13 Diabolical Movies for Halloween

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BY H.B.G. (Your Satanic Cinema Sommelier)

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Some of us struggle with our demons, others just want to cuddle. The Church, 1989

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.

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Karloff leads a Luciferian cult in The Black Cat.

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.

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Hazel Court as Vincent Price’s mistress in The Masque of the Red Death, 1964,  brands an inverted cross on her breast in an act of devotion to Satan. This is the first instance of an inverted cross as a symbol of devil worship on film.

These films offer us the full congregation of evil: The Witch, The Cult, and The Devil Himself.

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Barbara Steele in Curse of the Crimson Cult, 1968

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.

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The Exorcist, 1973

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.

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Evil Takes Many Forms in The Witch.

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.

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Christopher Lee is great as a Satanist in almost every film he ever made.

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.

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You’ve never seen anything quite like Alucarda.

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.

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More Nasassja Kinski, please.

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.

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Jessica Harper in the original Suspiria. She also makes a cameo in the 2018 remix.

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 masterpieceThe 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:

SUSPIRIA: In the Eye of the Peacock

SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey and the Dark Goddess; Part 1

SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess; Part 2

SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess, Part 3

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Sherri Moon Zombie breaks on through to the other side in The Lords of Salem.

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.

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THE SENTINEL 1977 with horror veteran John Carradine as a blind priest. Jeffrey Konvitz wrote the book.

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.

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Mickey Rourke stumbles into a diabolical mystery in Angel Heart.

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.

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Masks, Death Masks, & Sadistic Face Lifts in The Sect / The Devil’s Daughter, 1991

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.

the-house-of-the-devil-original.jpg10. 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.

Unknown-311. 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.

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The occult symbolism overflows in 1989’s The Church.

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.

evilspeak-2013. 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.

May your Halloween be less than harrowing!

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THE DEVIL, Key XV from the Tarot. From the Smith – Waite Tarot. Art by Pamela Coleman Smith.

Hereditary : Decoding the Demon’s DNA

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By: H.B.G.

Contains spoilers! (Viewed three times)

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Milly Shapiro makes an impression in an understated performance in Hereditary.

As fans of Diabolical and Occult Horror we dare to stare into the artistic abyss in an effort to understand why we find the theme so appealing. Is it an attempt at psychological self-analysis of the Jungian Shadow? Or is it a floundering fight to wrestle with our own inner demons?

Whatever the reason (not that one is needed), few such films  in recent years have had quite the impact that ‘Hereditary’ has had. While some have compared it with another icon of Satanic Cinema canon by calling it “this generation’s ‘The Exorcist’”  (Time Out New York) – others have ridiculed it for obscuring it’s more subtle elements beneath too much eye candy; or (more bizarrely) claiming that its “predictable” or “supernatural” ending ruined it (!). But in a film in which the supernatural and diabolical elements are the main plot point, what else should one expect, or want, from the ending of such a film? Should the ending be made more ambiguous via: Was it really the Devil or was it all just in her own head?

Why not have a supernatural ending? (Some of us like that sort of thing, you know). And with director Ari Aster‘s latest spiritual folk horror infused film ‘Midsommar’ set for imminent release (and timely Midsummer being the time for the Feast of St. John the Baptist – the famous decapitated prophet), we thought it  time to take a closer occult-geek look at Hereditary.

Let us allow our eyes to adjust to the Darkness within and see what we can read upon the twisted familial tree of Hereditary. Of course, if you have not yet viewed the film, this article will certainly spoil the movie for you; save it for after you’ve seen it.

The Opening Shot Sums It All Up

The opening shot of Hereditary has us looking out from a window of the Graham family’s home at the exterior of a treehouse – which itself is a kind of home in miniature.  It is built upon and supported by the trunks of mighty birch trees, a few of which have had their tops severed off  to form a base for the treehouse structure which is the site of the film’s climax. A fly buzzes around the window’s interior hinting that a germ of corruption is already present. The camera then pulls back to show us an artist’s studio where realistic miniatures are created in minute detail before settling on the interior of one of these miniature houses, steadily zooms in, and the action begins taking place from within a “miniature” house.

