The only thing we want you to be possessed by is joy, but watching the characters in these films be possessed by demonic horrors is entertaining nonetheless.
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Exorcism movies can be the scariest of all horror subgenres, depending on your personal preferences. As long as they’re done correctly, psychological chills and visceral thrills of jump scares (those terrifying pictures that suddenly appear out of nowhere) and genuinely nasty and ugly visuals and effects can be combined.
The problem is that they’re sometimes done incorrectly or rely too much on formulas that have proven successful in the best examples of the genre. This is a problem. In addition, some of the best films have terrible sequels, like The Exorcist II: The Heretic. The new Fox TV series, The Exorcist, is garnering good reviews, so now is a great opportunity to revisit some of the best exorcism movies ever made.
After reading about the 15 Most Terrifying Exorcism Movies Of All Time, we hope your dreams aren’t filled with head-spinning, body-contorting nightmares.
How creepy is Beetlejuice (1988)? It’s not always the case. Even if Michael Keaton plays a “bio-exorcist” in Tim Burton’s 1988 career-defining masterwork, it’s still an exorcism movie since the main character is a “bio-exorcist.” In comparison to the other exorcism films on our list, this one is a tad quieter. Interior designer Otho (Alec Baldwin) performs a seance, but the ritual mistakenly exorcises Adam and Barbara (Kate Winslet) (Geena Davis, who happens to star in the new Exorcist TV series).
To qualify for this list of the best dark comedies, you need to be able to say it’s “dark,” not “dark comedy.” In general, the picture has a creepy vibe about it that permeates every scene. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Adam stretches out his face and then sticks his eyes on his fingers. It’s like the time Betelgeuse transforms into an enormous rattlesnake and knocks someone down from around 20 feet in the air. That banana boat song sequence, where their food pops out and grabs their faces, is a must-see for any banana boat song fan.
2. THE DEVIL INSIDE
If we say that The Devil Inside (2012) is a terrific movie, we’re lying to you. It was a typical case of the trailer giving away some of the best moments in a movie that promised a lot more than it actually delivered.
The unsettling work of actress Suzan Crowley, who has strangely done very little since this picture was released, is one of the highlights of the film. She portrays Maria, Isabella’s possessed and hospitalized mother. Exorcisms are the subject of a documentary being made by Isabella and a former convict named Maria, who was imprisoned for the murder of others during an exorcism performed on her. In her catatonic state when Isabella visits her mother, Crowley portrays her as both dead and softly evil as she shows her daughter the cross-like scratches on her arm and inside her lip. With a few unsettling moments, The Devil Inside isn’t a bad movie, but it doesn’t hold your attention.
3. THE RITE
For aficionados of horror films about possession and exorcism, The Rite (2011) is a passable substitute for The Devil Inside. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays as Father Lucas, and he’s always fun to watch. As a seasoned exorcist, he exudes a sense of serenity that sets the tone for the rest of the film. In addition, because it takes place in the Vatican, you can expect all the Catholic mysticism you’d expect in an exorcism film.
Adapted from a true incident, the film tells the narrative of Michael (Colin O’Donoghue), a priest who is forced to undergo exorcism training. There are multiple exorcisms on multiple possessed people in this film, as in The Devil Inside. We won’t disclose the twist, but it does offer Hopkins more room to shine in this film. An upchuck of big nails by a deranged teenage girl is one creepy moment, but the scare factor here is more about the mood than anything else.
Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, a cynic with the ability to see angels and devils on Earth and the capacity to evict bad demons, in the 2005 film Constantine, which is loosely based on the DC comic book series Hellblazer. For the first time since his youthful suicide attempt, the man knows that his life is headed to hell. John’s life isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
It’s a distinct kind of exorcism film, though, because the demons (and angels) are depicted in their true form rather than being possessed by humans. For one thing, it’s not really a horror story at all. Still, it’s a different take on the exorcism subgenre, and Tilda Swinton, who plays an androgynous angel named Gabriel, provides some interesting performances. Due to its worldwide box office success, the big-budget film flopped in the United States, but eventually led to the NBC television series of the same name, which lasted just one season.
Most exorcism films exist only to be exorcism films. And we’re grateful for it, too. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Then there was Beloved (1998), a film that tried to be more. In an interview, Oprah Winfrey revealed that the film’s huge inability to reach audiences (earning just $22.9 million on a massive $80 million budget) had sent her into a deep melancholy, and that the film’s lack of success pushed her into that state.
