BY H.B.G. (Your Satanic Cinema Sommelier)
As Halloween – the ancient pre-Christian Celtic Pagan festival of Samhain – draws near, when the air chills and the vibrant leafy green signs of summery life are dressed in faded flame to kindle it’s dry surrender to the coming season of death, our mind turns naturally inwards – towards the darkness within – as a reflection to the deepening night without. The Season of the Witch is upon us once again and ’tis time to reflect upon the ebon mirror-screen to read the signs traced there by the cool fingers of Our Lady of Darkness. Many of our own home video screens will inevitably flicker with the cold fire of choice occult horrors, old and new, from cinema’s dreadful dream machine.
Connoisseurs of the genre are undoubtedly familiar with Cinema’s Unholy Trinity of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen. Others may already know Vincent Price as Prince Prospero in 1964’s Masque of the Red Death. Below we will present a modest list of 13 sorcerous and satanic ‘sin’ematic tales spun by film makers. We will point out some popular examples as well as draw attention to some of those which may be overlooked. These and many other examples appear in our growing list of Devilish movies: Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films.
These films offer us the full congregation of evil: The Witch, The Cult, and The Devil Himself.
The Witch is a primal archetype of our collective unconscious; an image so ancient and long held that we still remain spellbound by her powers. The Hag, the child-snatcher, the cannibal crone in the gingerbread house, the satanic siren or seductive succubus licking her blood red lips… they all live inside us. She resides in that secret place from where dreams arise; that place most of us expend effort to avoid noticing. But she is always there, waiting, in our stories, fables, movies and fashion magazines.
The Cult is a nightmare that is often all too true in reality and even makes the occasional appearance on the evening news. Often formed by a group of devil worshipping acolytes in these movies, The Cult is most often hidden from view in plain sight. Their predatorial eyes stalking their victims with a cold obedience to a perverted sense of unholy and supreme evil.
The Devil …well, what can one say about the Old Man? The Opposer, The Adversary, The Tempter, Shaitan, Satan… the very embodiment of all that is evil, of all malice, of all we fear… and, simultaneously, all that we desire: Power, Wealth, Talent, Fame, Sex.. all are on the Demon’s auction table… for a hefty price, of course.
Some of these movies are crude attempts, some are jumbled fever dreams, cult films, a few are special masterpieces that linger long after the lights are out and the covers are drawn up… when dreams of primitive horrors etched in our ancestral DNA lurch and suddenly shamble towards you out of the dreaming dark… with claws extended.
1. The Witch (2015)
Satanic Sommelier: Guiness, or an Irish red like Killians. 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 Puritan settlers trying to survive on the edge of a vast threatening 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. If you are looking for jump scares or buckets of gore, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. This one is a slow burning thriller with committed performances and some unsettling imagery of classical witchcraft.
2. Horror Hotel, AKA City of the Dead (1960)
Satanic Sommelier: Chardonnay, chilled. Features Christopher Lee (who certainly holds the record for Actor Who Has Portrayed a Satanist or Appeared in More Satanic/Occult Films More Than Any Human Ever) as a college professor with more than a dabbler’s interest in Witchcraft. An atmospheric thriller that takes a cue from 1960’s PSYCHO in regards to the premature fate of it’s first main protagonist. Good atmospheric early piece of witchy cinema.
3. Alucarda (1975)
Satanic Sommelier: A Spanish red. (Read the title backwards). This nunsploitation film has some great surrealistic set pieces, plenty of hysterical blasphemy, flagellation, sadistic monks, exorcism and…. bleeding nuns! But the tale itself, with its elements of lesbian vampirism, seems at least somewhat inspired by J. Sheridan LeFanu’s ‘Carmilla’ (1872). A young woman is brought to live at a convent where she encounters the mysterious Alucarda. The young women form a strange relationship and make a pact and become satanically possessed as part of Alucarda’s cursed history.
4. To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Satanic Sommelier: Blue Nun. Three reasons to watch this film: 1. Christopher Lee (starting to see a pattern here?!) as a Satanic priest (he does it so well! Look for that smile during a nasty scene 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. some rather atypical Satanic ritual imagery. Great cult film if you can somehow manage to ignore Richard Widmark.