The miniatures featured in the story are the work of the artist / mother Annie Graham – played to Oscar worthy heights by actress Toni Collette. Annie tries very hard to maintain control over her world. Her work on miniatures is a reflection of this: Annie’s reality is being reduced to what she is able to hold and manipulate with her own hands, keeping a grip on what is largely beyond her control because, as we come to learn, there are potent occult forces at work.

The trees supporting the treehouse, with either their tops (heads) cropped off or appropriated trunks (torsos), could represent the disintegration and eventual overcoming of the family of four’s natural identity (see below for more on the significance of the decapitation motif). The cropped (decapitated) and appropriated (possessed) trees supporting a smaller house outside the family home could be the sacrifice of the Graham family’s individual lives to support an outside force, a daemonic element. This demonic element we come to discover is the demon King Paimon – an infernal spirit who appears in a number of demonic lists and magical grimoires. This treehouse is a refuge for “outsider” daughter Charlie Graham (Milly Shapiro); it’s a microcosm of, or spiritual battery for, the forces converging upon the Graham family.  Viewing  the treehouse as superseding the family tree element supports the parasitic or false identity element of demonic possession. This treehouse also calls to mind the Spirit houses of Asia and Pacific Islanders; and this treehouse is indeed a “spirit house” as we discover by movie’s end. The artificial house of geometric form and triangulated roof surmounts and replaces the sacrificed tops of God’s  and Nature’s birches; the family tree is capped with an artificial alien construct.

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Inspiration from the film’s final shot: This Xmas, switch up your nativity scene a bit and see if any of your holiday guests notice.

Miniatures, Mannequins and Manipulation

imagesThe mother-artist is a combination which on its own creates a dynamic tension (we know whereof we speak). Indeed, there is an automatic inner struggle for Annie to maintain a balance between supporting these two facets. She is a creator of artificial worlds in miniature. She creates miniature scenes: houses, a daycare, a hospital room, a funeral home, and – in a bizarre pseudo meta revelation – even a replica of her own planned exhibition; and she peoples them with perfectly scaled mannequins which she paints and positions in realistic ways. Annie is fighting to maintain a grip on her world, a world which is steadily and increasingly slipping away from her. The subtle cracks in the edifice of the Graham family are – like the demonic formulas scratched into the walls of the house – showing from the start. Annie and her family are themselves (like miniature mannequins) in the grip of much greater powers than they can possibly realize. It is as if they are themselves being artificially manipulated by the art of unseen hands as they move about their daily existence.

…And Mother

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An uncredited actress portrayed Ellen Leigh.

Motherhood is an essential thread throughout the story but not in the way it usually is represented. We come to suspect – and find unreliable – every mother figure presented in the film. The non-presence of Annie’s recently deceased and manipulative mother Ellen (portrayed by an uncredited actress) is a mysterious key to this occult force; a key we are unable to totally grasp until it is much too late. Annie’s mother  is a mere ghostly presence hinting at the the unspeakable. But the artifacts left behind by Ellen – the necklace with the charming demonic sigil, a disturbed family history recounted by Annie in a grief support circle, a book on demonic spiritualism, personalized hand woven mats with odd geometric configurations, photographs hinting at unsettling connections,  a black triangle on her bedroom floor, a mysterious note referring to their “sacrifices” being worth it in the end, etc. – all these elements are woven into a sinister diabolical plot.

 

On the Significance of Decapitation

There is a fair amount – and effective rendering – of decapitation in this film, and this is no arbitrary horror trope concerning the story’s psychological, spiritual – religious,  or demonic possession (or obsession) aspects. The head is the seat of identity and intelligence, and is considered the best part or member of the body – being indisputably essential for existence. One may survive without any other limb or member, or even a kidney or portions of other internal organs, or with implants to accompany the heart, etc.; but the head is naturally an absolute necessity for a person’s existence.