Although Beloved’s box office results would lead you to believe that the film isn’t as good as it appears to be, director Jonathan Demme knows a thing or two about converting scares into Oscars, having directed The Silence of the Lambs. Sethe, a former slave, is played by Oprah in this historical drama. The film is more disturbing than other exorcism movies because it features both supernatural and everyday horror. Sethe’s past as a slave is depicted, with her being whipped and raped, and eventually, Sethe is driven to kill her daughter rather than allow her to live in slavery. Once freed from slavery, Sethe adopts Beloved (Thandie Newton), a mentally challenged girl who she discovers is the reincarnation of her dead daughter. As if things couldn’t get worse, an exorcism was attempted on Sethe’s house after years of paranormal activity drove her sons from it.
6. DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Scott Derrickson, the director of Deliver Us from Evil (2014), has a strong pedigree as a filmmaker. As a filmmaker, he has worked on a number of notable horror films, including Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (more on that one later).
In contrast to many previous exorcism films, this one is a cop drama with a definite creepiness about it, as Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) investigates a series of unusual occurrences. As Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), a hip, youthful, shaggy-haired priest/exorcist, enters the picture, things begin to get crazy. Jump scares, emotional family drama, creepy atmospherics, and the essential otherworldly intensity of possession are all included in the package. In addition to the owl stuffie, of course.
7. THE POSSESSION
2012’s The Possession is a cross between the tried and true and the new and different. There is a narrative about a girl from a broken household who becomes possessed before the exorcism route is taken in the first column. Isn’t it reminiscent of The Exorcist? Rather than the classic Christian mysticism, however, this all originates from Jewish mysticism.
In the story, the young girl finds a dybbuk box, which is inspired by an urban legend perpetuated by the real-life sale of such a box on eBay a few years ago, along with the eerie story the seller attached to the post. Dybbuks are claimed to inhabit the box, which has the appearance of a wine cabinet. She and her family are subjected to a slew of horrors when she opens the door, the most frightening of which is that she appears to be possessed by the ghost. A Hasidic Jewish exorcism ceremony replaces the traditional Christian one as the dybbuk terrorizes the young woman, despite the results of the doctors’ testing showing her to be infected. Additionally, the cast includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick, who play the girl’s parents, as well as Sam Raimi, the film’s producer.
8. THE PRIESTS
The Priests, which came out of South Korea in 2015, is our next stop. We’re back in the Catholic environment, but the Korean culture flip is a welcome change. As an example, the Catholic priest exorcist and a traditional Korean shaman exorcist seem to have a strong bond, and the significance of dates and years in Korean culture is also evident.
A young girl is possessed in this film, but because of an accident, she is put into an early coma. Even the possessed person in the film isn’t given nearly as much screen time as you might anticipate from an exorcism film. The senior priest/exorcist and his younger, more suspicious assistant do a lot of fascinating research and preparation in the first two-thirds of the film. This first picture from writer/director Jang Jae-hyun has enough creepiness and unsettling possession scenes to keep exorcism aficionados happy.
9. THE EXORCIST 3
We briefly touched on The Exorcist II: The Heretic, which was released four years after the original and starred Linda Blair as Regan and Max von Sydow as Father Merrin. This sequel, however, was a complete and utter shambles on every level. When The Exorcist 3 finally came out 16 years later, movie included only one original cast member, but it got the blessing of its author, William Peter Blatty. Blatty created the screenplay and directed the picture, which was based on a narrative he penned.
There are some solid scares, but it’s not quite as good as the original, and it doesn’t really come close. After exorcising a demon from Regan’s body in the 1970s, the demon became so enraged with Father Karras (Jason Miller resuming the role) that it possessed the soul of a serial killer and used it to perpetrate murders by leaping into other people at night. For what it’s worth, George C. Scott plays a cynical cop in the film.
10. KEEPER OF DARKNESS
For the 2015 horror film Keeper of Darkness, we return to Asia, where Nick Cheung, a Hong Kong native and an Emmy Award-winning actor, directed and starred. It topped Hong Kong’s box office for the first two weeks of its release and was nominated for six Hong Kong film awards at that time. We also get a new take on the exorcism story from Cheung that is largely free of religion.
A regular guy named Fatt, played by Cheung, can communicate with ghosts and banish them by just talking to them and gaining their consent to leave humans alone. With more pleasant ghosts, this works rather well, but when he comes across a father-daughter ghost pair that isn’t so readily persuaded, things begin to go well. It’s a terrifying movie with a nice dose of humor to counterbalance the slick, spooky effects.
