An ongoing list of diabolical films which (we feel) have the most redeeming value, or are otherwise notable for interesting Satanic, Black Magic, Witchcraft, Pagan or Occult, content. Beware! Spoilers abound! This list will be added to as time allows.
First, of course, are Cinema’s infamous “Unholy Trinity” of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen. We of course refer to the original films and not any remakes nor sequels, prequels or fecals. That is not to say that some of these sequels are not enjoyable, but these original films (and novels in the case of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist) stand out as having had a widespread influence in popular culture regarding beliefs in an actual devil, or Satan, and the powers of Evil. Each of these three films was a smash hit at it’s time of release and have spawned any number of imitations, sequels, remakes, spin-offs and wannabes.
The seventies and eighties were arguably the best time for these films. However, none before or since, has had as visceral an impact as The Exorcist.
Our personal favorite is Rosemary’s Baby, so let’s begin there.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Although this may first sound like a bit of an overstatement, this film (and the book it came from) caused millions of people in the 1960’s to seriously examine their religious beliefs. This was done deftly – in print and film – without any onscreen violence or gore. Hands must have surely trembled as they turned the final pages of this thriller when it was first released in 1967. The film, which followed the following year, closely adheres to the original novel in every way but has been brought to vivid and believable life through committed performances by Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Minnie Castevet. This is the Mother of All Devil-Baby Movies and has spawned any number of imitations.
The Exorcist (1973) What can we say here that hasn’t already been said? It is a tense, dark, psychological and spiritual drama. The scenes of the possessed girl are deservedly famous, but it’s truly the spiritual crisis of the character of Father/Dr. Damien Karras which stands at the center of this gripping story. Father Damien Karras is a Jesuit priest who loses his faith and subsequently achieves a kind of perverse heroic redemption in his own self-destruction – or does he?
The Omen (1976) caused a good many people to start attending church or paying closer attention to the last chapter of The New Testament. A number of people went home and shaved their kid’s heads in order to inspect them for the Devil’s birthmark. Spectacular death scenes which can be interpreted as coincidental “accidents” or the work of Evil forces.
Other notable cinematic demons (old to new) are:
Häxan (1922) Is a strange creature that is also a real treasure. English title: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a Swedish-Danish documentary-style silent horror film based partly on the director’s study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th-century German guide for inquisitors. Häxan is a study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. The film was made as a documentary but contains dramatised sequences of perverted and criminal Diabolic rituals and tortures enforced by the Inquisition. We recommend the version narrated by William S. Burroughs because… well, William S. Burroughs. Link below:
Horror Hotel (1960) aka The City of the Dead. Features Christopher Lee as a Satanist.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964) Based upon the lovely-dreadful poem by Edgar Allan Poe. The inimitable Vincent Price compels us to join him in the “glories of Hell.”
The Devil Rides Out (1968) Christopher Lee is NOT a Satanist in this film! But he knows an awful lot about black magic. Charles Gray is the Satanic High Priest-Magician in this Hammer horror thriller. The opening credits are fantastic.
The Devils (1971) Excellent film – if you can find it. Directed by Ken Russell, banned for years, it is still usually available only in edited forms. Based on actual events known as the Loudon Possessions. A seventeenth century “nuns gone wild.” The best DVD release so far (from BFI) can be found through Amazon UK.
Dracula AD 1972 (1972) A satanic ritual performed by hippies using the dried blood of Dracula himself brings Christopher Lee back to (from?) the Undead. Or is it the un-undead? Peter Cushing is present as a descendent of Van Helsing, of course.
Necromancy aka The Witching (1972) Orson Welles is the leader of a group dabbling in the Dark Arts. A not-so-great film, but gives you that ’70’s occult paranoia vibe.
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) Is sort of like Night of the Living Dead, but with a young theater group dabbling in necromancy. Flawed but effective 70’s gem.
The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1974) Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, ’nuff said. But with the added thrill of an elite Satanic fraternity planning to release a plague on the unsuspecting earth, with Dracula (suffering from a severe case of ennui, no less) at the center!
To the Devil a Daughter (1976) Three reasons to watch this film: 1. Christopher Lee as a Satanic priest – he does it so well! (look at that smile after a satanic birth near the beginning of the film!), 2. A 15-year-old full frontal nude Nastassja Kinski (we also love her dressed as a nun), and 3. Really unusual Satanic rituals.
Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) Is a frightful 70’s American slasher gem reminiscent of Dario Argento’s giallo shockers. This creeper spills over with blood and over-the-top with Catholic paranoia, thanks to Jane Lowry as Aunt Annie DeLorenze who was really going for the Oscar in this project. Did you know Linda Miller (who plays the mother in this classic) was married to Jason Miller who portrayed Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist?