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Goddess Chinnamasta, Her name means She Who Cuts Off Her Own Head. She stands upon a copulating couple as She nourishes Her two handmaidens which are  aspects of Herself.                                                                                         Calcutta Art Studio lithograph, c. 1885

As a reference to the mystical insights of decapitation let us look East. In her book Chinnamastā: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess, Elisabeth Anne Benard analyzes the myths and outlines the worship of the self-decapitating and blood drinking esoteric goddess Chinnamastā – one of a grouping of Ten Wisdom Goddesses (Dasa Mahavidyas). She recounts a few myths on the theme of decapitated and transposed heads – an important theme to Hereditary. Decapitation is largely interpreted in Asian culture as representing the annihilation of the ego, or false individual self (atman), to unite with the greater Self (paramatman). The Goddess Kali is often depicted as carrying a severed head; and some forms of god Shiva have him carrying the skull of creator god Brahma as a begging bowl. These also point to the dissolving of the false ego identity into The Absolute. The story of elephant headed god Ganesha is also of some relevance but let’s not get lost in Indian mythology here. Chinnamasta is a goddess of tremendous  esoteric significance we cannot even scratch the surface of here, but like witchy Hecate, She is a threefold goddess – of triple form. Hereditary gives us three generations of female energy through Annie Graham, her mother Ellen, and her daughter Charlie. So we are also supplied with the archetypes of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone of contemporary witchcraft and goddess religion.

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Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation, from the 1432 Ghent Altarpiece, has an inscription streaming towards the Virgin and the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above.

The young girl, the virgin, usually verging on maturity, as a vehicle for supernatural powers is a natural, almost instinctual,  device in human legend and storytelling. Modern horror interpretations abound (Carrie, Poltergeist and The Craft spring to mind). The character of Charlie Graham (Milly Shapiro) is a disarming take on the theme, and we are left nearly breathless about a third of the way into the film by her sudden and tragic demise.

3068817_0Charlie is apparently a special child, and like her mother and grandmother she has creative artistic gifts. Creative gifts which allow her to bring forth – to birth – art into the world. Her sketching and assembling of figures made from found objects turns  toward the macabre when she severs and collects the head of a kamikaze pigeon and sketches the bird’s head with a crown – indicating murky intimations of the dove of the Holy Spirit of the Annunciation of Maria – heralding the conception of a new incarnation.hereditary-17-gif-that-bird-lost-her-head-wtf-watch-the-film-saint-pauly 

As Peter (Alex Wolff) drives his sister Charlie and himself to a party, the camera lingers upon the fateful roadside post the first time they pass by; a shot in which the discerning eye will note the carved demonic sigil of King Paimon. The three formed Greco-Roman goddess of witches and witchcraft Hecate is also strongly associated with roads, and her shrines were sometimes posts situated at crossroads where masks may be hung to face in each direction the paths would lead. Then, when Peter and Charlie leave the party in a rush to head to the hospital, Peter swerves at high speed to avoid hitting a dead animal, causing his sister to… well, you know, lose her head.

“self decapitation echoes the Chinnamasta motif of sacrifice and feeding or nourishing her “children”.”

hereditary-64-gif-shes-losing-her-head-wtf-watch-the-film-saint-paulyAnnie Graham’s dramatic self decapitation in the final act (did you notice she had nabbed piano wire to accomplish this? It wasn’t until our second viewing that we realized what she was using to sever her own neck) is – in a sick and twisted way in this case – the mother’s ultimate sacrifice for the “betterment” of her children. This self decapitation echoes the Chinnamasta motif of sacrifice and feeding or nourishing her “children”. She is the sacrifice, the sacrificer and (somehow, we are left to suppose) a recipient of shares of some hellish sacrificial boon as her mother’s message implies.

Freud wrote about the castration symbolism of decapitation; but aside from vague intimations of viewing possession as a type of “impregnation” – relating it to genetics or fertility – to shoehorn it into the “hereditary” theme seems unrelated to our present topic.

A Restoration of the Head

The transposition or restoration of a decapitated head provides a vital note of mystical completion in the myths of Chinnamasta and elephant headed god Ganesha. For the Goddess it displays her ultimate power as being the embodied but transcendent energy of the sacrifice, the sacrificer and the receiver of the sacrifice, and as the force orchestrating the entire scope of the perpetual unfolding, sustainment, disintegration and recycling of manifested existence. As a goddess She can survive cutting off and replacing Her own head as a part of Her divine play (Lila). In occult horror we find supernatural manipulation of the head as ghoulish and threatening because it indicates the identity of the person you care about has been overtaken and possessed by a force majeure.

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Annie becomes a sick headbanger in Hereditary.

 

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The Exorcist still causes some heads to spin.

