There are many who consider Janet Leigh’s murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to be the most terrifying scene in the history of film. The setting, the mood, the music and the camera work combine to create a scene of absolute terror. Her screams were impressed upon the memories of many who watched her macabre death on the silver screen. Since 1960, when the film was produced there have been tens of thousands of horror films made, but in the minds of many who enjoy such films, few of them have begun to approach the brutal genius of Hitchcock’s film.
The horror genre delights in the scream. Bloodcurdling screams are common in horror films, and filmmakers are constantly looking for ways of making them seem more genuine, more heartfelt, more terrifying. I remember reading of a film in which the director had the actors sprayed with the remains of a slaughtered pig during a particular scene in order to be able to capture real disgust and surprise. He wanted to evoke in his actors a pure terror and hoped that would translate to horror in the hearts of those who later watched.
The makers of horror and suspense films are always looking for the ultimate scream. So I wonder, what would the ultimate scream sound like? If we were to create the most horrifying setting, the most horrifying villain–if we were to make the situation just right, what would that scream sound like? Would it be a wordless scream, or a scream that would express the reason or meaning behind the horror?
I’ve found the ultimate scream. It is a scream that I am sure represents the most agonizing, terrifying, painful scream in the history of humanity. And that is no small statement for many people have suffered terribly and brutally. The ultimate scream, according to the Bible, sounds like this: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
It is probably not what you would say, is it? I don’t know of too many people who would die with the words of Psalm 22 upon their lips. It doesn’t sound too terrifying, does it? Yet it represents the low point of humanity. It was Jesus who uttered those words, and he did so in the midst of pain, torture and forsakenness such as no one else in the world can know or ever will know. R.C. Sproul says, “This cry represents the most agonizing protest ever uttered on this planet. It burst forth in a moment of unparalleled pain. It is the scream of the damned–for us.” The scream of the damned. Jesus Christ gave a cry from the midst of unspeakable agony. He gave the very cry of the damned.
God the Father looked down on his Son, hanging on the cross, and saw not his beloved Son, but “the most grotesque ugliness imaginable.” He saw the sins of all who would be saved resting on that one Man. He saw all the sins that I have committed. He saw all the sins that you committed. He saw all of these sins resting upon one man. Jesus Christ, bearing our sin was removed totally and completed from the presence of the Father at that moment, for God cannot allow sin to remain unpunished. He turned his back on his Son. He completely, utterly forsook Jesus Christ. That is horror unspeakable.
And so Jesus cried out in his forsakenness. He cried out in his pain and his agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” He was alone and rejected. He willingly took this upon himself for you and for me. He cried out with the ultimate expression of pain– the scream of the damned– so that we could have life.
I hate horror films. I have seen only a handful of them in my life, and have not seen one since my teenage years. I despise them. And perhaps this is why. The filmmaker may attempt to capture terror in its purest form. He may attempt to create a death that is more horrible than any that has been captured on any film. He may attempt to capture a scream that will remain in people’s memories for many, many years. He may succeed. But he will never be able to capture, or even approach capturing, the horror of the cross – the greatest horror humanity will ever know.