Priests appear frequently in horror movies because of the religious themes of good versus evil. However, who are the most ruthless priests in horror fiction?
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Given the abundance of material that may be dramatized and exploited for the sake of a good old fashioned cinematic thrill, religious movies tend to focus primarily on the horror genre. A few of the best religious films include priests who go above and beyond what is expected of them to get revenge on the wicked.
Many such priests have been portrayed in Hollywood films, and they are anything but mild-mannered. Those who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirty for the Lord are shown to be the most badass of the lot.
10 Father Richard Moore (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose / 2005)
Real-life incidents were used as inspiration for this story.
In the wake of Anneliese Michel’s death from starvation and dehydration, two priests were accused of negligent homicide in her temporal lobe epilepsy exorcism. It’s Father Richard Moore, the lone priest on trial, who takes center stage in the film adaptation.
Despite the questionable nature of Moore’s involvement in the exorcism (not to mention the story itself), a considerable amount of credit should be given to the priest for bravely taking on the Devil. Dealing with attorneys, on the other hand, was downright terrifying.
9 Father Andrew Kiernan (Stigmata / 1999)
Stigmata and End of Days both featured Gabriel Byrne as a priest and the devil, and both were released in the same year. Byrne was punished with many Razzie awards for worst actor, but that’s subjective. Neither did well in the critics’ eyes.
Still, Byrne is an impressively tough priest who faces down knives, supernatural possession, smoldering fires, and a loss of faith, all the while triumphantly completing his mission. There are a lot of similarities between his persona and Damien Karras from The Exorcist, but that doesn’t make him any weaker.
8 Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark (Sin City / 2005)
An icon that appears on the screen. During the big-screen rendition of Sin City, Rutger Hauer played the notorious Cardinal Roark. This priest was anything but a philanthropist. His amount of depravity and corruption, on the other hand, was utterly out of this world. Moreover, he participated in the cannibalistic rituals of psychotic serial killer Kevin while sheltering him.
This blasphemer was a master manipulator thanks to his brother’s political connections. Fortunately, Mickey Rourke’s character, Marv, killed him in a horrific manner.
7 Father Lucas Trevant (The Rite / 2011)
Considering how successful his performance as the menacing and occasionally corny Dr. Hannibal Lecter was in the classic horror film The Silence of the Lambs, it was only inevitable that Anthony Hopkins would return to the horror genre for a role with a more esoteric feel.
Hopkins played Father Trevant, a priest who performs an exorcism on a little girl, only to be possessed himself. Even an actor of his quality would find it challenging to play two characters who are dealing with the idea of exorcism from two different perspectives.
6 Priest (Prince of Darkness / 1987)
Advanced scientific theories fought against faith in this classic horror movie depicting Satan and his evil father as extraterrestrial creatures from another realm, as opposed to unclean spirits. When confronted with the Roman Catholic Church’s cover narrative about Satan’s nature, the Priest played by Donald Pleasance is compelled to confront his own doubts.
He battles his own dread throughout the film, but generates amazing fortitude in the film’s final act by confronting Satan with a fire axe. In true John Carpenter flair, he also seals the portal between universes, sending the alien Satan back to his home.
5 Alex Bernier (The Order / 2003)
Heath Ledger’s performance of rebel priest Alex Bernier, while not as well-known as some of his other parts, added a tough-guy edge to The Order. For those who don’t want to rely on good deeds outweighing bad ones, this story offers an alternative route to Heaven. The Sin-Eater, a magical entity, can purge one’s soul before death in exchange for favors, Alex discovers.
Despite the Sin-attempts Eater’s to get Alex to assume the role, he rejects it. Finally, Alex gets ensnared into becoming the new Sin-Eater after learning of his predecessor’s murder of the lady he cared most for. It is only fitting that his ultimate act of vengeance be directed at the would-be Pope who arranged everything, as this will send him directly to Hell.
4 Father Graham Hess (Signs / 2002)
Mel Gibson’s portrayal as Graham Hess, a former priest who has lost his faith, in M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi horror film Signs, was unexpectedly thoughtful. As Hess strives to keep his family safe from alien invaders, the religious tone of the film quickly shifts to an alien invasion story.
The story revolves around Hess’s character and his struggle to regain his trust in the supernatural, which is helped along by the alien bad guys and a strange coincidence in the plot. It’s about as badass a thing a priest can do to protect one’s family against an invasion of aliens.
3 Priest (Priest / 2011)
There aren’t many priests who can do both as convincingly as the one in the 2011 horror/action flick of the same name. With his impressive combat skills and arsenal of deadly weapons, this priest would have made Sunday school a lot more entertaining.
Nothing says “badass” like reading from the Bible before slicing and dicing demonic hordes with razor-tipped crucifix ninja stars. Enough to make you wonder if this priest had any reservations about eating beef on a Friday in the first place.
2 Father Damien Karras (The Exorcist / 1973)
Damien Karras is only second to Father Merrin in terms of horror movie priest badassery. As a Jesuit who worked as a religious psychiatrist, he began to lose his faith after the death of his mother. The evidence for Regan MacNeil being possessed by a demon is overwhelming at first.
After Father Merrin’s death, Karras went into a rage and assaulted Regan MacNeil, hoping to provoke the demon into taking possession of him instead. In order to save Regan, he jumped out of a window, sacrificing his own life in the process. In Exorcist III, the character would serve as a host for the Gemini Killer.
1 Father Lankester Merrin (The Exorcist / 1973)
Priest Father Merrin’s extensive expertise fighting demonic entities is known to almost every fan of the iconicExorcistfilm. It wasn’t his first encounter with Pazuzu, and he definitely knew what he was doing the second time around.
Merrin suffered a heart attack as a result of his preexisting health issues, and his work was never completed. To put it another way: The fact that Merrin could face down the most psychologically traumatizing creature in existence not once, but twice is proof of exactly how much of a hard-core sheriff Merrin had become.