Mr Graham (Gabriel Byrne in another great understated performance) is informed that Ellen’s grave has been desecrated – a ghoulish fact he shields from his family. We come to find (late in the story) that not only has her corpse been stolen but the head removed and the rotting body laid out in the Graham family’s attic in a ritualistic way. By the climax of the film the grandmother’s head seems unaccounted for though her body, along with that of Annie’s, is positioned in an obscene act of hellish reverence in the treehouse. The headless bodies of grandmother and mother are brought into headless/egoless submission and surrender to the Demon King Paimon. tumblr_pe3372oydr1r0btqdo2_500But Charlie’s head (also apparently retrieved by grave-defiling cultists and brought to the treehouse) has been fixed upon a life sized, undressed  mannequin icon – reminiscent of those dressed saints and madonnas paraded through streets on holy days – as a kind of cult effigy and object of worship and devotion. This is echoing both Annie’s mini mannequin figurines and Charlie’s strange sculptures which she seems so preoccupied with fixing heads on. The undressed state of the icon reflects Chinnamasta’s own nudity which is known as digambara or “sky clad” as symbolic of the deity’s transcendent state and accounts for King Paimon’s cultists’ nudity.

A Mysterious Light (& Enlightenment)

Like the strange blooming iridescent light which haunts Susie Bannion in another form of spiritual possession in 2018’s Suspiria remake (directed by Luca Guadagnino), 2018’s Hereditary also signals an occult spiritual presence by the zara like pulsations of light which appear to the characters touched by the hellish forces. It’s a device to inform the audience that something outwardly imperceptible – but actually of a profound nature – is taking place within those who become demonically obsessed. Lucifer as Light-Bearer may also offer us a clue as to the occult enlightenment these dark entities (Mater Suspiriorum, King Paimon) offer to their respective protagonists.

These modern occult horrors, these new stories – these updated and thought provoking tales – are not mere horror films but stories delving into the deeper aspects of human suffering: grief, darkness and despair. For the past forty or fifty some years Satanic Cinema and occult horror has reflected (as in a mirror darkly) modern culture’s shifting attitudes towards the supernatural, religion, the occult, The Devil and the origins of “evil”. Are these most recent cinematic incarnations an artistic reflection of a wider acceptance of having to come to terms with the Darkness apparent within human culture and the human condition? Could this lead us towards greater Wisdom and Understanding? As Pinhead / the Lead Cenobite informs us when asked as to just what he and his kind are in Hellraiser, he replies: “Demons to some, Angels to others.” It’s really all about perspective isn’t it? Are demons and angels both not part of God’s divine plan? Is a demon just an angel in a dark mood, or on a dark mission?

Defenestration …again

We wrote an article not so long ago on the topic of defenestration, which is the act of jumping or being pushed from a window, as it appears in diabolical horror films; and now it appears that ‘Hereditary may be added to the list of films which portray a satanic leap of  faith as Peter Graham panics and jumps from the attic window – perhaps freeing his own soul (?), but with his body becoming a carnal vehicle  for King Paimon to appropriate, enter, possess and utilize. Demon King Paimon is thus finally embodied in his desired male form and crowned and adored by Joan (Ann Dowd) and the other cultists. Could his name Peter relate to Saint Peter? – Holder of the Keys to the kingdom of …well, maybe not Heaven but to Hell?  Or maybe as holder of the keys to the car? The vehicle to enter and transport one around as a demon does a corporeal form?

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Sacrifice

Sacrifice – in one form or another – is a perennial  theme throughout every religion. Life (and Love) is a perpetual flame which constantly needs to be fed in order to maintain itself. “Love dies without sacrifice” as Saint Marie Eugenie said. Existence itself can be seen as a kind of ritual enacted where life is in fact constantly poured forth, killed and consumed in a ceaseless round of birth, consumption and recycling death upon the bloody altar of Mother Earth and Her inhabitants. And sacrifice is what a parent does to ensure the survival of their young. The legacy left by Annie’s mother warns of sacrifice but also promises of some reward to be reaped. By destruction – through sacrifice – a sort of hellish revivification is activated.

“Love dies without sacrifice” as Saint Marie Eugenie said.

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The film’s title implies how a demonic entity may transmigrate from grandmother  to granddaughter to mother to son. It’s a family issue; a trait carried in the blood as a vehicle for a spiritual entity that is pumped and recycled until the opportune avatar is achieved. As Dracula observed long ago: “The blood is the life”. Mr Graham the husband / father is the only family member who is not called to be a vehicle for the entity known as King Paimon, as he is the only one not blood related to Annie’s mother, and so he serves as the final barrier to be sacrificed, sending Annie completely over the edge and into the Abyss.

