding day and, while the groom's godly parents are "snatched up," the bride and groom and their friends are left fighting for their lives in more ways than one. Not only does the Rapture take away the believers, it lets in a bunch of evil to harass those left behind.
Out now, the PG-13 film has been getting positive reviews from fans of both faith-based and horror films, two groups that don't normally mix and mingle. Facebook Christians have been writing things such as: "Amazing movie...Wake up NOW!" and "The movie was awesome! If this doesn't wake up people then nothing will."
"Usually when secular fans hear the words 'faith-based,' they run for the hills, and when faith-based fans hear 'horror,' they run for the hills, but we've been getting really positive responses," La Scala says.
But outside the faith and horror camps, The Washington Post only gave "The Remaining" a half star, calling it "a low-budget, low-impact attempt to rewrite the Book of Revelation as a horror flick." With a healthy dose of snark, The Dissolve website says: "At the risk of crazily overrating the film, 'The Remaining' has to qualify as one of the most stirringly adequate, totally acceptable explicitly Christian horror movies ever made."
And the movie hasn't done blockbuster box office yet, earning only $465,000 since its release on Sept. 5, although a big part of the reason for its low numbers is that it has only been released on 85 screens, a minuscule amount when compared to normal releases. Last week's big movie, "The Maze Runner," for instance, came out on 3,500 screens.
La Scala says he was targeting the faith-based crowd with "The Remaining," but he wanted it to be enjoyable for everybody. His main goal throughout the process was to make a film that was "authentic."
"We worked hard to make it authentic," says La Scala, whose previous credits as either a producer or executive producer include "Donnie Darko," "Collinwood," "What A Girl Wants," "Amityville: The Awakening" and "A Walk to Remember." "What I mean is the Rapture, in my version, is not what I think the mainstream world feels is what the interpretation is."
In that version, clothes are left all over the ground and people disappear in the blink of an eye. In La Scala's film, only the soul is taken up, leaving glassy-eyed bodies laying around everywhere, allowing for more of a horror story adaptation.
"I wanted to go for something that is a little bit more palatable, a little bit more relatable," he says. "In my version, I went for something more viral, where the soul leaves but the body is left behind so you can play into all these things that are happening right now with all these viruses, like the Ebola virus. People could go, 'Wow, this might happen.'"
And yes, the Book of Revelations provided a guide when he was writing the script, he says.
"I started looking into the Book of Revelations and, wow, it was all right there. Basically, the Biblical end of the world has two movements to it. The first is like a disaster film where things are falling out of the sky and people are dying.
"And then when the abyss is opened and demons are released, you have this supernatural threat to humanity."
Hollywood has traditionally stayed away from producing faith-based films of any kind. One, it prefers to make films that not only appeal to the masses here in the United States but will also sell in other countries. Two, not all religions, Christian or otherwise, agree on every detail of their beliefs. There are progressive and fundamentalists Christians, even within denominations, for example.
Affirm Films, the faith-film subsidiary of Sony Pictures, put together a panel of youth ministers to explore if "The Remaining" would have any appeal to their audience. Once it was determined that it would, the same group was involved throughout the process, La Scala says.
Confirmed in the Lutheran church, La Scala believes "The Remaining" and the positive response is part of a larger trend towards movie-goers supporting faith-based films. Movies such as "Heaven Is for Real," "Son of God" and "God's Not Dead," all released this year, have done very well at the box office. "Heaven Is For Real" brought in $100 million worldwide on a $12 million production budget, according to the Box Office Mojo website. "God's Not Dead" cost $2 million to make and earned $62 million worldwide, the website reported, while "Son of God," adapted from the 10-hour TV miniseries "The Bible," earned $67 million.
"I see Hollywood paying attention because people are coming out. More faith-based films are being put into the pipeline," La Scala says.
But it was the 2002 film "A Walk to Remember" that first got him thinking about a faith-based horror film.
"I produced 'A Walk To Remember,' the Nicholas Sparks book, and there was a lot of faith themes running through that movie," he says. "We brought in a faith-based marketing team to come in to see if we could reach that audience and we created a lot of study guides and it worked well, so, with that in my history, I started thinking about: Has there been a faith-based horror film?"
He is currently working on two more films that are faith-based or spiritual in nature. The first is titled "Hell Is For Real," obviously a play on "Heaven Is For Real." It's about a surgeon who plans to kill himself after losing his wife in order to make sure she is OK in the afterlife.
The second is based on a book by Laura Sobiech, mother of Zach Sobiech, a young man who was diagnosed with cancer at 14 and later recorded the viral hit song "Clouds." La Scala is writing a film based on her book, "Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom's Small Prayer in a Big Way."
"It's a touching story," he says. "I was literally crying when reading it."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.