Grab your Holy Bible and rosary beads as we look at ten essential demonic horror movies that will send shivers down your spine…
As Flickering Myth takes a leap into film production with The Baby in the Basket, our own little slice of demonic horror, maybe now is a good time to look at some essential demonic horror films! With possessed kids, cults, witch covens, pins-a-plenty and more, here are Ten Essential Demonic Horror Movies…
Clive Barker’s iconic sadomasochistic fantasy horror did something that felt truly unique. The infamous puzzle box can unlock a doorway to hell where demonic cenobites await to tear your soul apart. Grotesque visuals, body horror and a grimy psychosexual tale of obsession and fascination with the dark arts.
It wasn’t entirely intentional, but the iconic Pinhead seemed destined to become a classic horror villain with his unforgettable look, covering Doug Bradley’s face in pins. He’s not actually in the original film that much, but the studio quickly realised he would be the inevitable poster boy. Barker’s lack of directorial experience gave him a naivety to film-making processes and budget consciousness that ended up benefiting the film with little consideration that things couldn’t be achieved, or might not work.
The striking lighting, gruesome images and style certainly helped to make Hellraiser so memorable whilst the sultry Clare Higgins has a distinctly fascinating and complex female character in a genre that was normally preoccupied with eye candy and/or the final girl archetype. The villains have always been infinitely more fascinating than the protagonists in this franchise.
Roman Polanski brought a run of intense and enthralling psychological horrors to a close with Rosemary’s Baby (following the likes of Repulsion). What has become a fascinating allegory for gaslighting was probably not intended as quite such back in 1968. Rosemary falls pregnant but is struck by a growing paranoia that something is not right about her unborn child and that some of her neighbours are up to something.
Polanski was a master of creating engaging and tense cinema from minimalist settings and on the strength of a single performer tasked with carrying large stretches of the picture alone on screen. Mia Farrow manages to do just that with a sensational performance. The use of long takes and meticulous blocking makes the film feel immersive and it’s a triumph of atmosphere over cheap scares.
You adopt a young kid and all is good in the world. Just one problem, he might just be the son of the devil. The infamous Damien, the antichrist and little harbinger of doom basically cursed all name sakes after 1976 to having the Mickey royally taken out of them.
Richard Donner’s slow-burning and unnerving horror is full of so many unforgettable moments from the first iconic tricycle riding moment in horror cinema to the savagely brutal, but impeccably timed death sequences. Gregory Peck is the weary Ambassador who made a grave error of judgment after his wife’s child was stillborn when he paid off a new mother to take a child to raise as he and his wife’s own.
Donner delivers the horror with the same kind of precise aplomb that he always did with action set pieces. Timed to perfection. Everything builds to an enthralling and dark finale, the kind which exemplified a darker era in American cinema.
A film that went down in infamy and took horror from being a niche audience to being mainstream. The massive hit became notorious for leaving audiences screaming, fainting and allegedly dying in theatres. Eventually, the mythology about the film’s terror and cursed set probably ran away into near fantasy.
That’s not to say William Friedkin’s rumination on faith doesn’t live up to its reputation. It’s still genuinely unnerving, superbly acted and expertly put together. Max von Sydow and Jason Miller are great as the two priests with differing perspectives on faith but Linda Blair, so young at the time of filming, really does steal the show. Though rotating heads, projectile vomiting and demonic possession potty mouth have been mercilessly spoofed, The Exorcist is still essential horror. All the constant sequels, reboots and ripoffs, less so (bar the underrated third film).
The Wailing is a superb Korean horror film that blooms slowly but unsettles deeply. Born of folk tales and paying homage to a classic period of East Asian horror cinema where folk stories were the order of the day, this sees a remote village beset by gruesome murders, believing the town has been cursed by a visitor from Japan who may be a demon, evil spirit or practitioner of witchcraft or black magic.
There’s an interesting element to the way the outsider, the foreigner is viewed here, as well as dealing with generational views on superstition and folklore. The film has plenty of twists and turns, as well as lingering tension and an atmosphere that always threatens to unnerve you.
Japanese icon Jun Kunimura adds plenty of gravitas and Kwak Do-Wan is also superb. Na Hong-jin is typically assured as director and this is one of the best horror films of recent times.
The film which bought Robert Eggers to the forefront of Indie horror and also solidified the mesmerising talent of Anya Taylor-Joy. A minimalist, stark, atmospheric and disturbing folk take where a belligerent father settles his family into a land that progressively appears to be barren and cursed. Banished, poor and increasingly unable to fend for themselves, strange things begin happening with a visit from a Witch, the puritan family fall apart under crisis of faith and the influence of demonic forces.
Eggers’ film set the tone for a filmmaker able to craft engaging, visually driven stories with complex ideas, visual assurance and a committed cast. Some found the film lacking in horror spectacle, but this is definitely not lacking in unforgettable and disturbing moments.
Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi’s career-defining sequel to the original classic. Evil Dead II is a reboot/sequel fusion that has more lavish production values than the original but still retains the charm of ultra-low-budget productions. Raimi’s former muse, Bruce Campbell is the epitome of the charming and chiselled hero, with an ability to perform Buster Keaton-esque feats of physical comedy.
Evil Dead 2 is a perfect blend of comedy and horror, packaged with ingenuity and glorious style thanks to Raimi’s dynamic shots and editing. That we’re still going with the Necronomicon and its hell portal-opening antics, is a testament to how great the first two films were.
Lamberto Bava’s comedic and madcap horror classic is a brilliant ode to horror cinema as the chaos of the genre spills out of the screen to unsuspecting horror fans. A dash of meta but this is mostly concerned with entertaining an audience and providing them with plenty of practical blood and carnage.
The viewers are trapped in the movie theatre as demons begin to pick off the audience to feed on them. The film’s whimsy and joyous practical effects work make it a light but thoroughly enjoyable comedy horror.
One of the more underrated gems of early 80s horror sees Barbara Hershey as a mother tormented and raped by a demonic force, apparently based loosely on a true story. What could have been a cheesy and misjudged film, is adeptly handled by veteran director, Sidney J Furie.
Hershey’s committed performance is superb as she has to sell her encounters with an invisible force. Ron Silver also provides excellent support as her therapist who witnesses the horrors first-hand. At times the film is genuinely terrifying.
Alongside Robert Eggers, Ari Aster is the horror director who everyone seems to be anticipated as the next genre icon. Hereditary might owe a little to Rosemary’s Baby and The Wicker Man but it’s an enthralling horror film about demonic influences that have hereditary effects on the women of a particular family.
Aster is skilled at crafting interesting character arcs and raising the levels of his performers. Toni Collette is sensational and was heinously overlooked at the Oscars with a powerhouse performance for the ages. The final act just has too much going on and too much owed to classic old films, but this unsettling film has great jumps, performances and an engaging storyline.
What’s your favourite demonic horror movie? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth, and if you’d like to help us create our very own entry into this hellish subgenre, then please check out the IndieGogo campaign for The Baby in the Basket. We’re shooting in September, with a cast that includes Maryam d’Abo (The Living Daylights), Paul Barber (The Full Monty), Amber Doig-Thorne (Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey), Annabelle Lanyon (Legend, Dream Demon), Michaela Longden (Jack in the Box: Awakening, The Ghost Within) and Elle O’Hara (When Darkness Falls, Memories of Another), and there’s still time to grab some perks including producer credits, on-screen thanks and more!
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out around the world, including When Darkness Falls and several releases due out soon, including big-screen releases for Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray) and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.