As Dracula observed long ago: “The blood is the life”.

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In Conclusion: “Demons to Some, Angels to Others”

large_hereditary_ver2Should we have been left with a more ambiguous ending in which the supernatural and psychotic elements could be left up to personal interpretation? Should we have been left guessing if Annie Graham is, after all the spooky ephemera, merely another hardworking American mom in a psychotic midlife crisis? Observing the long-standing successful Unholy Trinity of Satanic Cinema (Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen) we see that the stories in the first two films ultimately depend upon a belief in the manifestation of the supernatural or diabolical elements – although Rosemary’s Baby keeps the viewer in suspense between belief in the Devil and suspicion in Rosemary’s state of mind – until the final reveal at the climax of the story (or did before it became a well known horror sub-genre of its own). The original ‘The Omen’ left the viewer in doubt as to whether it was all a shared delusion or an actual satanic conspiracy (however, in every Omen sequel or remake thereafter, the presence of a supernatural diabolical force was depended on and taken as a given). It is all pointing us towards a collective revelation, an Apocalypse – a rending of the veil of our delusion by material existence – as human kind awakens to its true spiritual nature – and to our unique and privileged position as stewards and caretakers of this planet and all it’s lifeforms – in all it’s horror and beauty – in all it’s Darkness and Light.

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Demons: As They Are

By H.B. Gardner

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Image from Hereditary, 2018. Actress: Toni Collette.

Mea Culpa. We have been so busy as of late with the second semester of teaching at a Catholic school here in Japan that we’ve decided to make one article for Nov. and Dec. to cover our promise of delivering a monthly piece. Hope it is worthy.

We recently were able to view the film Hereditary as it just recently opened in theaters here in Japan where we dwell. We were uncertain what to expect concerning the story as we prefer to go into a movie without knowing too much about it; but we had heard great praise for this film from a few long-time friends who are well acquainted with horror. We were very pleased with the film overall, and even more-so since it contains a satisfactory taste of the demonic. It was the most emotionally harrowing horror film we’ve seen in the past decade and perhaps it deserves some closer attention to discover all the Devil In the Details – which we may find some time to do in a future article. But for now, let us consider – in the widest possible sense – the case and state of the demon.

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Hereditary, 2018.

Demons, or otherwise harmful spirits, or spirits with a doubtful status in regards to their relations and connections with humankind, have held a prominent position in human spiritual and religious experience ever since the most ancient times and from all quarters of the globe. Evil spirits, by whatever name or category – such as we usually refer to as demons, have been regarded as bringers of disease, calamity, misfortune, temptation, pain, damnation, sorrow and all manner of adversarial forces opposing frail human existence. Beyond these many miseries unleashed from Pandora’s box, demons are also believed to have the ability to take possession of people, animals and even objects. But demons are also said to have tremendous powers and have the ablity to grant wishes, bestow boons and make deals …usually in exchange for some very precious commodity or offering.

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Onibaba, 1964

In various cultures throughout the ages a demonology has developed in which all manner of evil spirits have been categorized, codified and ranked according to various hellish hierarchies. Our word “demon” derives from what the Romans called a “Dæmon,” the Latin word for the Ancient Greek daimōn δαίμων: “god”, “godlike”, “power,” or “guiding spirit.” Another example would be the Arabic “djinn” from which we get “genie” and has an etymological relationship with our word “genius.” These we’re not considered evil entities. The pre-Christian concept of these ambiguous spirits was more akin to numinous inspirational forces of various kinds.

Some old Medieval books of magic known as grimoires spill over with lists of these diabolical entities. As just one group of beings existing in this universe shared by all manner of living creatures – both seen and unseen – demons dwell alongside other incarnate and discarnate spirits including humans, animals, ghosts, angels, sprites, elemental spirits and etc. Demons may be seen as beneficial or harmful depending entirely on where one is standing. In the Hellraiser series of horror films based on the work of Clive Barker, the demons are referred to as Cenobites which by definition indicates members of a religious order. Pinhead, the lead cenobite himself, refers to his kind as “Demons to some, angels to others.”

