If I were to ask you, "Name one Satanic Cult movie," you might be hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Some people might say 1973's head-turning "The Exorcist," starring Max von Sydow and Linda Blair, or maybe 1976's "The Omen," starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remmick, or even the more recent "The Devil's Advocate," with Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. While you might think that those answers would be correct, they would actually be false.
These three movies do indeed deal with Satan, in some form or another, but they do not deal with cults that praise and worship him. With the new horror-thriller "Regression," starring Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson, coming out on Blu-ray, DVD & On Demand next Tuesday, May 10th, I put together a list of the top five Satanic Cult movies that might have you sleeping with the lights on for a long time. While some of them you might recognize, others, not so much.
In "Regression," Ethan Hawke plays a small town detective named Bruce Kenner, who is assigned a case about alleged child abuse. Initially, the victim's father, John Gray (David Dencik), admits to having abused his young daughter Angela (Emma Watson) but when the police department bring in psychoanalyst Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis) to help with their investigation, things begin to get weird. Angela talks about having been forced to take part in supposed Satanic rituals, where animals and even babies were sacrificed and as Bruce begins to fall for her, he begins seeing and hearing strange things and begins waking up in the middle of the night, screaming in terror, from nightmares that almost seem too real.
The real horror in "Regression," isn't about the actual existence of Satanic Cults and what they are capable of, but more so about the power of suggestion and if enough people begin to think that something is real, comparable to mass hysteria, then they gradually start believing it. "Regression" takes you down a dark and ominous path and concludes with a finale that is more terrifying than most other horror films of its ilk.
"Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
When Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an exclusive apartment in Manhattan, they think all of their dreams have come true. Their neighbors are friendly, overly so, but not long after, Rosemary begins having weird dreams and starts seeing and hearing strange things. As Guy starts spending more and more time with his neighbors, Rosemary unexpectedly becomes pregnant and although she is overjoyed, she begins to feel that Guy and their neighbors are planning something. As her suspicions grow, so does the fear that engulfs her daily and after finally having her baby, she is told the shocking truth about the father of her child and is horrified when she learns that it isn't Guy.
"Rosemary's Baby" was truly shocking for its day. While somewhat dated now, it still delivers chills, thanks in part to the movie's director, Roman Polanski, a skilled craftsman, capable of delivering the goods. Many of today's horror filmmakers could learn a thing or two from Polanski and one of the most important aspects you come away from "Rosemary's Baby" with, is that you don't need blood and gore and dismemberments in order to make a suspenseful, scary movie. The other element played to perfection, is that you never truly know who your neighbors and friends are. They can all be smiles in front of you but when you're not around, they could literally be worshipping Satan behind closed doors and "Rosemary's Baby" plays on those fears perfectly.
"The Devil Rides Out" (1968)
"The Devil Rides Out," (known as "The Devil's Bride" in the United States), was a British horror film that was produced by Hammer Films in 1968. Hammer Films were notorious throughout '50s and into the '70s for making low-budget, horror films including "Dracula," "Vampire Circus," "Twins of Evil," and "To the Devil a Daughter." "The Devil Rides Out" is set in London in the late 1920s and tells the story of Nicholas Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee), a man investigating the son of a friend who discovers he is involved with a Satanic cult. He manages to rescue him and a friend but in the process, they disturb a Satanic ceremony where the Devil himself appears. After they escape, they must survive one night of black magic attacks, which culminates in the conjuring of the angel of death.
For a movie that was made almost 50 years ago, "The Devil Rides Out" still holds up pretty well by today's standards. Like "Rosemary's Baby," which came out the same year, it proved that a movie could be scary without actually having to fill the screen with gratuitous blood and gore. The fact that in 1968 there was no internet, or books or magazines that showed you the behind-the-scenes making of a movie, audiences were genuinely scared of "The Devil Rides Out." Director Terence Fisher successfully generated an appropriate amount of suspense and tension and kept everything straight-laced, instead of succumbing to farcical escapades.
"The Last Exorcism" (2010)
While I didn't particularly care too much for this film overall, it did have some genuinely frightening moments. Utilizing the found footage gimmick that was used to terrific effect in 1999's "The Blair Witch Project," we follow troubled evangelical minister Cotton Marcus, a man who has lost his faith and who has become accustomed to performing fake exorcisms on so-called "possessed" people. But when he receives a request from a farmer who claims that his livestock is being killed by his daughter, who he claims is possessed, Cotton decides to travel to the farm and check things out for himself.
Ready to "perform" another exorcism, he enlists the help of a small film crew to document everything that happens but once they arrive at the farm, it quickly becomes apparent to Cotton that while initially skeptical of their story, he is forced to re-evaluate his own belief system when strange and ominous events begin to occur around him.
By the time this movie was released, nearly every other scary film before it had exhausted the found footage technique into the ground. People grew weary of its traditional action and as a result, the many movies that continued down this road, suffered and did not fare well at the box office. Every now and again though, a movie like "The Last Exorcism" slipped through the cracks and did well for itself and I'm sure having Eli Roth, the director of the "Hostel" films on board as a producer, also helped.
While "The Last Exorcism" had a few scary moments throughout, it was the film's finale that took most people by surprise. Many filmmakers like to wait until the last minute to frighten their audience but while the ending here wasn't frightening, per se, it was very disturbing. If you've seen the movie, then you know what I'm talking about, if you haven't, it might be worth a look.
"The Devil's Rain" (1975)
"The Devil's Rain" is known for two things:
- Having a top-notch cast
- Being one of the cheesiest "scary" movies of the 1970s
Among its cast are William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn, and John Travolta in his feature film debut. It tells the story of the Preston family, who have been cursed because of their betrayal of the Satanic priest Jonathan Corbis, played by Ernest Borgnine. For many years, he has intimidated and persecuted the family into obtaining a Satanic book of great power but now they are fighting back, good vs. evil, in the most unintentionally hilarious finale of any scary movie.
The only reason I included this film in my list, is because if it were to be remade one day, there's a somewhat decent story in there that could be turned into a good movie at the hands of a capable director. Another aspect that caused a controversy at the time, was the fact that Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, worked on the film as a technical advisor. I guess the producers wanted their movie to be as authentic and believable as possible. It's a pity that the final version was unwittingly entertaining and amusing, and not scary in the least.
Like "The Last Exorcism" mentioned earlier, the finale of "The Devil's Rain" was to serve as the focal point of the entire movie, with the Satanists finally getting their comeuppance but instead of genuine scares and terror, watching these talented actors pretend to melt away, utilizing cheap and amateur prosthetics, was embarrassing as it was entertaining. While "The Devil's Rain" might not keep you up at night, shivering and shaking in your bed, it will put a smile on your face.
Check out Irish Film Critic for more exciting news, reviews, and giveaways.