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Top 10 religious horror films


It's one hell of a movie...

Johnny Depp in 'The Ninth Gate'


This week, The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins, gets released to theaters, and Kevin Smith’s long awaited horror-comedy Red State will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. There’s big money to be found in horror films, and ironically, religion has provided a great deal of source material for the genre. It’s not hard to imagine why, with fights between angels and demons, plagues, vengeful gods, and people rising from the dead (and let’s not go into the similarities between communion and vampirism). Where some find inspiration, others find the darkness. So while we wait for these two new offerings in this holy genre, let me offer these films as the best of the religious horror phenomenon...

10: Demon Knight (1995)

Demon Knight (1995)

Tales from the Crypt brings us a twist on the Holy Grail legend. William Sadler plays a drifter who is being chased by a demon (Billy Zane). The demon is a collector for the Devil, and is after a particular artifact being carried by Sadler: A key-shaped vessel, one of seven keys that can unlock the gates of Hell. To stop this from happening, God scatters the keys across the universe. They find six, and find the last one on Earth. To protect it, it is filled with the blood of Christ, collected at the crucifixion. Sadler winds up holed up at a former church-turned-boarding house. There he meets an eclectic group of characters, and has to convince them to help him keep the key safe from the collector. In the end, Sadler is killed, and leaves the key with a young troubled woman (Jada Pinket-Smith), who kills the collector and goes on the run with the key. Some cheesy special effects, but an engaging story with plenty of gore. And Zane is at his best in this flick.

9: Fallen (1998)

Fallen (1998)

Denzel Washington plays Detective John Hobbes, who has risen to some notoriety for catching serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas). After Reese’s execution, Hobbes and his partner Jonesy (John Goodman) start to investigate what appears on the outside to be a copy cat killer. Unfortunately, it’s really the demon Azazel, who was merely possessing Reese, and is now out to have more fun. Hobbes seeks help from the daughter of an officer who had killed himself years before. Going through ancient texts, they find that the demon can only survive for so long in spirit form outside of a host body, and so Hobbes sets up a trap for the demon. He travels to an abandoned cabin miles away from anyone and waits for the demon, who has possessed Jonesy. Once he kills Jonesy, he smokes a poison-laced cigarette in order to defeat Azazel. There is a wonderful ending to this film, so enjoy.

8: The Omen (1976)

The Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck and Lee Remick star as Robert and Katherine Thorn, a couple whose newborn son dies shortly after birth. A priest talks Robert into substituting an orphan who was born at the same time for his dead child. He agrees in order to not distress his wife. Little does he know, this child is actually the Anti-Christ. They name the boy Damien, and travel back home to England, where strange things seem to constantly happen around the boy. At a birthday party, his nanny hangs herself in front of all of the guests. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock – who is 'in' on the plot – arrives shortly to help. Father Brennan (a scruffy-looking post-Doctor Who Patrick Troughton) knows about Damien, and warns Katherine, only to be killed by a falling lightning rod. Then Katherine falls off of a landing in her home, putting her in the hospital, where Mrs. Baylock murders her. Robert is told he needs kill the child on hallowed ground with a set of sacred daggers. But he is shot before he gets the chance. I’m pretty sure adoptions went down for a long while after this film was released.

7: The Ninth Gate (1999)

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Johnny Depp stars in this film about Dean Corso, a New York dealer in rare books who merely works for the money. He is hired by wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), who wants Corso to authenticate a copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book allegedly written by the Devil himself. It contains nine illustrations that are to be interpreted and read aloud to summon old Scratch. There are only two other known copies of the book, so he travels to Europe to find the other two. The only problem is, death seems to be following him on this journey, as well as a mysterious woman. Slow in parts, but an interesting story. And Depp is always a pleasure to see onscreen.

6: The Evil Dead (1982)

The Evil Dead (1982)

This time, not from the Bible, but older religious beliefs. A group of college friends go to an abandoned cabin in the woods to party, but soon everything goes to hell. The last occupants were a professor and his wife. He had been on an archeological dig in the Middle East, and found an ancient text called the “Necronomicon ex Mortis”. Soon, demons begin to possess the group. Lots of gory fun.

5: Rosemary’s Baby (1967)

Rosemary’s Baby (1967)

Becoming a parent is a scary and wonderful thing. And there are times in every parent’s life when they think of their child as “the Devil”. For Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), her child just so happens to be the son of the Devil. Drugged and raped by Satan (though it seems a bit lowbrow for the Prince of Darkness to have to rely on fraternity tricks to get laid), she goes through an emotional rollercoaster of a pregnancy, experiencing pain, weight loss, and a bizarre craving for raw meat. Very atmospheric film, and well worth watching.