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“Demons to some, angels to others.” Cenobites from Hellbound: Hellraiser II, 1989.

“Demons to some, angels to others.”

And this is something we can truly use to help us relate to demons – if we allow ourselves to open our minds to such an experience. No person is all good just as no person is all bad – no matter how constant and deliberate the demonization may be at times that is directed at politicians, homosexuals, the Russians, Republicans, bosses, teachers, neighbors, retail clerks, screaming SJWs, internet trolls, etc… & ad nauseam. In this world everyone has a job to do, or a duty to perform – whatever their role may be – helpful or adversarial. Everyone and everything from the homeless dog to the jobless alcoholic, from the broom pusher to the busy mother, from the doctor or to the wealthy corporate executive, each is playing their own role in the comic tragedy: Humanity’. Sometimes you play the victim, other times you may be the rescuer, …or maybe you are usually the oppressor; the roles are often switched in the sick triangle of codependency that is material existence to which we are all chained. But we digress…

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The Devil, Key XV in the Tarot, usually depicts two demons chained to their master.

Demons! If these demonic beings are seen as a part of the totality of creation, the work of a Creator, or resulting therefrom, then they surely have a role to play in the grand opera that is human spiritual existence: that is to say, in our daily lives. In Hinduism and Buddhism demons or Asuras are simply one state of existence, along with gods, humans, animals, celestial spirits, hungry ghosts and the denizens of hell. All beings are viewed as bound within The Wheel of Life (bhavachakra) and are chained to it by karma (action) and the fruits of those actions.

Asuras are not exactly demons in the Western Abrahamic sense however; they are more like nature spirits, demigods or Titans; sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, to humankind. Indeed, Buddhism just as often categorizes gods (devas) and demons (asuras) together, with gods being placed above the demons as a higher order of the same divine existence. Both are powerful beings  but have different orientations and inclinations, the Devas (gods) representing the powers of Light and the Asuras (demons) representing the powers of Darkness. The distinct realms or dimensions of all these various beings are generally distinct from each other but they certainly overlap and intertwine so that the demonic, the divine, the celestial, the hellish, the ghostly, the animal  and the faerie are all mixed together with our own plane of human existence. By one’s actions it is believed that one may attain to any of these forms of existence in the course of transmigration of the soul, otherwise known as reincarnation. Depending on your actions you may very well be on your way to becoming a god, or a demon, or an animal, or a denizen of Hell, or another human form, or an angel, etc… in your next incarnation.

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Tibetan style Bhavachakra ‘Wheel of Existence’ depicting the six realms of embodied existence between the spokes of the wheel

Theodicy: the problem with evil

(click the text above for a wikipedia article on Theodicy). In Christianity, as in the other Abrahamic traditions, demons (or djinn in Islam, or qlippoth in Jewish and Qabbalistic mysticism) are viewed as an imperfect and evil result of God’s creation. This extreme dualism between good and evil is a bit problematic, philosophically speaking, when considering the cause of evil as it, at the very least, calls God’s perfect omniscience and omnipotence into question. Even if the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden is counted as being a good reason for mankind being plagued by death, sin and demonic influence as reason to support the concept of “the fortunate fall” in order to make way for a Savior, then does this not call into question an omniscient and omnipotent God’s good will in putting an insurmountable temptation before His glorious but flawed and naive creations: Man and Woman? According to Christian mythology, when the Serpent Satan (or was it Lilith? Or perhaps those are just two sides of one coin) offered the forbidden fruit, neither Eve nor Adam could refuse it, despite dwelling in Paradise and being so close to God. What hope is there then for us here in our present situation?

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Michelangelo’s Temptation of Adam & Eve (Lilith as half woman, half serpent). Notice the positioning of Adam and Eve and consider the meaning of “forbidden fruit” and “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Oh yes, the solution offered by Christianity is the long dead, desperately anticipated, but oh-so-tardy Nazarene, the King of the Jews; He is presented as the only way towards salvation. According to believers, one needs must only to put complete trust and faith in Him. He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows if you’ve been bad or good so you better be good and trust in him only if you want to earn your xmas reward of avoiding Hell, getting your wings, and spending an eternity traipsing along streets of gold strumming your harp among the clouds.