5. Suspiria (1977)
Satanic Sommelier: A fine Italian red wine. Suspiria is a film that stands out in horror cinema and remains perhaps the most celebrated artistic horror film ever made. Director Dario Argento’s masterpiece. The Three Mothers motif is carried on in the sequels Inferno (1980) and The Mother of Tears (2007). The 2018 remake featuring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton is a thoughtful homage to some ideas inspired by the theme but is not nearly as fun as the original. We started #TheThreeMothers hashtags. Read our Occult-Horror geek articles on the original Suspiria here:
6. The Lords of Salem (2012)
Satanic Sommelier: Magic mushrooms with a gin & tonic, and a beer chaser. Rob Zombie’s hallucinogenic trip into the weird world of witchcraft is, like it’s creator, certainly original. This film links back to ancient blasphemous heresy for starters before relocating us into modern Salem, Massachusetts where young DJ Heidi (played by Sherri Moon Zombie) is ensnared in the ancient sorcery of a family curse while trying to break free of a heroin addiction. Worth seeing for Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn (Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as witches, and some bizarre artistic moments.
7. The Sentinel (1977)
Satanic Sommelier: Whatever your poison may be, drink plenty of it! The gateway to Hell requires a vigilant ward. The requirements for the position are a particular sin. The Sentinel is kind of like a blend of ‘Hell House’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ with some Law & Order mixed in. If it feels tedious at times you can amuse yourself by spotting the many big names in it, enough 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 of The Exorcist fame. This gritty ’70’s devil movie has a politically incorrect climax to creep you out.
8. Angel Heart (1987)
Satanic Sommelier: Jack Daniels or Jim Beam (any way you like) for you “Hairy Angel” types. Or try Toots Sweet’s favorite Twin Sisters Cocktail: Ingredients: 1/2 oz. light rum 1/2 oz. spiced rum 1 dash lime juice 1 dash Coca-Cola Directions: Shake with ice and strain into shot glass. Atmospheric film with an excellent cast. The story pulls you in and won’t let go. Mickey Rourke in his prime as Harold Angel (“Hark! The herald angels sing…”) and Robert DeNiro as Louis Cyphere (wink). Based on the novel ‘Falling Angel’ by William Hjortsberg. The novel is centered in New York and never travels to New Orleans like in the film. The book depicts a gritty Black Mass that takes place in an abandoned New York subway. Well, that scene didn’t make it into the film, but we get some good Voodoo ceremony here along with a (at the time it was released) controversial and passionate sex scene with the lovely young (and underrated) Lisa Bonet. Actress Charlotte Rampling appears as a mysterious old flame into more than just star-gazing. A horror mystery with a real twist at the end.
9. The Sect, aka The Devil’s Daughter (1991)
Satanic Sommelier: Italian red wine or German Riesling. (Italian title: La Setta), 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) who has a destiny with the devil’s crew. Herbert Lom also stars. It’s a weird film with some echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, but embellished with some truly bizarre twists, some surrealistic, dreamlike and nightmarish imagery, along with some gore. A creative departure from the standard.
10. The House of the Devil (2009)
Satanic Sommelier: A good Californian red wine to go with your “mushroom” pizza. Inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s; the story feeds on the deep psychological fears people had at that time which manifested in a widespread social panic. The film takes place and even appears like it was filmed in the ’80’s. A very good, slow burning thriller with a Grand Guignol finish. We highly recommend this one for the simple story and great acting by a small cast. Like Rosemary’s Baby, it shows how effective storytelling, great acting, and very good filmmaking can create so much suspense with minimum special effects.
11. Hereditary (2018)
Satanic Sommelier: Whiskey with a cola chaser. The ripple effect of Hereditary is still being felt even as director Ari Aster’s latest release Midsommar is gaining much critical acclaim for these well formulated, suspenseful and artistic horrors. Demonolotry is not a typical thing to inherit from one’s family …unless you’re in a horror film. Forget the haters who criticize it, Hereditary is a very good film with superior performances and an unsettling punch-to-the-gut story that leaves much to ponder regarding the fine line between demonic horror and family drama.
12. The Church (1989)
Satanic Sommelier: Italian red wine. (Italian title: La chiesa), 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. Some nice set pieces, demons, Satanic rituals and plenty of gore. Visually captivating. There are some definite nods to ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ including an uncanny homage in a Devil Rape scene (compare the music for these scenes in the two films), and an old couple that seem patterned on Minnie and Roman Castevet that tour The Cathedral. You should definitely go to The Church, it’s good for your soul.
13. Evilspeak (1981)
Satanic Sommelier: A very good beer. This one is unique as it is the first (and perhaps only) film to use the high-tech-demon-summoning-computer-motif by the bullied young man out for revenge. Think Stephen King’s ‘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 (played by Clint Howard – brother of director Ron Howard) are especially unpleasant with gratuitous shame. This film carries some rather heavy Satanic motifs with a vicious and gory climax to boot (effects are a little dated, but so what?), 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. The “evil” Egyptian god Set is associated with pig iconography (among other animal totems). Almost want to take a shower / bath after watching this one… almost.
Remember to find out about more devilish films from the Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films.