11. THE LAST EXORCISM
The Last Exorcism, a 2010 horror film with a budget of just $1.8 million, earned $67.7 million domestically. This movie made money because it was good, not because it was better than The Devil Inside, which was a larger hit at the box office. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is an exorcist who is invited to a farmhouse to execute an exorcism on the daughter of the farmer, Nell (Ashley Bell).
To placate his clients, Marcus has been executing phony exorcisms, but he’s in for a shock. When Nell’s spirit begins to rule her body, the film’s intensity rises steadily. With leering malice and an uncanny capacity to bend her body, Bell’s first significant role in a film proves to be one of her greatest achievements to date. As a finale, there’s an unexpected twist. It would have been better if it had ended there, but it was followed by an even worse sequel.
12. THE CONJURING
The Conjuring and its 2016 sequel, The Conjuring 2, are both excellent films, but we’re going to put The Conjuring 2 at the top of the list because it’s easier for us to tell our own story. As the real-life husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, both feature Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as their leading actors.
A new family arrives into a house that was originally held by an alleged witch who had cursed her land in the 19th century. The Warrens examine paranormal phenomena at the house in the first film. Since the curse, the house’s history has been riddled with deaths. The witch eventually possesses the mother. The priest is unavailable, so Ed decides to execute an exorcism on his own. He’s greeted with some terrible opposition at first, but he eventually succeeds.
13. THE CONJURING 2
For an exorcism movie, this is one of the rarest cases of a sequel that surpasses the first in quality. This time, the Warrens travel to England in order to investigate a new crime scene. Upon their arrival in London, Lorraine realizes the demon causing her visions (in the shape of a terrifying white-faced nun) is also haunting the family they’re investigating, possessing one of the family’s daughters.
There is no need for the Warrens to rely on the Catholic church this time because Lorraine is the one who does the exorcism. The Conjuring 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor in terms of creepy atmosphere and stellar performances from Wilson and Farmiga. Annabelle, based on the frightening doll from the first film, is a spinoff of the series, and a sequel, Annabelle 2, will be released on May 19, 2017. The demon nun from The Conjuring 2 will also be the subject of a film adaptation.
14. THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE
Exorcism films, like The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), are often based on true stories in order to give them more credibility. Because it’s so concerned with presenting all sides of the tale, there are parts of this movie that you can almost believe happened exactly the way they are depicted. Is Emily Rose (Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter) really possessed by an evil demon in her first major cinematic role? Or did she have a mental illness?
Father Moore (Colin Wilkinson) performs exorcisms on Emily at the Rose family property, and the film switches back and forth between Moore’s trial for negligent homicide and the events at the farm that resulted in Emily’s death. They are also really disturbing. Emily is terrorized by thoughts of an invisible hand choking her to death, and she eats bugs to cope. With Carpenter’s help, several of these bizarre poses are genuinely done by her, making them even more eerie. Just in the early stages of “possession,” that is. To see the rest, you’ll have to keep watching.
The real-life events that led to the 1976 death of German adolescent Anneliese Michel have been the subject of two further films. The Catholic church gave the girl’s exorcism permission because of her bizarre behavior. 67 exorcisms were performed over the course of nearly a year, not just one or two. In the end, she died from starvation and dehydration, and her parents and two priests were all charged with negligent homicide in her death. Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes (2011) was a direct-to-DVD horror film, whereas Requiem (2006) was a German film that concentrated more on the drama. Emily Rose, on the other hand, had a more even keel.
15. THE EXORCIST
The Exorcist, 1973’s granddaddy of all exorcism flicks, tops our list. We’re not fooling anyone. How can we respond? In terms of exorcism films, this one is the best and it lay the framework for all the rest. Other exorcism movies, on the other hand, are often just fading duplicates of the original’s sheer dramatic horror and gruesome images. There are several rankings of the greatest horror films ever made, and we included it at the top of our own list this year.
On and off the set, the cast and crew were tormented with weird occurrences, both on and off the set. What makes this the best and scariest exorcism film ever is what we see on screen. When a mother has no idea what to do about her daughter’s unusual behavior and the horrible things that happen to her, it’s a nightmare that she’ll never forget. But most famously, it’s the blaspheming, head-spinning, upside-down-walking, projectile-vomiting performance of Linda Blair as Regan — along with the special effects that made her possession appear so nightmarishly realistic — that make this classic so damn good.