4: The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) heads to Summerisle after receiving an anonymous letter about a missing girl. There the devout Christian finds the island entirely inhabited by Pagans, which he finds disturbing, feeling superior to the heathens. Every clue in the case leads to another dead end, until finally he realizes that the real reason he’s there is more sinister than a missing child. Woodward plays the role with a real sincerity, and Christopher Lee plays the island’s owner, Lord Summerisle, with a cool demeanor, never letting on that anything is amiss. And Britt Ekland dances naked. What more could you ask for?

3: Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Imagine someone being so sexually and morally depraved that the only gratification left is torture at the hands of demons. Those looking for such delights will find said “pleasure” by searching for a puzzle box which, when solved, will open the portal to Hell. Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is living with her father Larry and step-mother Julia, a couple in a loveless marriage. Julia had had an affair with Larry’s brother Frank years ago, leaving her resenting her husband. Frank had long since acquired the puzzle box, and was ripped apart by the Cenobites, demons that look like they stepped out of an S&M shop. Frank finds a way to escape Hell – by traveling through blood – but needs Julia’s help to get it. Once free of the Cenobites, he needs someone’s skin, and Larry has been designated the donor. This film made an anti-hero out of the lead Cenobite, Pinhead (Doug Bradley), and has since been followed by eight sequels (after Hellraiser 4, the producers started just taking generic horror scripts and adding Pinhead in to get an audience), and original writer/director Clive Barker has been in talks for several years now to get the film remade. But this one is the best of them all.

2: The Prophecy (1995)

The Prophecy (1995)

Written and directed by Gregory Widen (writer of Highlander), this film tells the tale of a second war in Heaven, this time over humans. Thomas Dagget (Elias Koteas) is a police detective who was once going to be ordained as a Catholic priest. But on the day he is to go through with it, he has a vision of angels killing each other in Heaven. Years later he is investigating a murder of a very strange sort. He is approached by Simon (Eric Stoltz), who claims to be an angel and tries to get Thomas to understand that there is a war raging, and all of existence is at stake. He travels to Arizona on a lead, where he finds that the Archangel Gabriel (Christopher Walken at his finest) is on the search for a human soul so black that it could lead his angelic faction to victory, keeping Heaven free from all of us “monkeys”. Dagget enlists the help of a school teacher (Virginia Madsen), and a little Native American girl, Mary (Moriah Shining Dove Snyder), who Simon entrusted with the soul. Viggo Mortensen appears as Lucifer, who is helping Thomas; not because he cares about humanity, but because if Gabriel wins, Heaven will become “one Hell to many”. Truly a must see flick. Just avoid the sequels.

1: The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

This movie has been paid homage, copied, referenced, and after all of that, it still holds up as one of the creepiest movies you will ever watch. A young actress and her daughter start to find strange things are happening around them ever since daughter Regan started playing with an Ouija board. Suddenly, sweet little Regan is cursing, vomiting pea soup, and using Crucifixes in ways not intended by the original manufacturers. Local priest Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is called in to investigate, but he has doubted his faith as he deals with his mother’s terminal illness. Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) – an archeologist and expert in the area of possession – is called in to help Father Karras. Will the two priests save the little girl? Is there actually a demonic force at work here? This movie has to be seen to be believed, because it’s too good to miss. It was followed by two sequels and two prequels (technically the same film, just two versions of it), and they should probably all be missed.

Honorable Mention:

Heath Ledger in 'The Order'The Order (2003)

This movie isn’t good enough to actually make the list, but it’s too interesting not to mention. Honestly, it’s a film that feels like it was about two re-writes away from being a masterpiece. The story is jumbled, so take notes and watch a couple of times. Heath Ledger plays a priest who has been stuck in a New York congregation because he doesn’t fit in. Soon he gets the news his old mentor has died in a mysterious manner. He goes to Rome to investigate, aided by his fellow student played by Mark Eddy, and a mental institute escapee who once tried to kill him (Shannyn Sossamon). There’s a Dark Pope out to take over the Church, a Sin Eater trying to get Ledger to take his place, and a budding romance between Ledger and Sossamon. Ledger doesn’t give his best performance, but he brings a charm to the film that keeps you interested. Eddy is as always great, and Peter Weller overacts as a priest from Rome (but he is entertaining).

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#1 Fab stuff right here... Gabriel_Ruzin 2011-02-02 02:51
Amazing to see The Fallen, Ninth Gate, and The Prophecy all on one list, critically-panned movies that I happen to really enjoy. (After all, Gabriel is *spoiler* the villain in The Prophecy, and played by Christopher Walken, so I'm a big fan. hehe).

Awesome stuff. Really enjoyed it, Caleb. :)

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