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The return of the Biblical movie?

The return of the Biblical movie? (photo)

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Over at the Guardian, Anne Billson traces how the Bible pops up repeatedly (if not always in a theologically approved manners) in apocalyptic/horror movies. Her argument is sometimes shaky — is Frank Langella in “The Box” really a Jesus figure? — but it’s a useful way of drawing together different strains of religious horror from “The Exorcist” onwards.

Oddly, Billson completely ignores the Biblical epics Hollywood pumped out like so many slot-fillers from the ’40s through the ’60s, movies like “David and Bathsheba,” “The Robe” (the first film to be shot in CinemaScope, no less), “Quo Vadis” and the literally titled “The Bible: In The Beginning” (not to mention the many efforts of Cecil B. DeMille — “The Sign of the Cross,” “Samson and Delilah,” “The Ten Commandments” and so on — that are practically a genre in themselves). In these films, the religiosity’s a special effect — a light to be brought out, a Jesus cameo, a parting of the Red Sea. The lines between secular spectacle (the Roman swords-and-sandals epic) and the religious film are erased — for practical purposes, they’re one and the same.

You can trace the complexity of America’s relationship to Christinianity where religion becomes the excuse for horror shocks and genre exercises. Meanwhile, evangelical Christian filmmaking, as “Nightmare Movies” author Kim Newman puts it, rely on a subtext of “paranoid justification of America’s tendency to demonise the United Nations, the Kyoto agreement or any other international body which opposes its interests.”

03122010_robe.jpgThere’s a reason why the Vatican’s much-ballyhooed list of great films almost entirely ignores the mainstream religious epic (aside from a nod to the inescapable “Ben-Hur”) — it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with religion. The religious films that the Vatican does gives the nod to tend to be on the ascetic, artsy side, like “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” or “The Flowers of St. Francis” — ones that makes more sense than the doughty Biblical epics of yore.

If, therefore, the news of a new 3D Book of Genesis film strikes you as a bit crass and absurd, it’s actually in keeping with Hollywood’s quasi-religious past, where the theology and morality are subsumed in favor of “woah” moments. It’s not that audiences want more religious movies, as some claim; they just want spectacle, and nothing’s more spectacular than that.

[Photos: “Jesus of Nazareth,” NBC, 1977; “The Robe,” Fox, 1953]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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