But these demons! Surely if they do indeed exist (and who are we to argue that they do not? What with all the headline news evidence at hand!?) they and all other so-called “mythical” creatures must have their own lives to live: masters to serve, families to care for and raise, duties (dharma) to perform, roles to play… just as all sentient beings have. They must also have a purpose or reason for existing in the scheme of the Wheel of Life; but are likely just as often loathe to contemplate it, as are many humans these days who follow the trend of sneering at religious or spiritual ideas, making the asinine claim that “nothing means anything;” – as brainless a statement as has ever been said on Earth. Our estimable opinion is that this universe is positively swarming with all manner of beings, entities and energies – both seen and unseen.

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Satyr’s Family, by Louis Priou, circa 1876. Satyrs (considered demonic to the Abrahamic religions) generally lack the means to adequately clothe their families.

“…this universe is positively swarming with all manner of beings, entities and energies – both seen and unseen.”

There are rituals and ceremonies for evoking and appeasing demons – from both East and West. From the East there is a stronger compassionate tendency to appease these demonic and chthonic spirits and the unquiet dead and releasing them from their karmic miseries by offering them a path towards the Light- and a better future incarnation – through prayers, offerings and days of remembrance. This is likewise done in the hopes of helping the dearly departed to secure comfortable positions in the afterlife and a fortunate rebirth (nobody wants grandma’s spirit ending up as a hungry ghost unable to find peace). We have something similar in the West with the second of November as All Souls Day and Day of the Dead (Di­a de Los Muertos), when  the departed Christian dead are remembered. The burial of the dead and accompanying funeral rites are also all towards this end of ensuring that the dead will indeed rest in peace. Special attention must be given even to certain directions of the compass that are considered demonic. For example, the West or Southwest wind are noted as a direction of misfortune and illness according to Chinese and Japanese geomancy (Fu hsui or Fung shui) which is opposite the Northeast gate which is also considered a demon gate here in Japan.

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”.

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In ancient Mesopotamian religion, Pazuzu (Akkadian: 𒀭𒅆𒊒𒍪𒍪 Dpà.zu.zu; also called Fazuzu or Pazuza) was the king of the demons of the wind. He also represented the southwestern wind, the bearer of storms and drought. Made popular by The Exorcist.

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The Exorcist was Pazuzu’s worldwide debut.

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But there are also sorcerers, magicians, necromancers, witches, aghoris, fakirs and the like, who practice various kinds of magic and / or mysticism in their desire to summon and harness the power of  demons, djinn, and other restless malevolent (or ambivalent) spirits towards their own ends and interests. These are humans such as would dare to rend the veil separating our world from those others, thereby allowing traffic between. Such practices are often categorized  under the Black Arts and are frequently linked with ritual practices usually considered impure or hazardous by the more Apollonian and Abrahamic minded.

Demon summoning you ask? But what need is there for elaborate ceremonies involving months of preparation along with rare and expensive paraphernalia? As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”. Summoning a demon is just one click away these days! Wanting to conjure a Demon of Vengeance? Look no farther than the internet! All the tools you need to evoke misery upon an adversary are there simply by posting and spreading rumors or embarrassing photos of the intended victim! Demons of Corporate Greed leer over your shoulder as your finger hovers over that “order with one click” button. Looking for a Demon of Lust? There’s an app for that! No magical diagrams or complicated incantations in Latin and Greek necessary!

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An Aghori in Varanasi, India enjoys licking a skull. Aghoris spend most of their time getting high and playing around corpses in cremation grounds in order to get closer to the Godhead …or Godhood.

But let us consider that this grand drama being enacted here on the earthly stage in our daily lives – peopled as it is with myriad characters – may include demons in it in the form of humans we know and interact with on a day-to-day basis! Certainly it may be said that some people act as  angels just as others bedevil us. It can be quite an experience getting to know these characters: laughing with little angels at school, socializing with demons online or at the shopping mall, getting the unsophisticated attentions of a horny satyr at the company xmas party, dealing with the denizens of Hell at the DMV… all as part of the daily grind. Perhaps one day you may even find a demon staring back at you from your own bathroom mirror! But one must be honest and admit: No matter where you’re sitting at in the bewildering opera house of Life – whether it’s a comedy, tragedy or a horror (or usually all of the above mixed together) – it’s still a pretty good show!

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Night of the Demons, 1988.