Today marks the release of a film that both writers of this blog included on their Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2011 list. To commemorate the release of The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins and Colin O’Donoghue, we’ve decided to compile a list of our top ten religious horror films. It is yet to be seen if The Rite has the merit to crack this list, but if after seeing it you feel compelled (by Christ or otherwise) to seek out similar films we’re her to help you out.
End of Days (1999)
You would never expect a religious horror top ten to include Arnold Schwarzenegger and there may have been a few other films we could have chosen for #10 on our list, but despite his starring role in this film, End of Days is an entertaining blend of action and horror. As the millennium is ending Satan (Gabriel Byrne) comes to NYC to find himself a bride, because everyone needs a new year’s kiss.
And to forever curse the NY Mets
The only man who can stop him is a cleverly named Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger), an ex-cop who no longer believes in God due to the murder of his family. If Cane can keep Satan from scoring until the millennium, then the world is saved – if not, it’s the end of days. It’s what you would expect from an Arnold film, glaring themes and motifs, lots of violence, and of course one-liners like “You’re a choir boy compared to me, A CHOIR BOY!”
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
This is one of those films that barely made the list, but is certainly worthy of note. The film received mixed reviews, but really brought a new twist to the genre. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on true events and is one part exorcism film, and one part courtroom drama. The two of these mix well and are supported by strong performances by Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, and a young Jennifer Carpenter.
I still contest that the characters she plays are possessed by the Devil.
It had been a long time since new life had been breathed into an exorcism film, and this was like a breath of fresh air. It has its faults, particularly with pacing, and the fact that it doesn’t conjure up a whole lot of scares, but the scares it does provide and the questions it raises, stick with you long after the film is finished.
The Prophecy (1995)
Whenever someone mentions this film about a war between the angels, Christopher Walken is immediately brought up and how great his usual detached and off-kilter performance is. But, on top of that, the film effectively delivers a compelling religious tale about angels and demons steeped in biblical lore. Walken is great, but Viggo Mortenson, who plays Lucifer, surprisingly delivers one of his more interesting performances. Many people have tried to capture a war between the angels on a much larger scale:
But somehow, this B-Movie format seems to out-class bigger productions. The film spawned several sequels, which were nowhere close to this caliber, and most went straight to movie hell: direct-to-video.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Some could argue that this is merely a thriller, but there are several horrific elements present within the film. For one, there is Mary Ann’s (Charlize Theron) descent into madness, several times demons reveal themselves, gruesome murders, and Keanu Reeves trying to have a southern accent. There are several references to the famous epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton and they weave themselves in to create the overarching premise for the story. Al Pacino is at his eccentric and yelling best, charismatic and slimy.
This was actually just Al Pacino's reaction to what his career looks like after this movie.
I suppose he was just doing that to counter Reeves’ inability, but overall it had a great story and was disturbingly beautiful at times.
Children of the Corn (1984)
Any film that becomes parody on an episode of South Park (The Wacky Molestation Adventure) has at least reached cult status, and at the very least warrants a viewing. Based on the short story by Stephen King, Children of the Corn follows a young couple as they go to the town of Gatlin to report a murder. Shortly after arriving they soon discover the town is void of adults as the children have murdered every adult in the town, forming a religious cult led by a boy preacher named Isaac. If you believe that nothing is scarier than deserted, run down mid-west and Texan towns, imagine them all populated with ginger children wanting to sacrifice you.
- Absolutely Terrifying
Children of the Corn spawned four sequels but none of them come even close to the original, and though this film is now over 25 years old and the final sequence is very dated graphically, the rest of the film still holds up and delivers the chills.
This was the second film on the list that could easily qualify as something other than religious horror. But, like The Devil’s Advocate, there are several elements of horror to be found within the film. The film opens with a grisly death of a rather obese man, and burned such a terrifying image into my head that it makes it difficult to watch The Biggest Loser.
I never want to eat again.
But, it doesn’t stop there, every murder that occurs there is a new and innovative way for someone to die that just doesn’t go away. Add to all that Kevin Spacey’s eerie performance as a man who clearly didn’t understand the Biblical concept of loving your enemies, and the shocker of an ending, you have not only one of the best horror thriller films, but one of the best films in the last 20 years.
The Omen (1976):
When his wife has a stillborn child, the American ambassador to Italy,Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck), is encouraged by a priest to instead take an orphan child as his mother died in childbirth. Without telling his wife, Robert agrees. Several years later they relocate to London and Robert starts to believe that his son is the literally the spawn of Satan and he soon comes face to face with a biblical prophecy.
Though it was remade in 2006 starring Liev Shreiber and Julia Stiles, the original holds up much better due to its gothic rather than glossy feel. Like Halloween, which was released two years later, a lot of the terror comes from what is not shown on-screen and left up to the viewer to put together themselves.
The second film on this list to feature Gabriel Byrne, this time as a catholic priest who’s role at the vatican is to investigate devout miracles. He is sent to Pittsburgh to speak to a woman named Frankie (Patricia Arquette), an atheist who supposedly is showing signs of stigmata, the physical wounds Christ endured during the crucifixion. At first Father Andrew (Byrne) is skeptical but quickly comes to realize that there is much more to her affliction than meets the eye. Torn between helping her and his duty to the Catholic church, Andrew starts to question the beliefs of his religion and consider the implications this occurence may have.
Like Se7en and The Devil’s Advocate, Stigmata greys the line between horror and thriller. While ripe with religion and even possession like many exorcism films, Stigmata’s primary focus isn’t to terrorize its audience but rather to force them to question their beliefs in God and religion. Still, there are enough horrific images and themes in this film that it more than qualifies for this list.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby chronicles a young couple’s move to Manhattan. The husband, Guy (John Cassavetes) is an aspiring actor and he and his wife Rosemary move into a gothic Manhattan apartment despite warnings of strange occurences within the building. After Rosemary and Guy befriend Roman and Minnie Castavet, and Guy begins to spend more and more time with them, Rosemary begins to have strange dreams and become suspect of those around her. After becoming pregnant with Guy’s child, Rosemary’s paranoia grows until she concludes that her neighbors and even her husband are a group of witches who have a plan for her soon to be born child.
Keep it as far away from Roman Polanski as possible
I’ve been told that this movie is much more terrifying for women to watch than men, and given the nature of the content I don’t doubt it. Despite that claim, Rosemary’s Baby is a chilling tale full of tension as the Rosemary’s paranoia grows and ultimately comes to a climax. Though the film is now over 40 years old, its reliance on story for the horror rather than visual shock and awe allow it to maintain its value over time. Mia Farrow delivers a fantastic performance and was nominated for a Golden Globe upon its release, and her counterpart Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her portrayal as Minnie. Not many horror films can boast Academy Awards…
The Exorcist (1973)
There was almost no way that this film couldn’t be #1 on this list. It is the best and most shocking religious horror film. It was the first horror film to get nominated for Best Picture and so scary and disturbingly innovative that televangelist Billy Graham swore that there was a demon living in the celluloid reels. What is not great about this film? The performances are strong, the production was incredible and fraught with drama, and the look of the film is iconic and unsettling. William Friedkin did a great job creating unsettling moments outside of the exorcism, deliberately placing unexplained disturbing images throughout the film to create unrest in the viewer. This is the film that every exorcism film tries to match, but none of them come close. Not only is it the best religious horror film, but there are strong arguments that could claim that this is the best horror film ever.
Click here for some awesome Exorcist Trivia!