Suspiria (1977) Is a film that stands out in horror cinema and remains perhaps the most artistic horror film ever made. Dario Argento’s masterpiece. Note the sculpture of the Peacock in the film’s climax – the Peacock is of course a symbol of Pride (Lucifer’s sin). The Three Mothers motif is carried on in the sequels Inferno 1980 and The Mother of Tears (2007).
The Sentinel (1977) The gateway to Hell requires a vigilant ward. The requirements for the position are a rather particular sin. The Sentinel is kind of like a blend of Hell House and Rosemary’s baby, with some Law & Order mixed in, and with enough names in it to give even a jaded movie goer pause: Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Jose Ferrer, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, John Carradine, and Beverly D’Angelo in…. well, an unforgettable scene. Make-up effects by the legendary Dick Smith. This somewhat gritty ’70’s devil movie is sure to creep you out.
Evilspeak (1981) This one is rather unique as it is the first (and perhaps only) film to use the high-tech demon-summoning-computer motif (this was the beginning of the 80’s) by the bullied young man out for revenge – like ‘Carrie’ but with a male misfit instead of a young woman in the lead, who turns to the Devil for unholy revenge. Practically in a category by itself, innit? Enjoyable but often overlooked for it’s eccentricities, Evilspeak is a rare 80’s gem that is delightfully nasty. The scenes of the cruelties by young men in a military academy who gang up on a weaker one are especially unpleasant with gratuitous shame. This film carries some rather heavy Satanic themes with a vicious and gory climax to boot, which caused it to be banned for a number of years in the UK. One of the few Satanic horror films which draws upon the less popular porcine symbolism of the Devil. Kind of want a shower after watching.
Angel Heart (1987) Excellent. Atmospheric. Pulls you in and won’t let go. Mickey Rourke in his prime. Based on the novel ‘Falling Angel’ by William Hjortsberg. The book is centered in New York and never travels to New Orleans. It depicts a Black Mass that takes place in an abandoned New York subway. Well, that scene didn’t really make it into the film but we get some good Voodoo ceremony there along with a (at the time it was released) controversial and passionate sex scene which is interspersed with images akin to the novel’s orgiastic depiction of the Black Mass.
Hellraiser (1987) & Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) Are very significant films in their dramatic revisioning of Hell, it’s demons, landscape and all their accompanying mythology. This is all due to writer/director/visionary/artist Clive Barker and the cinematic artists who helped realize his nightmarish ideas of Hell on film. Based upon Clive Barker’s novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ we discover a deal-with-the-devil story twisted with perverted family relations. The simple Faustian premise is amped up to exquisite extremes of Hellishness where Pleasure and Pain become indistinguishable. The Cenobites, perhaps the most unique diabolical figures seen since the Fin de siècle, are “Demons to some, Angels to others,” offering us to taste their pleasures of sweet suffering.
Prince of Darkness (1987) Has a seriously effective creep factor. Do not watch it alone late at night. This is a movie that compels us to switch the lights on after waking from a nightmare and needing to make our way to the restroom in the middle of the night. Directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness) there is something really disturbing about this movie. “Hello? Hello? I’ve got a message for you, and you’re not going to like it.”
The Church (1989) (Italian title: La chiesa), also known as Cathedral of Demons or Demon Cathedral, is an Italian horror film directed by Michele Soavi. It was produced by Dario Argento (along with a list of others). Asia Argento is a young girl in the film. Amazing set pieces, demons, Satanic rituals and plenty of gore. There are some definite nods to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, including an old couple patterned on Minnie and Roman Castevet that tour The Church. You should go to The Church.
The Devil’s Daughter (1991) (Italian title: La Setta), also known as The Sect and Demons 4, is another Italian horror film co-written and produced by Dario Argento and directed by Michele Soavi. The film stars Kelly Curtis (sister of Jamie Lee Curtis: ‘Halloween’ 1978) and Herbert Lom. It’s a film that follows in the footsteps of Rosemary’s Baby but with some truly bizarre twists, some dreamlike imagery along with some gore.
Lost Souls (2000) Although not a great movie it sure looks good. An interesting, but slow and subtle, take on the coming of the AntiChrist. John Hurt has a small but effective role as an exorcist.
The House of the Devil (2009) Inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s; the story feeds on the fears people had at that time. The film takes place and even appears like it was filmed in the ’80’s. A very good, slow-paced thriller with a Grand Guignol finish.
The Witch (2015) The Witch is an atmospheric period piece set in 1630 New England. A folktale saturated with fearful religious paranoia that inexorably tears apart a family of English Puritan settlers trying to survive on the edge of a vast forest after being banished from the safe confines of their colony. The fear of Satan’s power may be real or imagined or seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Committed performances and some unsettling imagery of classical witchcraft (so rare in cinema) make this film a must-see for those who move in certain circles… around a bonfire… beneath a full moon.