13 Devil Movies to Make Your Head Spin
Article By: Tony Timpone
Hard to believe, but The Exorcist celebrated its 40th anniversary back in December. The controversial blockbuster not only changed the face of horror cinema, but ushered in a wave of sequels, prequels, rip-offs and spoofs that show no sign of abating after all these years (the most recent, Devil’s Due, arrived this past January). In fact, on Friday the 14th at 9pm ET, Chiller is airing one of the many branches The Exorcist tree sprung forth -The Possession of David O'Rielly. So come along as we take a look at the best in satanic sinema. (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Director Roman Polanski’s first American film revolutionized and legitimized the horror genre in the eyes of critics and audiences alike when it opened to lines around the block. Based on Ira Levin’s best-selling novel, Rosemary’s Baby remains one of the greatest horror films ever. Waif Mia Farrow stars as a young woman unwittingly serving as the mother to Satan’s child. The movie shot outside NYC’s famous Dakota, home to scream star Boris Karloff, as well as musician John Lennon, who lost his life in the building’s courtyard in 1980.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
Arguably the scariest film ever made. Adapted by author William Peter Blatty from his hit novel and directed by French Connection’s William Friedkin, The Exorcist has been endlessly copied but never equaled. The movie created a sensation upon it post-Christmas debut in 1973, and audiences never felt the same way again about split pea soup. Oscar-nominated teen Linda Blair goes through hell as a young girl possessed by the Devil, and the movie sent both the faithful and non-Christians running to church.
3. The Omen (1976)
Another classy Hollywood demonic smash, The Omen charts the early rise of the Antichrist, personified as a young boy adopted by ambassador Gregory Peck (in a role offered to Dick Van Dyke!). Directed by Richard Donner, The Omen popularized the “creative death” in horror films, and The Omen’s jaw-dropping decapitation scene still shocks. Composer Jerry Goldsmith took home an Academy Award for his terrifying score, while his “Ave Satani” earned a nomination for Best Song!
4. The Sentinel (1977)
Who would have guessed that the gateway to hell resides in the basement of a Brooklyn brownstone? No wonder the rent’s too damn high! There’s something legitimately appealing about this trashy horror flick, directed by Death Wish’s Michael Winner. Maybe it’s Dick (The Exorcist) Smith’s gruesome makeup FX, the cast of colorful Hollywood veterans (Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, John Carradine) or spotting so many stars-to-be (Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum) popping up. The use of real-life freaks (as hell’s denizens) in the film’s garish finale adds to the chills.
5. Angel Heart (1987)
Private Detective Johnny Angel (a seedy Mickey Rourke) takes a case from the devilish “Louis Cypher” (Robert De Niro, channeling Martin Scorsese) to find a missing man in British director Alan (Fame) Parker’s atmospheric horror noir. The movie garnered an X-rating during an initial MPAA ruling, thanks to a bloody and naked romp between Rourke and Cosby Show’s Lisa Bonet, out to destroy her wholesome TV image (the Miley Cyrus of her day!).
6. Prince of Darkness (1987)
In this largely unheralded supernatural yarn from Halloween director John Carpenter, priest Donald Pleasence gathers a group of physics students to investigate an unexplained cylinder found in the basement of an old church. Winds up said cylinder contains the essence of Lucifer, and the horned fellow has something other than sightseeing in mind when he’s released from centuries of slumber. Carpenter wrote the book on this kind of stuff, and he succeeds here. Watch for a cameo by heavy metal god Alice Cooper as a violent vagrant.
7. The Exorcist III (1990)
Speaking of Carpenter, he turned down helming this pseudo sequel derived from William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion (which catches up with the detective from The Exorcist, this time investigating strange serial killings and reincarnation in D.C.). Blatty eventually took the director’s reins, but his initially exorcism-free cut of the movie lead to studio conflicts and postproduction reshoots and tampering. Despite these troubles, The Exorcist III generates some genuine scares (dig that nurse station scene!), offers nutty cameos and bit parts (basketball superstar Patrick Ewing as an angel, Larry King as himself, Samuel L. Jackson as a blind man) and exudes an encroaching feeling of dread throughout.
8. Day of the Beast (1995)
We previously sung this movie’s praises here, but Day of the Beast warrants further attention for its truly fearsome depiction of Beelzebub and the satanic rituals used to summon him (reportedly the real thing!). Directed by Alex de la Iglesia (Spain’s Peter Jackson), the movie follows a debauched priest and his cronies’ unorthodox attempts to stop the birth of the Antichrist and forestall the Apocalypse. Comic actor Santiago Segura (of the raunchy Torrente films) shines as a crazy heavy metal fan.
9. The Devil's Advocate (1997)
The Firm meets Rosemary’s Baby in this slick and entertaining film, directed by horror novice Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman). Keanu Reeves toplines as a hotshot Southern lawyer wooed to a top New York City firm. He quickly falls under the spell of his diabolical boss (Al Pacino in his typical showboating fashion). Could he be, Satan?? The Devil’s Advocate confirms our suspicions about the legal profession…
10. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Another “based on a true story” demonic possession movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is levitated by the strong performances of pre-Dexter actress Jennifer Carpenter in the title role and Tom Wilkinson as her exorcist. Authorities charge the priest with negligent homicide when the teen girl dies during the difficult ritual. Can lawyer Laura Linney (also very good here) get the exorcist off the hook? This never happened on Law and Order!
11. The Last Exorcism (2010)
Hostel helmer Eli Roth produced this creepy “found footage” movie about a documentary crew going down south to document the “actual” exorcism of a young girl (the double-jointed Ashley Bell) on a rural farm. Patrick Fabian plays the charlatan exorcist, and what the camera records turns out to be much more frightening than a possessed child. Some of the implications in this film come across as truly disturbing, and though the ending of Last Exorcism somewhat disappoints, the movie outshines the similarly-themed The Devil Inside by a long shot.
12. Devil (2010)
In this low-budget sleeper, five strangers are trapped in the elevator of an office building, with tension and claustrophobia rapidly ensuing. What’s worse, one of the group just happens to be Satan himself. Six Sense creator M. Night Shyamalan produced this guessing-game of a movie, effectively inspired by both Rod Serling and Agatha Christie. A cast of mostly unknowns turn in fine work, while director John Erick Dowdle sustains interest through the film’s brisk 80 minute running time.
13. Here Comes the Devil (2013)
In this harrowing nightmare from Mexico, a family goes on an excursion to the desert and experiences pure terror. As Mom and Dad cavort in the car, their pre-teen kids inexplicably disappear while exploring a nearby cave. The next day, the children return unharmed, but the parents slowly realize that something’s just a little bit off about them. Has a supernatural evil taken hold of them or were they victims of the local child molester? Writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano asks some uncomfortable questions here, and his slow-burn thriller will haunt you for days.
Still feeling some sympathy for the devil? Then add these fear flicks to your checklist: Ti West’s retro House of the Devil (2009); ’70s drive-in favorites The Car (1977) and Race with the Devil (1975); the Italian schlockfest Beyond the Door (1974); the moody British chiller Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971); and the B&W classic Curse of the Demon (1958).
So do these Devil movie selections represent heaven or hell? Any others you can recommend? Tell us on our Facebook page or on Twitter using #Friday13.
FANGORIA editor emeritus Tony Timpone programs scary movies at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival and the New York City Horror Film Festival.